Dinner by Design

A Valentine Oyster — An aphrodisiac or just delicious?

The most memorable words my culinary chef/instructor said to me was the evening we were introduced to shellfish; oysters to be exact.  

With a shucked oyster in his hand, he said, “Beth this is nectar of the Gods.” He then brought the shell up to his lips, tilted his head back, sucked in and slurped it right down. Finished he looked me straight in the eye and said,

“It’s better than sex!”

I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas; which is North Central.  You could only get oysters at a little place called J&J Oyster Bar. They served Gulf oysters (Texas Gulf) and my Dad loved eating them; and still does.  I on the other hand watched my dad slurp those bad boys down thinking, gross! How can he eat those slimy, sandy and musky smelling globules?  I couldn’t stomach it.  Plus, there was always a lot of condiment action involved with eating the oysters; hot sauce, tarter sauce, horseradish and lemon. Seemed to me they were just a vehicle for the extras.  That was my first introduction to the oyster.

So you could imagine my trepidation when I walked into my culinary class and oysters were on the menu.  Even though Chef Pascal professed his undying love, I still didn’t try one; not in class anyway.

I finally had the courage to try an oyster in my first line cook job.  We would occasionally have oysters on the menu.  Since we were encouraged to try everything it was pretty much a given that I would have to suck it up and eat one.  Well, the Executive Chef was very kind to me.  She really gave me a lesson on the differences between cold and warm water shellfish; such as the level of brininess, size and texture.  

To this day I will never forget the first time I tried an oyster while working at the restaurant. It came from the Atlantic Ocean. It was called a Moonstone; icy, sweet, briny and a little magical.  I’ve tried many oysters since; mostly from cold waters (I just think they have a better flavor).  Never do I have anything but a little mignonette splashed on my oyster - if that.  

So, I’m not going to say if an oyster is better than sex or not.  I will say that eating the right oyster, at the right time and with the right condiment (or not) lends itself to something quite remarkable - if not just delicious! Here’s your recipe. 

Ingredients

1/4C of shallot, peeled & minced
1/2C seasoned Rice Vinegar
2tsp of fresh coarsely ground black pepper
6 shucked oysters - half-shell
Crushed ice

Process

Several hours before serving oysters, combine shallot, vinegar and pepper in a container with a lid.  Tightly seal, shake vigorously and place in the refrigerator to store until ready to use.

Pour crushed ice into a 2” deep dish spreading around so that the ice comes up right below the top of the rim.  Take the oysters on the half-shell and arrange them decoratively around the outer edge of the dish.  

Take mignonette (vinegar mixture) out of the fridge and pour into a small ramekin.  Place ramekin in the center of the pan with a small spoon.  Serve.

Tips & Techniques

To store whole oysters buy fresh as possible, place in a stainless steel container and put them into your fridge.
Many fish markets will shuck the oysters for you.  Although it may be a few extra dollars it’s worth it.  If you are not familiar with shucking an oyster it’s the safest and simplest way to go. I recommend it.
Mignonette is a traditional French sauce used on oysters to compliment the brininess of the oyster.  
For a comprehensive introduction to types of oysters check out Rowan Jacobsen’s blog The Oyster Guide 

Friday Food Find: Goat & Cream Cheese Pate

I first saw this recipe in Gourmet Magazine years ago.  Always looking for fabulous party dishes for my catering company this one caught my eye immediately.  It’s visually inviting, tastes heavenly (especially if you like goat cheese) and it’s perfect to have or bring to a party.  I generally serve it with garlic toasts or multi-colored vegetable chips.  Really you can use anything that you find pleasing.  It’s gone through a lot of tweeks since I first made the recipe from the magazine.  And by trial an error I learned a few things which you will see below under “Tips”.  Have fun and enjoy!

Ingredients

4 - 8 ounce packages of cream cheese
1.5 C of goat cheese
¼ to ½ C of whipping cream
1-2 Tbls of fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1-2 small containers of sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained and patted between paper towels
½ to 1 C of pesto
Fresh herbs or flowers to garnish

Process

Line the inside your favorite ceramic or pyrex dish with plastic wrap (7"x10” rectangle or a square works great). Make sure that the plastic wrap is very smooth on the insides & pressed smoothly up and around every edge. Leave enough plastic so that it hangs over each side and over the edge of your dish.  Set aside.

In a food processor process cream cheese, goat cheese until smooth.  Drizzle in whipping cream to open up the cheese mixture. Which will make it smoother and more airy.  Drizzle in up to ½ C although you may not need it. Add one TBLS of lemon juice at a time for flavor only.  You may not need the second one.  Stop machine at intervals to scrape down the sides with a spatula.  Mix in salt and pepper to taste.  Place cheese mixture in to a pastry bag with a large round tip.  

Place your plastic lined dish in front of you, very gently pipe in your cheese mixture with your pastry bag so that you have one even layer on the bottom of your dish. I generally begin piping from the outer edge of the bowl.  And then move inwards towards the center following the line of the dish you are using.  On top of your 1st cheese layer gently finger or spoon in the sun dried tomatoes so that they are spread evenly over the cheese layer. Then pipe another layer of cheese mixture over tomatoes.  Repeat this process with the pesto.  Then pipe one more layer of cheese over the pesto. This will be your last layer.  Smooth each cheese layer out with a small off-set spatula and cover tightly with the overlapping plastic.  Place in refrigerator overnight.

The next day take pate out of refrigerator and peel plastic from the top.  Place a serving platter (large enough to cover the pate dish) over the ceramic dish and gently invert.  Gently pull the ceramic dish from the pate and set aside.  Very carefully pull the plastic wrap from the pate.  Smooth pate with a spatula.  Garnish with herbs and flowers.  Serve with parmesan toasts.

Tips
*The smaller & deeper your dish the more layers you may have or excess ingredients.   
*Always drain the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes & pesto prior to using in this pate.  Excess oil will seep out of the final pate if there is too much.
*Use the added liquid (cream, lemon juice) sparingly.  You only want the cheese mixture to be “spreadable” not too soft.  If it is too soft add more cream cheese.  It will spread somewhat once unmolded if too soft. 

Lemon Rosemary Pan-Grilled Chicken

Rosemary and lemon are the perfect flavor combination for seasoning a chicken for a Fall grill – indoors.

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This is one of my go-to recipes for an everyday meal. It’s super flavorful and quick using simple techniques. Here’s the recipe.

Ingredients

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 -4 inch stems of rosemary
2 medium lemons, sliced into ½” pieces
2 Tbls extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Process

Place chicken in a gallon size freezer bag. Set aside. 

Take the rosemary needles off the stem and roughly chop. Place in the bag with chicken. Squeeze lemon slices over the chicken and then toss into the bag.

Pour olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper over chicken, rosemary and lemon. Push all the air out and seal the bag tightly. Gently shake the bag, rubbing on the ingredients to distribute evenly.

Set on a plate or in a bowl and refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours to overnight.

Ready to Grill

Take chicken out of refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Heat grill pan over high heat until pan is extremely hot. Place each chicken breast top side down in grill pan. Grill as high heat for 2 minutes.

Turn heat down to medium and grill for 1 minute.

Turn heat back up to high and immediately turn chicken over. Grill at high heat for 2 minutes.

Turn heat down to medium and grill for 1 minute.

Finally, turn heat down to low and place a piece of aluminum foil over top of pan.

Cook for 3 more minutes.

Take off heat and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice Chicken against the grain into thin slices.

Serve immediately. Yields 4 – 4 ounce servings.

Note: Cooking time may vary depending on thickness of each chicken breast.