That night I prepared the mussels according to the memory of a fantastic mussel dish we ordered regularly at our favorite restaurant on the West Coast. The resulting dish was delicious, but not quite as good as we remembered. Thus began a year-long quest to perfect the recipe and recreate the incredible combination of salt-kissed mussels, sweet tomatoes and piquant wine that filled our memory.
1.5 lbs Mussels
4 Tablespoons Olive oil
1 medium Onion (about 1 1/2 cups) finely diced
3 Shallots, finely diced
4 Cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 Lemon, zested and juiced
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh Basil
2 Tablespoons Tomato paste
1 teaspoon Anchovy paste
1 14oz can San Marzano Tomatoes
1 Bay leaf, torn in half
1 sprig Tarragon
1/2 teaspoon crushed Red pepper
pinch of Saffron
1/2 cup dry White wine, plus a splash (divided)
1/2 cup Seafood stock (or vegetable stock)
Salt (to taste)
Rinse and scrub mussels, removing any barnacles or beards.
Place a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil to the pan and heat until the oil is shimmering. Add onion, shallot, and garlic to the pan. Saute until the vegetables have just softened. Next add lemon zest, basil, tomato paste, and anchovy paste to the mixture. Stir until just combined. Pour lemon juice and tomatoes into the pan and add the bay leaf, tarragon, crushed red pepper, saffron, seafood stock, and wine. Stir until all ingredients are combined and bring the liquid to a gentle simmer. Place the cleaned mussels into the pan and cover. Simmer for 4-5 minutes, or until the mussels have steamed open. Using tongs, remove the mussels from the pan. Cover the mussels with foil to keep warm.
Working quickly, discard the bay leaf halves and the tarragon sprig. Bring the remaining liquid to a vigorous boil, and cook for 4-5 minutes until reduced to your desired consistency. Taste the broth and add additional salt as needed. Add the mussels back into the broth along with a splash of white wine, and heat up slightly. Divide the mussels and sauce into individual bowls and serve hot.
The official line:
The 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online.
Working with pastry is always something of a challenge. This month’s Daring Kitchen project took it to a new level by using pastry to completely envelop a savory filling of salmon and greens. The recipe encouraged you to make your own puff pastry but also allowed for the use of pre-packed puff pastry.
I should have taken the easy way out and gone straight for the store bought variety, but feeling confident after a recent string of delicious pie crusts, I dove right in. The list of ingredients appeared normal: flour, butter, water, salt. However as I assembled the dough warning bells started to go off in my head. The results appeared an awful lot like a hard dry pie crust and not like puff pastry. I remembered a beautiful post by Diane and Todd on making puff pastry from scratch, and this process didn’t look anything like what they described. Not one to give up, I carried on, whizzing arugula and cream cheese together for the filling, and patting down a wonderful hunk of fresh salmon with herbs and salt.
Once it came time to put everything together the crust crumbled into big dry chunks and it took every trick in my book to get it to wrap around the salmon. Visions of shaping the crust into a whimsical fish were quickly forgotten and I just felt lucky to roll the darn thing into one piece. Grumbling, I finally put the pastry wrapped fish into the oven and hoped for the best.
As I cut into the salmon, the crust flaked nicely while the fish appeared moist and perfectly cooked. Optimistic, I set our plates on the table and we dug in. Ugh. An utter absence of flavor put a final death knell on this dish. Leaden pastry dough and under-seasoned salmon is not a winning combination. The sauce of arugula and cream cheese didn’t help matters. Mr B. took a bite and said, “It tastes like grass”. Disappointed we scraped off the pastry and the sauce and just ate the salmon.
Was it the recipe or was it me? That is the question that always goes back and forth in my mind when something like this happens. I imagine that it was a bit of both- a combination of poorly made dough and the lack of recommended seasoning. Wrapping food in puff pastry is a novel and potentially delicious idea. I haven’t given up on the dream of making puff pastry from scratch, but when that day comes I think I will fill it with chocolate instead of fish!
Lets talk about Thanksgiving.
Instead of bombarding you with yet another recipe for Grandma’s gravy, I want to share my general approach to the holiday. In short- we love Thanksgiving. Admitted stuffing junkies, we squabble over the drumsticks (thank goodness there are two!) and sneak bites of cranberry sauce straight from the fridge. Even when it is just the two of us, Mr. B and I look forward to cooking a blow-out feast with enough leftovers to last a week.
