Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mussels Throwdown – Thai Coconut & Basil vs. French Moules a la Mariniere

I thought it might be fun to have a throwdown with mussels – Thai coconut basil mussels vs. French Moules a la Mariniere, or mussels in white wine. Mussels in white wine are a specialty of my husband Meakin and the Thai coconut basil mussels recipe is one we recently tried from Cooking Light.

Both recipes are very easy and can be put together in 30 minutes. I’m always surprised when I hear people say they think mussels are difficult to prepare and it’s just not true. Cultivated mussels can be found in most supermarkets today and no longer have beards so they don’t have to be cleaned as they once did.

In the Thai coconut mussel dish we added lemongrass for a bit more flavor, but if you can’t find lemongrass, don’t worry. It’s not absolutely necessary because the fish sauce adds a nice layer of flavor and the lime juice perks up the sauce. I find that if fresh basil is heated it turns black, so we waited until the last minute to add it. This is a very light and colorful dish and if you want to make it a bit more substantial, you can serve it with scallion rice.

Moules a la Mariniere, or mussels steamed in white wine, is a French classic bistro dish that you may remember from our archives and we serve it often. Meakin steams the mussels in a wine and chicken broth mixture, finishes them with tomatoes, cream and a dash of Pernod, an anise flavored French liquor, and dinner is served before you know it. We like to keep a bottle of Pernod on hand so we can use a splash of its citrusy anise flavor in seafood to give it a Mediterranean twist and a taste of Provence. In the south of France Pernod is sipped as an aperitif called pastis. Typically waiters bring small glasses of Pernod on a tray to your table with a pitcher of cold water for diluting the strong green liqueur, making it turn cloudy and yellow.

There is no doubt in our minds which of the two recipes won our vote for the throwdown – the French mussels in white wine. Moules a la Mariniere is a true classic and the flavors come together beautifully without overpowering each other. We never tire of eating it. The Thai coconut and basil mussels were light and make a nice dish to serve in the spring, but the flavors didn’t capture us in the long run and the sauce was a bit thin. We live to eat and are always trying new recipes, so no recipe ever goes to waste. But we might be just "a bit" prejudiced when it comes to the Moules a la Mariniere, so we would love to hear from you.

Coconut and Basil Steamed Mussels
Adapted from Cooking Light – serves 2
Printable recipe

2 teaspoons canola oil
¼ cup minced shallots
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup light coconut milk
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup low sodium, fat free chicken broth
About a 3” piece of fresh lemon grass, 1" of the root end crushed with a knife, optional
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
½ to 1 teaspoon Sriracha chili sauce
24 mussels, about 1 pound, scrubbed and de-bearded if necessary
Slivered fresh basil leaves

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat and add oil to pan, swirling to coat. Add shallots and garlic to pan and cook 2 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently to make sure neither burn. Shake the can of coconut milk well, then stir in along with the milk, water, broth, lemon grass, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and Sriracha and bring to a boil. Add the mussels to the pan, cover and cook 5 minutes or until shells open.

Remove mussels from the pan with a slotted spoon and reserve the broth mixture. Remove lemongrass and discard. When mussels are cool enough to handle, remove most of them from their shells and save a few with shells for presentation. Throw away any mussels that did not open. Bring broth to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Divide the mussels between 2 serving bowls. Pour 1 cup of hot broth over each serving. Sprinkle with slivered fresh basil and serve right away. Nice with crusty bread for dipping or serve with scallion rice, recipe below.

Scallion rice
Combine 1 cup water, 1/2 cup jasmine rice, 1 teaspoon butter, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1 thinly sliced green onion in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes; remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Mussels in white wine a la Chez Meakin - Moules a la Mariniere 
By Meakin Hoffer from My Carolina Kitchen - serves 4
Printable recipe

3 pounds of small cultivated mussels, scrubbed and debearded if necessary
1 leek
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups chicken broth (we like the low sodium & fat free variety)
1 cup dry white wine
1 - 14.5oz can whole tomatoes
½ cup of half & half or cream
2 capfuls of Pernod (optional)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Rinse the mussels in water, scrub and de-bead if necessary. Cut the dark green leaves off of the top of the leek and discard them. You will be left with the light green leaves and white end. Cut the roots off of the white end and discard it also. Cut the remainder of the leek in half lengthwise, rinse well under running water to remove any dirt, and shake dry. Cut each half of the leek in half again and thinly slice.

