Romantic Menu On A Budget

CHEF ON A SHOESTRING: Cornelius Gallagher
If you don't have dinner reservations for Valentine's Day, have no fear.

One of New York City's top seafood chefs, Cornelius Gallagher, shared his special Valentine's Chef on a Shoestring recipe for two on The Saturday Early Show -- using a budget of $30 to create a romantic meal.

Chef Gallagher is the executive chef at "Oceana" restaurant, which is located in Manhattan.

Gallagher was born in the Bronx, N.Y. on June 28 1972. He began cooking at the age of 12. At age 15, Gallagher entered a vocational cooking school while still in high school. He competed in and won the "Top Young Culinarian" award at age 16.

Upon graduation from high school, Cornelius enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. During his time at the CIA, he also worked at the world-renowned Waldorf Astoria Hotel. It was there that he learned the solid foundation of classical French cooking.

In 1994, Cornelius graduated from culinary school and returned to New York City to work for David Bouley at the original "Bouley." Here he learned the importance of cooking lean, as well as "a la minute" (cooking every dish to order). This experience was followed by a stint at "La Plage" restaurant on Long Island.

Within one year, the restaurant was awarded a 27 food rating in Zagat restaurant survey and named, Next, Cornelius spent a year and a half at four-star rated Lespinasse restaurant, under Gray Kunz.

It was there that he learned how to master spices and how to incorporate cutting edge Indian and Asian cuisines into his repertoire. He then went to France to work at the Michelin three-star rated "L'Esperance," under Chef Marc Meneau. There, Cornelius learned how to cook the lusty, country foods of Burgundy.

After returning to the States, Gallagher went on to become the Sous Chef at Peacock Alley restaurant under Chef Laurent Gras (of Ducasse, Paris), for a period of one-and-a-half years. With Laurent, he learned the importance of disciplined cooking technique. Gallagher then went on to become Sous Chef at restaurant Daniel, under master Chef Daniel Boulud. While learning how to make food taste wonderful during his one-and-a-half years there, Cornelius helped Daniel receive a coveted four stars from The New York Times.

In June 2002, Gallagher joined Oceana as Chef de Cuisine. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to Executive Chef. Since taking over the kitchen at Oceana, the restaurant has received 3 stars from The New York Times and a rare 4 star review from The New York Post, as well as the "Best Seafood Restaurant in NYC" award from Citysearch. In addition, Cornelius was named one of Food and Wine Magazine's "10 Best New Chefs in America" 2003, and received recognition from New York Magazine as one New York's "10 Most Influential Chefs."

Gallagher's menu as our Chef on a Shoestring: an appetizer of Oysters with Two Dressings; an entrée of Scallops Roasted in Phyllo Served with a Sweet, Salty, Spicy Sauce; and for dessert, Steamed Orange Marmalade Bread Pudding.

Shopping tips for buying oysters: When choosing oysters at the market, the primary consideration is that they be fresh, they do not smell and if one is open (which it shouldn't be) it should snap shut emphatically once tapped. If an oyster doesn't close immediately, don't buy it. The oysters should be arranged so that they are lying flat. The shape of the shells will give you a good idea of the amount of meat you are getting. The deeper the cup of the lower shell, the better. The rounder varieties of oysters, such as Belons and Olympias, should be symmetrical. For the more elongated Atlantic and Japanese oysters, look for shells that fan out widely from the hinge, indicating that the oysters have had plenty of room to develop.

Do not store the oysters in water. If you do not plan to eat them right away, arrange them flat on a tray, cover them with a cool, damp towel, and store them in the refrigerator. They'll keep this way for about a day. Do not eat oysters after they have been stored longer than a day.

Chef Gallagher suggests using West Coast oysters because he likes the sweeter, fuller flavor of West Coast or Japanese oysters. East coast oysters have a more "mineral" flavor according to Chef Gallagher.

