Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mussels in White Wine

It's hard to take a good picture of mussels in a bowl. I don't think that the picture above does this dish justice. Because I'm going to make a serious proclamation: These are some of the best mussels I've ever eaten! And I'm the cook! I'm so proud.

And not only are these mussels incredibly tasty, but they are incredibly easy to prepare - and the dish comes together really fast too!

Mussels feel fancy to me, yet they are so much less expensive than other seafood items in the store. I got a 3 1/2 lb. bag of them for just over $3.00. I can appreciate that, can't we all? In comparison, I keep wanting to buy scallops, but I just can't justify spending the money on them lately. They are $13.00 a pound for fresh (not frozen) large scallops - and that's here in new England.

I recommend these mussels to all you shellfish eaters. You can impress yourself and your friends with them. They are great as a side dish, but I could totally see tossing them in pasta. The sauce is really flavorful and so pretty too! When my mussels were done, I would have dipped in crusty bread, but I didn't have any. So I cooked up some rice and had it like this:

Isn't that broth so beautiful! It was delicious. And since making it, I bought some crusty bread to have with the still-leftover broth.

I will definitely, without a doubt, make this mussel dish again!

Mussels in White Wine
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa

Serves 1 as a main dish - 2 as an appetizer

3 pounds cultivated mussels
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup petite diced canned tomatoes, drained
1/2 teaspoon good saffron threads, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 cup good white wine - I used a chardonnay
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

When you open your mussels, you want to remove any that might not be alive. If the shells are closed tightly, you can trust the mussel. If the shell is open, quickly press it together.

It will spring open some, and at that point, a live mussel will close on it's own (sometimes it takes a few seconds). I tend to do this to all the open ones as I sort through the mussels. I put any open to the side. When I'm done sorting, I go back to the ones that were open and see if they closed. Toss any that didn't close!

Sometimes mussels have sand in them. It's not pleasant when you bite into them, so here's how to remove that pesky sand: Fill a large bowl to completely submerge your mussels with a couple of inches of water on top. Sprinkle 1/3 cup flour into the water and mix. Then add the mussels. Leave them in the water (some will float) for 1/2 hour.

Drain the flour water and rinse the mussels. You are likely to see all the sand they spit out as you pour off that water and see the bottom of the bowl. Pull off any beards from the mussels and scrub off any dirt. Now your mussels are ready.

Heat-up the butter and olive oil in a deep stock pot. After about 4 minutes, add the saffron. After 2 more minutes, add the garlic, tomatoes, parsley, thyme, wine, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil.

Add the mussels and cover the pot. Cook for 8-10 minutes on medium heat. Shake the pot (while it's covered) from time to time so that the juice can get to the ones on top, and so that they don't scorch on the bottom.

You're done now! Enjoy your mussels.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Moroccan-Style Chicken Pie

My latest Bon Appétit magazine has been sitting on my coffee table for a week. I finally opened it today and a few recipes caught my eye. This is one of them.

I like this recipe for many reasons! First, the ingredients are readily available. I had almost all of them right here at home. Next, it was an easy recipe to make - no complicated procedures here. Finally, the pie was wonderfully aromatic, flavorful, and satisfying.

I loved the combination of sweet and savory, too. And the crunchy phyllo topping with nuts and sugar (and salt) between the layers was really nice.
I'm not sure how necessary it was having 6 layers of phyllo on the bottom and 4 on the top. I would switch that around for next time. The other thing I would do differently would be to cut the bottom layers of phyllo the way the recipe recommended (using the bottom of the pie plate), but make the top layers bigger. As you can see below, the top layers weren't quite big enough.

But those are minor little adjustments that I can recommend to you if you try this recipe.
Speaking of the recipe, I really didn't stray much from what was published in Bon Appétit. I used butter flavored cooking spray instead of butter between the bottom 6 layers of phyllo dough. I did use butter between the top layers because they were exposed and I didn't want to risk the texture being wrong. Also, I used granulated sugar for the crust, and skipped the cinnamon (by accident!).

Moroccan-Style Chicken Pie
Slightly Adapted from Bon Appétit

Serves 5-6 people.

Filling Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups low-salt chicken broth (I used home made stock)
1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs
1/4 cup chopped golden raisins
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Crust Ingredients
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 sheets (about 17x12 inches) fresh phyllo pastry or frozen, thawed
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted*

* I used less butter because I used cooking oil between the layers for the bottom of the pie. I also went easy on the butter for the layers of the top crust. I don't think you need more than 1/4 cup to prepare the crust with all butter.