Add the olive oil to a large non-aluminum stock pot and set the heat to medium. Sauté the leek and garlic in the olive oil for 3 to 5 minutes to soften, taking care not to brown. Add the mussels in their shells, chicken broth and wine to the stock pot and stir well. Raise the heat to medium high. Cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the mussels open. Discard any mussels that do not open.

Remove the stock pot from the heat and allow the mixture to cool. When it is sufficiently cool, carefully remove the mussels from the liquid and pick them from their shells, leaving a few in their shells for a garnish.  Discard the remaining shells.

Add the mussels back to the liquid in the stockpot along with a can of whole tomatoes which you have gently crushed with your hands along with their tomato liquid. Stir, then bring the mixture to a boil, immediately turn the heat down to medium low and let it simmer about 10 minutes. Add the half & half, Pernod if using, a good pinch of cayenne pepper and salt and pepper to taste. Let it heat through. Serve immediately in bowls with chopped fresh parsley for garnish. Accompany with slices of a crusty French baguette for dipping.

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Thank you for your kind words of encouragement with regard to my physical therapy. I've had therapy several times in the past and I've just started this round. It has been more painful than I expected and I hope to have that portion of the treatment corrected by the time you read this. Thank you again for caring. It means so much to me.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, and Comforts of Home Tasty Tuesday.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pork Normandy on a Diet with the Volume Turned Up

Pork with apples is a classic French dish from the Normandy region of France and is an elegant, rich dish containing cream and butter. The spiced pork tenderloin and sautéed apples I present today is a version of pork Normandy, but on a diet with the “volume turned up” as Ina so famously says.  Now is a perfect time to make this while there is still a nice assortment of apples at the market.

A mixture of coriander, black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg coat the pork tenderloin to “turn up the volume” and infuse it with a nice bit of spice.  We’ve added a splash of Calvados, an apple brandy from the Normandy region to give the dish a bit more authenticity. The brandy is not necessary, but it definitely gives it another burst of flavor. Calvados is distilled from cider made from specially grown apples, sometimes as many as 200 named varieties. Like many French wines, Calvados is governed by appellation contrôlée regulations and makes a very, very fine after dinner sipping brandy.

We were most impressed with the depth of flavor in this recipe, especially considering the fact that it is prepared in under 30 minutes. Leave it to Cooking Light to put a dish on a diet yet keep all of the flavor. The spice mixture also really brings a lot flavor to the pork. If you have a rasp, be sure to grate the nutmeg yourself because it makes such an important difference compared to ground nutmeg.

This is definitely a company worthy dish. Serve with mashed potatoes as we did or a fresh spinach salad as Cooking Light recommended. If you wish, you can add a small splash of cream or butter in the end if you want to make it a tad richer, but then it wouldn’t be on a diet would it.

Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Sautéed Apples
Adapted from Fast & Fresh 20 Minute Recipes from Cooking Light – serves 4

½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 12 pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups thinly sliced unpeeled Braeburn or Gala apple
1/3 cup peeled and thinly sliced shallots
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup apple cider
2 tablespoons apple brandy such as Calvados, or any good brandy
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. We used a nonstick coasted cast iron skillet. Combine salt, coriander, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg and sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over the pork and rub it in. Heat the olive oil in the pan and when hot, add pork to the pan. Cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Do not overcook the pork or it will be dry and tough. Remove pork from pan, cover and keep warm.

Melt butter in pan and swirl to coat. Add apple slices, shallots, and salt, sauté 4 minutes or until the apples starts to brown. Remove the pan briefly from the hot burner and add apple cider and brandy to pan. Return to the burner and cook for 2 minutes, deglazing the pan, until apples are crisp-tender. Stir in thyme leaves. Serve apple mixture with the pork.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes,  Comforts of Home Tasty Tuesday and Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Jeweler’s Chicken or Poulet Bijoutiere

This chicken is called Jeweler’s chicken, not just because it’s so rich, but because of the beautiful ruby-garnet color of the pomegranate seeds. I made a similar chicken dish recently – Pomegranate Glazed Chicken, seen here.

I found this recipe came in a marvelous French cookbook Chez Bonne Femme by Wini Moranville. Wini also shares some of recipes on her website The Bonne Femme Cookbook, link here.

