February 23, 2007

Cook's Christmas in February

I don't think I've mentioned it here, but my LCB doesn't like to cook. She can, she's good at it, but she doesn't like it. I, on the other hand, LOVE to cook. And I'm continually making my family nervous with my latest / greatest experiment from the kitchen / lab.
One of the things I really like about being here in Maryland, is that last year I was able to keep an herb / vegetable garden just outside the kitchen window. Fresh peppers, cilantro, tomatoes, all just outside the door for the picking. As much as I loved living in California, I could never keep a plant alive there.
Well, my LCB, while she doesn't like to cook, does like to surprise me with new stuff for the kitchen. Honestly, if she didn't, I'd still be making pie crusts by hand with a pastry cutter. My LCB bought me a KitchenAid stand mixer, which I thought was just outrageously priced. But now I wouldn't want to be without it.
True to form, this weekend, she surprised me with two more items. She's a bit of a QVC fan. I can't watch the channel for very long at a clip, but she could watch it all day long. So, the other day I saw yet another QVC Package on the porch, and brought it in to her. She said "That's for you". (?) So opening it, I found she'd bought me a brand new Japanese Kohaishu chef's knife!

My chef's knife had lost it's edge a few months ago after 20 years of faithful service. (It's getting sharpened this weekend) But you know, in the kitchen, you can never have too many knives.
The second surprise just arrived this evening. Since it's not quite spring yet, never mind what the groundhog said, I'm still not able to plant my herb garden yet. It'll be another month or so. So to fill in the gaps, she bought me an AeroGarden Kitchen Herb Garden!

I haven't set it up yet, but I'm looking forward to doing so tomorrow. I'm quite anxious, because I haven't been able to snip any fresh oregano since Thanksgiving.
I really do have the best wife ever.

February 19, 2007

Beef Heart and Burgundy Chili

Chili is one of those things that most people love, and nobody makes it the same way. This is my favorite chili recipe. I'll try to get some pictures taken next time I make it. This time, it didn't hang around long enough!

1 lb. Ground meat. (beef or turkey)
1 1/4 lbs. cubed beef heart
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, freshly minced
1 can Kidney Beans
1 8 0z. can Tomato Sauce
16 oz. Burgundy
1/3 cup Masa Flour
1/3 cup chili powder
1/8 tsp cayenne (more or less to taste)
Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
Salt & Pepper to taste

Brown the ground meat and heart along with the onion and garlic in a stock pot. While you're browning the meat, put some worcestershire sauce in with it. I usually go 3-4 turns around the pot with it. This is also where I add about a good pinch of coarse salt, and a few turns of fresh ground pepper.
When the meat's cooked through, drain it, and return it to the stock pot. Add:
chili powder, cayenne, tomato sauce, burgundy, and Kidney Beans. Stir all of this together, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, mix the masa flour with some warm water until it makes a thin paste. (It should kinda glob off a fork) Mix this paste in with the chili to thicken it up some. Then let everything simmer about 5 more minutes. After I add the masa, I usually have a bowl, and let the rest of it simmer for the rest of the day.

February 18, 2007


I'm pretty sure this isn't an "East Coast" recipe, but I first encountered it when we moved back here, so I'm labelling it that way.
One day when I was taking lunch to my LCB, I stopped at a local deli in Havre de Grace, called St. John's Gourmet. When I go into a place and everything (or at least more than 50%) of the menu looks terrific, I usually ask someone who works there, "If you were taking lunch right now, and could have anything on the menu, what would it be?". Well, on this day, the cook told me he'd get the Muffuletta. So that's what I got.
That was one of the best surprises I've had. The sandwich was stuffed with good deli meats, and had a very distinctive olive taste, due to the relish they use. (Actually, the St. John's calls it an Olive Salad, I call it an olive relish.) Apparently it's a creole creation, and I've since seen it on Emeril and also saw Giada feature it on a superbowl snacks spot on one of those morning shows.
The Muffuletta sandwich is a fairly straightforward sub sandwich. The key points are, the olive spread, a lot of layers, and compress the finished sandwich. Here's how I built it:
Muffuletta spread on the bottom and top rolls. Then two layers each: Peppered Ham, Mortadella, Hard Salami, Pepperoni, Provolone cheese. Then some romaine lettuce. Put everything together and either smush it down, or wrap it really tight in plastic wrap, and let it sit in the fridge for a while to let all the flavors meld.
It's difficult for me to find the relish around here, and when I do, it's very pricey for a small jar of it. So here's a recipe for it that makes a fair amount of it. (I've been using it on a number of things beyond just sandwiches.)
So here's how you make the muffuletta spread:

