Posts Tagged ‘New Year’s Eve recipes’

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
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)
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!

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What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

Thursday, December 31st, 2009


Frank Loesser composed the song “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” in 1947.
According to Susan Loesser’s biography of her father, A Most Remarkable Fella, the singer of the song is supposed to be asking the title question in the early spring, thinking ahead and hoping that a new relationship will last until December.
“It always annoyed my father when the song was sung during the holidays,” the composer’s daughter writes.
When a songwriter publishes a song and sends it out into the world, however, the song can be reinterpreted over and over again—and Frank Loesser has clearly lost the battle of New Year’s Eve.
His song perfectly epitomizes the mixture of reflection, hope, and sleepiness we feel as midnight looms on December 31. It’s a lovely piece—slightly jazzy and easy to sing because the melody makes the lyrics seem effortless, like conversation.
Maybe it’s much too early in the game.
Ah, but I thought I’d ask you just the same:
What are you doing New Year’s, New Year’s Eve?
I’ll definitely be singing it tonight as part of a set Alice Parker and I are performing at the Charlemont Inn. And this afternoon as I vocalize I plan to make bannocks—at least, my version of bannocks.
Bannocks are one of the traditional Scottish foods associated with the celebration of Hogmanay. This Scottish New Year holiday begins on New Year’s Eve (sometimes even earlier) and extends into New Year’s Day (sometimes even later).
Hogmanay is a major festival in Scotland these days, not unlike July 14 in France. A Scottish website,, documents many of the contemporary celebrations and offers some history as well as an opportunity to sing “Auld Lang Syne” by following a bouncing ball.
According to Hogmanay lore, the New Year will be prosperous if a dark stranger is the first person to cross one’s threshold in the New Year. The stranger is supposed to bring a token gift, often a lump of coal to keep the fire warm. The homeowner reciprocates with refreshment.
A typical refreshment offered is a bannock, an oatmeal cake that according to varying accounts resembles a scone—or a pancake—or a cookie.
I’ve never tasted an authentic bannock, and I encourage readers with recipes to send them in! In the meantime, I’m baking my version of this treat, which is distinctly scone like.
I love the word “bannock.” It sounds solid and practical. My bannocks are also solid (although not hard!) and taste pleasantly of country life.
It’s unlikely that a dark and handsome stranger will cross my threshold at midnight.
Snow is predicted late this evening in Hawley, Massachusetts, and the town tends to be geriatric so any handsome stranger who actually makes it up my steep hill will probably be silver haired. But a girl can always hope.
If no stranger shows up, we’ll eat the bannocks for breakfast on New Year’s Day.
Happy New Year to all! I look forward to singing and cooking with you in 2010…
Thanks to Pru Berry for the impromptu photo!
Thanks to Pru Berry for the impromptu photo!
Tinky’s Inauthentic but Tasty Bannocks
1 cup flour
1/2 cup oatmeal (not quick cooking)
1/2 cup blended oatmeal (put oats in your blender and pulverize them into a flour-like consistency; then measure out 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1-1/2 teaspoons baking power
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
2/3 cup raisins
1/2 to 2/3 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
white sugar for the top of the bannocks
Preheat the oven to 325 and lightly grease two cookie sheets (or line them with silicone or parchment).
In a medium bowl combine the flour, oatmeals, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
Cut in the butter; then stir in the raisins.
In a mixing cup whisk together 1/2 cup buttermilk, the egg, and the vanilla. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients. If the batter won’t quite hold together, add a little more buttermilk.
Drop the bannock batter into 12 mounds on the prepared cookie sheets. Sprinkle a little sugar on the top of each mound.
Bake the bannocks for 18 to 25 minutes, until they are brown on the edges. Let the bannocks cool on the cookie sheets for a minute or two before serving them warm. (If you can’t use them right away, reheat them briefly before serving; they’re best eaten quite fresh from the oven.)
Makes 12 bannocks.