To Prepare The Filling
Put a large, heavy pan over medium heat on the stove. Add the oil and the onion. Season the onion with salt and pepper and cook for approximately 10 minutes until the onions are soft and transparent. At that point, sprinkle them with the ginger, cinnamon, tumeric, and saffron. Continue to cook the onions for one minute. Then, sprinkle them with a tablespoon of flour and cook for one more minute.

Add the chicken stock to the pan and the chicken thighs. Cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes so that the thighs are cooked through. Turn them over midway through the cooking time. Here's my chicken when it was done.

Remove the chicken from the pan and add the golden raisins to the sauce. Once the chicken is cool enough, shred it. Then combine the chicken and the sauce and place the mixture in the refrigerator to cool. Here's my finished filling:

It is supposed to cool completely before assembling the pie.

The pie assembly goes very quickly. So turn on your oven to 375 degrees and start preheating.

Prepare The Crust Ingredients
In a small food processor, mix the almonds, sugar, and salt until it is evenly processed and resembles coarse salt.

Cut The Phyllo Dough
Remove 10 sheets of phyllo dough from the package. Put the rest back in the freezer. Split the 10 sheets of phyllo so that you have 5 for the top layer of the pie, and 5 for the bottom. Keep the phyllo covered with a damp (not soaking wet) paper towel or two while you are not using it. Phyllo dries out very quickly, so you want to keep it moist.

Place the 5 layers designated for the bottom of the pie on a working surface. Put the pie pan you are using on top and cut around the bottom edge of the pie pan so that you have 5 phyllo disks that will perfectly fit into your pie pan. Put the disks on a plate and cover them with the damp paper towels.

Place the 5 layers designated for the top of the pie on a working surface. Place the pie pan on top. This time, when you cut through the layers of phyllo, trace the edges of the top of the pie pan, which will give you larger disks for the top of the pie. You want these disks to fit perfectly on top of the pie once it is filled with the chicken mixture. Put the disks on a plate and cover them with the damp paper towels.

To Assemble The Pie
Work with the bottom layers of phyllo first. Remove one sheet of phyllo. Brush butter on it and then top with a sprinkling of the sugar-almond mixture. Place another sheet of phyllo on top and repeat the procedure. Keep repeating until you have the five layers of phyllo ready. Place them in the bottom of the pie pan.

Cover the bottom layers of phyllo with the chicken filling.

With the top layers of phyllo, use the same procedure of buttering the dough and sprinkling with the sugar-almond mixture until all five layers are ready. Place them on the top of the pie and tuck in any extra edges into the pie pan. Top with the remaining sugar-almond mixture.

Bake the pie for 35-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

ChocoLee in Boston's South End

I was browsing through the other day and saw their story on Boston's best new restaurants. The very first picture in the slideshow was of ChocoLee chocolates. And in the description it read, "Be sure to sample the main draw, offered only on the weekends: beignets oozing with a ganache of dark chocolate and mascarpone. "

Well, they didn't have to tell me twice! I was all over that, immediately emailing several friends trying to find one who would go with me on Saturday.

I had figured that since ChocoLee was listed as a best "restaurant" and they had beignets, that there would be seating with a small selection of drinks and pastries. But while there was no seating and no menu, it was absolutely worth the trip into Boston's South End.

ChocoLee is located at 83 Pembroke Street, which is right around the corner from Tremont Street. If you drive in, you'll need to park on Tremont Street and have plenty of quarters to feed the meter. If you take the T, the Back Bay orange line station was within walking distance.

I did love the large metal bowls of "chocolate" and monster-sized whisks in the windows.

One can't help but notice the magazines full of praise for Chocolee that are displayed near the above window. There was also one of those Boston's Best signs from the well-known annual poll of Boston residents.

There were two women working behind the counter. They were very friendly and approachable. I mentioned that I had a food blog and asked if I could take pictures, and they didn't hesitate to let me.

They did not know of the Best of the new restaurants story. I mentioned that I had driven in from Worcester County and they asked if I came into town just for their chocolates. I should have just fessed up and said yes, I did. But I made myself look like less of a chocolate freak and I mentioned that I decided to make a day of it and meet friends there for those chocolate beignets and lunch somewhere. Just then, my friends Karen and Jon walked in the door.