1 1/2 cups chopped pimento-stuffed green olives
1 cup chopped Kalamata olives
2/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tbsp horseradish
1/2 cup fire-roasted red bell pepper (chopped)
5 anchovy fillets, mashed
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp lemon juice
fresh ground black pepper to taste

Mix all this up in a bowl, and let it set for a while in the refrigerator.

This recipe made enough to fill two olive jars with a bit left over.

Artichoke and Olive Frittata with Gruyere

I love frittatas. They're one of those "clean out the fridge & pantry" dishes. The other day I happened to spy a couple cans of artichoke hearts, and thought they'd be good in a frittata with some olives. I didn't have any whole or sliced olives around, so I used the olive relish I made for the muffuletta, and it worked out pretty good. Next time I might use a different cheese, something with a bit more flavor, like gorgonzola. I love gruyere, but it didn't add much to this experiment, and basically got lost in the other ingredients.

4 Eggs
1/4 cup chopped Artichoke Hearts
1/4 cup crumbled Gruyere
1 Tbsp muffaletta spread

Scramble the eggs in a bowl, along with the Muffaletta spread.
Melt a Tablespoon of margarine in an 8" cast-iron skillet.
When the skillet is hot, pour the eggs in and cook until they begin to firm up.
Add the artichoke hearts and gruyere.
Move the skillet from the stovetop and put it in the oven for about 10-15 minutes.
Once the eggs are well-cooked, pull the pan out, (using a good hot pad or oven mitt) and transfer it to the plate. A Frittata this size should serve 2 people. (Assuming they both have appetites like mine.)

Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas

Friday was my daughter's 16th birthday. So naturally, she got to choose what she wanted for dinner. Ever the California girl that she is, she wanted Chicken Enchiladas and Artichokes. I told her the enchiladas we could do, for sure. The artichokes were a bit iffy. But she did spot some nice-looking artichokes at the grocery, so she had her California birthday dinner after all. In this post, however, I thought I'd cover the Enchiladas.
Enchiladas are amazingly easy to make, and very versatile. They do take some time, but you can make them ahead, and just pop them in the oven when you're ready. The filling can be whatever you like. Chicken, beef, pork, and cheese are all common, and I've seen shrimp and fish enchiladas too. Various places serve enchiladas with a red or a green sauce. My daughter likes the red sauce, which you can make yourself, or make from a seasoning blend, or simply pour from a can. (her favorite is the canned sauce.) And it's the sauce that provides almost all the flavor. We don't season the chicken at all, (although you certainly could) we just let the sauce season everything.
Another thing about enchiladas, you have to cook the tortillas. I've seen some folks try to make them without frying the tortillas first, and it's not a pretty result.
Now my daughter just likes chicken and cheese in her enchiladas, but if I were making these for myself, there would also be some diced chiles and sliced black olives mixed in with the chicken. Maybe some onions too. But following is how we did it for my eldest's sweet sixteenth.

2 1/2 lbs boneless skinless Chicken breasts
20-25 corn tortillas
1 - 2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar & monterey jack works well)
1 19 oz can of enchilada sauce. (Better to have too much than too little of this)
Vegetable oil.

We start by boiling the chicken breasts until they're cooked through. Then put them in a bowl and run some cold water over them. When they're cool enough to handle, shred the chicken by hand. (As an alternative, we've been known to put them in chunks in the KitchenAid with the paddle, and let it mangle the chicken.)

