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Posts Tagged ‘mussels’

I love it when I make something from scratch and have enough left over to store some in the freezer.  It makes me feel so prepared… so wholesome (which is excellent since “prepared” and “wholesome” probably aren’t the first words that come to mind when describing myself).  It also makes me feel smart, because making something from scratch that you would normally buy jarred from the store tends to be much tastier, much cheaper, and much better for you.   

the components

In fact, I love this so much that one may assume by the looks of my freezer that an eighty-five year old woman lives at my house.  My freezer is full of little labeled bags, each one containing enough of some little morsel or ingredient to be used for a specific serving amount.  Didn’t use an entire can of tomato paste or chipotle chiles?  Just divide the rest up and put it in a little bag, I say!  Who doesn’t love stretching one dollar across four meals?!  If only I exercised this level of mindfulness and precision with my laundry or, I don’t know, our budget.

accidental art

Back to making things from scratch; I’ve been really into this lately.  The discovery of very inexpensive spices that can be found at international markets (basically any place that sells food outside of your conventional chain grocery store) opens up a new world of possibilities in this realm.  I’ve always been a relative purist in terms of cooking meals from scratch; I keep it simple and fresh with veggies, grains, meats and bread.  Now I’m moving on to condiments.  I have big plans for some Guiness mustard, a fantastic worsteshire sauce, Harissa paste and maybe ketsup.   Once you deconstruct a sauce or flavor component that you use regularly and typically pick up at the store, you discover that the ingredients in a store bought item tend towards fillers and artificial ingredients that diminish flavor and aren’t really good for you.  Homemade marinara or Bolognese sauce, for instance, is a revelation after years of stuff from a jar.

possibilities

Anyway, I started this journey with Thai Red Curry paste.  The beauty of Thai Red Curry paste (aside from the fact that it is utterly delicious) is that it has so many uses: stir a little into noodles, add some to rice, slather on meat for a marinade, whisk some into soup, add to oil and vinegar for a unique salad dressing… Having some of this curry paste on hand means that a can of coconut milk, shallots, lime and a pound of mussels is all it takes to quickly put together an elegant and exotic meal.  I love this!  I enjoy so much the complilation of all these ingredients, coming together to make something fantastic.  There may be a little extra work on the front end, but I’m so thankful when I pull my well marked baggie out of the freezer for instant flavor.  This little trend has started to extend to a multitude of other genres… spice blends, jams and jellies… I’m actually dreaming of getting my hands on some veal bones to make my own demi glace this Fall.  

the end result

In the meantime, I’ll just share this recipe that I used from Saveur; I hope someone will try it and share with me in the unusual satisfaction that comes from a freezer full of tiny baggies.  

thai red curry paste

  • 8 dried chiles de arbol, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 tbsp corriander seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp white peppercorns
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro, with stems
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 5 gloves of garlic, smashed
  • 3 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 2 holland or fresno chiles, stemmed, seeded and chopped
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass, tough outer layers discarded, tender interior layers finely chopped
  • 1 one inch piece of ginger peeled and roughly chopped
  1. break the chiles de arbol into pieces, transfer to a small bowl, and cover with one cup of boiling water; let them soak until softened – about 20 minutes
  2. meanwhile, add corriander, cumin, peppercorns, and cardamom to a small skillet over meadium head; toast spices, swirling constantly, until very fragrant – about 4 minutes
  3. transfer spices to a grinder (I use an electric coffee grinder) and grind to a fine poweder – set aside – (if you’re feeling really rustic, you could smash and grind them with a mortar and pestle)
  4. strain the chiles de arbol through a sieve, reserving the soaking liquid
  5. in a food processor, combine chiles de arbol, ground spices, fish sauce, cilantro, oil, salt, nutmeg, garlic, shallots, fresh holland chiles, lemongrass and ginger – puree until paste is smooth, about 2 minutes (sprinkle in a tbsp or two of reserved chile soaking water to help paste grind)
  6. refrigerate for up to three weeks or freeze for up to three months

Thai Red Curry paste doesn’t have the flavor that many people associate with the traditional Indian Yellow Curry; the word “curry” is used in both Indian and Thai cuisines to indicate a pungeant and flavorful spice paste or mixture, and is not indicative of one specific flavor or aroma.

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tastes as beautiful as it looks

tastes as beautiful as it looks

If you want to sing because you have just eaten something delectable – if you want to feel like you are dining in the manner of aristocrats – if you want an absolute slurpy flavor explosion with each little bite of food, then you need to prepare and eat the mussels that I just had for lunch.  Seriously.  I’m getting really passionate again about my lunch but it’s completely valid. 

Mussels are so good and easy to make.  The strangest thing is trying to guard their little lives so much from store to home, then confirm that they’re all healthy and thriving, only to quickly extinguish those little lives in a steaming pot.  I would be kind of sad about it if they weren’t so extravagantly delicious. 

I have been craving mussels and a  smattering of left over ingredients from the week came together very quickly to make an absolutely glorious broth that obviously gets me very excited.  A pinch of saffron and the addition of a tiny anchovy filet (both pantry staples in my house) added an extra layer of flavor to ingredients that are already outstanding.   Imagine this bite: one tender little mussel swimming in a fragrant broth that tastes of wine and lemon and garlic and fresh parsley and summer with a hint of thyme and saffron.  I realize that I sound a bit over dramatic sometimes when I talk about some of these things, but when food tastes this good it makes me want write poetry.  And love letters.  Food love letters, if you will. 

We ate these mussels with some toasted slices of french baguette, rubbed with a clove of raw garlic and drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper.  If you haven’t eaten bread this way, you are missing out on one of life’s great and simple pleasures.   

The recipe below serves two and the entire meal took about twenty minutes to prepare; there really isn’t any excuse for you to not share in this experience with me.  I want everyone to experience these little tastes of the good life – together.  Let’s start with these mussels. 

tender mussels in fragrant wine broth

  • a pound and a half of mussels, scrubbed and debearded if necessary
  • a cup and a half of white wine
  • three cloves of garlic, chopped
  • a quarter of an onion or a couple of shallots, chopped
  • a generous handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • four or five sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded
  • half of a lemon (meyer is best)
  • one little anchovy fillet
  • a pinch of saffron (maybe five or six small threads)
  • one tbsp of butter
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • about one tsp of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. add the saffron to the wine and let soak while you begin cooking
  2. heat the butter and olive oil in an appropriately sized sauce pan over medium heat, and add the chopped onions, salt and pepper and stir frequently for about two minutes
  3. add the garlic, anchovy and thyme and cook for a minute or two more, stirring frequently
  4. add the wine (with saffron) and about two thirds of the fresh parsley and bring to a boil
  5. gently add the mussels, cover and reduce to medium, cooking for six to seven minutes (all mussels should be open – discard any that do not open)
  6. ladle the mussels and plenty of the broth into wide bowls and garnish with the rest of the fresh parsley; serve with crusty garlic bread

All mussels should be scrubbed and inspected before cooking; discard any mussels that have cracked or broken shells.  If a mussel is open, gently tap it on the shell; if it doesn’t close it should also be discarded. 

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