If you’ve ever wondered if French bonne femmes modern cook with pomegranate juice (I did), Winni assures you they do. Pomegranate juice is called jus de grenade in French and should not be confused with grenadine, a cocktail syrup. She also cautions you not to substitute grenadine for the pomegranate juice.

I made a few petite but minor changes to the original recipe. For our taste, bone-in, fat on chicken thighs contains too much excess fatty skin. I removed as much of the fatty skin as I possibly could, plus I totally removed the bottom piece of skin from the chicken, leaving only the top piece. I also deglazed the pan with the wine before adding the chicken back into the pan after the initial browning step. Our chicken thighs were large and in that case, I felt one was plenty for a serving as opposed to two. But if you have a hearty eater or your thighs are on the small size, by all means serve the recommended two.

If you can’t find fresh pomegranate seeds, you can always remove them the easy way using Chris from The Café Sucre Farine’s method shown here. Hot cooked rice and a green vegetable, such as green beans, go well with this dish.

Jeweler’s Chicken or Poulet Bijoutiere
Adapted from The Bonne Femme Cookbook by Wini Moranville – serves 4

8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 garlic cloves, crushed
4 large shallots, peeled & quartered
¼ cup semi-sweet white wine, such an off dry German Riesling
¾ cup pomegranate juice
¼ cup low-sodium, low-fat chicken broth
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 tablespoons red currant jelly
Fresh pomegranate arils (seeds) for garnish

Remove as much excess fat from the chicken thighs as possible, leaving the skin on one side only. (I also removed the bottom piece of skin.) Season on both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Rub the inside of a large, deep skillet or good size brazier with one of the garlic cloves, then discard the clove. Heat the oil in the pan over medium-high heat until it shimmers; add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown on all sides, about 10 to 15 minutes. The chicken will cook further in the recipe. Reduce the heat to medium if the chicken browns too quickly. Do not crowd the pan or the chicken will steam, so you may want to brown it in batches. When the chicken is browned, transfer to a platter and set aside. Drain off all but a sheet of the fat from the pan.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining garlic and the shallots. Cook, stirring, until the garlic and shallots are soft and beginning to brown lightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Take care not the let the garlic burn.

Add the wine to the pan and stir with a wooden spoon or whisk to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil and boil briefly until reduced by half. Add the chicken thighs back to the pan along with pomegranate juice, chicken broth, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, turning the chicken now and then so both sides of the chicken become colored by the juice.

Discard the fresh thyme springs and stir in the red currant jelly. Continue to cook at an active simmer until the internal temperature of the chicken registers 180 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, about 15 to 17 minutes, shifting the chicken and stirring the sauce occasionally. If the sauce becomes overly thick before the chicken is done, stir in a tablespoon or so of water into the sauce. The sauce should be the consistency of a spoonable glaze.

Arrange two thighs on each of four dinner plates and spoon the sauce over the chicken. Garnish each portion with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds and serve with hot cooked rice and a green vegetable, such as green beans.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, and Comforts of Home Tasty Tuesday.

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If you are looking for a great alternative to corn beef for St. Patrick's Day, give my Beef Carbonnade stewed in Guinness a try.    

Link here to Beef Carbonnade post and recipe.  
Have a great weekend everyone & Happy St. Patrick's Day .

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pork & Prune Stew with Turmeric Rice

This is an old family recipe, adapted from a lamb and prune stew that came from my father-in-law Jim’s recipe files that he collected from the defunct New York Herald Tribune some fifty odd years ago.

The original recipe called for lamb and I substituted pork because pork is a leaner cut of beef and I thought it would make it a bit lighter. I also made a couple of other subtle changes such as substituting beef broth for the water that was called for in the original recipe because I believe it added more flavor and I also added a splash of red wine to the broth.

I encourage you, if you like lamb, to definitely use the lamb. If Jim were alive today, I think he would approve of my subtle changes with the beef broth and wine, but I also think, no I know that he would have preferred the lamb.

Over the years the people who market dried fruit changed dried prune’s name to dried plums, probably wisely, so if you go to the market and can’t find prunes, look for plums.

I’ve chosen turmeric rice to accompany the stew instead of plain white rice to give the dish a bit of color and a more distinctive flavor. If you’ve never cooked with turmeric, take note that it stains absolutely everything it comes in contact with a bright yellow, including your fingers, your kitchen towels, and counter. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Jim's Pork & Prune Stew
Adapted from Jim Hoffer’s recipe files clipped from the New York Herald Tribune – serves 4

1 ¼ pounds pork tenderloin or lamb, trimmed of fat and cut in 1”cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or ¼ teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
3 cups boiling beef bouillon or water
A healthy splash of dry red wine
1 stick cinnamon
12 pitted dried prunes or dried plums, cut in half
1 teaspoon grated orange rind plus more for garnish

In a Dutch oven brown the meat in the hot oil. Take care not to crowd the pan. If necessary, brown the meat in batches. Add the onions and cook to soften. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt, thyme and flour.  Add the boiling water and stir to mix thoroughly. Add a healthy splash or red wine and the stick of cinnamon, cover and simmer for two hours. Add prunes and grated orange rind and simmer for an additional 20 minutes. Garnish with additional grated orange rind and serve right away with turmeric rice, or if you prefer, white rice.

Turmeric Rice or Riz au Tumerique
From The 60 Minute Gourmet by Pierre Franey – serves 4

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
1 cup white rice (I used Uncle Ben’s converted rice)
2 teaspoons powdered turmeric
1 ½ cups chicken broth plus more as needed
1 teaspoon Kosher salt if using low-fat broth
1 bay leaf

Melt half of the butter in a small saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Cook until wilted, then add the rice and turmeric. Stir to coat. Add the broth, salt if using, and bay leaf. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook exactly 17 minutes. Uncover and stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter.

Cook’s notes: You may have to add more broth if it cooks away before the end of cooking time. Taste before serving and if not quite done, cook until you are pleased with the doneness. Take care with the turmeric. It stains everything that it comes in contact with a bright yellow.

This will be shared with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Recipes, and The Comforts of Home Tasty Tuesday.   
Have a great weekend everyone.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Smoked Salmon Tartare on Cucumber Rounds Featured on IVillage's 10 Easy & Elegant Dinner-Party Recipes for Non-Cooks

Smoked Salmon Tartare on Cucumber Rounds
My Carolina Kitchen’s Smoked Salmon Tartare on Cucumber Rounds was featured recently on IVillage’s

10 Easy and Elegant Dinner-Party Recipes for Non-Cooks
Even if you have no confidence in the kitchen, you can pull off these easy appetizers, entrees and desserts and impress your guests. 

Link to the IVillage article here. You may remember the smoked salmon tartare from my post here. There were two versions, one with smoked salmon, and the other was a combination of smoked salmon and cooked salmon shown below. The smoked salmon tartare is more upscale and a little fancier, where the second version using two kinds of salmon is more like its bistro country cousin.

Salmon spread on cucumber rounds
I’ve been intrigued lately by how often I see cucumbers used in place of crackers or bread in appetizer recipes. By the way, the cucumbers that I’ve used are a hothouse variety, not the big fat ones with all of the seeds that you associate with summer gardens. The hothouse or European cucumbers are thin, almost seedless, and advertised as burp less. They are available year-around and I use them quite often in salads and appetizers.

Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa’s cookbook Back to Basics features sliced hothouse cucumbers with spicy salami as one of her “10 no-cook things to serve with drinks.” I’ve served her cucumbers and sausage numerous times at our house for dinner parties as an appetizer accompanied with store bought cheese straws and they disappear fast, especially with the men.

Recently I was very impressed with cucumbers sliced on the diagonal topped with a very pretty lump crab salad garnished with a few sprigs of dill that I saw on Williams Sonoma’s blog Taste, here. By slicing the cucumbers on the diagonal, it produces a bigger appetizer that would be quite lovely for a first course and it makes a really an upscale presentation. Be sure to take a look at the photo here. I think you will be impressed too.

I’ve seen other very attractive and tasty toppings for cucumbers on the internet, ranging from Kalyn’s Kitchen cucumber appetizer bites with hummus, a shrimp cucumber appetizer from I’m an Organizing Junkie, and avocado tomato bites from What’s Cooking Italian Style. I can even imagine that old southern favorite, pimento cheese, atop a cucumber round would also be delicious.

Have you ever served cucumber slices as a base for a spread or salad and what do you think of the idea?

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This will be linked to The Comforts of Home - Tasty Tuesday. Tasty Tuesday is a brand new linky party. I hope you'll join me and the others at Penny's grand opening of Tasty Tuesday