Prickly pear juice: Chef Gallagher calls for "prickly pear juice" in one of the two dressings. It is a symbol of the Rio Grande valley, the prickly pear cactus (genus Opuntia) boasts thorny pads, colorful large flowers and succulent fruits. For centuries, native peoples living in the deserts of Mexico, the southern United States, and parts of South America relied on this robust desert plant for food and healing. Many of these traditions were carried on by European settlers, who then also transported the plant's seeds to Europe and around the world.

As a result, prickly pear cactus now grows in harsh desert locales from South Africa and Australia to Africa and the Mediterranean region. Also commonly referred to as "nopal" or "penca," the plant has been adapted for myriad uses by different cultures, many of which have been passed down through time.

The most intensively used parts of the plant are the pads and the fruits. The pads -- technically the flattened stem which grows quickly -- protrude from the plant at odd angles. Clinging to each pad are small clusters of tiny stickers. After trimming these stickers and spines away, the pad can then be peeled and prepared for cooking as any vegetable would. Popular techniques include broiling or sauteing the pad, or chopping it raw and adding it to soups and salads. Once heated, the pectin-rich pads tend to become gooey, acquiring a texture similar to okra.

The spiny red fruits, also known as "tunas," are cylindrical in shape and about the size of a child's hand. The crimson fruits were once popular for making red dye. They are often used to make jelly, juice and pickles. In Mexico, the fruits are the basis of a jelly, as well as a sweet syrup that is used like honey or hardened into taffy. Cactus pear cheese is a delicacy made by cooking and cooling the fruits.

You can find prickly pear juice in many health food stores. If you can't find prickly pear juice, you may use pomegranate juice or orange juice.


Raw Oysters with Two Chilled Dressings
Yield: 2 first course servings

6 oysters, shucked, liquor reserved in the shell (preferably West Coast oysters such as kumamoto)
crushed ice

An oyster knife (sturdy, with a 2 1/2 to 4 inch blade)

Shucking Method:
Remember that oyster shells often carry potentially harmful oceanic bacteria, so be sure to scrub them thoroughly before attempting to pry them open.

Wrapping your left hand (if you're right handed) in a kitchen towel, and firmly cup the bottom shell (rounder than the other shell) of the oyster. It is necessary to exert a lot of pressure to open oyster shells, so it is important that the angle of the knife as well as the positioning of the towel holding the oyster is paid special attention to. Be careful!

Take care not to jostle or tip the oyster during the shucking, or those tasty juices (called the oyster's "liquor") will run off, wasted on the unappreciative towel. Insert the tip of the oyster knife into the hinged end of the oyster's shell, pushing it in, twisting ever so gently, working with care until you feel the shell's slight release.

Take extra care not to nick the pearl-like oyster body with the tip of your knife. (Rushed to open the oyster is not a good idea, particularly with the thinner shelled varieties.)

Once the shell is open, gently probe against the upper roof of the shell until you feel resistance, and cut through the oyster's sinewy "umbilical cord," which holds the muscle to the shell and the shells together.
Remove the top half of the shell and examine the inside for any crumbled bits of shell; if you find any, be sure to fish them out (to avoid nicked teeth among your friends).

As a last step in freeing the oyster, work your knife gently underneath it to cut the muscle holding it in place to the bottom shell. This is not an essential step in oyster shucking, but will allow your guests to slurp with a little bit easier.

If your oysters get damaged, simply flip them over so the presentation is intact.

For Dressing Number One:
2 teaspoon crème fraiche
1 teaspoon ginger, grated and squeezed, juice saved and solids discarded
1 1/2 teaspoon prepared horseradish (use only the juice)
1 tablespoon ketchup
3 leaves fresh coriander

Method: Combine above ingredients in a mixing bowl, cover and refrigerate until serving.

For Dressing Number Two:
2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoon sliced scallion whites
1 tablespoon of green apple, minced finely

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the red wine vinegar and olive oil, add the sliced scallion and stir to combine.

