Serenbe Style and Soul

with Marie Nygren



April 2014

Lamb Lesson: Nathalie Dupree visits the Southern Chefs Series

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When Nathalie Dupree and I get in the kitchen together, it’s pure laughter. The woman is just a force to be reckoned with: She taught cooking for decades, has been featured in The New York Times and is the founding chairman of the Charleston Food and Wine Festival. Years ago, Julia—as in Julia Child—suggested that Nathalie should write a book on Southern cooking. She now has 15 of them to her name, two of which have won James Beard Awards.

Nathalie has so many different titles and awards, but when it comes to me she’s just a big mother hen. She knew my mother well and feels proprietary about me, but also loves to tease me—especially about the fact that I don’t allow microwaves in my home.

Only Julia Child has done more cooking shows on TV than my dear friend, Nathalie Dupree.

Only Julia Child has done more cooking shows on TV than my dear friend, Nathalie Dupree.


She’s like a favorite aunt—the kind who comes and takes you out for an adventure, which we certainly had during her recent visit for the Southern Chefs Series. She did a butterflied leg of lamb with Dijon mustard, rosemary, ginger, garlic and soy sauce from her book New Southern Cooking. People who don’t normally like lamb loved this dish. And the best part is that it’s easily replicated at home—and perfect for Easter.

Next up in the Southern Chefs Series: Chef Ford Fry, May 18-19. Call 770.463.2610 to register.

Butterflied Leg of Lamb

From New Southern Cooking by Nathalie Dupree

These days, butterflied (boned) legs of lamb are available at the supermarket.  Usually they come in an elastic web, which should be removed.  Open up the lamb and spread out to roughly resemble a butterfly.


8 ounces Dijon Mustard
2 tablespoons rosemary, chopped or crumbled roughly
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons peanut or other oil
1 whole leg of lamb, bones removed, about 5 pounds before boning

Mix together the mustard, rosemary, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and peanut oil . Smear over the lamb, on both sides, and marinate in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

When ready to cook, prepare a grill or the broiler. Remove the lamb from the bag, with the marinade, and cook on the hot grill or under the broiler 15 minutes on each side. Test for doneness. (I prefer my lamb rare.)  The lamb should be dark brown or black around the edges, rare inside. Don’t worry if the marinade burns…the meat will still be delicious.




April 2014

Garnie Turns 30

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IMG_6811People who are ambitious, highly organized and excel at managing multiple projects with a million details are often referred to as Type A personalities. I call my daughter, Garnie, a Quad A.

She’s the oldest of my three girls and just like her father. Garnie owns several businesses, is the general manager of the Inn at Serenbe (which includes Spa at Serenbe), helps Steve with all the development aspects of our community and is the owner of (and broker at) Serenbe Real Estate.

She just turned 30 last week.

When she was in high school, one of the football players got a concussion during a game and Garnie and her friends went to the hospital. While they were waiting, one of the dads asked the girls about their dream job. One said, “I want to be a flight attendant so I can travel the world.” Garnie said, “Skip that—I’m going to own the airline.”

Garnie lives and breathes projects. She was in college at Cornell when the tsunami in Indonesia happened. One of her classmate’s families was from Indonesia and he asked her what they could do to help with tsunami relief. She decided to help organize the Roll for Relief campaign and build the world’s largest spring roll to raise money. It was 1,428 feet long.

There were no giant spring rolls at Garnie’s 30th birthday party, but there were drinks, dessert and dancing. We had banana pudding, fig cakes, chocolate cake and a pavlova. We had a fantastic local band called The Shadowboxers, who played original music and some covers. We had family and friends who flew in from all over. And we had a full bar plus Garnie’s favorite cocktail, the Autumn Harvest. It’s not really a springtime drink, but no one seemed to mind.

Autumn Harvest
1 tablespoon fig preserves
1.5 ounce Bulleit or Belle Meade Bourbon
Ziegler’s Apple Cider

Add fig preserves and bourbon to a glass, fill with apple cider and shake well. Pour over ice and garnish with a sage leaf.