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Mexican Chicken Pizza

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009


My family and I were looking for something simple to make and eat while trimming our Christmas tree—and then Erin Cosby Idehenre posted a picture on Facebook of a pizza she had just made!
Erin is the great-granddaughter of Mary Parker (a.k.a. Gam), the late matriarch of my Hawley, Massachusetts, neighborhood. So we’re sort of related.
A multitalented young woman, Erin has two spirited little daughters, five-year-old Paige and five-month-old Mina, and a darling marine husband, Azi.
(I may be predisposed toward Azi because we met at a family event at which everyone was singing. When he heard my voice he asked whether I was an opera singer. Some people might say this indicates that he doesn’t know a lot about music. I say it indicates that he’s insightful!)
Erin’s picture of her creation looked so good that I had to make the pizza. She gave me the basic outlines, and I adapted a few things as is my wont.
My family was skeptical of the pizza’s original name, Chicken Taco Pizza. So I changed it to Mexican Chicken Pizza. (Sorry, Erin! You’re still a great cook!) The pizza isn’t really Mexican since Erin lives in North Carolina and I live in Massachusetts, but it is influenced by Mexican cuisine.
You’ll note that the recipe makes two pizzas. You may make two and freeze one, cut the ingredients in half, or use the ingredients listed and just pile them on a bit thicker.
You may also add to the pizza as you like. I was feeding a small child and didn’t want to get too spicy, but adults might like jalapeños on the thing.
However you make it, the recipe is a winner. We’re thinking of making it again Christmas Eve (and maybe even New Year’s Eve with leftover Christmas turkey!). It’s simple, tasty, and satisfying.
We’re confident that Santa will enjoy the piece we plan to leave out for him. No coal for us this year!
Left to right: Paige, Azi, Erin, and Baby Mina
Left to right: Paige, Azi, Erin, and Baby Mina
for the crust:
2 1-pound packages of commercial pizza dough (make your own if you want to; I got lazy)
for the black beans:
extra-virgin olive oil as need for sautéing
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bay leaf (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cumin or cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
several turns of the pepper grinder
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 15-ounce can black beans (either with liquid or partly drained, depending on how moist you like your pizza)
for the chicken:
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 to 3 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin or cumin seed
for assembly:
the black bean mixture above
12 ounces shredded cheese (a mixture of Monterey Jack and cheddar works well)
the chicken mixture above
1 7-ounce can chopped green chiles
1 6-ounce can pitted ripe olives, drained and chopped into little rings
optional garnishes:
salsa fresca (or jarred salsa if fresh is unavailable)
sour cream
guacamole (we didn’t have it and thus didn’t use it, but it would be good!)
minced fresh cilantro
Bring the pizza dough to room temperature and preheat the oven as indicated in your dough instructions.
While the oven is preheating do the quick cooking of the beans and the chicken.
Start with the bean mixture. In a 2-quart saucepan with a fairly wide bottom (so you can start by sautéing) heat a splash of oil over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer. Throw in the onion and garlic pieces, and sauté them for a couple of minutes to release their aroma and juices. Add the seasonings and stir for a minute; then stir in the stock and beans.
Bring the bean mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 to 10 minutes—until the seasonings have mellowed a little and some of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside, and move on to the chicken mixture.
In a small frying pan over medium heat bring 1/4 cup chicken stock to a boil. Throw in the chicken, chili powder, and cumin, and cook for a minute or two, stirring. The seasonings should be well distributed throughout the chicken, and most of the stock should have evaporated. Set this mixture aside as well.
Next, roll and/or stretch each piece of pizza dough out gently (this may take a few tries) so that it forms a 14-inch circle (or a rectangle to go onto a cookie sheet if you don’t have a pizza pan). Use a little flour to help with this if necessary.

shaping doughweb

Spray your pans lightly with cooking spray and oil them even more lightly. Place the dough on the pans.
Divide the bean mixture between the two pizzas, and use a spatula to spread it almost to the edges of the pizzas. Sprinkle the cheese on next, followed by the chicken, green chiles, and olives.
Bake the pizza until the cheese is nicely melted and the bottom of the crust turns golden brown. With my crust (from Trader Joe’s) and my oven (old) this took 10 to 12 minutes.
Place the garnishes on bowls at the table so people can help themselves. (Erin put them on herself before serving the pizza; you may also do this.)
Makes 2 pizzas.
The last piece of pizza looked lonely. Fortunately, it didn't have to wait long to be eaten!

The last piece of pizza looked lonely. Fortunately, it didn't have to wait long to be eaten!

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