Archive for the ‘Fish and Seafood’ Category

Oysters of Elegance

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

oysters of el web

 
I was thrilled to find oysters a couple of days ago in the meat case at A.L. Avery & Son, my local general store.
 
Avery’s only stocks oysters between late November and early January, and I make a point of buying these expensive treats at least once during the holiday season.
 
My mother, our neighbor Alice Parker, and I threw them together into a simple New Year’s Eve supper at our home before going off to enjoy music and the company of good friends elsewhere.
 
I am not known for my modesty so I don’t hesitate to mention that Alice and I brought the house down with our rendition of “Santa Baby” and other songs at the Charlemont Inn that evening!
 
But back to oysters: I’m always amazed to recall that oysters remained plentiful and cheap as late as the early 20th century.
 
When my grandmother was a freshman at Mount Holyoke College, she used to walk into the center of town and bring back inexpensive oysters for secret feasts in her dorm. (Eating in one’s room was emphatically NOT allowed at the college in 1908!)
 
In her old age she chuckled as she recalled encountering a faculty member on the main street of town as she returned from an oyster-fetching errand.
 
The professor engaged her in conversation for several minutes. Both the faculty member and young Clara studiously ignored the oyster liquor dripping from the paper bag my grandmother was clutching.
 
Oyster suppers were common occurrences in former days in my hometown of Hawley, Massachusetts, where voters often enjoyed them after Annual Town Meeting in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
 
In a scrapbook from the Civil War era preserved by my late neighbor Ethel White’s family, a newspaper clipping describes an oyster-filled surprise party held for J.G. Longley, one of the town’s “old bachelor citizens.” According to the clipping Mr. Longley returned home from shopping to find
 
to his surprise and consternation that forty or fifty of his neighbors, whom he had never suspected of any ill before had taken possession of his house and were practically converting the old mansion into a saloon for cooking oysters, melting sugar, &c. At first he was somewhat disconcerted, being hardly able to decide whether he was himself or somebody else. He very soon recovered his sense, however, and satisfying himself that their motives were not of an incendiary nature, went in and rendered very efficient aid in disposing of the oysters and other delicacies with which the tables were spread, and joined quite freely in the “laugh and song that floated along” as the wheel of time went round.
 
By the mid-20th century overfishing rendered an oyster feast for 40 to 50 people unaffordable for most Americans. It also did damage to the environment as both oysters and their reefs fulfill important ecological functions.
 
I support the efforts of state and national groups to create new habitats for oysters—and I treasure the few oysters I eat each year!
 
I prepared this year’s ration with a simple recipe supplied by Alice. It came from her mother Mary Parker, known to neighborhood children as Gam. Gam called the dish “Oysters of Elegance.”
 
The recipe definitely dates from the early-to-mid-20th century, using as it does a now underappreciated condiment, chili sauce.
 
The combination of ingredients sounded a bit odd, but it the flavors melded wonderfully, producing a stew-like concoction that was divine sopped up with the homemade bread Alice brought to the supper.
 
I prepared it in a 1-1/2-quart casserole dish, but I think another time I’ll try using individual serving crocks. Alice remembers that Gam served the dish this way.
 
I may also try cutting back on the chili sauce (maybe reducing the quantity to 1 cup) and adding a little more oyster liquor, which I love. Alice says that the measurements she has on paper weren’t exact because her mother didn’t actually measure!
 
It was pretty darn tasty as transcribed below, however.
Here's what the oysters looked like before we sprinkled cheese on top.

Here's what the oysters looked like before we sprinkled cheese on top.

 
Gam’s Oysters of Elegance
 
Ingredients:
 
12 ounces chili sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pint oysters
1/4 cup oyster liquor
2 tablespoons butter
grated cheddar cheese as needed (we used about 2/3 cup)
 
Instructions:
 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
 
In the bottom of a small casserole dish (or four crocks) combine the chili sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Sprinkle the chopped onion pieces on top.
 
Arrange the oysters on top of this mixture, and toss on the liquor as well.
 
Dot the top of the oysters with the butter, and sprinkle grated cheese on top so that the oysters are covered (but not blanketed!).
 
Bake the oysters for about 25 minutes, until the cheese browns a bit around the edges. (The crocks should take less time–perhaps 15 minutes or so.)
 
Eat the casserole with spoons. Make sure you have plenty of homemade bread to soak up the yummy sauce.
 
Serves 4.
 
Coming next to In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens: NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS for this blog!
 
ny2web

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Toni’s Salmon Mousse

Monday, August 24th, 2009
Toni in 2005 (Courtesy of Ena Haines)

Toni in 2005 (Courtesy of Ena Haines)

 
After our memorial party for the late Florette Zuelke, Florette’s niece Sue Stone requested that I post the recipe for one specific food that was served that day. She had fallen love with the rich, velvety salmon mousse provided by Betsy Kovacs.
 
