Friday, June 29, 2012

Creole Tomato Jam

Goat Cheese and Tomato Jam Crostini was once the height of trendiness in New Orleans' restaurants. Having made a platter as an appetizer recently, I can understand why.

I first heard about this Creole Tomato Jam at a cooking class in La Cucina in Reading Terminal Market.  

Hosted by Anna Florio who had organized a "Girls' Night Out", I crashed the class in order to feature it here. 

The chef that night was Bill Beck of Beck's Cajun Cafe and this jam was on his demonstration menu.

This recipe comes courtesy of the official New Orleans website,, which is well worth a visit.  This site offers a wealth of ideas and insights into the history, traditions, culture and food of this wonderful city.  

Creole Tomato Jam (Makes 1 cup)

1 pound Creole tomatoes (about 3 medium)** see cook's note
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
4 whole cloves
1-inch stick cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
3 tablespoons sherry (or red wine) vinegar
Juice of 1 lime

(The online recipe suggested that this step 1 is optional.  We'd suggest that it's worth taking the time to do this as you'll get a smoother jam without the skins.)

  1. Cut an X on the bottom of the tomatoes and plunge them into a pot of boiling water for 3 minutes. Let stand until cool enough to handle, and peel.
  2. Roughly chop and put the tomatoes, with their juices, into a saucepan with remaining ingredients
  3. Over medium-low heat, stir gently and occasionally until almost all moisture evaporates and mixture thickens into a jam-like consistency, 45 minutes to an hour
  4. Remove bay leaf, thyme sprig and cinnamon stick. Ladle into a clean jar or container
  5. Refrigerate for up to 1 month.
**Creole tomatoes can be any large, round, meaty tomato grown in Louisiana; they are not one particular varietal.  Around here,  ripe beefsteaks, Jerseys, or any of the large, flavorful heirloom varieties are a reasonable substitute.

The mixture at the start of the process...

The ruby rich jam 45 minutes later...

Serving Ideas
  • As a chutney-like condiment for a cheese plate
  • As a condiment for any roasted/grilled meats (it was especially good with a slow-roasted salmon)
  • As a final flourish to crostini/appetizers

Use your imagination and marry it with any number of foods!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Grill Wars Resolved

You may recall the, um, burning question of gas vs charcoal, that we documented last spring.  The debate resulted in a household cold war, in which no new grill was procured despite the decrepitude of the existing one.   Fast forward one year and all is sunshine and barbecues.  Here's the story....

Matt, the chap with the desperate desire for the wood-coal burning Big Green Egg, was asked to man the grill at a recent neighborhood cookout.  He reluctantly agreed.   Upon arrival, he was handed a drink, a pair of tongs, a tray of kebabs, and steered toward a Weber 310 Genesis 3-burner gas grill.
The experience was transformational. The grill heated quickly, evenly and predictably. There was significant control on the level of heat at any given time.  The thermometer registers up to 700 degrees.   Matt came home, several hours, bourbons and cigars later, a changed man.  And we ordered the Genesis, aptly named for this new beginning, the very next day.

The Genesis arrived in time for Fathers' Day...and Matt celebrated with New York Strip grilled ever -so-perfectly.
It has since been used to cook spectacular scallops and beautiful burgers.  What are your latest barbecue discoveries?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

In Celebration of Pecan Pralines!

Pecan Pralines have a rich history which dates back some 400 years.

Pralines are believed to be the invention of a French chef in service to a Count whose family name was du Plessis-Praslin (hence the anglicization of Praline) in New Orleans.  Other U.S. states or cities have attempted to claim ownership, but the recipe originated in a New Orleans kitchen.  For the fascinating, action-packed, story see the Southern Candymakers website.

Sunday June 24 is National Praline Day, but any day is a good day to devour these sweet treats.

At Beck's Cajun Cafe in Reading Terminal Market, Chef Bill likes to cook up a batch around the major holidays and Feast Days.

Believe it.

Beck's Pralines taste and smell just as good as they look in food photographer Albert Yee's gourmet photographs :)

Bill is a devotee of the famous New Orleans chef, John Besh so we're sharing Besh's easy cook recipe here.  (Note: this recipe appeared on Elle Decor's website.)


