Appetizer

Oysters with Grapefruit and Meyer Lemon Mignonette

I keep trying to rack my brain, but I honestly can't remember the first time I consumed raw oysters. It's quite possible I had one as a teenager, but I'm pretty sure I was in my twenties (maybe after meeting Eric) that I had my first experience with these bivalves. Now, however, I'd list them as one of my favorite foods. Some of my favorite food memories revolve around oysters. Being served the Oysters and Pearls at The French Laundry (paired, of course, with a glass of Champagne) when we celebrated our first wedding anniversary and Eric's 30th birthday. Or the Kumamoto oyster with cucumber mignonette at O Ya (during my birthday dinner). But, mostly, I prefer my oysters treated with a little squeeze of lemon, maybe a small spoonful of mignonette. Ideally, a platter will be consumed outdoors, overlooking a body of water. However, that's not always possible (As I type, it's snowing. Hello winter!) and we've taken to shucking them at home, often slurping them down over the kitchen sink. It's not elegant, but it does feel intimate. Sometimes that's how romance is, right? :-)

While oysters are wonderful on their own, there are some simple ways to accentuate their robust ocean flavor. A little acid does a lot to make them pop. For this mignonette, I've combined two types of seasonal citrus, grapefruit and Meyer lemons, to make a simple dressing to spoon on top. 

Oysters with Grapefruit and Meyer Lemon Mignonette

YIELD
12 oysters

INGREDIENTS
12 oysters, shucked
1 large red grapefruit, segmented
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
1 teaspoon Champagne vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh chive
Coarsely ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Chop the segmented grapefruit sections into small pieces and transfer to a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Add the Meyer lemon juice, Champagne vinegar, salt, chive, and black pepper. Give it a quick whisk to combine.

Before eating, top an oyster with the grapefruit and Meyer lemon mignonette. 

Crab Dip with Garlicky Gougères

Our schedules have been a bit all over the place lately, but I think we're now starting to get into a summer routine. We have our dates locked in for when we'll be on the Cape and some time spent out in the Berkshires with my family. Our annual summer reading contest has begun and I've already read four books. I find myself gravitating towards culinary themed literature (crazy, I know), but I'm really trying to include some variety. I just started The Color Purple. This was a book that many read in high school, but I was never assigned it. Neither was To Kill A Mockingbird, which I finally got around to reading last year. I wonder what 15 year old me would've thought about these books. Would I have appreciated the struggles the characters go through? I really don't know. But I'm glad I'm reading them now. 

So going back to summer. Summer, for us, is all about outdoor eating. We'll grill multiple times a week and are always up for hosting friends for and impromptu BBQ. The one thing I do always struggle with at these things are coming up with appetizers. The main proteins, the salads, even a dessert... this is where I often focus my energy. But when we were invited to attend a birthday party for a friend of ours, I put together this creamy crab dip, served with homemade gougères (French cheese puffs).

This dip is loaded with Parrano cheese, both in the filling and baked on top with breadcrumbs. I had never used it before and when they sent me some to work with, I was blown away by its complex flavors. The cheese is aged for five months, made with vegetarian rennet, and is reminiscent of a gouda, but has nutty characteristics (like a Parmesan) and a creamy, buttery finish. While it's perfect for nibbling on its own, I really enjoyed cooking with it as it shreds and melts beautifully. 

To see where you can get your hands on some Parrano (so you can make this crab dip), check out their store locator

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Parrano®. All opinions expressed here are my own. 

Crab Dip With Garlicky Gougères

Servings
10-12 as an appetizer


Ingredients
For the Crab Dip
2 cups chopped yellow onion, 1/2" pieces
1 1/4 cup chopped red pepper, 1/4" pieces
3/4 cup chopped fennel bulb (white and light green parts only), 1/2" pieces
1 lb lump crab meat
8 oz cream cheese
2 cups grated Parrano Cheese
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Olive oil
Salt
Black pepper
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Directions
For the Crab Dip
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a quart baking dish with baking spray or butter.
2. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook for one minute. Add fennel and cook for another 3 minutes. Add red pepper, season with 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika and cook for another 5 minutes. 
3. In a large mixing bowl, add the crab meat, cream cheese, parsley, and 1 cup of grated/shredded Parrano cheese cheese and mash with a spoon until combined. 
4. Add the cooked onion, red pepper, and fennel to the crab meat and cream cheese and mix to combine.
5. Transfer the dip to the prepared baking dish and use a spatula to spread it until smooth and evenly distributed around. 
6. In a separate mixing bowl, add the panko bread crumbs and grated/shredded Parrano cheese. Add the butter and mash together to create the topping. Spread evenly over crab filling. 
7. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the top is brown and the dip is bubbling. Serve warm or at room temp with pita chips or garlicky gougères (see recipe below).