When your chicken is shredded, set it close to your workspace. We tend to set up an assembly line. From left to right: a stack of corn tortillas on the left side of the stove, Oil on the left front burner, enchilada sauce on the right front burner, casserole pan next to the stove, chicken and cheese next to the casserole pan.
Get your oil and enchilada sauce heating in a deep skillet. About 1 1/2 inches of oil, and however much enchilada sauce you're using, the whole can for sure, more if you choose.

When the oil's hot, take one tortilla, and put it in the oil, as soon as it floats, turn it over, then transfer it to the enchilada sauce, turn it over so both sides are coated, then transfer it to the casserole pan. Put your chicken and cheese down the middle of the tortilla, and fold one side over, then fold the other side over that. I should mention, I suppose, that the best way I've found of transferring the tortillas from oil to sauce to pan, is by using two forks. The tortillas get pretty soft by the time you get them to the pan, and sometimes tear. So if you end up throwing 2-4 of them away, don't be discouraged. We always allow for some of them to be tossed.
Once the pan is full, set it aside, and if you have more, start over with a new pan. We usually get 18-20 enchiladas, so I usually use two pans. Once they're all made, pour whatever remaining sauce you have down the middle of the enchiladas, and sprinkle some more cheese on top, along with some sliced black olives, or whatever you like for garnish. Then put them in the oven at about 375 long enough to let the cheese melt. If you made them ahead, you'll want to go a little longer in order to let everything get up to temperature, probably 10-15 minutes should do it.

February 16, 2007

Oyster Stew

Julie, over at Kitchenography, said something the other day that I'm sure most of us on the Eastern Seaboard have been thinking. She said "The making of soup is almost mandatory on snow days." This is part of the prelude to her amazing Carrot and Ginger soup with Lime Creme Fraiche. I must admit, I didn't even know that there was such a thing as Creme Fraiche before reading that recipe. Now I have to go out and find some. I got all the rest of the ingredients this morning.
Anyways, I had a hankerin' for soup as well, and since the kids wanted cheap-o sandwiches, I swung by the grocery and picked up a pint of select oysters. There are precious few "comfort" foods that are more comforting to me than oyster stew. The biggest gripe I have with either store-bought or restaurant oyster stew is that they seem to use so few oysters. This is a very simple, but very focused soup. The oysters are the only substantive ingredient, so don't skimp on them.
It seems a little weird telling someone how to make oyster stew, because around here, it's kind of like telling someone how to make toast. I think everyone in this part of the country knows how to make it. But I'm listing it anyway. It's one of my favorites.

1 pt. select oysters (with the liquor)
1 cup milk
4 Tbsps margarine

First, you'll want to pour off some of the liquor, and save it.
Bring the milk and margarine to a low boil, just until the margarine's melted. Then turn it down to a simmer.
Add about 2 good pinches of salt, (I use kosher salt, but use what you have) and a few turns of fresh ground pepper to taste.
Now add your oysters. Stir all this gently, and taste the broth. If it's real milky, add some of the liquor, a little at a time, until it's got a good oystery flavor. You'll want to simmer this until the edges of the oysters begin to curl.

That's all there is to it! Put it in a bowl, sit in front of the window, and enjoy a good hot bowl of oyster stew while you're watching the weather do it's thing. You really can enjoy winter around here.

February 14, 2007

Home-made Flour Tortillas

I didn't get out today, or very much yesterday. Thank goodness for the internet, I was able to get my LCB a Valentine's day gift. But I never made it down to the card shop to get a card. We've been in the midst of a snow-rain-sleet-ice storm the last couple of days, and the roads weren't passable. It's been really cold, and windy, and when it gets like that around here, I start thinking about sunny, warm, dry places. Places like Tijuana, or Tecate. Two border towns in Mexico I used to love to visit.

One of the greatest things about spending the day in Mexico, is the food. My daughters and I loved getting fresh tortillas from the tortillarias down there, and "street tacos" from the vendors. Nothing can compare to a freshly made tortilla with a little butter. Of course, tortillas are a staple in Mexico, and they're used for tons of different dishes, but they're also delicious by themselves when they're right off the griddle. Around here, we can find some commercial corn and flour tortillas, but it's nearly impossible to find un-cooked tortillas. And sometimes, that's what I want, so I can cook the tortilla myself. If you try that with store-bought tortillas, they'll either burn, or get over-crisp, like a cracker.