I have been responsible for cooking the turkey since I was in high school (mom was often working). I have tried every method from brining to rubbing, and stuffing or salting. The most reliable recipe from all of these attempts is not surprisingly the simplest. Gourmet’s Simple Roast Turkey with Rich Turkey Gravy is a standout winner. My only tweaks are to use the dry brine method and salt the turkey at least 24 hours before cooking. I also stuff slices of lemon, butter, and sage underneath the skin just before it goes into the oven (adapted from my favorite roast chicken recipe). The result is one seriously delicious bird!
I have cooked grocery store special Butterballs, pricey Heritage turkeys, experimental injected turkeys (don’t ask), and even beef (my grandparents don’t like turkey). This year, for the first time, I am very excited to be cooking a fresh local turkey. In late September we visited the farm and saw the turkeys in person. Raised in a natural manner, they moved around the grassy acreage in pens, eating bugs and grubs. Knowing the high quality of produce we enjoyed all summer from this farm, I am anticipating a fantastic turkey.
Each year I buy not one, but two turkeys. Two turkeys you ask? Yes, two. I picked this little habit up from my mother who would always buy a second turkey on sale after the holiday and stick it in the freezer. It is an economical way to feed a family later in the winter and gives you a great opportunity to play around with non-traditional turkey recipes. Last year Mr. B and I were enraptured by the Latin feast featured in the November 2008 issue of Gourmet and sometime in February set out to recreate a large part of the menu. In a word it was awesome. So good that we are skipping the traditional route entirerly this year and going straight for a menu of:
Clementine and Jicama Salad
Adobo Turkey with Red-Chile Gravy
Cornbread and Chorizo Stuffing
Poblano Potato Gratin
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (an odd choice, yes, but a family favorite)
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
My family is driving cross-country to join us and I can hardly wait to spend several days eating, drinking, laughing, and hanging out with them. Mr. B and my father are on a mission to go hunting as much as possible, and I’m sure to have several wild pheasant recipes for you in the very near future.
So, what are your plans for the holiday? I would love to hear any favorite recipes or approaches. Please speak up, because as you know, there’s always turkey #2!
Making sushi at home was a true challenge. Not because the technique was difficult or the flavors were unfamiliar- the rolls actually came together easily and we love sushi. The challenge came in finding fresh sushi grade fish when you live in a small town 1,000 miles from the nearest ocean. For a girl who once seriously considered becoming an oceanographer, I somehow ended up about as far away from an ocean as possible! After searching high and low and even online for sashimi grade fish, I finally gave up and decided to get creative. Cooked shrimp and a can of quality dungeness crab were my pinch hitters and surprisingly they delivered an enjoyable albeit unauthentic sushi dinner.
Then one day I decided to grow swiss chard. It was an impulse really. Who could resist a flat of rainbow stemmed seedlings with deep green leaves? To say that the chard was happy in our little garden is an understatement. It multiplied like overeager rabbits and we had arm loads of the stuff. Now what does this have to do with braised kale? Well, chard became my gateway green. In my desperate attempts to work through the abundance of chard I recalled something about Southerners braising greens and decided to give it a try. The chard proved to be too delicate for braising (it got mushy fast) yet once I tasted the creamy tang of the braising liquid I was hooked. I found myself searching for kale, collard greens, and turnip greens at the grocery store and eagerly bringing them home.
2 Tablespoons of Grapeseed Oil (or olive oil)
4 strips Bacon, cut into 1″ pieces
1 large onion, diced (about 2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs Turnips (preferably small white Tokyo Turnips), ends and tops trimmed off
3 cups Chicken broth
1/8 – 1/4 cup Apple cider vinegar (adjust to taste)
2 cups cooked White Beans (I used Mayacoba beans)
2 large bundles of Kale, washed, stems discarded, and leaves roughly chopped
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 lemon, juiced
Salt and Pepper
Place a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the bacon strips to the pot and cook until the fat is rendered and the bacon is lightly browned. Add the onion, garlic, and turnips to the pot. Stir and cook until the vegetables are softened and beginning to turn brown on the edges. Pour the chicken broth and apple cider vinegar into the pot, and stir while scraping the bottom to deglaze and browned bits stuck to the pot. Next add the beans and kale (pressing down on the kale if it threatens to overflow the pot). Cover the pot with a lid and reduce the heat to medium-low. Braise the kale for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the leaves are tender and wilted and the turnips are cooked through.
Once the kale is tender, remove the lid and add in the sugar, hot sauce, and lemon juice. Stir and taste the liquid. Add salt, pepper, and apple cider vinegar, until the flavors are to your liking. Turn off the heat and serve the braised kale with slices of thick crusty bread to sop up the liquid.