Place the shucked oysters on a bed of crushed ice. Dab each oyster with one of the two different dressings. Add the minced green apple over each oyster that you dabbed with the red wine dressing.

Serve immediately.

Scallops Roasted in Phyllo
Served with a Sweet, Salty, Spicy Sauce

Yields Two Main Course Servings


For Four Sea Scallops (4 ounces each)
kosher salt and white pepper
1/3 cup phyllo, finely shredded
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the Vegetables:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup fresh bean sprouts, cut into 2-inch segments
1/2 cup fresh pea shoots, cut into 2-inch segments
2 teaspoons sesame oil

For the Sauce:
1/3 cup cactus pear juice (also known as prickly pear) or 1/3 cup of pomegranate or orange juice
3 tablespoons spicy mustard oil (available at some Asian markets) or chili oil
5 teaspoons soy sauce

Season scallops on both sides with salt and pepper. Spread the shredded phyllo onto a large cutting board. Lay the scallops over the shredded phyllo, and then press gently into the phyllo. Turn the scallops over and again press the scallops gently into the phyllo. Both sides of the scallop should be coated in shredded phyllo.

Heat the butter in a medium-sized sauté pan over medium-high heat, and when the foam subsides, add the scallops. Saute until crispy and golden on both sides, turning once after about 1 minute. Transfer the browned scallops to a platter and keep warm in a low-tempeture oven (about 150 to 200 degrees F).

Heat the vegetable oil in another saute pan over medium heat. Add the bean sprouts and pea shoots, toss, and saute until tender-crisp, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, stir and finish with sesame oil.

Meanwhile, combine the pear juice (pomegranate or orange juice) and mustard oil in a small pot and heat over medium-low heat, until the liquid is just simmering. Add the soy sauce, mix gently, and divide between two warm serving bowls.

Spoon the vegetables into the center of each bowl and top with two scallops each. Serve immediately.

Steamed Orange Marmalade Bread Pudding Maple Cream
Serves Four
Recipe By David Carmichael, Oceana Pastry Chef

1 stick unsalted butter
4 thick slices bread (preferably white, crust on), diced into 1-inch cube
4 tablespoons orange marmalade
2 cup whole milk
4 eggs, beaten until frothy
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup maple syrup
one six-inch round baking dish or four individual 4 to 6 ounces ramekins

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the inside of one casserole or four individual 4 to 6 ounces ramekins. Cut parchment paper into circles the size of the ramekins and butter one side of the paper. If you are using the one baking dish, cut the parchment paper into a circle the size of the baking dish, then butter one side of the paper.

Add the diced bread on a baking sheet large enough to hold all the bread chunks in one layer; place on the middle rack of the oven and toast until a deep golden brown, about 5 minutes, tossing occasionally while browning. Transfer bread to a bowl and reserve.

While the bread toasts, pour the milk into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Pour the boiling liquid over the bread, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes. Then lightly toss the bread to break it up a bit. Add the well-beaten eggs, sugar and 2 tablespoons of the marmalade to the bread and fold gently together; spread remaining marmalade on the bottoms of each ramekin or the one six-inch baking dish.

Pour the pudding mixture into each ramekin or the one six-inch baking dish, approximately a 1/4-inch from the top. Place the ramekins or the one six-inch baking dish into a roasting pan. Add about 1/2-inch of hot water to the roasting pan. Cover the ramekins or the one six-inch baking dish with the butter paper. Place in the oven. Steam the puddings for approximately 30 minutes. Remove from oven. Let pudding cool for about five minutes.

While the puddings steam in the oven, whip the cream to smooth peaks, add the maple syrup and fold gently to combine. Reserve the whipped cream in the refrigerator, covered until ready to use.

To serve, un-mold slightly warm pudding onto a serving dish and serve with a dollop of maple flavored whipped cream.