So I headed to an old standby of mine, Allrecipes.com and found exactly one (1) recipe for Whole wheat flour tortillas. Looking that over, and remembering what I saw those wonderful Mexican ladies do, I adapted the recipe for regular flour tortillas which were surprisingly easy to make. Some of these, hot off the griddle, with a dab of butter, and some mariachi music in the background, and for a few minutes, I was able to forget about the wind, snow, ice etc... Felt like being back in Mexico for a bit. Here's the recipe:

5 cups flour
1/2 cup lard
2 tsps salt
1 1/2 cups boiling water

Put the flour, lard, and salt in a big mixing bowl. With your hands, rub the mixture until it's the consistency of a coarse meal. (when I say "rub the mixture", I took it between both hands and just rubbed it together in the bowl until I couldn't feel any more lard.)
Make a loose mound with a well in the center. Once the water's boiling, pour it into that well, and with a wooden spoon, mix it all together until the dough is smooth.
Roll the dough into golf-ball size balls, and set them on a tray. Once all your dough is rolled, flour your surface, and take one of the balls, and pat it flat. (the original recipe says to let them sit for an hour or so, but I wasn't that patient) With a well-floured rolling pin, roll the tortilla out as thin as you like, I like them to be almost paper-thin. You'll have to keep changing direction with the pin, in order to keep the tortilla round. Another thing I've learned, is you'll want to start in the center of the tortilla and roll towards the edges. Otherwise it'll wrap around the pin. You have to keep flouring the pin too.
Once you have the size you want. Take it right over to a hot, cast-iron skillet, and let it sit there until little bubbles start to form. Once they do, turn it over and cook it for about 30 seconds, then turn it again and cook 30 seconds on that side. Move it to a plate or a tortilla warmer, and start on the next one.
I cooked about 6 of these, and rolled out the rest. The un-cooked ones I put in a zip-lock bag and into the fridge to use later. Now we'll be able to have fresh tortillas anytime we like. I'm just beside myself.

I think I should probably apologize, as I didn't take pictures of this as we did it. But it turned out so well, that I guarantee we'll be making them again, and I'll get some pics posted then.

February 13, 2007


When we lived in San Diego, I worked with a lot of Filipino folks. Occasionally, there'd be an event of some sort, and everyone would bring a dish in. My Filipino friends often would bring in lumpia (LOOM-pee-uh), which is a kind of egg roll. Unlike other egg rolls I've had, these were much narrower (about the diameter of your index finger) and longer, about 6 inches or so. They also had a lot more meat than veggies. I'm always a bit disappointed when I bite into an egg roll and find it's mostly cabbage, with a speck or two of meat.
Since we moved to Maryland, I know one Filipino person. Actually, I don't really know her, my daughters know her daughters. But we've met. Anyways, -- I can't find lumpia around here, so I figured I'd have to learn to make it. The recipe I found for lumpia is from Allrecipes.com, and it's pretty good. The filling is amazingly good. I just can't seem to get the wrapping quite right. It's not bad, but it's not the way those folks in San Diego made it. My egg roll wrappers come out of the oil all blistered, whereas theirs were never blistered. And the color on theirs was a perfect, even, golden color. Like a perfectly toasted marshmallow. But even if I haven't perfected the technique yet, I think the end product is enough to satiate my cravings from time to time. I'll let you all click over to the recipe, and I'll describe the wrapping. These aren't hard to make, but they do take some prep time. If any of you have any pointers, I'd be delighted to hear them.

The filling - pork, cabbage, carrots, onion, garlic, salt & pepper.

I usually start by arranging the wrappers in a star pattern, so they're easier for me to pick up. The first time I tried this, I kept getting double wrappers and not realizing it. So now I separate them first, and alternate them.

You'll put a wrapper in front of you, then put 2 Tbsps of the filling on it, making a line that goes from corner to corner. The recipe calls for 3 Tbsps, but that makes them real thick. Of course, you might prefer them that way, I dunno.

