Monday, January 6, 2014

Oven Fried Oysters: Cooking the Books

Every winter, my husband an I get together wtih two of our friends and we eat approximately a million oysters. We shuck one, we top it with some sauce (or not), and we slurp it down. Then we repeat it. A lot. There is wine, and for the pretense of virtue, there's water and bread. It is...Oyster Fest.

Yesterday, we had our sixth annual Oyster Fest. And, breaking with tradition somewhat, we actually planned to (gasp) cook some of the oysters. I know. I know. It's a strange course of action, but when one is staring down at hundreds of bivalves, one has to start thinking outside the boundaries of tradition. So, what's a wayward cookbook blogger to do? That's right: reach for Cook Book Presented by The Fishwives of Charleston Oregon.

Oven Fried Oysters

Drain oysters and dry thoroughly. Roll in buttered crumbs. Sprinkle with bacon fat and diced bacon (cooked until soft but not browned). Bake in hot oven (400) 15 to 20 minutes until nicely browned. Serve with lemon.

Millie Henkle

Well, okay then.

I did two batches of about 20 oysters each. There was no draining needed, as they were coming out of the shell not a can -- though I did reserve the liquor. I mixed up about a cup of seasoned breadcrumbs (to which I added a hearty amount of freshly ground black pepper and a big pinch of salt) with the melted fat rendered from the bacon (I had about a quarter cup). I figure this: why use butter when you've got bacon fat at hand? I mixed in fat until the crumbs were moistened and the mixture seemed uniformly sandy. One at a time, I patted oysters dry and chucked them in the bowl with the crumbs. I tossed them in the crumbs, and then spaced them out in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Then, I actually did sprinkled bacon over the top, trying to get at least a few pieces on each oyster. Since I'd used up the bacon fat, I saw no need to sprinkle on more bacon fat (though, hey, if you've got it, might as well).

15 minutes at 400°F got them nice and hot and not a bit rubbery. They likely could have gone a full 20, but I'm really opposed to rubbery oysters (which is why I never cook them in the first place). As they came out of the oven, I sprinkled on a big pinch of salt, even though more salt on oysters might seem like coals to Newcastle.

Friends, I'm here to tell you, these are good. We scarfed them down right quick -- eat them when they're hot. They are dreamy with a squeeze of lemon. They're also pretty darned amazing with a drop of chipotle Tabasco.

This recipe is a keeper. But really, did you expect the fishwives would steer us wrong?

Key Lime Pie: When It's Too Hot To Turn On The Oven, But You Need Dessert

So, I'm going to a dinner party tonight, and was asked to bring dessert. It's hotter than fuck out there, and sticky, and gross, and I really don't want to turn on the oven. The last time I supped with this group, I also brought dessert, and that, friends, was my near-famous strawberry shortcake with thyme and balsamic vinegar. Mmm. Mmm, yes, but it ruled out another shortcake option (which, face it, is one of the best options in this nasty-assed weather).

So, what to do? By the time I thought of a puff pastry tart, it was too late to buy and defrost puff pastry. (Note to self: buy puff pastry, put in freezer for just such an occasion.) (Additional note to self: you're 39 years old -- shouldn't you be able to type "occasion" properly the first time 'round?)

Long story short (too late), it came down to a chocolate ganache pie (only heat required: microwave for melting chocolate and butter, as long as you use a pre-done crumb crust), or the ultimate in no-bake goodness: Key Lime Pie.

And Key Lime Pie won the day. 2 crumb crusts, 4 egg yolks, 2 cans sweetened condensed milk, and a scant cup of key lime juice. Plus obscene amounts of whisking. No, really. Right now, I'm sitting barely clad right under the a/c because I'm sweating like a pig would sweat if a pig could sweat which they can't. I'm just saying. If offered a wallow, I'd consider saying "yes."

Anywho. I now have two pies setting up in the fridge. I'm not going to top it off with meringue, because, again, see the "no oven, damn it" stance of hot weather cookery. I will likely pick up some whipping cream on the way to the dinner, just because there's extra head room on the pies, and I like a pie that looks ample, not accommodating.