• 2 tbsp. canola oil
• 2 cups sugar
• 2 cups light brown sugar
• 1 cup half-and-half
• 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
• 2 cups pecan pieces
• 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Set 3 sheets of waxed paper on a work surface and brush with the oil.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugars, half-and-half and butter and heat, without stirring, over medium heat to 235˚F on a candy thermometer, 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes. Stir in the pecans and vanilla. Working quickly, before the mixture hardens, drop by heaping tablespoon onto the oiled wax paper. Allow pralines to cool until completely set, about 30 minutes. (If the pralines flatten too much when you drop them, give the mixture 4 to 5 vigorous stirs with a wooden spoon to thicken.) Makes about 50 pralines.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Grilled Scallops with Watermelon Salsa

Perfect summer dinner:  Grilled scallops with watermelon salsa, sauteed kale, and caramelized tomato-onion quinoa (more on that in upcoming post)-- and of course when it comes to food and me, there's always a story.

My teen daughter,  Kelsey, a budding gourmet and food critic herself, takes a strong interest in menu planning when her dad travels for business.  And if you know anything about teen girls, you know that their desire to share time in a pleasant, bonhomous way with parents is minuscule.    If she wants to hang with me over Ossetra and truffles,  I'm likely to give it a shot.  She and I dine on the dishes she dreams up (yes, I do the procurement and execution) while her far less adventurous brother scarfs hamburgers.  Dad, poor chap, is stuck hearing about these feasts while he roughs it in airport hotels.

Last month, when Dad spent 3 days in Birmingham, AL taking depositions, we had filet with port wine reduction and buttermilk mashed potatoes one night;  the following saw Panko crusted Cajun crab cakes with cilantro slaw...Last night, poor Dad was stuck in transit between here and the west coast while we enjoyed the repast pictured above.  When he asked me about the evening after finally arriving in the wee hours of the morning due to 3 hours of flight delays, he chafed a bit:  "Why is it that I leave and you make these magazine spread dinners, and when I get home it's omelets all around?!".   Well, he has a point.  But in my defense, the omelets are really good.

Anyway, Kelsey planned the menu's side dishes around a Glamour mag article that suggested 5 Foods that everyone should start eating for optimal health, and she asked for grilled scallops with watermelon salsa to accompany the kale and quinoa.  Here's what I did:

Watermelon Salsa

1 1/2 cups cubed watermelon
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 scallions, sliced, green and white parts
1/2 tsp finely minced hot pepper (adjust for taste--peppers vary widely in 'heat')
1/2 tsp salt
juice of 1 lime

Mix all ingredients in glass bowl and let sit one hour to blend flavors.


6 large dry scallops
juice of 1/2 lime
salt & pepper

Place scallops on plate, squeeze lime over and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Marinate for about 30 mins.  Oil grill, heat to high, and place scallops on grill.  Cover 1 minute.  Rotate the scallops 90 degrees on the grill (to get the cross-grill marks), cover and cook another minute.  Flip the scallops and repeat this rotation process on other side.  Total cooking time 4-6 minutes, do not overcook.  Remove from grill, plate, and serve with salsa.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Poached Rhubarb and Vanilla Shortbread

Strawbs and Rhubarb - A Marriage Made in Heaven

We're spoiled for choice at the moment - with all the fresh summer produce appearing at markets everywhere.  I spied (and hurriedly grabbed an armful of) fresh rhubarb at my local farmers' market at the Jersey shore and conjured up a rapturous dessert - poached rhubarb and vanilla shortbread.

This tantalizing dessert combines the very sweet with the slightly sour; if you prefer to take the edge off the rhubarb, then you can always throw a generous pile of fresh strawberries into the rhubarb compote.

Rhubarb polarizes people, but my kids grew up on a traditional British dessert - stewed rhubarb and hot custard (Poached sounds posher than stewed, which explains why I used it in my title).  My family is therefore rather fond of this ruby fruit.

Kitchen goddess Nigella Lawson suggests serving poached rhubarb with her vanilla shortbread.  It takes about 25 minutes including cooking time to rustle up her recipe, which is perfect for this time of the year when you'd rather be outside than in.

I must confess this recipe comes from a British cookbook, Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer  And in terms of using non U.S. cookbooks, I've learned my lesson the hard way..through multiple baking mix-ups: I now know that it's not just a case of converting metric measures to Imperial (that never seems to work!)  Instead, I find that if you stick with the same ratio of ingredients then the recipe works out fine.

Hence, this is how I interpreted her recipe:

1 cup powdered sugar
2 cups of all purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
2 cups of softened unsalted butter
seeds from 1 vanilla pod
sugar for sprinkling (I used my pantry supply of vanilla sugar!)

