Bastille Day: Moules à la Marinière

Happy Bastille Day! I know it seems a bit odd of a holiday to be celebrating, but this day will always hold a special place in my heart because it is my parents’ wedding anniversary. 33 years (that’s right, 33 years!) ago today, my parents tied the knot, which was just the beginning of a long-lasting, loving relationship and inspiration.

Billie Jean and Russell back in the day

My mom is a high school librarian and my dad is retired, so they have the pleasure of taking an immense summer vacation every year. The typically road trip. Through Spain, through the south east US, and this year, through eastern Canada. With stops in Montreal, Quebec and Prince Edward Island. PEI is very well known for their mussels and I was a bit disappointed when my dad said he didn’t have any there. While I’m not the hugest shellfish fan, I have developed a love for these little suckers over the years.

So with Bastille Day, my parents’ trip to PEI, and my upcoming trip to France later this summer as the inspiration for my weekend feast with my sister, I turned to Julia Child and the book I shamefully have never cooked from. I wanted something simple, light and easy for our mid-day meal, so when my eyes fell on Moules à la Marinière (mussels steamed in wine and herbs) I knew I’d found it. A one pot meal oh so appropriate for the holiday, the anniversary and my vacation day dreams.

This recipe was amazingly easy and super delicious. I couldn’t believe that when I opened the pot after just five minutes I had actually created mussels, that they actually opened, and that they actually tasted like they would in a restaurant. The flavorings are simple and let the shellfish shine through, and the serving liquid (a combination of white wine and mussel juices) was divine. I highly recommend giving this a try because I know you will be just as pleasantly surprised as I was at the results.

Moules à la Marinière* (serves 2)

  • 1.5-2 lbs fresh mussels**
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots
  • 4 sprigs flat leaf parsley
  • 3-4 sprigs thyme
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 3 tbsp butter

Melt the butter in a large pot, add the shallots and garlic, cook for a few minutes to soften. Add herbs and pepper cook for 30 seconds or so to release flavors. Add wine and bring to a boil. Boil for 2-3 minutes to cook off the alcohol and reduce volume slightly.

Add mussels and cover tightly. Boil over high heat for about 5 minutes until shells are open and mussels are done. During the five minute cooking time, frequently (every minute or so) grasp the pot, thumbs clamped to hold on lid and give a quick toss to mussels, up and down motion, so they change levels and cook evenly.

When done, ladle mussels into shallow soup bowls, and ladle liquid over. You can let the liquid settle for a minute, if you are worried about sand (the sand will settle on the bottom while resting). Enjoy!

** Scrub mussel thoroughly and remove and ‘beards’ between the shell halves. Soak them in water for 1-2 hours  so they will disgorge sand and lose a bit of the saltiness. FYI floaters are ok – about half of my mussels floated in the soaking water, while the others sank. They were all tightly closed still, but opened up while cooking. Discard and open non-cooked mussels, or any non-opened cooked mussel, as these are bad.

* recipe slightly adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Spinach-Ricotta Ravioli with Mushroom Brown Butter

Finding a cooking companion is kind of like finding a good traveling partner. It’s best if you have a similar level of expertise, a mutual vision of your end result (and are willing to make little compromises along the way) and ideally have a comfort level with one another such that you can do a little ‘kitchen dancing’ in small spaces, if needed. The past two meals I’ve cooked with friends, I’ve been very lucky to have good cooking chemistry – sharing ideas and coming up with REALLY tasty meals, like last night’s fresh ravioli!

Kelly and I are friends through work and since we had a big meeting yesterday, we decided to celebrate by utilizing the pasta attachment left at her house last weekend. We opened a of wine and began to knead, chop, saute, roll and pinch. She had just gotten spinach in her CSA box, and I had mushrooms from mine last week, so we decided to go simple with a spinach-ricotta filling and two different sauces: mushroom brown butter and creamy tomato.

They were great! It was so fun to really see the little Italian pockets of flavor come together and I was shocked at how easy it was. We used spinach and basil in the filling, which yielded a firmer texture than just ricotta alone and the brown butter sauce was really amazing – salty and a little crisp, finished with a squirt of Meyer lemon, which was a bright end note and nice complement to the heavy butter. All in all, a huge success that was the result of a great culinary partnership.

Spinach-Ricotta Ravioli

Dough

  • 2 1/4 cups semolina flour
  • scant 1 tsp of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons oil

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl whisk egg, water and oil together. Add to flour and salt. Mix until combined and starting to clump. Turn onto lightly floured surface, pull dough together and start kneading. Knead for 10 minutes until smooth and springy. Note: The dough is tough! Just keep on kneading. You should feel it change textures as you go – first very grainy and eventually much smoother. After 10 min, once dough is smooth, flatten into disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 min.