I asked Betsy for the recipe–and she revealed that, appropriately, it came from one of Florette’s cohorts in the glory days of Singing Brook Farm, our summer community in Hawley, Massachusetts.
 
Betsy’s late mother Toni Leitner was charming, energetic (she worked well into her late 80s), bright, and a terrific cook. She gleaned her kitchen skills in one of the legendary culinary capitals of the world, interwar Vienna.
 
In 1965 Toni put together a recipe binder for Betsy. This is one of the binder’s cherished formulas. According to Betsy, Toni would have used the old-fashioned term and called it a receipt.
 
I helped Betsy make the mousse this past weekend–and it couldn’t have been easier. It’s a particularly useful recipe at this time of year because if you use canned salmon (and she generally does) the only cooking involved is boiling a little water.
 
You end up with a cool kitchen–and a dish that evokes the flavor of another remarkable member of a remarkable generation. 
 
Betsy gets ready to add gelatin to the mousse.

Betsy gets ready to add gelatin to the mousse.

 
Ingredients:

  

1/2 cup boiling water

1 envelope gelatin

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tiny onion, sliced

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon dill

1 can (1 pound, or the closest approximation) salmon, well drained

1 cup cream (Toni preferred light, but use whatever you have)

2 or more drops red food coloring

 

for the sauce:

 

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt

lots of chopped dill

 

Instructions:  

The day before you wish to serve the mousse, prepare it. Place the boiling water in a blender. Add the gelatin, lemon juice, and sliced onion. Blend for 40 seconds.
 
Add the mayonnaise, paprika, dill, and salmon. Replace the top of the blender, leaving the removable center piece off. Blend the mixture while gradually adding the cream. Add the food coloring and blend for 5 to 30 seconds more, until the color is dispersed and the mixture has turned a pale salmon color. 

Pour the mixture into an ungreased 4-cup mold. Cover gently and chill overnight. 

While the mold is chilling prepare the sauce by whisking together its ingredients. Chill until needed. 

The next day, gently dip the outside of the mold in hot water to loosen the mousse. Turn it out onto a platter. 
If you are using a ring mold, place 1/3 to 1/2 of the sauce in the middle of the mousse. (If you put too much sauce in the middle, it will overwhelm the mousse and make it collapse.) Place the remainder of the sauce in a bowl.

Serve with small pieces of bread, toast rounds, or crackers. Makes about 2-1/2 cups mousse. 

salmon mousseweb

Spring Break: Key Lime Chicken (Plus!)

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

key-lime-chickenweb1

The main course for my family’s tropical evening was actually something for which I’m not including a recipe because there really isn’t one. We ordered stone crab from the Islamorada Fish Company on the Florida Keys. This is a very expensive treat because the stone crab has to be shipped overnight (I haven’t yet had the heart to look at my credit-card bill) and does nothing to reduce one’s carbon footprint.

 

It does make life festive, however. The Fish Company catches one claw from many different crabs (returning the crabs themselves to the ocean to grow more claws!) and cooks them. When the claws arrive, the home cook’s responsibility is to refrigerate them until eating time, bang on the claws with the provided mallet to loosen the shells, and melt a lot of butter for dipping. 

Michael and David bang on crab claws on the newspaper-covered floor.
Michael and David bang on crab claws on the newspaper-covered floor.

Despite my love of stone crab I wanted to have a recipe for publication so the next evening I prepared a Cuban-inspired key-lime chicken. It’s not quite as devastatingly wonderful as the stone crab, but it’s a lot less expensive.

 

The key-lime juice gives the chicken a summery kick. And it’s hard to find an easier recipe. I adapted it from the web site of Island Grove, a company that makes a variety of key-lime products.

 

Of course, you may not have key lime juice in your pantry. I have found Nellie & Joe’s in a number of grocery stores. You have to buy a 2-cup bottle, but it’s useful for lots of things in addition to this chicken, including the key-lime pie recipe I’ll post shortly. A few drops make a lovely addition to a gin and tonic as well.

 

Don’t try to substitute regular lime juice. Key limes have a subtler, warmer flavor.

 

Ingredients:

 

extra-virgin olive oil as needed
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, cut into rings
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup key-lime juice

 

Instructions:

 

In a large skillet with a cover heat the olive oil. Use it to brown the chicken breasts on both sides, salting and peppering as you cook them. Set aside. Sauté the onion and garlic until they begin to brown; then put them aside with the chicken.