For full cooking instructions, see  Nigella Lawson: Forever Summer  

Note: I always have vanilla sugar hanging around in the fridge,  I think this is a transformational addition to many baked goods.  It lends a subtle vanilla nuance to desserts.

And this is how my vanilla shortbread turned out.  A big hit!  To serve this dessert, pile the rhubarb compote into individual decorative bowls and pass around the plate of shortbread.

Monday, June 18, 2012

How to Bake Red Velvet Cupcakes (with a surprising topping)

Tangy Raspberry Cream Cheese and Mascarpone Topping

For some reason, Red Velvet Cake is my son's favorite type of cake.  I don't get it.  I like fluffy light cakes, whereas red velvet seems moist, dense and errrr kinda springy.  But it's his birthday next month and I wanted to test out a recipe for red velvet cupcakes before the big day so that's how I wound up writing today's post.

To top that, I was hankering to try out a old fashioned syrup I bought months ago from the Pennsylvania General Store.  It is called Raspberry Shrub and I must confess I bought it because of its oddball name.  Raspberry Shrub is the old fashioned name for Raspberry Vinegar and is probably better known as the drink, also called Raspberry Shrub.  Bon Appetit ran the recipe for this summery drink recently and suggested switching out the sparkling water for Prosecco for special occasions.  

Raspberry Shrub

I was in the mood to mess around in the kitchen so whilst I followed a tried and tested recipe for the red velvet cupcakes (Paula Deen's recipe on the Food Network website) I decided to experiment with the icing.

I adore the combination of whipped cream cheese, mascarpone and powdered sugar in lieu of buttercream icing on cupcakes (I find buttercream too dense and the buttery taste is a little overpowering...) so as usual I started to improvise.

Raspberry Mascarpone Cream Cheese Icing
1 x 8oz tub of mascarpone cheese
4oz of whipped cream cheese (this is much easier to work with)
3 heaped tbsps of powdered sugar
1/4 - 1/3 cup of raspberry shrub (taste as you go along to decide how sharp you like the icing)
Fresh raspberries to decorate

Directions:  Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and beat on a medium speed until well blended.   Ice completely cooled cupcakes, and refrigerate them until ready to eat.   Set them out at room temperature for 30 minutes before you plan to consume them!

NB:  Again my son and I had a major disagreement about how sweet the cupcake topping needed to be.  I like the tart tangy-ness of the cream cheese; he prefers pretty sweet things.  So we compromised.  I added extra powdered sugar to his icing and even dusted the top of the cakes with additional sugar to be on the safe side. 

I kept mine pristine.  My cupcakes have a subtle bite.

Raspberries are at their best right now.  This raspberry icing does them justice too.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Spring in Talula's Garden

We had the good fortune to dine at one of our favorites last week--Talula's is firmly embracing spring and the gastronomic bounty that it offers....

The fresh pea--goat butter ravioli topped with pea shoots was a lovely start...
Ditto the gnocchi, which was seared to a crisp, laden with buffalo Taleggio and topped with baby spinach.

Our mains were equally delectable:
Halibut "Rockefeller"--with sherry bacon vinaigrette, spinach, new potatoes, nettles and chives;
Hanger Steak with candied onions, pureed potatoes and marrow bordelaise;

Farro Risotto with ramps, peas, baby carrots, garden herbs and walnuts;

and the Florida Pink Snapper with warm lettuces, grapefruit, and fingerling potatoes.

Being fans of stinky cheese, we opted for the wonderful assortment called "Bring on the Funk", which was enjoyed by all.    We followed that with the irresistible  sweet ricotta filled donuts with apricot dipping sauce, and the bacon s'mores, which were a lot better than they sound.

So the love affair with Talula's continues.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cupcakes in Philly, an Embarrassment of Riches

Cupcakes are everywhere. And we've rarely met a treat we didn't like, especially a pretty, nicely-portioned, eat-with-your-hands-but-not-like-a-barbarian-cake. Good thing Philly is well stocked with cupcake providers.....

We enjoyed this sixpack from Buttercream Philly Cupcake Truck. 
And were thrilled to learn that they will be opening an actual shop in August.  Stay tuned for details; we heard the location is Pennsport.
Buttercream Cupcake Truck's Selection
We had a lovely encounter with one half of the Cupcake Wonderland Team at South Street's New Market.    We sidled up after dinner, around 9pm just as the Market was closing down.  We chatted briefly with Nima, who was utterly charming, and even as the lights were shut off, he stayed to make sure we got the cupcakes we wanted.  He was terribly apologetic that he wasn't able to decorate the cupcakes properly--what with it being pitch dark by then, but he did scatter a few Spiderman oatmeal cookies on the cakes for some additional pizzazz.
A Cupcake Wonderland Cupcakes--Cupcake War Champions!
We're huge fans of Cookie Confidential--their push pops are a perfect pick me up.  The novelty packaging is great, and the small size of the cupcakes makes them ideal for, well, everything.