Then you'll take the corner closest to you, and fold it over the meat filling, kinda inching the meat up tight against the back of the wrapper. Fold those corners in, and roll it the rest of the way. Before you get to the end, put a drop of water on the tag end, then roll it up. That water will help the wrap stay closed.

Once you have all your lumpia put together, just deep fry them in whatever kind of oil you prefer, until they're nice and golden brown. Drain them on paper towels, and serve. You'll like these.

February 11, 2007

A desperate plea to Grocers

This isn't a recipe. It's more of a rant. I'm planning to post a recipe tomorrow for Lumpia. Lumpia is kind of a Filipino eggroll. I was introduced to it when we lived in San Diego, and I love the stuff. They're typically a bit longer and thinner than Chinese eggrolls.
Anyways, I kept forgetting to pick up egg roll wrappers. And I also needed some cabbage and green onions. So I went to our local grocery to get the items I was missing, and while I was reaching for the green onions, the spritzer went off. That brings me to my plea.
If you are a grocer, or the manager of a grocery -- please, Please, PLEASE -- stop soaking the produce!! I don't know where this absurd practice started, but it really needs to stop. Water doesn't make produce fresher. Nobody believes you just brought it in from the field out back, still holding the morning dew. One grocery store I frequent even plays a recording of thunder, and flashes some lights before the spritzer goes off. Like I'm witnessing a thunder-mist-storm. How empty headed do you think I am?
The only thing wet produce does, is spoil faster. Which is why I think they soak it. So I have to buy it more often.
Alright, --my apologies readers, tomorrow I'll tell you about our lumpia, but this evening, I just wanted to get that off my chest. Now I feel a bit better. Until I have to buy more produce, at least.

February 09, 2007

Turns out, I love asparagus! (who knew?)

Some months ago, I was reading Elise's blog - Simply Recipes. She had a recipe for asparagus, which caught my eye, because she described the texture as "slightly crunchy". I recalled that my whole life I've hated asparagus, because I've only had it prepared from a can. And it's mushy enough to puree with the back of a fork. My LCB loves canned asparagus, so we fix it now and then, but I don't eat it. So Elise's recipe really piqued my interest. On the way home I picked up some fresh asparagus at the grocery, and when I got home I made some to go with dinner. As it turns out, I actually LOVE asparagus.

You ever try a recipe, and it's so simple, and so delicious, that about 2 seconds after you savor the last bite, you think to yourself -- "I bet that'd be good with..." Well that's what happened to me. I thought I'd swap out the lemon zest and parmesan for some fresh minced garlic and crumbled gorgonzola. Oh, man! It really turned out good. So here's my take on asparagus with a nod to Elise over at Simply Recipes for the inspiration.

1 bunch fresh Asparagus
2 cloves freshly minced garlic.
2 Tbsp crumbled gorgonzola cheese.
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil.
Break off the tough ends of the asparagus, then cut the spears on a bias in about 1-2 inch sections.
Put the asparagus sections in the boiling water for no more than 2 minutes.
After 2 minutes, drain them, and put them in a big mixing bowl.
Add the Olive Oil, garlic, and gorgonzola and toss it all together.
Transfer all this to a serving bowl, and you're good to go.

Tinker around with this and try some different variations. I'm sure there are a lot of ways you could fix this. The real key, is to only parboil the asparagus for a couple minutes. After that, you can pretty much let your imagination run with the fixin's.

February 07, 2007

Crab Pretzel

When we first moved back here, somebody told my wife about crab pretzels. I hadn't heard of any such thing, but there are a lot of things I haven't heard of. So we went to an Italian place nearby, called "The Olive Tree". It's quite popular locally, for good reason.

One thing about living on the Chesapeake -- every eating establishment makes the "Best crabcakes in Maryland". It doesn't have to be a seafood place. I've seen the signs at bars, family restaurants, truck stops, Italian restaurants, Greek restaurants, you name it. Well, the Olive Tree is no exception.

But a friend of my LCB told her that their crab pretzels were "to die for". (I always hated that phrase). So we went, and she tried it, and of course, she loved it. It's a soft pretzel, smothered in a very rich cheese sauce, with lump crab meat all over it. I enjoy picking the crab meat out of it, but the whole thing is way too rich for me.