They make the beignets to order right there. They were nice and hot when they handed my order to me in a bag and warned me that the liquid ganache inside was very hot and to be careful. My mouth was watering. Not only did I get the beignets, but also a number of their delectable looking chocolates. I like being able to choose which kinds I want instead of being forced to buy a pre-packaged box of the flavors someone chooses to give me.

The chocolates were in a glass display and were fresh. In fact, there were more freshly made chocolates on the counter top behind the display. They make the chocolates right there, daily!

I loved the chocolate pod displayed on the top of the counter next to the chocolate dipped strawberries (the pod was a replica).

For the chocolates I got lavender, toasted sesame, lemon curd, lime curd, ginger, vanilla ganache, cardamom, chile, lemon pistachio, salt caramel, and I think the last one was cherry cordial. I should have written down the exact names, but I wasn't thinking. So those are my approximations of the names of the flavors.

I've had three of my chocolates so far, and each one has been wonderful. I like that they had flavors that weren't chocolate inside and out. The lemon curd was exactly that - lemon curd inside a delicious dark chocolate shell. The lavender was in a white, creamy filling. I loved it as well. The third one I had was what I think was cherry cordial. All of the chocolates were incredibly satisfying and as fresh as could be.

But lets get on to the beignets! As soon as we walked outside the door, we all dug into them. It was hard to take this picture without gorging on this little dough ball filled with chocolaty goodness.

And here's the glorious inside:

OMG! It was pure heaven!!!!! But they must be eaten carefully! If you don't bite into it correctly, the chocolate ganache squirts out. So my advice is to tear off a bit of the dough to expose the chocolate without putting pressure on it! At that point, Jon sucked the chocolate out of the beignet, while Karen and I just put the entire thing in our mouths. It was totally chocogasmic!

I won't hesitate to go into Boston again - just to visit ChocoLee, and for no other reason but pure chocolate indulgence.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mussels with Tomatoes, Herbs and Garlic (Moules Provençale)

Public Television has the best of the cooking shows these days. They aren't trying to hook people with a personality that pushes a marketing strategy. It's all about the food, the ingredients, and the techniques of some of the best chefs around - be they big TV personalities or not.

Yesterday I watched Jacques Pepin cooking up some mussels in a spicy red sauce with rice. While I didn't feel like trying that particular recipe, he did remind me of how much I love mussels. He also taught me a thing or two about using mussels, which I've only cooked one other time.

Before you cook your mussels, you want to know they are alive - they should be! If you are looking through your mussels, a closed shell is good. And you see some that are open, tap on the shell, or tap the shell on the counter. A live mussel will close up before your eyes. If a mussel doesn't close up, throw it away - it's dead.

Joe picked up a pound of mussels for me yesterday. I didn't want to make them yet, so I looked up the proper storage method. I didn't want to kill the little critters (which I did last time)! To keep them alive, make sure they are not in an airtight container. I took some online advice and put them in a bowl and covered with a damp towel. My mussels were still alive and well today - perfect for me to kill them!

I like the smaller mussels. When I've had larger mussels, I didn't think they had a lot of flavor, and they seemed rubbery. Here was my batch of happy small mussels:

Mussels with Tomatoes, Herbs and Garlic (Moules Provençale)
Adapted from The Blego Cookbook (posted on

2 1/4 lbs mussels, cleaned (I used less, but 2 1/4 is the max)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 cup sweet white onions, chopped
1/3 cup celery, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, plus extra to garnish
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp thyme
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 lb. ripe plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1 14-oz can chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Saute the onions and celery over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper to taste.

While it cooks, put all other ingredients (except the cheese) into a medium sized pot. Add the celery and onion when it is ready.

Cook until it boils. I don't like tomato chunks, so I used my immersion blender here. Little chunks are fine, but no more big ones.

Add the mussels. Stir around. Cover and cook one minute. When you uncover, they will already be opening. I stirred here to let the sauce into the shells more. Then cook two minutes more.

You could decide to eat it just like this! It's pretty good stuff:

Just look at that delectable little morsel. It's smiling at me!

You could also serve it on pasta, with chopped basil and Parmesan cheese.

Mussels with Tomatoes, Herbs and Garlic (Moules Provençale)

Public Television has the best of the cooking shows these ...

See Mussels with Tomatoes, Herbs and Garlic (Moules Provençale) on Key Ingredient.