 

Pour the key-lime juice and 1/4 cup water into the pan, and use them to scrape up (gently!) any goopy bits that are sticking to the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken and vegetables to the pan, cover it, and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Simmer the mixture for 20 minutes; then uncover and simmer until the liquid has almost evaporated—about 10 minutes more. Serve over rice.

 

Serves 4.

 

stoneboyweb3

A Hug in a Bowl: Faith’s Tunafish and Noodles

Friday, March 6th, 2009

tncweb

 

Today I have a guest blogger, my friend Faith Montgomery Paul. As kids Faith and I spent summers together at Singing Brook Farm in Hawley, Massachusetts. She’s probably the first person apart from my family I ever cooked with. We made a ton of fudge and cookies to share with our friends as teenagers! Along the way we cooked up a friendship that has lasted for decades.

Faith returns to Hawley every summer with her husband Arnold and her son Ian, one of my all-time favorite kids. We only see each other a few days a year, but we’re in touch by e-mail all the time, and it feels as though we’re still just around the corner. She wrote me a few weeks back and said she was in the mood for tuna-noodle casserole, and I said that sounded like a blog post to me!

When I made the casserole (the photo is of my version; I’m sure Faith’s looks neater!) I didn’t have any canned mushrooms so I sautéed a few fresh ones and popped them in. I also threw a little paprika on top because I just love paprika. And I mixed the salt, pepper, and onion granules into the sauce so they would spread out (sorry, Faith; I just can’t help messing with recipes a teensy bit).

Anyone else who would like to share thoughts and recipes is very welcome to do so; after all, the name of this blog is “In OUR Grandmothers’ Kitchens.”

Meanwhile, here’s Faith……… 
Faith

Faith

Comfort Food

 

Everyone has his or her own definition of comfort food, and I would be hard put to define it conclusively. But I know it when I eat it. It can take the sting out of winter, or heartbreak, or too much STRESS, at least temporarily. It’s warming and sustaining and non-threatening (no exotic ingredients here!). It’s like eating a hug in a bowl. Usually, it’s something that my mother Jane made when we were growing up. Sometimes it involves noodles, sometimes cheese sometimes both!

 

Winter is my prime time for comfort food, because I really don’t like winter very much. Yeah, the snow is nice when everything looks impossibly like a postcard. Yeah, it’s great that my son gets to ski (every Tuesday, all day, with his school — great school — but that’s another story). Yeah, I know we only get the other three seasons because we have winter. I get all that. I still don’t like wearing all these clothes and having my hands cold from November to April. I don’t like days with more darkness than sunshine. Really, I’d just like to eat my weight in chocolate around Thanksgiving (possibly Veterans Day) and then sleep until Memorial Day.

 

So, along about now, when it seems as if winter might not end, I dig into my memories of childhood and produce: tunafish and noodles. Other people might call it tuna noodle casserole, but in my family it’s “tunafish and noodles.” And here’s how my mother made it.

 

Ingredients:

 

about 1/3 of a 1-pound bag of medium-width egg noodles

2 cans tuna packed in water

2 ribs celery, chopped (more if you’re a celery fan)

1 can mushrooms, optional

1 can cream of celery soup

1 soup can of milk

onion powder (about 1/4 teaspoon, or more to taste)

salt and pepper to taste

several slices American cheese

 

Instructions:

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook and drain the noodles according to package directions. While they are cooking, drain the tuna and canned mushrooms (if using) and chop the celery. In a 3-quart casserole, combine the drained tuna, drained mushrooms, and celery, making sure to break up the big chunks of tuna. Add the noodles and mix well. Add the cream of celery soup and milk. Mix very well. Sprinkle with onion powder. Taste for seasoning and add more onion powder and/or salt and pepper until it is pleasing. Top the casserole with cheese. Bake, covered, for about 45 minutes. If you like the cheese a little brown, remove the cover near the end. Serves 6 to 8.

 

Note: My mother always puts butter and salt and pepper on the noodles before she puts them in the casserole, but in a nod to my cholesterol level I don’t. I also use one-percent milk, and we don’t notice the difference. Of course, I do put cheese on top, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

 

November in the Hills: Embracing the Darkness (Part II)

Thursday, November 13th, 2008
Judith Maloney (Courtesy of West County Cider/CISA)

Judith Maloney (Courtesy of West County Cider/CISA)

          A strong proponent of November in our western Massachusetts hilltowns is Judith Maloney of West County Cider in Shelburne. Along with her husband Terry and a group of sweet- and hard-cider enthusiasts, Judith founded Cider Days in 1994. This tradition of celebrating the apple harvest and sharing cider, which takes place the first weekend in November, is now a highlight of autumn in Franklin County.