Anyway -- I have a recipe for a hot crab fondue, and after trying this crab pretzel, I thought, -- That's not so different from the crab dip I make. If I used a heavy cream in lieu of the wine, it would be just like this.

My recipe for crab dip comes from Recipe Source, and instead of the cayenne, I use Old Bay. So here's how we make the crab pretzel:

Use your favorite soft pretzel, and fix it according to the directions, then put it in a pie pan.

8 oz. cream cheese
1 jar cheddar cheese spread. (like Olde English)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 lb. good crab meat. (none of that artificial stuff here)
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce.
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning.

Set up a double boiler, and melt the cheeses together. Once they melt together, and are nice and smooth, add the cream while stirring. This will thin it out just a bit. Now you can add everything else. Once it's all heated up, pour enough of it over the pretzel to cover it, letting it drip into all the spaces. Now if you like, you can sprinkle some shredded cheddar, or grated parmesan over it, and pop it into the oven at about 400 until the cheese melts. If you're not adding any more cheese, just put it in there for a few minutes to let everything heat up together. When it comes out, just use a spatula to slide it onto a plate, and get all the sauce on there.

This is a really easy dish, and folks will love it.

February 02, 2007

Seafood Ranchero

Well I promised a west-coast treat, and this is one of my favorites from a grocery store in Alpine, Ca. Daniel's Alpine Creek Market. We always just called it the creek. They had a great deli section, and one of their fish folks used to mix up a type of salsa they called "Seafood Ranchero". I could eat a whole tub of it in one sitting if I wasn't careful. It had teeny tiny shrimp in it, they called them bay shrimp. But here on the Chesapeake, I've never seen them. Maybe they're from the San Francisco bay. Folks here like big shrimp. Shrimp aren't used so much for an ingredient here, as they are the main dish, or a snack food. Around San Diego, they use those tiny shrimp everywhere. Shrimp burritos, shrimp dip, and of course, my favorite salsa. It's all good.

There's something else about this recipe that might make some Marylanders cringe. I use artificial crab meat in it. There's a good reason though, I picked some up today, I believe it was about 3.50 / lb, maybe less. A pound of good lump crab meat on the other hand, was going for around 27.00 / lb. Now you're putting this stuff into salsa. The other flavors are going to wreak havoc on that delicate sweetness that the real crab meat has. Use the fake stuff, it's mostly for texture.

One last thing -- I've seen holy wars break out on the internet over salsa. What makes a "real" salsa, what something should or shouldn't be called. I should tell you up front, -- I don't care. If you think this is more like Pico de Gallo, call it that, you won't hurt my feelings. If you think it's something else, call it that. Heck, for all I care you can call it french-fried apple danish. I really couldn't care less. -- But DO make it and try it. It's really delicious, and one of the things I missed the most when I first moved away from Southern California.

Some notes:
1. I run two of the three tomatoes through a chopper to get a better texture.
2. Chop the onion by hand. DON'T run it through the chopper. Don't chop it too fine, either. A food processor or mechanical chopper will cause a lot more cellular breakdown in the onion, causing more of the onion juice to be released, and the salsa will end up bland.
3. the serrano peppers should be chopped really fine. Use the chopper for them if you like.
4. I can't remember the count for the shrimp, but they should be really small.
5. You can add other seafood to it if you like. Fish, scallops, whatever.

OK, here's the recipe:

3 Big Tomatoes
1/2 - 1 onion
1/4 C. chopped cilantro
1-2 tomatillos
3 Serano peppers (seeded!)
1/2 - 1 clove of garlic (chopped)
2 tsp. cumin (more or less to taste, I probably use more)
juice from 1 Lime
1/2 lb tiny shrimp. (bay shrimp or salad shrimp)
1/2 lb imitation crab meat

Dice your tomatoes
Dice the onion
chop the peppers
quarter the tomatillos and put those through the chopper.
Take 2/3 of the diced tomatoes and chop them further in a chopper or food processor. Put the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, peppers, lime juice and garlic in a bowl and stir it all together.
If the shrimp are small enough, (about the size of your thumb nail) put them in whole. Otherwise, cut them in half or thirds, then put them in the bowl.
Put the imitation crab meat in a chopper or food processor and chop it up. Put it in the bowl.
Add the cumin
Stir everything up again.
Cover and put it in the fridge. The longer it cools, the better it gets.

