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Oyster Casserole

 

Like most everyone, I am the result of many different families, marriages, couplings.  Most recently I can trace my lineage back to four families, the Rosemonds, Waldrons, Fiorellos, and Ballengers.  This past Saturday was the Ballenger family Christmas party, my paternal grandmother’s family.  My grandmother, Bobbie, was the daughter of Stanley Ballenger and Flossie Caudell, and had a sister Nita and two brothers, Ted and Jimmy.  Dan and I don’t often have the opportunity to attend these gatherings because of the timing and distance but this year it happened to fall the day before my sister Genevieve’s graduation from UNC.  This lucky timing means that this Christmas we’ll be able to see every side of our family, which is completely wonderful.

 

 

Over Thanksgiving my dad and I were talking about the Ballenger party and he mentioned that he very much wanted to recreate a recipe from my grandmother, Bobbie.  It was her mock oyster casserole recipe (also known as broccoli casserole), and he wanted to make it with real oysters.  We did some digging and recipe planning and decided that the morning of the party we’d wing it.  And that we did.

 

 

My dad loves to make fun of me because, it seems, over the years I’ve become that person that people ask for food advice.  Saturday was no exception.  As we were throwing the casserole together (and arguing about how to make it) I was reminded of how important food is to my family’s culture.  On all sides food is something to create and enjoy together.  It seems my blue eyes, firery personality, and two left feet aren’t the only things I inherited.

 

 

The recipe is pretty simple, we layered saltines, spinach, oysters, cheese, mushrooms and onions, and then poured a cream sauce over everything.  The end result was completely delicious, salty and full of flavor with just a little spice.  It’s not quite the broccoli casserole that inspired it, but it was a success.

 

 

In other news, the real reason we were in NC this past weekend, Genevieve Ann Pigeon is officially a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  I may have bullied her in to attending her graduation, but she did it and she was beautiful and I am SO incredibly proud of her.

 

 

In just a week (December 27), she’s moving to Ireland.  I’m conflicted, both excited for her and wallowing in despair about not seeing her for a year.  The only solution, I think, is that we visit her. Get ready for it Gen!

 

 

 (I realize that this is not a cocktail recipe, and is in fact the second recipe I’ve posted this month that is not part of the month-of-cocktails promise I made. It was just too delicious and too perfect for the holiday table not to share it with you.  We’ll be back later this week with more beverages!)

 

Oyster Casserole

 

24 large oysters (or 48 small ones)

1 large onion

10-12 button mushrooms

Saltines

2-4 cups fresh spinach

1 cup milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

1 tbsp worcestershire sauce

1 tsp worcestershire sauce

2 tsps hot sauce

Salt

1 tbsp butter

Paprika

 

Shuck your oysters and set them aside.

 

In a medium pot combine milk, cream, a sprinkle of salt, some of the oyster juice (the liquid the oysters are sitting in), a dash of paprika, tsp of worcestershire sauce, a tsp of hot sauce.  Once it is warm, stir in half of the cheese.  Bring almost to a boil, allowing it to thicken, then remove from heat.

 

Crumble saltines in a thin layer along the bottom of a large casserole dish.  Saute onions and mushrooms, diced, in butter, a tbsp of worcestershire sauce, and a tsp of hot sauce.  Scoop those into the dish on top of the saltines.  Add half of the shredded cheese.  Top with oysters. and spinach.

 

Crumble a second layer of saltines over the top so that there is a good crust.  Pour the cream mixture in, pouring around the edges so the crust is left mostly undisturbed.  Sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.

 

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Brown Butter Snickerdoodles

This year I participated in the first annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.  Lindsay from Love & Olive Oil and Julie from A Little Kitchen organized this event, which brought together over 400 food bloggers who made and sent cookies all over the world.  I’m a huge fan of events like this that bring together our community, it was so nice to get to meet new people in such a delicious forum!

For my contribution to the swamp, I made Brown Butter Snickerdoodles.  Snickerdoodles are one of my all time favorite cookies, something about their subtly spiced flavor makes my heart warm.  I tweaked my usual recipe a bit to include brown butter and a sprinkle of sea salt, which gave them (I think) a delicious twist.  I just hope that the three dozen I sent out were eaten as quickly as the ones I made for Dan and I.

Easily the most fun part of this swap was getting cookies in the mail.  I love all packages, and seeing what my fellow food bloggers came up with COMPLETELY put me to shame.  All three of the packages I received were adorable, I have big shoes to fill next year.  It was such a pleasure, thank you to to Lindsay & Julie, and to the three ladies who sent me cookies, Vickie, Beth, and Mary!

Brown Butter Snickerdoodles

Makes 6 dozen cookies

5 1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp salt

4 sticks salted butter, room temperature

3 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 tbsp cream of tartar

2 tsps baking soda

Topping:

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp sea salt

2 tbsps cinnamon

In a small pan, heat two sticks of butter over low heat.  Stirring occasionally,  cook until browned.  Set aside.

Mix together flour, salt, sugar, cream of tartar, and baking soda.  In a mixer, cream the remaining butter and sugar.  Add browned butter, then add eggs, one at a time.  Slowly add in dry ingredients.  Mix until well incorporated.

Refrigerate dough for one hour.

Grease a baking sheet and heat the oven to 400*.  Mix together cinnamon, sugar, and salt.  Using a small spoon, scoop balls of dough, roll them in the sugar mixture, and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until firm/golden brown.  Let cool for a minute, then move to a rack.

As you’re baking, if they start to come out looking too brown around the edges, drop the temperature to 375.

 

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Corn & Oil

To continue our month of holiday cocktails, I’d like to share one of Dan’s favorites, a Corn & Oil.  He had this for the first time at Baltimore’s famous Woodberry Kitchen, a local restaurant that we love (we’ll be going there again for Dan’s birthday in January. 27!).  A Corn & Oil is a mixture of falernum, which is white rum that has soaked with almonds (or pecans), lime zest, and ginger, and black rum.  The end result is wonderful, spicy, sweet, and completely delicious.  And it doesn’t at all taste like alcohol, which is a very big plus in my book.

When I decided to do a month o’ cocktails, Dan suggested we try this one.  He searched around the internet for recipes, and then decided to go straight to the source- Woodberry Kitchen.  They graciously sent over their recipe and we’ve been working on it all week.  A big thanks to WK for being so generous and a toast to delicious holiday treats.  This drink is a wonderful addition to our growing list of holiday beverages!

Corn & Oil
Source: Woodberry Kitchen

Falernum:

6 oz Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum

4 limes, zested

1 cup toasted and crushed pecans (or almonds)

25 toasted cloves

Corn & Oil:

1 oz Dark Jamaican Rum

.5 oz Dark Solera Rum

1.5 oz Falernum

To make the falernum, combine all of the ingredients in a mason jar.  Seal, and let sit for 48 hours in the fridge.  Then, strain all of the ingredients through a cheese cloth to extract the rum.  Add two cups of water, two cups of sugar, and 6 oz of lime juice.  Shake until sugar dissolves and refrigerate.

To make the Corn & Oil, combine all the ingredients in a mixer with ice.  Shake, pour, and add a slice of lime.

Ed note: We couldn’t (for the life of us) find the overproof rum, so we substituted it for regular white rum.  Not as strong, but it worked fine.  We also used almonds instead of pecans (we had almonds in the house). Enjoy!

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