          To Judith, Cider Days don’t just honor the harvest. They also keep a way of life alive. She told me last week that early on she saw this festival as “something that would keep the apple trees in the ground—because the economics of apples have changed very much over the last 20 years. No longer do people buy apples to store over the winter. They buy them at the supermarket, and [the apples] come from Australia and New Zealand.”

          In contrast, says Judith, Cider Days preserve local apples and cider–and the trees that produce them. “We’re so lucky to have these trees,” she said with passion. “A lot of them have great age on them. [And] there’s a lot of knowledge among the orchardists along the valley and in the hills. It’s great that we can go onto the next season with that knowledge still spreading.”

          One of this year’s Cider Days speakers enthusiastically takes his celebration on to that next season, when the trees have yielded all their fruit and the snow has settled in. Michael Phillips of Lost Nation Orchard in Groveton, New Hampshire, takes a group deep into the woods on a dark night once a year to mark “old” Epiphany (January 17, the 12th night after Christmas in the old Julian calendar). There the group sings, dances, salutes the apple trees that will blossom in spring, and shares warm refreshments, including wassail (spiced cider-y punch) and slices of wassail pie.

          Here are the lyrics to the song the wassailers sing, courtesy of Michael Phillips:

Oh apple tree, we’ll wassail thee in hope that thou will bear.

The Lord does know where we shall be to be merry another year.

To blow well and to bear well, and so merry let us be:

Let every man drink up his cup, here’s health to the old apple tree.

To blow well and to bear well, and so merry let us be:

Let every man drink up his cup, here’s health to the old apple tree.

(Repeat all twice more)

Apples now–

Hats full,

Caps full,

Barrels full,

Three bushel bags full,

Barn floors full,

                   And even a little heap under the stairs.

Hip, Hip, Hooray! Hip, Hip, Hooray! Hip, Hip, Hooray!

          In his book The Apple Grower, Michael explains that he likes to greet the season with gusto. He writes, “[O]ur gathering often occurs on the coldest night of the winter. There’s certainly an almost mystical power in sharing apple custom with forty dear friends as you dance around the chosen tree at thirty degrees below zero!”
          Now, there’s someone who knows how to embrace the season’s darkness.

          If you’d like more information about Cider Days, visit their web site, http://www.ciderday.org/. Meanwhile, here are a couple of recipes that take advantage of the season’s cider bounty. Be sure to bow to an apple tree as you get ready to eat them; then go indoors and enjoy the cozy warmth and light of your house.

The Green Emporium (Courtesy of the Green Emporium)

The Green Emporium (Courtesy of the Green Emporium)

Cider Mussels Emporium

          This recipe comes from the fertile culinary mind of Michael Collins, chef at the Green Emporium in Colrain and a longtime fan of Cider Days. The restaurant has just reopened as a pizza/pasta parlor. Michael may have simplified his menu, but he hasn’t lost his creativity: he has a terrific new apple pizza!

Ingredients:

3 to 4 chopped shallots

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

2 cups hard cider

3 pounds mussels, cleaned and de-bearded (discard opened or cracked mussels)

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese (of your choice; Gorgonzola is nice here, or just plain blue cheese)

chopped parsley as needed for garnish

Instructions:

          Sauté the shallots in the olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Just before the shallots become translucent, pop in the garlic pieces, but be careful not to burn the garlic.

          Add the hard cider, and simmer the mixture until the cider is reduced in half.

          Add the mussels, and cover to steam until the mussels open. (This will only take a couple of minutes so be sure to check frequently.)  Take the pan off the heat, crumble the cheese over all, and transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with parsley. Serves 6 to 8.  

Michael Phillips at Cider Days (Courtesy of Carolyn Halloran/West County Independent)
Michael Phillips at Cider Days (Courtesy of Carolyn Halloran/West County Independent)

 Lost Nation Traditional Cider Pie

Michael Phillips serves a slice of this pie (indoors!) to his guests each winter at the end of his orchard wassailing ceremony.  He also recommends it for Thanksgiving and other special occasions.

The cider jelly required is a reduction of sweet cider. Boil 3 cups of cider until you have only 1/2 cup left; what remains is what you will need for this recipe.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 pinch salt

1/2 cup cider jelly

1/2 cup boiling water

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon melted butter

2 cups sliced apples

pastry for a 2-crust, 9-inch pie

Instructions:

         Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Add the cider jelly and water, and blend. Stir in the egg and melted butter. Place the apple sices on the bottom pie crust in a pie plate, and top with the cider mixture. Put the top crust over all, cutting a few slashes in it. Bake for 40 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.