You can never go wrong with treats from Brown Betty.  With locations in Northern Liberties, and Liberty Place and a wide assortment of amusingly named cakes ("Company's Comin'" is a personal fave) these are always a hit.  They are generously portioned, so I'm a fan of cutting them in half.

Brown Betty Cupcakes
And no cupcake post would be complete without mentioning Flying Monkey.  Their lemon-filled cupcake puts me in a swoon.  Pistachio, too.
Flying Monkey's Bouquet (photographed by Albert Yee)

Which is YOUR favorite?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Vanilla Cupcakes, a Delicious Blank Canvas

  What would YOU add?

When the mercury rises, baking can be unappealing.   Sometimes it's necessary, however; birthdays, for example, really require a baked, iced creation.  My kids were considerately born in November and February, but I have a slew of nieces and nephews with August birthdays.   When we are all at the beach together, so I am often called upon to provide a celebratory cake.

But on those steamy days, minimal oven time is what the doctor ordered--so we go with cupcakes.   The casual way cupcakes are served and eaten is also more in keeping with the easy, breezy nature of summer entertaining, and they generally only require about 25 minutes in the oven.

We recently made a batch of vanilla cupcakes for a teen sleepover.  During a break between Nicholas Sparks films (I know, I know) the girls sought sustenance--doubtless they needed some legitimate sugar after all that saccharine.

This recipe is plain, yes, but delicious nonetheless.  And no one's stopping you from adding sprinkles, colored sugars, or fresh berries...

The Cakes
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2  cups sugar
1 stick butter
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 TBSP vanilla
1 cup buttermilk (regular milk can be substituted but buttermilk gives better flavor)

Heat oven to 350.  Line 15 muffin cups with paper liners or grease thoroughly.

Mix all ingredients in large bowl with electric mixer til thoroughly blended and smooth.   Ladle into prepared  pans, filling each cupcake about 2/3 full.   Bake 20-25 mins til lightly browned on edges, and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely and ice as desired.

The Icing
1 stick butter, softened
4 oz cream cheese, softened
3 cups confectioners sugar (or more to achieve proper thickness and texture)
1 TBSP heavy cream (milk, half and half, or light cream can be used instead)
1 TBSP vanilla

Beat butter and cream cheese til smooth.  Add sugar gradually til it achieves an appropriate consistency--slightly dry.  Add cream and vanilla to moisten and beat again til creamy. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday at the Farmers Market

Just got back from my regular Sunday foray to the Headhouse Farmers Market.  Love the fact that each week there's more on offer as the growing season progresses.

Last week I only bought two of these luscious early tomatoes--won't make that mistake again; seven in bag today!
Garlic Scapes....(the green top portion of a garlic plant)

Artichokes, what a gorgeous way to display them!

Thought these were particularly robust radishes, but learned they were scarlet queen turnips...

And our favorite part, of course, the sweets:

Love Bar--look for future post on this very cool, local, socially conscious company.

And Zsa's Ice Cream--I downed the salted caramel cup so quickly that there was nothing for me to photograph--but have so far resisted the lemon buttermilk I brought back for my lucky husband.  He may not see it if he doesn't get home soon, though.  Look for future post on this artisanal producer as well...
What's your favorite Sunday food ritual?

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Night of Passion with Rocco & Adam (at Di Bruno's)

South Philly Sushi (actually it's proscuitto and smoky blue cheese, with a surprising membrillo paste center)

Many others have tried it, but it was my first night at a Di Bruno's after hours, private tasting.  I'm now smitten.  Our hosts for the evening, Rocco and Adam, talked us through the nuances of olive oil (virgin olive oil is a misnomer, it's actually the number of pressings that counts, they explained) and unfiltered first pressed oil tastes like nothing else. 

Imagine the smell of fresh cut grass.   Now convert that smell into a taste.   Wow.

The olive oil we tasted was buttery, peppery and smelled and tasted just like freshly mown grass.  Dress a salad with this stuff, some North African 'wet' salt from Di Bruno's (Rocco informed us that the higher moisture content in the salt results in a completely different crunch) and a few twists of fresh ground pepper and you're transported!

