celebratory mussels

This was my celebratory dinner. I handed in that whopper of a paper, and now all that stands between me and my masters degree is a pesky oral defense. Cheers!

For this particular celebration, I wanted mussels. I wanted to taste summer. I wanted my mussels steeped with lots of great flavours -- fennel, tomato, chorizo sausage, and white wine. And I wanted a warm baguette for dipping. I was not disappointed.

Lots of folks are shy about making mussels. To those folks I say honestly, it's worth any extra hassle. Sure, another meal of chicken breasts doesn't require tossing the cracked or unopened ones, but chicken won't reward you with all that flavour.

When you buy raw mussels, one thing to realize is that they are alive. Don't close them up in a plastic bag -- let them breathe. They should smell of yummy salty ocean and nothing else. And, plan on cooking them within 24 hours. (Both Ina and Martha have a trick about letting mussels sit in warm water with either flour or cornmeal to let the sand out, but usually markets will have already purged the mussels of sand, so this may not be necessary.)

To prepare, run each shell under cold water, scrubbing the outside and tearing off any remaining "beard." In cold water, they should all close up. If any are cracked -- throw those away. If any stay open, try tapping it against the side of the sink. If it doesn't close up, it's dead and needs to be thrown out as well. Cover the mussels with cold water and keep chilled in the fridge until ready to use.

steamed mussels with chorizo and fennel
serves 4 if main course, or more if appetizer

1 lb bag of fresh mussels
1-2 chorizo sausage links, decased
2-3 tbs butter
1 fennel bulb, sliced fine
1/2 red bell pepper, julienned
course salt and fresh black pepper
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes with juices
3/4 C white wine
2/3 C italian parsley, roughly chopped
1 italian or sourdough baguette

Into a big saucepan (one with a lid!), decase the sausage. Cook, breaking up with wooden spoon, until brown and cooked through (about 5-7 mins). Remove cooked sausage and place on a paper towel-lined plate. Set aside.

Meanwhile, place bread in oven to warm -- about 300 degrees.

In same saucepan, with the oils from the sausage, melt butter. Add fennel and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until almost tender, about 7 mins. Add red pepper and sauté a couple minutes more. Add tomatoes and juices. Bring to a boil and cook for a couple minutes. Stir in wine and parsley and bring to another boil.

Add mussels on top of the mixture and cover. Steam about 5 minutes. When most of the mussels have opened, uncover and stir in chorizo. Toss out any mussels that have remained closed. Ladle into bowls and serve with warm bread.

they're empty -- I'm full


out of commission

Just to let you know, I'm on a little hiatus from cooking and creative endeavours right now -- a break from all things that don't involve finishing my degree.

Hope you're all cooking and crafting up something fun.
See you in a few weeks!


classic peanut butter cookies

It's fine to experiment with some foods, reinventing them as gourmet, or fusion. Other foods, however, are better off as old fashioned and dated -- to be appreciated for what they once were. Broccoli chicken casserole, for example, just doesn't require a make-over.

I believe that peanut butter cookies are in the latter category. I don't want to make them taste like a gingersnap or some newfangled cookie -- I just want to let them be the crumbly, tasty morsels I remember. This recipe is from the Joy of Cooking, and the cookies are, thankfully, just like Grandma used to make.

(I have to now admit that I changed the never-to-be-updated recipe just a tad by subbing in some whole wheat flour -- I'll rely on the adage "all's well that ends well.")

classic peanut butter cookies

1/2 C unsalted butter
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C packed brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 C chunky peanut butter
1/2 teas salt
1/2 teas baking soda
1/2 teas vanilla extract
1/2 C whole wheat flour
3/4 C all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter and sugar well. Add egg, peanut butter, salt, soda, and vanilla. Stir well. Slowly add flours and stir until combined. Roughly form into balls in the palm of your hand, then place on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the top is set and the colour is golden. Let most of them cool while you try one with a glass of cold milk.


warm goat cheese on mixed greens

I love goat cheese, and it simply doesn't get much better than warm goat cheese. This recipe is inspired by Ina Garten (a.k.a. Barefoot Contessa), who was inspired by a cafe in Italy. Warmed goat cheese, fried with crispy bread crumbs, served over dressed greens -- buonissimo!

I used three goat cheese rounds for a main course salad, but I would use two if serving the salad as a first course. Make sure to have the greens and dressing tossed and ready before frying up the cheese because you'll want to eat it immediately.

warm goat cheese on mixed greens

First the ingredients, then the instructions --

greens: mescalin mixed greens, baby spinach, thinly sliced bell pepper, and shaved carrot

dressing: (this are the amounts I threw together for 2 main course salads, but adjust for the amount you're making or substitute your favourite tangy vinaigrette)
1 Tbs apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
a couple Tbs of sherry
1 Tbs or so of dijon mustard
pinch of salt
pinch of black pepper

Whisk together well or shake well in dressing bottle until emulsified.

goat cheese: herbed or plain, sliced 1/2-in thick*, egg white(s), fine bread crumbs, olive oil, butter

*dental floss makes a very clean cut

how to: First, put egg whites in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, put the fine bread crumbs. Dip your sliced goat cheese in the egg white, then in the bread crumbs, making sure to get a good layer of crumbs on both sides. Chill breaded slices for a few minutes, until ready to cook.

Wash salad greens and vegetables and toss in vinaigrette. Divide among serving plates.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, melt a couple pats of butter and some olive oil. When hot, carefully place breaded cheese rounds in the pan. Cook for only about a minute per side, until golden and crispy. Remove from pan and place over dressed greens. Serve immediately. This salad was fantastic with a side of garlic bread.


one ton o' wontons

I was craving homemade ravioli. Being a bit impatient, I bought wonton wrappers to shortcut the cranking out of homemade pasta. When I went searching for tips and hints, however, I found this recipe on Martha's website. This wonton soup looked way too good to pass up. And what better use for wonton wrappers for than actual wontons. Ravioli can wait -- now I want wontons.

Minor modifications: The original recipe called for ground pork, which I substituted for ground chicken. I used less scallions than Martha -- she must love onions -- but I used more ginger and soy sauce. I also threw in some shaved carrots at the end for added colour.

wonton soup
serves 3-4

1/2 C finely chopped cabbage (Napa or Savoy)
course salt
3/4 C ground chicken (or pork)
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 - 2 Tbs fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 teas soy sauce
1 1/2 teas toasted sesame oil
24 wonton wrappers (thawed, if frozen)
3 1/2 C low-sodium chicken broth
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 teas rice vinegar
1/2 carrot, peeled and finely sliced

To make the wontons: In a small bowl, toss cabbage with 1/2 teas salt. Let stand 10 minutes. Wrap in paper towels and firmly squeeze out liquid. Meanwhile, toss together meat, scallions, ginger, soy sauce and and 1 teas of sesame oil in a medium bowl. Add dried cabbage. Mix well with fork and refrigerate until ready to use.

Working with one wrapper at a time (keeping the rest under a damp towel), spoon a teaspoon of filling in the center. With dampened fingers, wet the edges and fold wrapper in half (forming a triangle) over filling. Press edges firmly to seal. Moisten the tips along the long side of the triangle and bring together, overlapping and pressing together. Fold remaining corner towards the back. Place on an oiled plate and cover with a damp towel. Fill and form remaining wontons.

To make the soup: In large pot, combine broth with 4 cups water. Bring to a boil. Add wontons one at a time and return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until wontons are cooked through (about 6-8 minutes). Stir in scallions, carrots, vinegar, and remaining 1/2 teas sesame oil. Season with salt, if necessary, and serve.