Filling

  • 15oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 bunch baby spinach
  • 2 tbsp basil, finely chopped
  • handful grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg yolk
  • salt to taste

Wilt the spinach in a saute pan. Cool and squeeze out excess water. Chop finely. Combine with all other ingredients in a bowl. Be sure to taste the filling and make sure it’s got enough salt and basil to your liking.

Assembly

After dough has rested in fridge, remove and roll to about 1/4 thick (or just thick enough to fit into the widest setting on your pasta machine). Note: you may want to cut the dough into a few piece to make them easier to work with. Run through the pasta machine, starting on the widest setting and going down one level after each run through. We went down to 4 on a setting of 1-8. Note: since the ravioli edges are double thick, I would go thinner next time – to level 5 or 6. Lay rolled pasta sheets on a lightly floured counter and place rounded teaspoon sized dollops of the filling on top. Cover with another piece of dough. Gently press the top piece of dough on top of and around the filling, being sure to squeeze out any air around the filling. Lightly press surrounding layers of dough together. Pinch out ravioli with a crimper or ravioli punch. Separate and move aside to wait for cooking.

Cooking

While assembling ravioli, bring a pot of water to boil. Place several ravioli in the boiling water. After a few seconds they will float to the top, let them hang out there for a few more seconds and remove – totally cook time is maybe a minute. Note: Be sure to test one or two ravioli first! Every dough and water will be different, cook until aldente – it will NOT take long.

Mushroom Brown Butter ‘Sauce’

I use the term ‘sauce’ lightly for this one, because it’s really just brown butter with mushrooms. The mushrooms will soak up a lot of the butter, so they are meaty and rich – you really don’t need a lot of it to make a big impact. Quantities are to adjustable to your liking and how much you need.

  • wild mushrooms, rough chop
  • ~4-7 Tablespoons butter
  • salt
  • fresh lemon

Heat a tablespoon of butter in a saute pan. Add mushrooms and cook until lightly brown. Note: you can start and stop here while the dough is resting and finish the rest of the way when the ravioli are cooking/done. Melt rest of the butter and as it starts to bubble add back the mushrooms. Cook until butter is browned and mushrooms are crispy. Sprinkle in salt and finish with squeeze of about 1/4 of a small lemon – adjust salt and lemon to taste. Spoon over fresh ravioli.

Herb Salts

The holidays have slowly, then rapidly, crept up and now with the start of Hanukkah last night and Christmas in 4 days, I think it’s safe to say they are here. Though that doesn’t mean that we have all finished shopping, preparing, cooking, or gifting in any way. Home-made herb salts are a lovely gift that are so simple you can whip up a batch in the evening just in time to catch your colleagues before they take off, fill out the stockings a little bit more, or bring a smile to your host’s face.

I had a ton of fresh left-over herbs from holiday cooking. Sage and rosemary were abundant, and rather than let them go bad in the fridge, I decided to dry them. Magically as I strung them up to dry, a friend told me about a herb salt she made. It sounded so simple that I had to give it a whirl. I also got to combine two other things I love, my mortar & pestle that were a house-warming present from my best friend and little Weck jars that I just adore. Each 80ml jar holds just about 6 tbsp. of salt and I am taking them overseas as a home-made gift for Christmas, I hope the recipients love them. I know I can’t wait to use mine on fish, poultry, rice, sauce and more. (While I dried and ground my own the old-fashioned way there are some shortcuts mentioned below.)

Herb Salt makes roughly 12 tbsp

  • 1 bunch herbs (I made 2 batches 1 rosemary and 1 sage)
  • 10+ tbsp salt (I used Kosher)

Hang herbs to dry OR dry in very low oven or a short blast in the microwave. Grind herbs finely in mortar & pestle OR blender/food processor. Mix with salt.

Ratio of herbs to salt 1:4 or 1:5 depending on how strong you want the salt to be. I measured in tablespoons.

Put in jar and tie with ribbon!

Breakfast Sandwich Woes

I want to tell you a story…

There once was a girl who worked at Gap. While she didn’t buy breakfast at work all the time, she really really loved getting a breakfast sandwich sometimes.

Despite being a little obsessed with fresh, good quality food, she like the commercial simplicity of it – English muffin, egg, sausage patty, American cheese. She knew it was wrong to like the processed meltiness, but never one to be too high on her horse, she enjoyed it as part of this morning bundle.

