Mussels, a Simple and Delicious Treat

Sometimes the simplest joys are the greatest. Take today, a dreary rainy/sleety rare Monday off work. My big plans for the day were to clean my apartment, go to the bank, make a return at Home Depot and do a bit of grocery shopping on the way back. So exciting, right? Except that it kind of was, but only in a way a true foodie could appreciate.

As I passed by the seafood counter at my local Whole Foods on steroids, a bag of shiny black mussels caught my eye. I love mussels but rarely make them. In fact, I don’t think I’ve made them since taking advanced fish in culinary school (and yes, that’s a real class that I had nightmares about for months after completing). But today I was being called to them; I just had to buy some.

I bought one pound, which seemed like the right amount for me to enjoy for a late lunch, and grabbed a bottle of Spanish dry white wine that a sales associate recommended along with some fresh thyme and a small baguette. It had been so long since I made this that I couldn’t remember exactly what to put in the broth, but that seemed like the right place to start.

When I got home I consulted a few of my favorite cookbooks and found two recipes similar to what I remembered, one in Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table and the other in an old notebook from class, both emulating the traditional method for steaming mussels that resulted in a delicious and super simple dish.

One thing I wanted to point out was that I didn’t use any pepper in the mussels. Not using pepper on shellfish isĀ  one of thoseĀ  ingrained lessons from that same advanced fish class that gave me nightmares, and one I still follow to a tee.

The only place I went wrong was that I didn’t toast the baguette. I was so eager to eat that I let that part go. Please don’t make the same mistake – toast your bread and use it sop up all the delicious broth!

Here’s how I made Super Simple Steamed Mussels:

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Roast Bison with Port Sauce

I’ve been going through a bit of a flexitarian phase lately, meaning that while I’m in no way a vegetarian or opposed to eating meat, I just haven’t been wanting it as much and have been planning meals around vegetables instead. Fearing I was headed down a dangerous path and could be turned off meat forever, I decided it was time to do something drastic.

So there I was, perusing the meat counter at Whole Foods when I saw they had bison roasts on sale. Perfect! Just like that, I was back in the meat game!

This was seriously simple and extremely delicious. As a rule, bison is leaner than beef (has less fat), and therefore cooks faster. It also has a different taste than beef that may take a bit of getting used to. It tastes gamier, which I describe as an iron-rich flavor.

The port wine sauce and onions are a great compliment to the bison, adding a little sweetness and depth that takes just an extra five minutes.

Here’s the recipe for Roast Bison with Port Sauce:

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Almost-Cream Sauce Spaghetti with Ground Turkey, Mushrooms & Spinach

Almost Cream Sauce Spaghetti with Ground Turkey, Mushrooms & Spinach

Almost-Cream Sauce Spaghetti with Ground Turkey, Mushrooms & Spinach

It’s a very strange day when I crave something creamy. Maybe it’s because I can feel winter barreling at me like a runaway train, or maybe it’s because of all those delicious looking cream-based soups in the sandwich shop I always walk past but can’t eat because, well, because they’re cream. Either way, tonight I wanted to be a part of the lucky dairy-eating-and-don’t-have-to-think-twice-about-it club.

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So, as sort of a compromise between my drooling tastebuds and sense of self-preservation I made a lightened cream-like pasta sauce in which I mixed a slew of other healthy ingredients, making for an extremely well-balanced meal: extra-lean ground turkey, mushrooms, spinach, leeks, garlic and whole wheat spaghetti.

This isn’t an thick and oozy cream sauce, but rather one that just coats the noodles and ground turkey, creating delicious savory flavors and a clean mouthfeel.

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And for the heck of it, I took out some of the filling just before adding the soy creamer which I used to stuff a buttercup squash and bake. That experiment is dinner tomorrow… I’ll let you know how it is.

Here’s the recipe:

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“Quick” Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon

Like everyone who saw Julie & Julia when it premiered in August, I sat in the movie theater with my mouth watering over the boeuf bourguignon, a rich, beef stew featured in the movie. The only problem was it was August, and the dish was a rich, beef stew, not exactly light summer fare.

So I made a mental note to revisit boeuf bourguignon when the weather became cooler. And then, when the weather did turn cold a few weeks ago, the dish completely slipped my mind. That is until Saturday when Chris from Pantry Raid posted about her experiences making Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon.

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And just like that I had to make it. The only problem was Julia’s version was a bit too “potchked,” or fussy, for me at that moment. And it took too long, about 4 hours, and I was getting hungry. So instead I turned to a source I knew Julia would approve of, a new book I’d won by participating in a Julia Child blog contest: The Pleasures of Cooking for One, by Judith Jones, the editor of Mastering the Art of French Cooking who is credited with introducing Julia Child to America. There’s even a great scene in the movie where Judith’s character makes Julia’s recipe for boeuf bourguignon, propelling her to publish the book. Let’s just say this is a woman who knows her boeuf bourguignon.

I really love the concept of this book. Like the title suggests, it’s about cooking for one and using leftovers to create other meals. Many of the recipes are a bit too old-fashioned for my tastes, like minced chicken on toast, but there are also some great ideas that have inspired me to approach about my cooking differently, especially because like Judith I often cook for one.

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Judith’s version of boeuf bourguignon is less fussy than Julia’s with no straining or cleaning of the pot involved, fewer ingredients, and takes about half the time. It also makes a much smaller portion, although I did go ahead and double the recipe because I’m a huge fan of leftovers.

The recipe was fantastic. In just two hours I had a wonderfully rich, tender, and fragrant dish that warmed me and my apartment. The only significant change I made was to simmer the cooking liquid separately at the end to make it more flavorful and give the finished dish a better mouthfeel because a thickened broth clings better to the meat.

Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon

Here’s the recipe:

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Mushroom Risotto: 7-step method plus recipev

Mushroom Risotto l

Creamy. Rustic. Classic.

Oh, how I love a good risotto. Especially mushroom risotto with the glorious earthiness of the mushrooms showcased so cleanly against a perfect canvas of starchy arborio rice.

I use mushrooms two ways in risotto to take full advantage of both flavor and texture. First, grind most of the mushrooms in a food processor so the fantastic flavor can be deeply infused within the rice. The remaining mushrooms are sliced and sauteed in butter and used as a garnish to provide even more mushroom flavor and a contrast in texture.

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Risotto has a reputation for being difficult, I think because people are intimidated by recipes that call for “constant stirring for 45 minutes.” In a word, that instruction is crap.

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