The evening kicked off with an invitation to dip in and try any of the appetizers in the store - my faves were the stuffed vine leaves and stuffed artichoke heads.

There was an abundance of olives in all shapes, colors and sizes. 

I had to hold back on the bread, which is driven in every morning fresh from a bakery in New York, or I knew I'd get too full, too fast!

Rocco's colleague, Adam, a former mixologist, and serious foodie, showed us how to make this appetizer in less than five minutes. 

Take some marinated west african pepadews (these little firecrackers are  akin to scotch bonnet peppers, but the pepadews mellow somewhat because they are pickled in sugar brine).  Mix up some fresh ricotta with cherry shiraz jam and stuff the peppers with this mixture.

Procure two bottles of fruit vinegar from Di Bruno's (they used mango and also strawberry, but there are plenty of other flavors to try.)  Arrange the mango on a square plate then pour a small circle of darker colored fruit vinegar in the middle of the plate.  Take a cocktail stick and drag stick out from the center of the plate to create this spider's web effect (see photo).  Splatter with a few drops of premium balsamic vinegar then arrange the stuffed pepadews around the edge of the plate. This creates a stunning melee of tastes - sweet, sour, sharp.....  A flavor explosion.

Subsequent tasting courses included:
  1. A meat platter comprising jamon iberico (Spain's answer to proscuitto); melt in your mouth duck proscuitto and surryano ham (a play on serrano from Surry County Farm in Virginia);
  2. A mustard tasting, featuring a black truffle dijon and a coarse grain.  This was paired with a plate of cold meats (cooked and thinly sliced kobe beef at $20 a lb and di Bruno's own house soppressata, cubed rather than sliced...) and a sensational cheese;

 None of us had much room for "dessert" - a decadent goat's cheese with a dusting of cinnamon and chocolate and nuts.  Now, as I write this, I wish I'd tried it!

I did walk away though with a quarter pound of pecans roasted in salt, cinnamon and chocolate powder.  These will grace my cheese plate tomorrow night.

This is a great night out for Philadelphia foodies. The cost is extremely reasonable - $200 for you and seven of your friends -but it's difficult not to go mad in the store exploring the exquisite gastronomic treats (I left the store with the pecans and two flavored fruit vinegars); others were less restrained.

For more information on Di Bruno's products and events such as this food tasting, stop by their website.

And if you have any last minute cancellations, we'll be happy to round out your octet.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Louisiana Seafood Boil Louisiana Boil did not wind up looking like this.  But for good reason
I came across this recipe while looking for inspiration for seafood recipes.  I was leafing through the latest addition to my sizable collection of cookbooks by the British chef Jamie Oliver.  Aptly enough, the cookbook is called Jamie's America.  Jamie's Louisiana Seafood Boil leapt out at me -- it looked so dramatic on the page.

As I started to assemble the ingredients, I realized I'd have to dash to the store to buy a number of the spices, for example, fennel seeds are not normally something I keep to hand.  It was a pretty hefty list, which just went on and on (there were some 25 or so different ingredients), so to simplify matters (aka cheat) I grabbed a tin of Beck's Cajun Devil Dust which seemed to assemble a number of those self-same ingredients.  (I still went to get the fennel seed, however.)

I dutifully bought my crabs, jumbo - heads on - shrimp and thought I'd improvise and throw in a couple of little neck clams.

The ingredients looked great:

I even remembered a trick I'd learned from a Girls' Night Out at the Reading Terminal Market's cooking school, La Cucina, when Chef Bill demonstrated how to cut up corn on the cob effortlessly.  (Worth knowing this...take a heavy knife and cut as far into the cob as you can, then lift the knife and corn off your work surface, keep one hand on the handle and the other on top of the blunt side of the blade and thwack it down on your work surface.  Corn neatly falls into two pieces.  Cool or what?)

The recipe wasn't particularly tricky once you'd cleared the hurdle of your shopping list... 

You throw everything except the fresh seafood into a deep pan and boil fiercely so that the corn and red potatoes cook through.  Then 5 minutes before the end you drop in the seafood and once the seafood turns a pretty pink color then you know it's cooked nicely.

Mine turned out like this.

Doesn't look much like Jamie's does it.  Small problem.  The recipe didn't specify what type of crab to use.  I bought the only fresh crabs that the store had in stock this morning.  Didn't realize until I got home that the fishmonger had sold me SOFT SHELLS. 