You're thinking to yourself at this point "Um....are those egg yolks raw?" Well...only as raw as the scallops in your ceviche are raw. The acid in the lime juice denatures the proteins in the eggs, "cooking" 'em. If you've a compromised immune system, you might want to shy away from this, but if you're okay with sushi or ceviche or delicious unpasteurized cheeses, you should be fine with this authentic tasty pie.

Scaled down version of the recipe (for those rare occasions where one pie is deemed enough):
Key Lime Pie
Based on bits and pieces of far too many recipes

2 egg yolks
1 14-oz can of sweetened condensed milk
1/4-1/2 cup key lime juice
1 9" graham cracker crumb crust pie shell

If you have a hand mixer, this'd be a good time to use it. Otherwise, this is a good recipe to work out your whisking arms. Whisk the egg yolks until they are very, very pale yellow and frothy. Add in the sweetened condensed milk, and whisk, whisk, whisk, whisk. You want to keep whisking until it is getting noticeably thickened -- when you pick the whisk up out of the goo, it should come off the whisk in sheets, not in drips. So, whisk some more. If you're using electrics, this'll be at about the 4 minute mark. If you're going by hand, it'll be longer. Whisk away, baby. On a really hot day, you might want to make sure you're sitting under an air conditioner, so you can stay cool.

Once your goo is thick, add in 1/4 cup of key lime juice (preferably fresh, but if your choice is between fresh NON-key limes or bottled key lime juice, go for the bottled). Stir, stir, stir until it's well incorporated. Then, dip your very clean pinky tip into the goo, and taste. Is it tart enough? Is it lime-y enough? If not, add more lime juice, up to another 1/4 cup (so, up to 1/2 cup total. No more, or I won't vouch for the setting-up-ability of the pie).

Pour into a prepared crumb crust, scraping all the gooey goodness out of the bowl and into the pie. Place gently in your fridge, and let it sit there for a good 4 hours before serving.

Garnishing options:
  • grated fresh lime zest
  • candied lime peel
  • fresh lime wheels
  • little dabs of whipped cream
  • great big globs of whipped cream
  • more Cool Whip than might strictly be considered healthy
  • meringue made from those 2 egg whites you have left over from separating out your yolks for this recipe (note: this would require turning on the oven)
You could use a ginger snap crust, if you want a ginger-lime pie. You could use a chocolate crumb crust for a black-bottom key lime pie. You could do away with crust completely and just let the goo set up in wee ramekins or custard dishes. I won't judge.

Guest Post: Drum Cake

Hello, all! I'm Kelly, Wendy's big sister, fellow book addict, and fledgling semi-foodie.

At the farmer's market in my home town today, I stopped at the Friends of the Library booth. Two cookbooks caught my eye and I didn't even try to resist. Both Betty Crocker, both from the last 50s, both only $0.25. As I dug out my quarters, the volunteer running the booth told me cookbooks were three for $0.50, so I quickly selected a third...sadly not vintage Betty Crocker, but that's a blog for another time.

The first find was Betty Crocker's Book Book for Boys and Girls. It's hardcover, spiral bound, first edition from 1957. Frankly, it's falling apart, but it's still charming nonetheless. Along with the step-by-step directions (packed with General Mills product placements) and illustrations, there are comments from the home testers. Here's one:
"Baking is as much fun as my chemistry set. And you can eat what you mix up." Eric
Golly, boys cooking - how modern and forward thinking! And chemistry today's kids even know what those are?

The book starts off with cakes. The first few recipes are exactly that - directions on how to bake cakes from scratch. But farther into the book, the Extra Special party cakes are more about assembly and decorating than about baking...well, that and product placement. This one in particular jumped out at me:

Drum Cake
To celebrate the Fourth of July - make a cake for the family picnic and decorate it for the holiday.

Bake cake in layers as directed on Betty Crocker Chocolate Devils Food Cake Mix package.

Frost cooled cake with Betty Crocker Fluffy White Frosting Mix.

The photograph on the opposite page is of the Drum Cake.

On sides of cake press striped peppermint candy sticks at angles into icing all around cake. Set a maraschino cherry at end of each stick. If you like, cross two candy sticks on top of cake for drumsticks.
See? More of a cake decorating idea than a recipe. The illustrations truly are necessary here: