Category Archives: shellfish

Four Seasons Cream of Roasted Cauliflower and Four Fabulous Takes on It

This post might look like an epic tale about what you can do with roasted cauliflower, but it is basically one undeniably mighty fine and elemental soup formula, which on the merits of simplicity, economy and taste is hard to beat. Depending on the take you decide to choose, the cream of roasted cauliflower can stretch from a bowl of a humble cold weather comfort to the utterly festive haute cuisine dish you’d find in Michelin-star gastro-pub, or at a festive banquette.

In this post I will feature the following five splendid recipes:

  • BASIC CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER;
  • CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH HAZELNUT BROWN BUTTER;
  • CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH LEEKS AND FORAGED GREENS;
  • CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH LOBSTER DUMPLINGS;
  • CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH GOAT CHEESE AND ROASTED CHESTNUTS.

As you might have noticed already, some images from our latest travel through Quebec countryside and NYC full of spring blossom made a splendid back drop to showcase these recipes.

First thing first: why roasting cauliflower? Why not just boil it? Good point. Roasting cauliflower (see the tips below) to slightly browned and caramelized taste gives an added value, as does any extra ingredient from spice to vegetable, to nut, or bacon, or crustacean bits. This soup tastes wonderful when served piping hot, but on a hot sunny day you can cool it down and serve with the splash of cream or almond milk.  The basic roasted cauliflower soup formula is gluten free and totally vegan. Most importantly, for a simple few ingredients dish, it’s a low-caloric highly nutritional flavor bomb that you can easily overdose on few times a day feeling deeply satisfied and guilt-free. Which I guess is especially crucial now that many of us are poppin bikini/speedo tags, n’estce pas?

Depending on the spice or an additional ingredient, you can make this soup savory, sweet, salty, spicy, pungent, sour, or any combination of those. 

TIPS on ROASTING CAULIFLOWER: The method of oven roasting cauliflower in most recipes suggests that you separate the cauliflower into the florets, season with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast it at 350F to 400F for up to 30 minutes. Well, my experience suggests that cutting the cauliflower into the 1-inch thick steaks works better and using the oven preheated to 425F for 20-30 minutes, provides better, more evenly roasted results. Note, if your oven is very powerful, keep the temperature at 400F.

PS:Naturally, you can always sauté the cauliflower in the skillet, however, roasting it is healthier option.

SPRING TO WINTER: My favorite all-year version is with hazelnut brown butter and a pinch of smoked chili/paprika or curry (the choice is yours) garnish. It is easy, sophisticated and cosmopolitan, adding a smoky nut crunch contrast to the creamy cauliflower goodness. It is exceptionally balanced and the combination is thought out and trendy. How about turning it up more by doubling on the smoke and crunch with some bits of bacon? HEAVENLY…

TIP on SHELLING HAZELNUTS: Contrary to the popular advice to shell hot roasted hazelnuts in a slightly wet towel (which doesnt do a good job from my experience), this good ol tip coming from the SNL sketch look-alike video from 70s with glorious Julia Childprovides the fool-proof result on shelling hazelnuts (ps: this video will also arm you with a biscotti recipe).

Needless to say, you can play with other nuts too in this recipe, including almonds, pecans, walnuts, even chestnuts (see the recipe below).

Adding one or more vegetables (i.e. leeks, sweet potato, squash, etc.) to the roasting process and/or some sautéed greens to garnish can make an interesting twist in flavor and nutritional value. Try adding any root vegetable of your choice in fall or winter, and/or some garden/foraged greens in spring or summer. I like to apply almost any fresh farmers market finds to it, like in this version with chives and foraged fiddlehead ferns (pre-steamed or sautéed for 3-5 minutes in butter).

I use whatever is in season, from chives and green peas in summer; to corn, squash and pumpkin in fall; to cubed sweet potatoes or carrots in winter – the basic formula is a wonderful host for all of them. The only non-variable remains cauliflower.

As for applying and varying spices in this soup, sky is the limit: nutmeg, chili flakes, cumin, smoked paprika/chili, caraway or fennel seeds, curry, in fall-winter time; sage, thyme, lemon zest, mint, basil tarragon for spring-summer, etc.  A splash of white wine or a table spoon of apple cider vinegar would add some complexity to the soup as well.

SPECIAL OCCASIONS.  The Cream of Roasted Cauliflower with Lobster Dumplings comes to my memory first. I remember having this exquisite soup at the wedding reception years ago. Fixed wedding menus/dishes can be hit or miss, with most of the time being and unfortunate miss of which young Winston Churchill would say: “It would have been splendid… if the wine had been as cold as the soup, the beef as rare as the service, the brandy as old as the fish, and the maid as willing as the duchess.” But that time the food was exceptionally good. I consumed that bowl of soup with reverent awe. Later, I found the approaching recipe on Food Network by Chef Michael Symon, whose taste buds I trust almost blind-foldedly. I used a roasted cauliflower instead of the sautéed one and the result was fantastic.

Today Im sharing this recipe with you. This riff on roasted cauliflower is highly festive, helps to stretch the lobster to many plates and evokes the felling of comfort and elegance. If lobster is difficult to find, feel free to use shrimp (peeled, cooked and deveined) instead. 

For the top notch finish, season with coarsely ground black pepper and drizzle with a bit of truffle oil. 

Voila, the simple step by step:

And for the lobster dumplings:

Finally, the recipe search for the cream of roasted cauliflower from the wedding also once brought me to Jackie Kennedy–style recipe of the Cauliflower Goat Cheese Soup (arguably served at the Kennedy wedding party among other thing at Hammersmith Farm), smooth and polished enough to be showcased in a stylish setting for those who admire the goat cheese (or many other kinds of cheese for that matter). 

I made it with the mix of crumbled goat cheese and feta bought from Chevriere de Monnoir farm I wrote about previously here and here. I also modified it by adding some roasted chestnuts (which you can buy now small-packaged in Adonis and even Walmart) into the soup and garnish and added a few drops of maple syrup. It came up sweet and umami and lick-the-plate-clean good. If goat cheese is not your thing, try it with grated cheddar, Monterey Jack, Gouda, Emmental, Swiss, etc.  or any cheese that you put in your favorite cheese fondue – all would work wonders in this forgiving cream of soup formula.

I hope you will try one/all of the below recipes and will enjoy it/them as much as I did.  I also hope you will give me some feedback upon trying. I am sure you will love at least one of them!
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BASIC CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 1-inch steaks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted ghee
5 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon white wine or apple cider vinegar (optional)
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1+ cup almond or regular milk
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F. Brush the sheet with olive oil or melted ghee. Place cauliflower steaks in one layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower steaks over: if they break in pieces, its OK, just stir. Scatter onion and garlic over cauliflower and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes.
Heat the chicken stock in the pot. Add roasted vegetables, wine or apple cider vinegar if using, bay leaf and thyme. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Discard bay leaf, transfer the soup to the blender in batches carefully.  Purée soup to desired consistency. Transfer back to the pot. Stir in almond or regular milk. Heat through and check the seasoning. Ladle into the bowls and serve with your favorite garnish, or just with freshly cracked pepper. Optionally, drizzle with butter milk or olive (truffle) oil.
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CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH HAZELNUT BROWN BUTTER
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 1-inch steaks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted ghee
5 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon white wine or apple cider vinegar (optional)
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon dried sage
1+ cup almond or regular milk
For Browned Butter Hazelnuts:
½ cup hazelnuts, shelled (see above instructions) and coarsely crushed
4 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter
Pinch of coarse salt
Pinch of smoked chilly or paprika
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F. Brush the sheet with olive oil or melted ghee. Place cauliflower steaks in one layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower steaks over: if they will break in pieces, just stir. Scatter onion and garlic over cauliflower and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes.
Heat the chicken stock in the pot. Add roasted vegetables, wine or apple cider vinegar if using, bay leaf and sage. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, bring ghee or butter in a skillet to medium-low heat. Add hazelnuts and cook until butter turns brownish, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, sprinkle with coarse salt and smoked paprika or chili, mix and set aside.
Discard bay leaf, transfer the soup to the blender in batches carefully.  Purée soup to desired consistency. Transfer back to the pot. Stir in almond or regular milk. Heat through and check the seasoning. Ladle into the bowls and sprinkle with browned butter hazelnuts and freshly cracked pepper. Optionally, drizzle with butter milk or olive (truffle) oil.
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CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH LEEKS AND FORAGED GREENS
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 1-inch steaks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 leek, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted ghee
6 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon white wine or apple cider vinegar (optional)
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1+ cup almond or regular milk
For garnish:
1 cup fiddlehead ferns, washed
1 tablespoon ghee or butter
Pinch of sea salt
Small bunch of chives, minced
Olive or truffle oil (optional)
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F. Brush the sheet with olive oil or melted ghee. Place cauliflower steaks in one layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower steaks over: if they break in pieces, just stir. Scatter onion, leeks and garlic over cauliflower and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes.
Heat the chicken stock in the pot. Add roasted vegetables, wine or apple cider vinegar if using, bay leaf and thyme. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, add 1 tablespoon of ghee or butter to the skillet and bring to medium-high. Add fiddlehead ferns and sauté for 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and set aside.
Discard bay leaf, transfer the soup to the blender in batches carefully.  Purée soup to desired consistency. Transfer back to the pot. Stir in almond or regular milk. Heat through and check the seasoning. Ladle into the bowls and garnish with sautéed fiddlehead ferns, chives and cracked pepper. Optionally, drizzle with butter milk or olive (truffle) oil.
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CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH LOBSTER DUMPLINGS
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 1-inch steaks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted ghee
6 cups chicken or lobster stock
1 tablespoon white wine (optional)
1 pinch nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream
Cooked Lobster meat for garnish, chopped
1 tablespoon truffle oil
For Lobster Dumplings:
1 ½ cups white bread crumbs
½ tablespoon softened butter
1 egg beaten
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped
½ cup lobster meat, cooked and chopped
Milk to bind
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F. Brush the sheet with olive oil or melted ghee. Place cauliflower steaks in one layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower steaks over: if they will break in pieces, just stir. Scatter onion and garlic over cauliflower and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes.
Heat the stock in the pot. Add roasted vegetables, wine if using, bay leaf and nutmeg. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Mix the dumplings ingredients and roll into small firm balls about ½-inch in diameter.
Discard bay leaf, transfer the soup to the blender in batches carefully.  Purée the soup to desired consistency. Transfer back to the pot. Stir in heavy cream. Bring the soup to simmer. Poach the dumplings in soup for 3-4 minutes. Check the seasoning and remove from heat. Place the lobster meat in individual soup bowls.  Ladle 8 ounces of soup with dumplings on top in each bowl. Garnish with lobster claw and drizzle with truffle oil.
*This recipe was adapted from Food Network: Cauliflower Soup with Lobster Dumplings by Chef Michael Symon
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CREAM OF ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH GOAT CHEESE AND ROASTED CHESTNUTS
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
1 large cauliflower head, cut into 1-inch steaks
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted ghee
6 cups chicken stock
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup roasted chestnuts, plus a few for garnish
1 teaspoon maple syrup (optional)
1+ cup half and half (10% cream)
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F. Brush the sheet with olive oil or melted ghee. Place cauliflower steaks in one layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and white pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the cauliflower steaks over: if they will break in pieces, just stir. Scatter onion over cauliflower and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 400F and roast for another 15 minutes.
Heat the chicken stock in the pot. Add roasted vegetables, nutmeg and cinnamon if using. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Discard bay leaf, transfer the soup to the blender in batches carefully.  Add crumbled goat cheese, roasted chestnuts and maple syrup to the mix in the blender. Purée soup to desired consistency. Transfer back to the pot. Stir in cream. Heat through and check the seasoning. Ladle into the bowls. Garnish with some crushed roasted chestnuts. Optionally, drizzle with butter milk or olive (truffle) oil and sprinkle with freshly minced parsley. Serve with croutons on the side.

Earth Day & Ethereal Shrimp Ceviche

‘Earth is our spaceship. There’s no other. Protect it…’ – was my verbal tribute to the Earth Day few days ago along with this Martian-looking image of the low tide vista some place beautiful. It brought the cozy memories of my most recent travel to Florida, and of course of all things ‘Floribbean’ including its food staple CEVICHE!
Shrimp Ceviche © http://www.letsheatit.com/

Bon Appetit magazine named ‘crudo’, which includes carpaccio, sashimi and other raw sea food creations seasoned with sweet, spicy and acidic components, the dish of 2014. Ceviche (raw seafood and fish) dish is hot on this list. Pristine fresh fish, scallops, even skate join this list with many inexpected spice takes on this Latin/Central American delight. I chose to showcase the Shrimp Ceviche starring freshly cooked shrimp reserving the hard core raw challenges for some hot days later this summer. Some authentic Peruvian recipes use raw shrimp, but I will stick to the cooked one because I wasn’t the one catching it, ha-ha.

The surreal scenery of one of our first nights in New Smyrna, FL with the gorgeous oceanview provides a perfect back drop for this kind of the dish and just to support the mood I found this amateur YouTube recording of the sunrise at the same place if you wish to see it in the day light or, at the sunrise to be exact.

Oh, those rear lucky days of fun in the sun, sandcastling, trying (and inevitably failing) YOLO (you only live once), dog-chasing sandpipers. Refreshing the taste buds in between with fresh ceviche and a glass of rose… 
Isn’t it the way life should be lived more of the time? Routine chores interrupted by whispering ocean breeze and spectacular sunset. Lazy seagul to watch while making your bed, hearing waves while falling asleep… 
The ocean-side theme has imprinted so much in my heart I’m even re-designing our bedroom based on this inspiration now. It’s going great and I will sure post the results once the project is done. You will see exactly this seagull picture framed among other things.
I’m also dreaming about visiting Peru quite often.

The first top notch shrimp ceviche I tried was not in Peru though. It was in Philadelphia at Nuevo Latino restaurant run by the renown Chef Guillermo Pernot. Two times James Beard award winner, Chef Pernot is a world’s expert of ceviche dishes and even published a book since called Ceviche with lots of exotic recipes worth trying. He now runs the chain of Cuba Libre restaurants specialized in ‘Criollo’ cuisine in Philadelphia, Washington, Orlando and Atlantic City.  Guess what, his shrimp ceviche is still on the menu! He serves his shrimp ceviche signature dish floating in the pool of the blackened tomato and pepper spicy gazpacho (the veggies are grilled, blackened and then ground in an old-fashioned way). Mine version is more of a hot day ‘take a break with rose’ style, but is nevertheless uber tasty.

Here are my few tips on how to make shrimp ceviche a success:
a. use the freshest shrimp of the best quality as if you were a real Peruvian, or just have caught this shrimp yourself in St. Lawrence river (at the level of Sorel) an hour ago;
b. salt matters: it’s not a joke – avoid table salt by all means, if you can’t afford to buy Maldon yet (my case), choose a quality flaky sea salt from Normandy for $2.99 from Avril/amazon or Greek sea salt, or Himalayan or other great salts that are 100% natural and not that ‘salty;
c. don’t overmarinate your ceviche;
d. customize the garnish and seasoning with your preferred things: I add mint, a dash of smoked chili or paprika and sometimes mix shirm with lime-brined fresh fish (that goes to the fish ceviche);

e) sweet potato chips are not just a staple in Peruvian cuisine, they are easy to make and supe-deliscious with ceviche.

A glass of nice pinot gris or rose will boost the indulgment. In no time you will be transported to some ocen-view place you feel like you belong to. If shrimp is not your thing, try lobster rolls (btw the images in that post were from the same place although during a day).

One last word: if you happen to be allergic to shrimp like me, the Nordic shrimp from Atlantic will guarantee your safety (I suppose you can find equivalents in other areas). Tested and approved by the undersigned.

Have fun making your shrimp ceviche and please let me know how it goes.
Great week-end cooking to all of you!
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Other great dishes with shrimp: Shrimp & Fish Soup Provencal ;
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SHRIMP CEVICHE RECIPE
Yields: 4 portions
Ingredients:
1 pound (454g) medium small shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 limes, juiced
1 lemon, juiced + for seasoning
1 small orange, juiced (optional)
3 tablespoons (45 ml) quality olive oil
3 tablespoons (45 ml) maple syrup or honey
½ teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Pinch of smoked paprika or chili (optional)

1 teaspoon Kosher or flaky sea salt
1/3 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 small tomato, minced (optional)
3 tablespoons scallion or chives, minced
1/8 cup (35 ml) red onion or shallot, minced or thinly sliced
1 medium jalapeno (35 ml), cubed
1 small yellow, orange or red pepper (250 ml or 1 cup)
1 small cucumber (250 ml or 1 cup), cubed
1 small avocado, cubed for garnish (optional)
1 tablespoon cilantro, minced for garnish (optional)
Plantain, tortilla chips or rice crisps for the side serving.
Instructions:
Add the shrimp to the large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 2-3 minutes.*
Drain and run under the ice cold water to chill. Cut the shrimp into 1-inch sized pieces and transfer to a bowl. Add the lime, lemon and orange juices, combine and refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours.
Mix olive oil, maple syrup, lemon zest and smoked paprika. Add tomato, scallions, red onion, jalapeno and yellow pepper and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Stir the vegetable mix into the shrimp mix and let sit at the room temperature for about 15-20 minutes.

Moules Mariniere & Roasted Rainbow Fries Recipes


They say Belgian and Northern French people are almost religious about moules -frites (mussels & fries), but so are almost all French Quebecers.  Rain or shine, snow storm or ice storm, none of my friends can pass on a well-prepared bowl of fresh steamy bivalves floating in a cloudy-winy-garlicky broth with French fries and crusty bread on a side. Each time we discover a good place serving this dish, it spawns a new sensation. This particular post, for instance, was inspired by a little gem place in Verdun we discovered recently, the ‘Bistro Entre Ciel et Terre’.
The bistro has opened its doors back in 2011, and within the record time became No. 725 out of 4543 restaurants in Montreal rated on Tripadvisor (as of today), which is a big deal for Montreal (i.e. Jamie Oliver’s Maison Publique is No. 763 on that list), winning also the first prize of the young Entrepreneurs of Verdun in 2013. Once you try their honest food (priced very reasonably) you will know why.

From the Home Burger with Melted Brie and Caramelized Onions garnished with microgreens (which was of a superb quality and tasted so much more than just a ‘lump of ground beef between two buns’); to ideal endorsers of the fans of Les Canadiens – merguez pogos; to their signature dish: Moules Mariniere, the place which is steadily conquering the hearts of many tourists and Montrealers.  

How come I didn’t know about the place? Perhaps I was too much grieving over the death of ‘Mas Cuisine’ in the neighborhood (which re-appeared recently in the Mile End as a new ‘Wilfrid sur Laurier’ brasserie where Michel Ross reunited with chef Suhl). Obviously, the explosion of Griffintown development did not inhibit Verdun’s Chef Georges Nory and he’s bringing his French bistro/Italian trattoria/American diner classics to the new level. The rustic-meets-funky bistro interior adds to the hipster feel, but with only 20+ seats in winter you’d better nip to it fast. I’m definitely coming back.
Bistro Entre Ciel et Terre 
750 rue de L’eglise
Verdun, QC H4G 2M8
(514) 768-0740

The oversized mussels they serve in Bistro are most probably a special order, but don’t shy away from a bag of fresh mussels in IGA, METRO or LOBLAWS if you are ready to make your own Moules Mariniere at home. This recipe of was given to me hush-hush almost 20 years ago by the first French Chef Manou in Kiev (he also happened to originate from Normandy). He often served our diplomatic receptions and each time everyone was particularly smitten by his Moules Mariniere, so I had no choice, but to take a note of his recipe. Now that thousands of the wine steamed mussels recipes are surfing the internet in mass, you are in a privileged position to try, test and select your own favorite version. And, hey, they are very easy to prepare – with all the right ingredients you are basically 30 minutes away from that bowl of goodness.
I had them with these crispy-crunchy rainbow roasted fries, for which I used a regular potato, sweet potato and purple yam (procured in Chinese grocery). These three ‘potatoes’ worked really well together balancing the regular potato crunch with the sweetness of sweet potatoes and balmy  delicate tuber yams, making a healthier match to the plump steamed mussels. Feel free, however, to use any other root vegetable of your choice (carrots, celery root, turnips and parsley are great too).
Here are some killer apps to speed up the healthier roasting fries method while still having a restaurant-style results: (1) parboil the fries before roasting for exactly two minutes uncovered; (2) drain, toss with oil (duck fat you’ve saved from the roasted duck would be a great savory alternative), garlic and herbs of your choice (rosemary always marries great to fries, but so does thyme or tarragon, fresh or dried).
Try to align the cooking process of both (for that you’ll have to begin with fries and proceed with mussels once the fries are in the oven) to have this outstanding meal, which is definitely romantic under any and all circumstances. Don’t forget some crusty baguette to sop that fragrant broth. Enjoy, or should I say with the French sign-song lilt Julia Child was trying to imitate for years, Bon appétit?
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CHEF MANOU’S MOULES MARINIERE
Yields: 2 generous portions
Ingredients:
1 pack of mussels (2 lbs or 910 g), cleaned under the cold running water
3 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) or unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped finely, OR 1 cup of chopped shallots (5-7 shallots)
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
Small pinch of chili flakes (optional)
1 bouquet garni (small bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley, 3-4 branches of fresh thyme and 2-3 bay leaves)
1 ½ cup dry white wine
3-4 branches of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
3-4 green onion branches, chopped
1 ½ cup 10% cream or milk (if milk intolerant, substitute with clam juice)
Instructions:
Clean the mussels under the cold running water removing the beard-strings or barnacles you might find on some with your fingers or paring knife.  Press the shells of any open mussels with your fingers: discard them if they don’t close.
Heat the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven (enough to take all the mussels: the pot has to be half-full) over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and chili flakes and cook for 1 minute until fragrant and onions are translucent. Add bouquet garni and half of white wine. Bring to boil on a high heat and add mussels. Close the pot tightly with the lid and cook for 4 minutes, shaking the pot 3-4 times. Open the lid and add the rest of wine, cream and chopped parsley and scallions. Close the lid back and steam mussels for another minute shaking the pot to help the juices and steam distribute evenly. Remove the pot from heat. Discard bouquet garni.
Divide the mussels into two big (preferably warmed) bowls. Ladle the broth over the shells.  Serve immediately with fries (check the tips on great home-made fries and try the Three Root Fries below for a change and uplifted taste) and, of course, crusty bread to sop up that magical broth. Don’t forget to place some empty bowls for shells and some finger bowls with lemon skin water along to indulge in the dish ‘comme il faut’.  Enjoy!
PS: Discard unopened mussels if any.
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ROASTED RAINBOW HERB & GARLIC FRIES
Yields: 2 portions
Ingredients:
1 big potato (250 g), peeled and cut into matchsticks lengthwise
1 big sweet potato (250 g), peeled and cut into matchsticks lengthwise
1 big purple yam (250 g), peeled and cut into matchsticks lengthwise
3-4 tbsp duck fat or high heat cooking oil
1 tbsp rosemary, dried
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed and coarsely chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Cover the fries with cold water in a medium pan. Bring to boil on a high heat and boil for exactly two minutes not covered with lid. Drain the water and toss the fries carefully with fat or oil, garlic and rosemary.  Spread in a single layer into the foil-lined baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes. Remove the sheet from the oven, flip the fries carefully with spatula and return to the oven for another 15-20 minutes or until crispy and browned (preferably, flipping fries one more time in between to make sure they will not be glued to the foil because of their sugar content).  Season fries with salt and pepper. Serve hot with garlicky aioli sauce on a side for dipping.

One Spooky Night and Deviled ‘Shroom Bites

It is a Halloween night and we’re going to have some hello-w/in time taking a break from home cooking and going out. Part of the plan is to drive by some areas where people have turned their front yards into some creepy insane asylums and have our share of spine chilling and laughs. I’ve already got a few good Halloween recipes listed in this blog including the yummy Dead Fly Pies, or Fly Cemeteries, or Fly Graveyards, which in fact are also more humanly called Eccles Cakes; and Pumpkin No Brainers . If I would be selecting a recipe that sounds crazy-scary-engaging for most of North American ears tonight, I would probably go for a traditional British fare with ominous name Spotted Dick But that would be some other time. For now I have something else and a great story to tell: about one of our recent nightmarish evening and a later flop-cooking experience.

Couple week-ends ago we were driving back home with the double brown bag of dozen live blue crabs in it. We were excited to make a fresh crab risotto later that night. We took a rural side road going through the forest to go back home to avoid traffic. We’ve never taken that road before and first were surprised about how empty and quiet it was.

The night was rainy and foggy although the full moon still casted the eerie glow through the clouds and trees. The crabs managed to wet the bags through and were going out of whack, so we had to make an emergency pit stop to catch them and collect them into the plastic bag. While we were stepping out of the car a peaceful booty-song on the radio has awkwardly switched to vintage Billy Idol’s Eyes Without A Face. It was then that I started feeling uncomfortable. I became fear-stricken by darkness, emptiness, silence and sinister shadows appearing through the forest trees here and there. ‘Eyes without the face have got no human grace…’ the radio went on when suddenly the end of the road was lit by a light which, obviously, seemed like another car was approaching. Except the light stood there without moving for a minute or so and then disappeared…

The Good Shepherd by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1903 Zimmerli Art Museum

No big deal, right? But for some reason for me it was a heart pounding moment. I couldn’t wait to get out of that road. Imagine when I told this story to one of our neighbours the other day, he revealed to me that the empty road used to be the place where Hell’s Angels gangs were making their executions and/or police would sometimes find a burning car with the body in it (how’s that for hair raising?). And that came as real creepy news to me. Was it a sixth’s sense? You tell me. But if you are a mystic or clairvoyance, perhaps you can see some ghosts in these images.

Otherwise you can just apply your imagination and try to read these moon shadows – it’s actually quite interesting…

Once back home we were greeted by the local two-headed Boo dog. Making a crab boil was already not so easy task (crabs appeared to be much livelier than lobsters).

After we hankered down in our kitchen with cracking tools and bunch of newspapers to process them. Already upon the first five minutes (and to our greatest regret) of tackling the impossible and having the crab scraps flying all over the kitchen, we realized that the fresh crab risotto would be ready by next morning or would have to be put on hold. Hubby quit first, declaring he was an equal opportunist believing in fair trade and no exploitation. OCD driven, I went on crab-cracking to prove that home crab flesh extracting (like pierogi-making that D. believes should only be made by prisoners) is a doable chore. The problem was, I was hungry, so most of the result secretly went straight into my belly. After the crab juice went into my eyes though I abandoned. Well, may be somewhere in Japan people from Okinawa island consider crab-cracking a meditative and fun activity which they practice often while whistling Japanese version of La Marseillaise. But there are many other things I’d like to do around my week-end. Not to mention that exactly during times like that you realize more than ever that time IS the most precious commodity… Change of plan (which is not unusual for the flop cooking): I went to the pantry, got a can of the crab meat, and deviled a box of button mushrooms with savoured crab meat into these little guys within 20 minutes.

Sounds like a cell phone from 90ies? Hell yeah, but still as exquisite as ever. By the way, they didn’t use much of smoked paprika in those days Slice some black or green olives for the top to give that Halloweenish twist and, voila, you got your ‘Eyes Without A Face’ party snack. We managed to eat them before The Midnight Hour.

Happy Halloween and enjoy your cooking!

One Year Ago: Pumpkin Mini-Tarts

DEVILED CRAB ‘N SHROOM BITES 

Ingredients:

1 box button mushrooms (around 18-20)
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup chives or scallions, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp white wine or brandy
¼ crumbs (gluten free if necessary)
1 (7 oz) can crab meat, drained
½ cup Parmesan, freshly shredded
1 tbsp mayonnaise or sour cream
½ tsp Dijon mustard
Pinch of smoked paprika
Salt & pepper to taste

Instructions:

Remove the stems from mushrooms with grapefruit knife. Chop the stems finely. Set aside. Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped mushroom stems and cook for 1 minute. Add chives (or scallions) and garlic. Cook for another minute. Add a splash of brandy or wine. Evaporate for a minute. Add crumbs, mix well. Add crab meat and mix well. Remove from the heat. Stir in Parmesan, mayonnaise (or sour cream), mustard and smoked paprika. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the mixture cool down. Stuff the mushroom caps with the mixture. Preheat the oven to 375F. Place mushrooms on baking sheet. Sprinkle with extra Parmesan, Top with sliced olives if desired. Bake for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Shucking Oysters: Mighty Aphrodite Granita

Air chilled September has arrived to the East coast with the oyster season fanfare first in Montreal  and now in the New York City. If you’re an oyster geek or just an exploring amateur,  it’s time to learn a few new things about the little bivalve and the best ways to enjoy it. For those who can’t go to the Big Apple or line up for the new celebrity chefs’ oyster creations, there’s plenty to catch up with: dozens of fresh oyster varieties have just arrived into all major groceries and are now available for the price of a lollipop per pop. So if the shucking oyster party is your thing (which you can still enjoy outdoors as the current street temperature provides the best timing to serve and taste the oysters), it’s time to experiment with the new oyster condiments.

The New York Oyster Week founder Kevin Joseph has just declared a war on the traditional cocktail sauce from seventies (it’s about time someone bans that dreary creation out loud) and strongly encourages that people start using some freshly ground condiments like horseradish to bring the best out the fresh oyster. And here is when I pitch in with my latest granita, little icy Sicilian dessert that was first made with the snow from the Mount Etna.

Specifically, my new favorite, which I called Mighty Aphrodite Granita – a Lemon Ginger Cucumber Mint Granita. Don’t get me wrong, I still love classic Mignonette sauce  like any other person, and totally agree with Nigel Slater that ‘nothing quite takes the salty, iodine tang off a good oyster like the shallot vinegar, Tabasco and lemon.’ But there’s something I’ve discovered about granitas: they can make a really creative condiment (a little step up from just a generic lemon) that would not only complement the taste of the oyster, but would also make a perfect palate cleanser or an entremet between sampling different kind of oysters, so your palate’s capacity will be enhanced to actually catch the difference between say Malpeque from Kumamoto, or Raspberry Point, or many other varieties (check  Montreal’s La Mer for the local stock).

Granitas are very easy to make: the icy texture can be reached without any special equipment (like the one required for sorbet) – all you need is fork, tray and freezer. They make a stunning presentation. The melt fast, so your oyster will not be compromised with too much ice. And then there’s something else: there’s no particular proportion – you can customize your own granitas with your own amounts and preferred ingredients to reach the sweetness-sourness-saltiness balance according to your needs.

Julia Child mentioned in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking that the French Royal Court preferred to pair the oysters with Sauternes, the famous sweet wine of the Bordeaux region. This inspired me to make a sweet, slightly acidic granita with a splash of dessert wine, sugar, lemon juice and the refreshing touch of ginger, cucumber and mint. The result was outstanding. And guess what, if you don’t have any botrytis wine at hand, you can successfully replace wine with a dash of champagne or rice vinegar. Or just omit the alcohol completely and your granita will still taste heavenly and will make a fun and clever condiment or an entremet.  And don’t forget to use some liquid leftovers to wet the rim of the shot glasses before dipping it in a lemon, celery or your choice of salt mixture for any chilled booze you would like to serve with your oysters (from sake to tequila to Guinness).  

As much as I’m for letting the imagination go experimenting with citrus granitas, a word of a personal warning: stay away from experimenting with soya or ponzu sauce granitas – they are too overpowering and completely kill the taste of the oysters. I made some on our last Valentine and they both ended up in a trash leaving us to a humble simili-caviar condiment only, but then of course the good ol’ mignonette arrived to help in a jiffy. 

Back to our feature Lemon Ginger Cucumber Mint granita: three -five minutes work, an hour in a freezer, basically all the job is about forming ice crystals with the fork every 15-30 minutes depending on the quantity you make. You can serve as a little refreshing adult digestive or dessert as well. Believe me, I wouldn’t waste my time on writing this if it wasn’t absolutely delectable condiment, dessert re-fresher and a palate cleanser. 

One nice slurp of a briny devilish oyster followed by the tiny spoon of this pristine pure-tasting granita will pair and separate both gracefully (‘with a bite of the buttered brown bread to follow to stimulate the papilles… and then of course, a fine mouthful a white wine’, as recommended by legendary M.F.K. Fisher). You will only wish to continue tasting that dance and at some point might actually start feeling one step closer to a mighty Aphrodite (with, obviously, cucumber green hair and a piece of ginger in her hand for this recipe), the Greek goddess of love, who sprang from the sea on an oyster shell. And then the myth of the little aphrodisiac was born… Which ultimately brings me to Jay Rayner’s advice to ‘never date a man with no taste for oysters’ from The Guardian’s article ‘If You Don’t Like Oysters,You Will Never Be a Grown-Up’, but that’s another story…

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‘Mighty Aphrodite’ Lemon Ginger Mint Cucumber Granita
Ingredients:
½ cup (125 ml) water
1 juice & few peels of a lemon
1 inch fresh ginger, sliced
3 tbsp (45 ml) granulated sugar (put more if desired)
1 small splash of dessert white wine (Sauternes at best, but cheaper dessert wines, or champagne, or rice vinegar can sub) (optional)
2 spring fresh mint
1 small cucumber, grated or liquefied
24 freshly shucked raw oysters on the half shell
Pinch of salt
Instructions:
Place water in a small pan with granulated sugar, ginger and lemon peel /juice. Heat gently to medium-high and lower the temperature. Mix until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for 3 minutes, remove from heat, add a splash of wine mint leaves, mix and set aside to cool down. Strain the liquid through a sieve. Grate cucumber with skin on the zester or liquefy it in the blender with a bit of syrup. Sieve if desired and pour into the rest of the syrup.
Freeze for one hour or until mixture is frozen around the edges in a shallow container or plate.
Draw the ice from the edges towards the center with a fork. Return to freezer. Repeat this process about 3-4 times, every 15-20 minutes, or until all mixture is formed of ice crystals. Serve immediately as condiment or entremet, or keep in the air tight container in the freezer until ready to use for up to one week.  When ready to serve, spoon the granita into wine goblets, shot or martini glasses.