April 2014

New Farmhouse Chef Thaddeus Barton’s Beet Salad

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When I tell people about all the wonderful things Thaddeus Barton, the new chef at The Farmhouse, is doing, they smile and nod politely. They let me ramble on about all the ways he’s bringing his voice to the menu and how rare it is to find someone who understands what it takes to run a seasonally driven Southern restaurant out of a small space. The Farmhouse is not Mary Mac’s and it’s not Bacchanalia, I say, it’s simple, fresh cuisine several steps above really good home cooking and chefs often can’t wrap their head around it. People make sympathetic noises of agreement.

When I stop, they say: He’s not going to take the fried chicken and biscuits off the menu, is he?

Of course not. As much as we adore Thaddeus—and his fiancé Lane who has joined the kitchen at The Blue Eyed Daisy—we know what side our bread is buttered on. The fried chicken and biscuits (or, as we call them, Farmhouse crack) are here to stay.

Thaddeus brings so much more to the table—or should I say tables—at The Farmhouse, including this beautiful beet salad with toasted pecans, ruby red grapefruit segments, thinly sliced fennel and onion vinaigrette. As if that wasn’t decadent enough, he tops it with Brebis, a sheep’s milk cheese from nearby Many Fold Farm. It was one the March menu, but now you can enjoy it at home with the recipe below:

Beet Salad with Onion Vinaigrette

Yields 4-8

For the salad:
2 pounds baby golden beets
2 pounds golden beets (about 4)
16 oz fresh squeezed orange juice
1 bay leaf
5 thyme sprigs

Wash all the beets well using a scrub brush. Toss the baby beets in grape seed oil, salt, pepper, and roast whole at 375 for about 45 minutes or until tender. For the larger beets, put in pot with orange juice, bay, thyme, pinch of salt, and cover with water. Simmer until tender, remove beets to cool, then strain cooking liquid into a smaller pot and continue cooking until it’s the consistency of a light syrup. Baby beets can be halved or quartered, leave skin on. For the remaining beets, remove skin, and cut into small bite sized pieces. Once the liquid has reduced, toss the beets back into it.

For vinaigrette:
1 Vidalia onion diced and cooked at low heat for one hour
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
3/4 cup grape seed oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

After the onion is cooled from cooking, place in blender with vinegar and mustard. Purée mixture until smooth, then drizzle the oil while blender is running, season with salt and pepper.

1 fennel bulb shaved thin
2 ruby red grapefruit segmented
1/2 cup pecans toasted
4 oz Many Fold Farm Brebis
Lime streaks mustard greens for garnish

To assemble, place the fennel, grapefruit, pecans, and mustards in mixing bowl. Dress the mixture with just enough vinaigrette to barely coat everything, season with salt and pepper. Arrange the beets on a plate, then whimsically place other ingredients along side beets, finish with a few dollops of the Brebis.



March 2014

Cooking Chicken for Paul Hawken

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Years ago, when the Serenbe community was still a dream, the first person Steve and I told about it was our dear friend Ray Anderson. Ray was the founder of Interface Inc., one of the world’s largest manufacturers of commercial modular floor coverings, and one of the first CEOs in the world to make corporate sustainability his mission. When we told Ray our plan, he said: “You’re crazy, you have to do this and I’m going to do everything I can do help you.”

Ray connected us with so many people who helped inform and shape our vision, and one of them was Paul Hawken, an environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist, author and one of the world’s foremost leaders on sustainability. Paul wrote The Ecology of Commerce; Growing A Business; Natural Capitalism; and Blessed Unrest: How The Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being And Why No One Saw It Coming. Paul has affected world change with his books, and when he speaks I’m so taken with his passion for the environment.

So when he called and asked me to get a group of influential women together who could potentially become investors in a new hair color product he was working on, I said yes. It was my way of repaying the favor Ray had done for us all those years ago.

Paul stayed at Serenbe for three days. One night he presented his product and the next day he was spoke at our first Creative Changemaker Series. But on that first night, we had a private dinner for him with the members of Steve’s Biophilic Institute group. I found whole chickens from a farm in South Georgia at Fern’s Market, roasted them and served them with the feet and everything.

Fresh chickens vary, but this free-range and scratch fed, which means it was lean and very delicate, not big and moist like chickens you might find in the grocery store. I served it with sautéed cabbage and roasted okra on the side.

Before he left, Paul said, “Marie’s, as long as you’re cooking, I’ll come back anytime.”

Roasted Whole Chicken
  • 1 whole chicken
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Fresh thyme
  • Fresh lemon

Rub the chicken all over with olive oil, salt and pepper. Take whole sprigs of fresh thyme and put it into the cavity of the bird and under the skin of its breast.

Roast it at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until fork tender. When it’s done, let the meat rest a bit and squeeze fresh lemon juice all over it before cutting into small pieces and serving.



March 2014

Camp Serenbe and 30 Years Of Black Bean Casserole

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In the summers when my three daughters were young and we still lived in Atlanta, we had Camp Nygren. A teenage boy the girls adored would come to the house from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and they’d do all sorts of activities.

1098197_10151768094368205_984712338_nMost kids outgrow camp, but my middle daughter, Kara, loved it so much she turned it into a career. Of all my girls, Kara was the only one who cared about baby dolls. That transitioned into an affinity for children and taking care of people in general. She’s so good at it that her college sorority created a new position for her called Sorority Mom.

A few years ago, when the opportunity to create Camp Serenbe arose, Kara took the challenge and ran with it. This year she’s added Spring Break camps to the summer sessions and is even doing a special Cooking & Farming Camp June 9-13 and July 14-18. Kids will learn about crops at Serenbe Farms and Kara has somehow roped me into teaching them how to make snacks and meals as well

I haven’t decided what will be on the menu yet, but I may have to share my Black Bean Casserole. It’s great for kids because the only thing that has to be cooked is the rice, which can always be pre-cooked. I created it when the girls were little and it was one of their favorite meals to have during family dinner hour—no phones, no electronics, just dinner with family every Sunday through Thursday night. I’ve been making this casserole for 30 years, which pretty much qualifies it as part of my family.


Black Bean Casserole

9 six-inch corn tortillas
1 one-pound bag black beans, cooked (or two cans, rinsed)
3 cups cooked rice
1 cup sour cream
¾ pound Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 four-ounce can chopped green chiles
2 cups salsa

Preheat oven to 375. Mix cooked rice with beans, 1.5 cup salsa, sour cream and chiles. Lay 3 tortillas on the bottom of a dish. Spoon ½ mixture over the tortillas and sprinkle with cheese. Repeat with 3 tortillas, rice and cheese. Finish with remaining 3 tortillas and ½ cup salsa and cheese. Cook 20-25 minutes until bubbly. Serve with sour cream, salsa and chips.






March 2014

Flavors Develop Over Time: My friendship with Anne Quatrano And Some Damn Fine Porchetta

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I met Anne Quatrano, chef/owner of Bacchanalia, Floataway Café and Abattoir, more than 10 years ago at one of the first Les Dames d’Escoffier events. I’d seen her in her restaurants and had admired her from afar for years. Anne didn’t bring fine dining to Atlanta, but she took it to another level.

In 2009, when I asked her to be one of the chefs in my first Southern Chefs Series, I was still in absolute reverence. But after spending two days together, I was in awe for a completely different reason. Anne’s attention to detail is over the top. It’s not obsessive-compulsive or tedious—she just has an eye for exquisiteness. She also has a very wicked, very dry sense of humor. It only comes out occasionally and I feel graced when I get to see it.

After that first class, as she walked out the door, I said, “You know you’re coming back, right?” And she replied, “Yes Marie, I’ll always be back.”

For her class last month, Anne showed up with a copy of her new cookbook, Summerland, for each participant. She also had bookmarks made that represented each recipe—a lobster, pig, vegetable bouquet, etc.—so everyone could find each dish with ease. That’s Anne—I have yet to meet a chef that goes to the nth degree like her.  And of all the chefs who’ve visited for the Southern Chefs Series over the years, she’s the one I’ve gotten to know the best.

Anne stopped by Star Provisions, her retail space and market on Atlanta’s Westside, and picked up freshly baked brioche, which she fried in butter for lobster rolls. We made Mexican wedding cookies. And we made her porchetta, a slow-roasted leg of pork that is everyone’s favorite staff meal at Bacchanalia.


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Slow-Roasted Porchetta
Serves 12, with leftovers
9 cups kosher salt for brining, plus 1 tablespoon for the spice mixture
1 (15 pound) whole leg of pork, bone-in, skin-on
1 cup fennel seeds
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
8 garlic cloves
2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 10 lemons)
2 cups spicy olive oil, such as Arbequina

One week prior to cooking, brine the pork. You can ask your butcher to brine the leg for you, or do it yourself: Dissolve three cups salt in 2 gallons cold water in a five-gallon bucket. After the salt is dissolved, add ice to bring the water up to the three-gallon mark to ensure that the brine is very cold. Place the whole leg in the brine and refrigerate for up to a week. (If refrigerator space is a consideration, a sturdy five-gallon bag, sealed tightly, would also work.) I like to change the brine every couple of days, using up to 9 cups of salt.

The night before serving the pork, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Remove the leg from the brine and allow it to air dry, or pat dry with paper towels. With a sharp paring knife, make parallel incisions about 1 inch apart the length of the pork through the skin and fat of the leg, almost to the meat. Repeat, covering the entire skin of the leg with the incisions.

Lightly toast the fennel seeds in a dry large nonstick pan over medium heat until just fragrant; let cool. In a food processor, pulse the cooled fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, garlic and the 1 tablespoons salt until roughly chopped. Generously press the spice mixture into the incisions in the leg.

Place the leg of pork in a roasting pan and roast for 45 minutes. The pork should be deep golden brown in color and very aromatic. Mix the lemon juice with the oil and pour over the browned pork leg. Turn the oven down to 225 degrees F and continue to roast for about 12 hours. Baste with the pan juices every few hours, if you like, or just leave it to cook. In the morning I will baste a few times. Check the pork frequently after 11 hours; the meat should fall off the bone and the skin should be a deep golden brown.

To serve, remove the cracking skin and then pull the meat with a form into long pieces. Drizzle the pork with the remaining pan juices, or serve the jus on the side. Serve the cracking skin, cracking it into pieces, if you wish, as a garnish with the pork (some think it’s the best part).



March 2014

Recipe For Success: Going outside my culinary comfort zone with a corporate consulting experience.

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On a recent trip to London, I got an email from my daughter, Garnie. She’d just met with a corporate consultant who wanted to bring a CEO of a high-level Atlanta company and his five executive vice presidents to Serenbe. They’d spent seven months planning a company reorganization and wanted to culminate the experience with a retreat before putting their plan into action.

It sounded interesting, but the timing didn’t work on my end, so I regretfully declined. I immediately received an email back from Garnie, written in big, shouty caps:


My daughter can be very persistent. I have no idea where she gets that from.

When I returned, the consultant and I had lunch at chef Hugh Acheson’s fabulous Empire State South. We talked about the symbolism behind cooking and how a cooking class can be a metaphor for the way a company works. Each member of the staff is an ingredient: How do you stir them all together to create a healthy company?

There in my kitchen with all the food and utensils, the CEO and his staff weren’t the only ones feeling a bit outside their comfort zone. As I organized them into teams to create different parts of the meal, I thought about how this metaphor applied to my own life. What are the ingredients of Serenbe? What is it about our recipe that’s worked so well and how can we share our magical meal with the world?

As I’ve done many times, the company needed to take an old recipe and update it for today’s times. And the only way to do that is to think differently about your ingredients.

So we started with the salad. Does every salad have to have lettuce? No. I gave them a variety of vegetables and talked about the options. Should we roast them? Fry them? Have them raw?

