Sunday, January 24, 2010

Oysters a la Nicholas

Know your food:  Oysters are bivalve mollusks, of the family Ostreidae.  True oysters (the edible ones) are not pearl-producing, so forget finding a present for your girlfriend at your local raw bar.  Like all bivalves, they are filter feeders, which means that they draw water into them, pass the water through a gill or other structure and pull out food and nutrients while expelling the water, which prevents excess algae growth.  They're also delicious!

Stephanie and I love oysters.  We are partial to the classic accompaniments - a squeeze of lemon for Steph, some mignonette for me.  Our favorite place to get oysters is at Dock's Oyster House in Atlantic City, but we are definitely not averse to ordering them at other finer restaurants.  Naturally, we've ordered them at Restaurant Nicholas, and we've been amazed at the balance of flavor and texture, generated by what appeared to be a surprisingly small amount of garnish.  I was pleasantly surprised as to the secret of their amazing flavor - they are 'marinated' in a pickling brine!  I love pickling food!

I get my oysters from Woolley's Fish Market on Route 9 in Freehold - as good of a fishmonger (that's for you, Steve) as you'll find anywhere.  The guys there were nice enough to shuck them for me - I'm not proficient with an oyster knife and I didn't want to end up with one sticking out of my palm, unlike the cocky bastard in front of me who bought 10 dozen top neck clams & 2 clam knifes and said that he'd 'figure it out.  I rinsed the oysters of dirt and muscle and shell and kept them swimming in their 'liquor', while I cleaned the shells for presentation by giving them a bath in some boiling water and scrubbing the hell out of them to have a smooth and clean inner shell.

The spices in the marinating mixture were star anise, black peppercorns (in place of the Szechuan peppercorns I couldn't seem to find) and whole cloves.  Those went into the pot with some rice vinegar, sugar fennel and carrot trim to simmer.  The trim came from my semi-awesome brunoise, of which I have another lame stylish-type picture (I'm taking these pictures in Digital Macro mode, and they seem to be alright.  It'd be better if I knew what all the numbers and acronyms on my camera meant).  The pickling mixture was then strained, combined with the brunoise, poured over the oysters and stuck in the fridge.  After they cool, I spooned them back into the shells, topped them with some minced chive and red onion and a dollop of creme fraiche, and prepared to chow down.

Like my blog buddy Rob likes to do, a picture to try and match the book:

I've got to give tons of credit to Chef Nicholas and Peter Zuorick, as this recipe came out exactly the way the dish tastes when made at the restaurant.  Everything was in perfect balance, and the flavors were out of this world.  Here's Steph and I, toasting the bittersweet end of football season with the hope of even more success for our J-E-T-S next year.  You can tell we really love our oysters since we devoured 2 dozen them even though we were stuffed from all the food we ate during the game.

This is definitely a recipe that will be made again (and again and again) in the future!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Chicken Florentine  7 points.
recipe courtesy of Light and Healthy 2010

When you look at a traditional recipe for chicken florentine, you can't help but get overwhelmed by the richness of the ingredients - tons of butter, heavy cream, Parmesan - some of the tastiest things on the planet.  Bring that together with spinach, and I'm a happy man - my mother makes creamed spinach specifically for me on Thanksgiving, because she knows I love it so much.

However, with the new eating plan (I hate the word 'diet'), dishes like that aren't in the cards.  Lo and behold, there was a recipe for it in my new Test Kitchen cookbook, and I had to give it a whirl.  2 teaspoons of grapeseed oil, 1 tablespoon of heavy cream, 1 tablespoon of Parmesan - not a ton of heavy ingredients, but this dish had tremendous flavor and a deceptive richness - we didn't think we were eating a 'light and healthy' meal.  How much did we like it?


Pickle This!

After I have make a resolution to be more consistent with my blogging, what do I do?  I don't post anything for 20 days.  Of course, I could always say that I don't have anything to blog about, as I feel that not doing much of anything awesome and blog-worthy, but then I also resolved that I wanted to post more about my (and Steph's) everyday meals.  Damn you, resolutions!  At least I can go back and edit posts...

When I first met Stephanie, she didn't like pickles, which was yet another reason why she was the woman for me.  You see, growing up, a new pickle jar would last approximately 2.3 days, between Mom, Dad and Rory.  We used to buy the giant tubs of dills from Restaurant Depot to keep up with the demand.  So when Stephanie told me that she didn't like pickles...I knew I'd never have to worry about going to the refrigerator and finding the pickle jar empty.

Recently, Steph decided that she wanted to try pickles again (realizing that they were a tasty snack that wereworth 0 points) and so she helped herself to some of my Vlasic Zesty Dills.  Lo and behold, Stephanie loves pickles...which means I come home sometimes and find the pickle jar empty!  Alas, marital bliss.  To that end, I decided that a better way (and more fun) way of tackling our now-doubled household pickle habit was to see about making my own refrigerator pickles.  I went with a recipe from Epicurious as a jumping-off point for what will probably be a bunch of trials to find a satisfactory refrigerator pickle recipe.


There are the main ingredients, a sweet onion, gherkin pickles and a giant bunch of dill.  Note the artistic setup of that photo:  my lame attempt at good photography.  The onion was thinly sliced, and the gherkins were uniformly cut to 1/4" by my trusty mandoline.  (Side note:  My backwards cap is a Jets cap.  It is entirely apropos that I am making green food.  In Rex we trust!  J-E-T-S!)  From that picture, you can get a good idea of just how little counter space I have.  Not the easiest to work with, but I make do.

Those are yellow mustard seeds and white peppercorns, which have a completely different flavor profile than regular peppercorns - do not ever substitute one for the other!  I started crushing them with my trusty mortar and pestle, but after a number of mustard seeds tried a daring escape from their eventual doom, I decided to go with the modern convenience of a spice grinder (the purchase of which was inspired from here).  The spices got boiled up with some cider vinegar, water, sugar, salt, dill seed then ladled it into my jars - the smells in my kitchen were absolutely out of this world.  The end result?  Two jars of homemade dill pickle goodness.  How do they taste?  I'll let you know tomorrow.

Since I was in the swing of things, I also whipped up a batch of pickled peppers.  I don't know where I got the recipe from, but they are a snap to make and, best of all, no points!

Mini-sweet peppers + shallots + champagne vinegar + garlic + thyme + sugar + red pepper = the best thing you could possibly put on a sandwich.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Two weeknight meals

Broiled Snapper with Citrus-Soy Sweet Potatoes & Sesame Spinach
Another year, another Martha Stewart cookbook (thanks Mom!).  As I think most know, I'm a big fan of Martha's - she's not as groundbreaking as Julia, but she's done just as good of a job (if not more so) trying to raise the culinary skills of the uninitiated.  I like the way this book is put together - seasonal menus!

This meal was an easy one, admittedly, with little active prep.  The "hardest" part was probably the timing - making sure that the spinach and the snapper were finished at the same time.  For those of you keeping track at home, this meal was 8 points.  The best part of this dish was the radishes - normally I am not a fan, but the flavor and texture worked rather well.

Beef Rolls with Spring Salad
Recipe courtesy of Everyday Food

A piece of thinly sliced top round, rolled around a slice of pepper jack cheese, and sauteed onions and peppers - what's not to like here?  Combined with a salad (half spring mix, half baby spinach) with some olive oil and sherry vinegar, and Steph and I enjoyed a light dinner for 6 points.

I'm planning on trying to write more about my everyday eating, to outline mine and Steph's goals of eating a bit healthier.  Plus, it'll let me take more pictures and try to use my current camera a bit more effectively.