February 01, 2007

Gi-Gi's Oysters

Hi everyone. Thought I'd start this off with one of my favorites. When I was a kid, our maternal grandmother was called Gi-Gi. Her name was Georgia, and that's what our grandfather called her, but my older sister couldn't say it that way, and it came out gi-gi. So it stuck.
They lived right behind us in a gorgeous fieldstone house, and every Thanksgiving and Christmas we'd go over for dinner. It was quite the event. Gi-Gi would roast a terrific turkey, complete with all the sides. My favorite side dish was the oysters.
Being from Maryland, I grew up to love oysters. We had blue crabs in the summer, and oysters in the winter. I'd have fried oysters, scalloped oysters, oyster stew, and sometimes you could buy some oysters from a guy selling them out of the back of a pick-up, and take them home, shuck them over the sink, and slurp them off the shell. Winter in Maryland has some horrid weather, but it's pretty much off-set by the fact that you can get fresh oysters in any month that has an 'r' in it.
Anyways, back to Gi-Gi's. Sometimes I'd try to forego the turkey and just fill up on oysters. They were that good. Gi-Gi never looked at a recipe the entire time I knew her. (that I know of) And she surely didn't write anything down. So I asked my sister one time if she knew how to make some of Gi-Gi's dishes. Of course she didn't. Gi-Gi didn't like much help in the kitchen. So we were left to try to figure it out on our own. It took me a while, but this past Christmas I finally figured it out. It's incredibly simple, and I thought I'd use it for my first contribution to this site, as it's a quintessential Chesapeake dish.
For this dish, you'll want to get good oysters. What I mean is, don't try it with those cans of smoked oysters, or other canned oysters that they sell next to the anchovies and sardines. Hoof it over to the fish counter, and look for pint jars of oysters, probably on ice. These oysters are in a briny, viscous liquid, which is called the "liquor". I don't know where it comes from or why it's there. I don't really care. (there are some things it's best not to know) But you're going to need that, so don't get rid of it. When you get ready to put it all together, pour the oysters into a strainer or collander, and collect that liquor in a bowl or measuring cup under the strainer. The directions I'm going to give you will make enough of Gi-Gi's oysters to fill an 8x8 or 9x9 casserole dish. If you have a 9 x 13 dish, you'll probably want to double up. OK, here it is:

1 - 2 pints of good oysters (enough to cover the bottom of your casserole dish)
2 cups of milk
2 sticks of margarine
Saltine crackers.

Preheat your oven to about 350.
Drain the oysters in a collander, and reserve the liquor. Then put the oysters in the casserole dish. In a saucepan, heat up the milk and margarine until the margarine is melted. Once the margarine has melted, pour in some of the liquor, but not too much. Probably about 1/4 cup. You'll want to taste it as you're adding it. It should have a definite oystery taste, but not overpowering. (I made that mistake). Add some salt and pepper to taste. Once this broth suits you, pour it over the oysters, until they're just covered. You'll probably have some left over. Now, take out a sleave of the Saltines, put about 4-5 in each hand, and crush them over the oysters. Do that until the crushed crackers cover the oysters about 1/4 inch thick. The cracker bits should be about dime-sized, not crumbs. Now put them in the oven for about 5-10 minutes. All you want to do here is heat up the oysters. If you cook them too long, they'll shrivel up to itty-bitty things like you see in those cans. (I made that mistake, too) The crackers on the bottom will have soaked up some of the broth, and taste kind of like oystery dumplings. The crackers on top will be crisp, and the oysters -- oh man, the oysters will be like a taste of heaven itself.

Eventually, I'll post some pictures of this. Eventually, I hope this will be a proper food blog. But for now, I just wanted to get things going, and this was always one of my faves. I was so excited when I finally got it right, I had to phone my sister and tell her. You'd have thought I won the lottery.

So that's my first contribution from the Chesapeake, where we currently live. Next I'll post one of my favorites from the West Coast.