We talked about not just the ingredients but the presentation—when the world is looking at your salad, what do you want it to see?

What kind of dressing complements the vegetables? I gave them a variety of oils, mustards and fruit and they played around with it until they found the right balance of bite and acidity that didn’t overpower the produce.

Later we did roasted quail over a fire in the backyard and talked about timing, temperature and the whole aspect of fire and creating energy.

Watching them work, think and cook their way through the process just confirmed what I’ve always known: Cooking is about leading and listening. About controlling things up to a point, then letting go. And the most important ingredient in any recipe for success—whether it’s roasted quail or a multimillion-dollar corporation—is intuition.

Grilled Quail
12 quail, halved
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Fresh thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Place quail in a ceramic dish. Pour olive oil over and sprinkle with fresh thyme sprigs. Generously salt and pepper. While dish is marinating, prepare grill.

If available, use hickory wood for grilling. Let wood come to high heat, then place quail on grill and cook 6-10 minutes, depending on level of heat.

Alternately, the quail can be baked in a 375-degree oven for 20-25 minutes.



February 2014

Flour Power! Breaking bread with master baker Lionel Vatinet

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Master baker Lionel Vatinet believes in the magic of baking bread. And by the time he’d finished his recent bread demonstration at Serenbe’s Bosch Experience Center, all 70 people in attendance did as well. Or maybe their mouths were too full of fresh sourdough to say otherwise.

I’ve always been interested in the metaphysics of—and the energy behind—bread. You put flour and yeast together and it becomes something incredibly wonderful. Lionel, who was born in France and now owns La Farm Bakery in Cary, North Carolina, is very keen on the whole aspect of handling the dough lovingly and letting it know you. No gloves allowed!

Talking with Lionel brought back so many memories of baking bread with my Aunt Merle, my mother’s favorite sister. She was the head of public nursing for Dekalb County and took me to my first symphony when I was 12. I’m the fifth Merle Marie in my family and was named after her, though for some reason I was called by my middle name.

This recipe for Vatinet’s La Farm Bread comes from his new cookbook A Passion For Bread: Lessons from a Master. If you have flour, salt, water, starter, hands and an oven, you can make some magic in your own kitchen.

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La Farm Bread
4 ½ cups unbleached, unbromated white bread flour
¾ cup unbromated whole-wheat bread flour
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
2 ¼ cups plus 1 tablespoon water
1 cup plus 2 teaspoons starter

Place flours, salt, starter and water in mixing bowl.

Begin mixing at low speed (#2 on Kitchen Aid Mixer with a dough hook) for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, increase speed (#4 on Kitchen Aid Mixer) for 2 more minutes.

The temperature of the dough should be between 72°F and 80°F. The dough should be soft to the touch and moist feeling, but should not stick to fingers. Place dough in a bowl that had been lightly dusted with flour. Cover with plastic and let rise for 1 hour. Fold the dough by lifting each of the corners of dough and folding them into the center. Cover the dough with plastic and return to a warm, draft-free place for another hour. Repeat this folding process a second time, and let rest for a third hour.

Since you are making one loaf, no dividing is needed.

Shape the dough into a boule. Lightly dust a banneton with flour. Place the dough in the banneton, seam side up. Throw a light film of flour over the top to keep the plastic from sticking, and cover tightly with plastic wrap.

Let the dough proof for 2½-3 hours in a warm, draft-free place.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a bread peel. Turn the dough onto the peel, bottom side up. Using a single-edged razor blade, score the loaf, just barely breaking through the skin and cutting about ⅛ inch into the dough. Bake at 450°F for about 40 minutes until the bread is a deep golden brown with a crisp crust and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.




February 2014

Michel Nischan and His Fried Angel Food Cake

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IMG_0012I wouldn’t even call Michel Nischan a reformed hippie—he’s a hippie. He’s also a restaurateur, two-time James Beard Award winner and the founder, president and CEO of Wholesome Wave, the national non-profit brings fresh, locally grown food to people in urban and rural communities.