There was nothing for it. 

I had to press on.

The end result tasted good...but did not look quite as beautiful as I'd hoped.  I also thought there was too much messing around with ingredients.  I thought this was supposed to be a quick and easy fireside boil.  Well this recipe wasn't.  Fennel seeds and allspice berries.  Harrrrumph.

So, instead of sharing Jamie's recipe, here's a link to a much simpler version shared by the Greater New Orleans Times newspaper.  Far less fuss, this one...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lingune alla Vongole

June being seafood month, I scanned our old blogposts to see what seafood recipes we had posted.    I was shocked to see that I had not yet shared one of my ultimate go-to seafood dishes with you, dear readers.  I am referring to linguine alla vongole, or linguine with clam sauce, which is practically a signature dish of mine. 

So, without further ado, here it is:

Linguine alla Vongole (serves 4)

2 TBSP olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
1/2 tsp salt
4 cans minced clams, drained, juice reserved
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 lb linguine

In large skillet, heat oil and add garlic, pepper flakes and salt.  Stir to release flavors, and add drained clams.  Saute and sear 1 minute.  Add clam juice and wine.  Stir and simmer 15 minutes (or longer).  Meanwhile, in boiling, salted water, cook pasta to al dente (1 minute less than the box suggests).  Drain thoroughly, and top with the pasta sauce, then cheese and parsley.

NOTE:  in summer, when we are near the beach and enjoy the availability of uber-fresh shellfish, I often purchase small clams to enhance this dish.  The most common name for these clams is "little necks", but I've also seen them referred to as "cockles" and "pasta necks".  Whatever you call them, you should scrub their exteriors to remove all sand and grit.  Then, about 5 minutes before serving, pour clams into sauce, cover and steam 5 minutes until clams have all opened.  Any clams that remain sealed should be discarded.

Friday, June 1, 2012

National Seafood Month: Glorious Oysters

June is National Seafood Month!  With that topic on the table--so to speak--our thoughts turn naturally to New Orleans, where seafood and particularly shellfish of every variety - shrimps, crawfish, crabs - all feature heavily in the local cuisine. 

As John Besh, the talented New Orleans master chef declares:  "Crawfish and long-grain rice cohabit in our swampy lowlands, and there's no better pairing on the plate," (My New Orleans: The Cookbook)  Besh, who is an inspirational writer, teaches us the intimate details of the New Orleans kitchen through a rambling collection of personal anecdotes and memory-laden recipes (think "Crab Season", "Creole Tomatoes" or "Feast Days"...)

Inspired by this best-selling cookbook we sought advice closer to hand from Philadelphia's answer to John Besh, Bill Beck at Beck's Cajun Cafe in Reading Terminal Market.

Soft shell Po Boy
Chef Bill features seafood on his menu daily (shrimp Po Boys; seafood gumbos, Creole Shrimp and jambalaya) and when the price is right adores cooking with his favorite seafood - the glorious oyster.

Chef Bill imports his oysters from the Gulf region - he just prefers the oysters there, observing however that most oysters are related to one of six strains of oysters.  He explains: "The types of oysters are delineated by the body of water from which they are fished, the salt and mineral balance in the water, the current...there's a whole science behind it!"

So how does he recommend we eat them?

1. Raw.  You can't beat this.

2. In soups - Chef Bill cooks up a stunning Oyster Bisque and Oyster Stew!

3. In cornbread stuffing or dressing as it's known in the South, recipe here

4. As a salad - chicken salad and fried oysters work together sooooo well. 

Beck's Chicken and Oyster Appetizer

5. Poached with a cream sauce

Want to try this last one at home?  It's pretty easy.   Shuck 12 oysters, reserving liquor.  Boil 1/4 cup of Cognac in small saucepan,  reduce heat to low, add 1 cup heavy cream, 2 TBSP reserved oyster liquor, salt and pepper.  Simmer gently for 5 minutes.  Add oysters, and cook 1-2 minutes.  DO NOT OVERCOOK.  The oysters will puff up, absorbing the delicious sauce as it reduces in the pan.  Top with chopped chives and fresh tarragon, and serve with crusty bread.

This is surely one of the simplest, sexiest and most sophisticated ways to eat oysters.

We're looking forward to sharing other seafood recipes this month as it's National Seafood Month.  If you have any easy suggestions for preparing seafood, then please send them our way so we can share with our readers.

Later this month we sit down with Chef Bill and get the inside scoop on how to cook a Crawfish Boil...