The only thing holding her back from having them more often was the fact that a) they were overpriced and b) they weren’t that good for her.

One morning, she came into the office craving some sustenance for the day. But alas the sandwich she knew she shouldn’t love but did had been changed!! Now 15% more expensive and gourmet (Gruyère, sourdough bread, & ham) she was brokenhearted. Under normal circumstances gourmet would be amazing, but she wanted what she was used to and there was no way she was going to pay more (the cafe already got enough of her money) or take the old sandwich without meat for the same old price. Taking personal offense to the alterations, she decided to boycott the morning grill.

She explored other options in the blocks surrounding her office, and while she found quasi-sufficient replacements, she still pines away for the cafe to bring back breakfast…

In my effort to assuage my breakfast sandwich wounds, I made this AMAZING meal the other night. While I’m not willing to pay my cafe for a gourmet breakfast sandwich, I sure as heck will make one for myself. Fresh baguette toasted with salted butter and Havarti cheese, already soft and ready to get melty, anchored the bottom. I topped with Polish sausage and a perfectly fried egg on top with a sprinkling of fresh rosemary. YUM.

I love a runny yolk and how it squirts only the plate to be soaked up with the toast and sandwich. I love how you can actually taste the salted butter and how the rosemary makes it comforting. I love how this breakfast for dinner sandwich makes me (almost) forget what used to be the occasional little delight at the beginning of my work day.

Sweet and Spicy – Corn Gets a Kick

I’ve been a little lazy with my cooking lately. Well… maybe more like lazy with the creative cooking/blogging… I actually had a really good run last week of bringing my lunch, super tasty salmon and roasted potatoes with rosemary, and making dinner, just eggs, grilled cheese and pasta – you know, the normal stuff.

So in my effort to cook the vegetables I picked up last weekend (yes, it took me this long to cook them) I wanted to get fancy. Ok, maybe not fancy, but certainly testing a new recipe. Next step was finding recipes for which I had all the stuff at home. AMAZINGLY I had everything for Fresh Corn and Basil Cornbread and Honey-Ancho Chile Butter!

When I think of cornbread with more than just corn, I think jalapeno, cheddar, a little spice, so this was a nice change of pace. The basil is a fresh surprise and complement to the corn, and using the fresh corn kernels adds great texture to the bread. It’s definitely worth trying, but while I will definitely put in fresh corn again I think I’ll go for some spice next time.

If you click through to the recipe you’ll see that it calls for a food processor to mix the dry ingredients and cut in the butter; however, from this post you know I dont’ have one.aa Ta-da… HANDS! Since I have done this with a variety of recipes now, I figured I’d show you what it looks like when you cut in the butter yourself:

1) ‘Cut’ the butter into the dry ingredients by squeezing the cold butter between your fingers, rubbing it together with the flour, over and over until it looks like this:

2) Like magic, even though it looks dry, when you squeeze it together it will do this, and that’s when you add your wet ingredients!

Next up was some Honey-Ancho Chile butter for my other ear of corn! SO simple and it makes a butter that packs a punch in the after taste, but is also slightly sweet. I didn’t have garlic or onion powder so I just grated a little fresh ingredients and it did just the trick. It brightened up my corn and gave it a kick, a nice contrast to the natural sweetness of the corn, I was one step away from running to the store so I could sprinkle on some cotija and pretend I was at the state fair.

And just a note – I DID try the chile butter on my cornbread, the two did not mesh so much because of the basil. I think the butter would be amazing on normal cornbread and especially on the vegetables that I packed for lunch tomorrow. Yup, it happened, now I have a whole stick of ancho chile butter and will be eating it on EVERYTHING.

Pea, Bacon and Rosemary Risotto

If the pesto I made the other week was one of the most beautiful things I have made, this risotto is easily one of the most luxurious. This weekend has been rather terrible in San Francisco – overcast, fog so thick it feels like it’s raining and wind to make it all worse. Seeing as that it was not summer weather, I was craving a not summer meal. Risotto screams comfort – warm, thick and rich, it seemed just the right way to end this weekend. My first memory of risotto is one that my mom made, simply with prosciutto and white wine, and how amazingly decadent it was with the bacony hints. I wanted to recreate some of that magic with a seasonal twist.

Even though the weather in the city wasn’t really summer, the farmer’s market was still bountiful with the summer stock brought in from other parts of the Bay Area. I wanted to find some snap peas for my seasonal twist, inspired by my friend’s recent regaling of a pea risotto she made, and luckily I found one stand with the last of the season’s sugar snap peas. They are crunchy and sweet, and really take no time at all the shell. While I only used the peas, the shells are edible too and would make a great addition to the risotto or a snack for later.