And he never went to cooking school.

I met Michel years ago at the first Southern Chefs Potluck, which is an annual fundraiser for Wholesome Wave. But it wasn’t until a few years later at another event when we realized we were long lost siblings. And like siblings sometimes do, we cooked up a crazy scheme where he invited his chef friends to appear at the Southern Chefs Series and we’d donate all the proceeds to Wholesome Wave. That was the 2013 series and we raised more than $65,000.

The last SCS of 2013 was co-hosted by Michel and I: He did dinner, I did lunch the next day and we acted as sous chef for each other. I did greens and hominy stew and hoe cakes with watercress, icicle radishes, poached eggs, bacon and warm onion vinaigrette. Michel did so many delicious dishes, but my favorite was his Naughty Angel, or fried angel food cake. He said it was something his mother, his food mentor and hero, used to make for him and his brother. It was crazy good and so, so simple.

Use the recipe below to make the cake from scratch, or buy the cake and use the second part of the recipe to pan-fry it.

Michel Nischan’s Naughty Angel Food Cake
9 cups egg whites
10.5 cups sugar
2 tablespoons Cream of Tartar
6 cups cake flour
1.5 cups almond flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2-3 tablespoons local honey, jam or caramel sauce

Mise en place all ingredients. Add two cups of the sugar to the flour and sift.

Whisk the Cream of Tartar into the remaining sugar. On high speed, whip the egg whites while gradually sprinkling in the sugar. Whip to a medium peak.

Gradually fold the dry mixture into the egg whites. Use a fold motion and not a stirring motion, as this may deflate the egg whites. Make sure there are no streaks of flour in the batter.

Divide between 4 pans and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Do not open the oven door during this time. Continue baking for an additional 35 minutes.

Once cake has cooled, slice the cake and lightly butter each side. Lay them in a non-stick skillet and pan fry over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom. Turn the slices and fry until lightly browned on the other side.

Transfer each slice to a plate and immediately drizzle with honey. If you want to use jam or caramel sauce, dump it into a hot pan off the heat, stirring it until it melts, then spoon it over the cake slices.

Next up in the Southern Chefs Series is my dear friend and food mentor, Nathalie Dupree. Join us March 23-24 and find out more details here.




February 2014

Heat Up Valentine’s Day Dinner with Oyster Stew

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I Love Ewe: Even the sheep are feeling the Valentine’s Day love at Serenbe.

I Love Ewe: Even the sheep are feeling the Valentine’s Day love at Serenbe.

Someone asked me recently if I celebrate Valentine’s Day and I said I didn’t—I’m always working, so Steve and I don’t go out to dinner. But later, when I thought about it, I realized I celebrate in other ways: I decorate my window with hearts, make Valentine treat bags for some of my neighbors and even create a special aphrodisiac menu for The Farmhouse.

This year we’re doing Bibb lettuce with sherry honey vinaigrette, beef tenderloin with toasted almonds and garlic pureed potatoes and steamed lobster with roasted asparagus. Honey and almonds have been associated with fertility for centuries, garlic is known to increase sex drive and asparagus … well, I think seeing is believing there.

I’m also making my mother’s oyster stew. It was one of my father’s favorite soups and she’d make it for him all the time. Oysters are one of the most popular aphrodisiacs around, but I doubt that’s why he liked it. Probably had more to do with the slight bite of Tabasco in the warm cream.

Oyster Stew

Makes 5 servings

1 pint fresh oysters, shucked
½ cup butter
1 quart milk
1 pint cream
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Several dashes Tabasco sauce
Paprika for sprinkling, if desired

Drain the oysters over a bowl, reserve liquid and set aside. Melt the butter in a heave two-quart saucepan. When it bubbles, add the drained oysters. Cook and stir over low heat for about 10 minutes, until oysters are well done.

Add the drained liquid from the oysters, plus the milk, cream, salt, white pepper, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. Taste and season.

Sprinkle lightly with paprika, if you wish, and serve with oyster crackers, dropping several into each bowl as a garnish just before serving.