For the Garlicky Gougères
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
5 oz grated Parrano cheese
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 large eggs

For the Garlicky Gourgeres
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
2. Add butter, water, salt and garlic powder to a pot and bring to a boil.
3. Remove from heat and then add the flour, stirring until incorporated.
4. Return to medium-high heat and cook, stirring continuously, until it has formed into a dough and begins to pull away from the sides as you stir it.
5. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. 
6. Once it has cooled for a few minutes, stir in eggs, one at a time, until it has incorporated into the dough. 
7. Stir in 3 oz of grated/shredded Parrano cheese and black pepper. 
8. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2" round tip (alternatively, use a plastic bag and cut a 1/2" opening in one of the corners) and pipe 1 heaping tablespoon (measuring 1 inch wide) onto the baking sheet with 2" between each.
9. Top with remaining grated cheese. 
10. Bake in the oven until puffed and browned, about 20-25 minutes.
11. Serve warm with crab dip (or another dip of your choice... or just on their own).

Zucchini and Chickpea Fritters with Smoked Salmon

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I got back to my hotel room at midnight and put my things down on the bed. The whole weekend I had been focused on my work, photographing the World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards, and after nine hours, I was exhausted. The first thing I did was open my computer and scrolled through Facebook. I had planned on it being a way to decompress before bed. And then I came across a link to a video of Anderson Cooper reading the names of the victims. Seeing him, hearing his voice, quivering, failing to hold back tears, brought up all the emotions that I had kept tucked away over the last 24 hours. I began to cry with him. The times I've cried like that are few, but I remember each one well. The death of Matthew Shepard. Columbine. 9/11. Sandy Hook. 

There are so many other emotions that I feel and others have articulated them so much better than I ever could, but I wanted to put this moment down here, in this space, because these feelings are something I never want to forget. I don't mean that in a hashtag way. I mean that in a "Let's put this in our hearts and make sure we change because of it" way. I hope it gets more people to talk about some major problems we have as a nation. Our disgustingly lenient gun laws. Our hatred/fear of anyone that's different. Maybe... maybe... we can learn from what happened and grow. 

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I wish such a terrible thing didn't have to take up this space, because I do want to talk about a fabulous new cookbook: Pure Delicious by Heather Christo. I love this book for so many reasons, but, mainly, because of its approach to allergy-free recipes. None of the recipes are titled "Non-dairy" or "Vegan" or "Nut-free." They just are. Now, I don't have any food allergies (something I'm continuously grateful for) but my sister and a number of my friends have serious allergies. I have memories of my sister going into anaphylactic shock after consuming a peanut that had made its way on top of an ice cream sundae. So, whenever I'm cooking for others, I make sure to find out if they have any allergies. This book is the perfect reference for those who have dietary restrictions or who have friends and family members that do because all of her recipes are without gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, or shellfish.

These zucchini and chickpea pancakes/fritters were the first recipe I came across. I loved how simple they were to prepare and thought I could use them as a base and then just create my own unique toppings (Heather made a fantastic looking red onion marmalade). I love how rustic vegetable pancakes can be, but that they can be dressed up to make them a bit fancy. Here I use my favorite non-dairy topping, a creamy coconut milk and Dijon mustard sauce, some smoked salmon, and chive. They can be served as a pre-meal appetizer or even for brunch!

GIVEAWAY INFO!!! Heather and the publisher of Pure Delicious are generously providing a copy of her book to giveaway to one lucky reader! Just leave a comment on this post to enter (one (1) entry per person). It's only open to U.S. residents (sorry to my Canadian and international readers). Giveaway closes at 12PM EST on Friday, June 24th. The winner will be contacted via e-mail. 

Zucchini Chickpea Fritters with Smoked Salmon

Servings
Serves 10, as an appetizer

Special Equipment
Food processor

Ingredients
For the Zucchini Chickpea Fritters
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
3 cups shredded zucchini
1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Vegetable oil, for frying

For the creamy mustard sauce
1, 13.5 oz. can full-fat coconut milk, chilled in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (to separate the cream from the milk)
1 tablespoon grainy Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Smoked Salmon
Chopped fresh chive, for garnish

Directions
1. To make the zucchini chickpea fritters: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Add the shredded zucchini to a colander and, using a clean dish towel, press as much of the water out as you can. 

3. Add the chickpeas to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they turn into a thick paste. Transfer the beans to a large bowl and add the onion and zucchini. Use clean hands to mix well, then form the mixture into 10 cakes. Set aside.

4. On a plate, combine the garbanzo bean flour and the salt. Gently dredge each cake in the flour, patting it onto all sides of the cake. 

5. In a heavy pan or skillet, over medium-high heat add enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add 3 or 4 cakes at a time and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until the cakes are golden. Transfer the cakes to a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until hot and a deeper golden color.

6. While the fritters are baking, whisk together the coconut cream (the fat in the coconut milk), Dijon mustard, lemon juice, and salt until combined.

7. Serve fritters warm, with the smoked salmon, creamy mustard sauce and fresh chive on top.

Zucchini and Chickpea Fritter recipe - Reprinted from Pure Delicious by arrangement with Pam Krauss Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2016, Heather Christo LLC