For the actual recipe, I turned to Jamie Oliver. I’ve loved him ever since he was the naked chef (in fact, I have the menu from his restaurant Fifteen hanging in my kitchen from the night I ate there while studying abroad in London), and am pretty disappointed he no longer cooks on TV, but I own a couple of his books found my inspiration there. I ended up with an amazing combination of bacon, rosemary and peas – the low and slow cooking method allows the rice to absorb all the flavors and the constant stirring develops the starches making it thick and rich. The rosemary is woody, which pairs perfectly with the  nutty parmesan and smokey bacon, while the butter adds smoothness and a sweetness that matches the peas. Along with some sweetness the peas add texture and pop in every bite. I love this combination, but the great thing about risotto is that there is a basic method and base recipe that you can add any seasonal ingredients and add-ins you prefer!

Pea, Bacon and Rosemary Risotto*

  • 3 cups home-made or good quality chicken stock (this is a  huge flavor builder, so get the best your can find)
  • 2 pieces of bacon, sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot + 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • salt + pepper
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup peas (more if you like!)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1.5 oz parmesan cheese (grated fresh from the block, not the pre-grated kind)

1) Heat the stock in a separate pot, bring close to a simmer

2) Lightly brown bacon in a separate pan

3) Heat olive oil and add shallot and onion when hot. Add a pinch of salt and sweat the veggies for a few minutes. Add garlic and cook for another couple of minutes until veggies are soft.

4) Add rice, rosemary and bacon – cook while continuously stirring until the rice is moderately translucent, about 5 min. You don’t want to brown the rice, so if you see it start to change color, decrease the heat. This is where the rice is picking up all the flavors in the pot – exciting!

5) Add the white wine – it’ll smell great, it’ll sizzle, and the rice is soaking it all up! Continue to stir until the rice has absorbed all the liquid. This is where things start to get a little labor intensive, but it’s totally worth it.

6) When the wine is absorbed, add half a cup or so of the warm chicken stock. Keep on stirring! When all the liquid is absorbed, add another half a cup while continually stirring and repeating these steps. Keep the rice and stock mixture at a high simmer, not a full boil, this will allow all the rice kernels to cook evenly all the way through.

7) After you’ve added about half the liquid add the peas to the mixture, so they’ll cook as the rice finishes.

8 ) Eventually the rice will plump up and the mixture will be thick and creamy. Start tasting the rice sooner rather than later, when it is soft with a slight bite, you’re done! You may not need all the stock, so make sure to taste as you go. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

9) Now you could stop here. It tastes good, it looks good, and it’s lactose/gluten-free! However, to make it fully luxurious and decadent, you add the butter and cheese – AMAZING.

10) Indulge and don’t feel bad! You used fresh ingredients, there are no preservatives, and you know all the love it contains.

This recipe will serve about 2 full meal servings, or 3 smaller portions.

* adapted from The Naked Chef

Pretty Pretty Pesto

This is one of the most beautiful things I have made. I don’t mean an extravagant cake, or tweezers and droppers delicately placing just the right amount of food on the plate. I’m talking all natural, colors you can’t believe are real, tastes amazing beautiful.

While picking up the lemon and lime for the cookies over the weekend I found the thinnest, most delicate looking asparagus. I immediately snatched that up and knew I’d roast them with lemon and lime. Great start, but asparagus and what? I got home and raided the pantry and fridge. Pasta, check. Sausage in the fridge, check. Spinach, check. Great, I can make a healthy pasta with veggies – but that’s so boring…

NOT if you make the spinach into pesto!! The most beautiful spinach-walnut-arugala-basil-lemon pesto. It all just sounded so good together that I crammed basically all my fridge into the bladed attachment of my immersion blender and pressed go. Seasoned with salt and pepper and just enough olive oil for the blades whirl easily and I was done. The best part about this is that you can make it with just about whatever you have and season to your liking.

I tossed the roasted asparagus, sausage and pasta with this amazing bright green sauce and was just SO happy with the result. The pesto itself was one of those colors that makes you realize where Crayola gets its inspiration. It was amazingly fragrant with the basil, slightly sweet from the spinach and walnuts, and I loved the burst of freshness in the lemon finish. I couldn’t have done better with an hour in the kitchen (I was done in about 15 min).

I highly recommend you give it a try. Try different proportions, different greens, whatever you have around the house. I promise you will end up with something amazing.