I will admit, I did not have high hopes for a meal that began with such ugly ingredients. The oysters looked like giant, albino boogers, and the celery root, well, it’s got a face only a mother could love….
THE MENU: Creamy Oyster Soup, Celery Root and Walnut Salad, Crispy Ham and Cheese Sandwiches, Pear and Dried Cherry Baked Custard
At the beginning of each menu section, Martha lists an order in which do to things. In this case it was: make and refrigerate the salad, soak dried cherries in boiling water and assemble sandwiches, make the custard, cook the sandwiches, then cook the soup.
The Soup: As mentioned previously, I was not looking forward to making or eating this component. To say I was dreading it would not be a lie. Upon reading the recipe again, I saw that I actually needed shucked oysters in “their liquor.” I have seen enough chefs struggle with shelling oysters on Top Chef to know I would end up amputating something if I had to shuck them myself.
I was shocked to discover that every store I went to had a selection of oysters! In different sizes! Standards and Selects! Evidently I’ve been walking about with oyster blinders on, as I had never noticed them before. I ended up buying a pound jar at the local hippie store, as it was the best deal. Unfortunately, they are the larger ones, which I had hoped to avoid. Why on earth would I want a bigger bite of something I didn’t want to eat?
Look at that photo of the jar. Doesn’t it look like it would stink to high heaven when you open it? It didn’t; it barely had an odor at all. Oh, oysters, you crafty devils.
The recipe calls for sauteeing a shallot and celery in butter, then adding a tiny bit of flour to make a roux. (Although she never calls it a roux, of course. She avoids all the scary words for what you’re actually doing, like roux, clafouti, panini, etc). Martha says that this will be “smooth” after a minute or two of cooking. I’m sorry, but how can something with shallots and celery bits be smooth? Then you add dry vermouth, cream, milk, salt and pepper. She says it will thicken in 3 minutes. It took mine about twenty, and it never did get thick enough. I think it needed more flour, and less chunks of veggies to get to that consistency. Then, you add the oysters and broth and, allegedly, the edges of the oysters will “curl up” after two minutes. This was the hardest part for me–were they curling? I couldn’t tell, as they only looked slightly curly in tiny little spots. And they looked a little anatomical, like certain lady parts. So I ended up cooking it for 4 minutes, told myself that people eat raw oysters all the time, and decided it would be fine. (I half expected to wake up ill in the night, but that did not happen).
The results: The broth was thin and bland, but the oysters were not disgusting. They weren’t rubbery as I feared, but they also didn’t really add much to the dish. My husband said the combination of cream and oysters wasn’t as gross as he expected. He had to add some raw shallots and a lot of salt and pepper to get it to have any flavor. I only made half a batch, and it was still a lot–maybe four bowls worth. Oysters are no longer my enemy, but we won’t be going shopping together any time soon.
The salad: The first time I had celery root was on an Air France flight to Paris, when we were served celery root puree. Believe it or not, it was delicious. My husband has made it several times since, so I am not afraid of celeriac, but I didn’t realize it could be eaten raw. The salad is simple: mix Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and walnuts (I used pecans due to an allergy, and Chianti vinegar) together, cut celery root into matchsticks and toss with dressing and fresh flat leaf parsley. Then it chilled for 20 minutes The hardest part was cutting the celery root; my knife skills are quite crude so they turned out somewhere between matchsticks and chopsticks. No matter, the salad was a hit. It was chewy, but not overly so, and the mustard and vinegar were a sharp contrast to the nuts. I do have to disagree with putting the nuts in the dressing, as they had already started to soften a bit by the time it was served. I bet the leftover portion has fared even worse.
The sandwich: The recipe calls for prosciutto or speck. I hadn’t tried speck before, and since I have resolved to try a new food every month this year, and the local butcher shop had it, it won. Speck is a smoked ham from the Northern region of Italy, often seasoned with juniper berries, among other things. I love how the hipster butcher dude packaged it like a record album.
Speck, Black Forest ham, provolone, and raw spinach are layered on ciabatta rolls, which are then buttered on their exteriors. Finding decent bread was more problematic than getting the oysters and the speck. I asked for a ciabatta loaf at Whole Foods, and what the clerk handed me was cemetitious, it was so hard. So I politely declined to buy it, and she clearly wanted to punch me. She ought to be glad I declined her offer to slice it.
To her credit, Martha instructs to cook the sandwiches in a cast iron skillet, weighted down with another heavy pan, but also says you can use a panini press if you happen to have one; she doesn’t just assume you do. Here’s my rudimentary panini press:
The results: I expected this to be delicious, and oh, my, it was! The speck has a very heavy flavor, and I expected it to overwhelm the other ham and cheese, but they all blended into a crispy, melty mass of yum.
The custard: Oh, Martha, why not just call it a clafouti from the getty-up? You mention it in the info! This recipe is very easy: soak dried cherries in boiling water for 10 minutes, slice a pear and place it the bottom of a tart pan, then mix milk, cream, vanilla, a tiny bit of flour , sugar, two eggs, and salt in a blender. Pour over pears and bake.
We don’t have a tart pan. Last time I was at Home Goods, which was just last week, they had several in stock. When I went back on Friday, all they had were flan pans, with detachable bottoms, by several different brands. Really? Is there such a need for flan pans that tons of companies are making them? Whatevs, I used my Emile Henry pie pan, which I LOVE LOVE LOVE, and it was fine! Also, I have to give a shout out to the Trader Joe’s dried cherries. I know this sounds ridiculous but I was shocked at how cherry-y they were. You know, how raisins taste nothing like grapes? Well these taste like a summer day in Traverse City, MI, spent eating cherry pie.
The results: As I mentioned in a previous post, I am not a custard or clafouti fan, as I don’t like the texture. This has changed my mind. The flavors were perfectly balanced–I loved that it wasn’t too sweet, and there was just enough vanilla to round out the flavor of the cherries. The pear, while not very ripe pre-baking, was nice and tender. And the texture was fine–not too eggy or slimy, even though it looked vaguely omlette-y on top. Forgive me if i sound like an ass, but it tasted elegant. I can see this working great as part of a brunch.
The husband (I asked if I could use his name or initial and if you know him at all you know he said ‘absolutely not.’ He’s fine being referred to as his ‘function’) and I have decided to grade each dish, then average the grades between us. Here are the results:
Although we liked some of the dishes, we didn’t feel they went well together as a meal. Did they have four leftover winter recipes they decided to put together into a meal? We like the salad but wouldn’t serve it alongside the sandwiches again.
ETA: It took me slightly under two hours to make the entire thing. The only way it could take an hour is if I had a sous chef chop everything and ready all the ingredients.
Soup: C (too thin, needed extra seasoning). Husband warns that Martha will demand that I go on her show because she’s never gotten a C in anything before.
Salad: B+ (for soft nuts)
Hope you liked the first installment! Sorry for the bad photography. I did warn that it would be crappy, right?