Mussels in White Wine and Garlic

Ready

“It’s a beautiful day,” says he.

“I know!” I respond, “FINALLY!”

“We really should get out and about.”

“Oh, yes, please! That would be great.”

It’s one of the first truly nice days of spring. The sun is shining, there’s a light breeze, it’s warm(ish). I want to get out and feel the sun on my face. A nice walk in Acadia National Park. Oh, Sand Beach, I haven’t been there yet. My head was filled with places on Mount Desert Island I wanted to explore.

The Dear One, however, had other ideas in mind.

See, there’s a tree. A tree he cut down. A tree destined to be cut and split and stacked and dried for the wood stove for the winter.

THE WINTER? Seriously, Dude? It’s April! I’ve barely had time to recuperate from this past winter much less think about NEXT winter.

Well, you see, he explains, it has to be cut and split and stacked now, and covered in plastic so that it dries out to be ready for next winter.

Now, back to that tree … it’s down a ‘slight’ hill, on the opposite side of the house from where it needs to be stacked, and looked MUCH smaller standing upright.

“Okay, I’ll take the big part of the trunk. You take the branches. Whatever is too small to cut for the wood stove, throw on the wood pile.”

This is when I realized that the man of my dreams is completely OFF.HIS.ROCKER! Has he not seen these delicate, little hands? Has he not seen me struggle to pick up heavy grocery bags? Most importantly, has he NOT SEEN MY TIARA!? A princess, I tell you! A City princess, at that, carrying a tree? Stacking wood? Surely you jest.

Jesting he was not. But I princessed up, rolled up my sleeves and heave ho’d. I threw branches and stems on the burn pile (wait, ce qui es une BURN PILE … oh, I am so new to this planet!), carried big branches up to some God awful contraption so it could be cut into logs, and stacked up wood that Mr. Lumberjack split.

I smelled. I dropped a birch branch on my toe. I dropped a birch log on my ankle. I was covered in sawdust and dirt and YUCK. Every single inch of my body hurt … except, perhaps, a 1/4″ spot on my left ear.

AND I WAS STARVING. I needed a HOT shower and a hot, quickly made dinner.

I sent Simon Legree the Dear One off to the market to pick up dinner … mussels, garlic, parsley … while I stood in a scalding hot shower trying to wash away the memory of the day.

In the time it took to boil a pot of water, shallots were sliced, garlic was minced, parsley was chopped. When the pasta was dropped into boiling water, the shallots, garlic and white wine simmer, after about 5 minutes the mussels were added, another short 5 minutes, added some parsley and butter. Everything done at the same time. 15 minutes from start to finish.

A few slices of toasted Italian bread, glasses of fabulous red wine, and I was a happy, though still sore, camper.

It doesn’t really get easier than this dish. Next time I may add some arugula in, or perhaps halved grape tomatoes, the possibilities are endless.

  • 2 C dry white wine
  • 4 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 4 pounds live mussels
  • 1/3 C mixed fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, chervil, or basil, chopped
  • 6 T butter, cut into pieces

Rinse and scrub mussels under cold running water. Using your fingers or a paring knife, remove beards (strings that hang from the mussels’ shells), and discard.

In a large stockpot set over medium heat, combine wine, shallots, garlic, and salt. Simmer 5 minutes. Add mussels. Cover, and increase heat to high. Cook until all mussels are open, about 5 minutes. Stir in herbs and butter. Remove from heat. Divide mussels and broth among four bowls. Serve immediately.

NOTE: We were STARVING so I threw this over pasta. If you serve the mussels without pasta toast some bread, rub it with garlic for dipping.

Pistachio Dried Cherry Torrone ~ March Daring Bakers

Done 3

The March 2014 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Rebecca of BakeNQuilt. She challenged us to learn to make classic nougat and to make it our own with our choice of flavors and add-ins.

It’s been a terribly long time since I’ve been able to join in any cooking or baking events. I’ve missed it.  I am so pleased to be able to join in BOTH Daring Kitchen challenges this month.

I have had this Martha Stewart Torrone recipe on deck for a LONG time and made my own changes to it, but felt the base recipe was easy enough for me to handle!

Done 2

And you-know-who is screaming WHY? And in the same breath WHERE’S MINE??

This was a bit fiddley. I was a bit hampered by not being in my own kitchen. I used a hand mixer that’s affixed to a bowl that turns, so it was a semi-stand mixer type piece of equipment … but not really.

It needs to sit and ‘dry’ a bit more, but man oh man, this is tasty stuff!

  • 2 pieces edible rice paper, (9 by 13 inches each) wafer paper
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/2 C honey
  • 3 T light corn syrup
  • 1/2 C water
  • 2 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 t pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 C shelled salted pistachios, (about 7 ounces)
  • 1 1/3 C unsweetened finely shredded coconut, (about 4 ounces)
  • 3/4 C dried cherries

Place 1 piece of rice paper in a 9×13-inch rimmed baking sheet; set aside.

NOTE: I lightly buttered the sides of the baking dish. You’re going to trim them off anyway so it just makes removing the Torrone easier.

Put sugar, honey, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture just begins to simmer and sugar has dissolved, about 6 minutes. Continue to cook, without stirring, until mixture reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer.

NOTE: Aside from the no stand mixer problem, I also suffered from a no CANDY THERMOMETER problem. 300 degrees is hard ball stage. Drop a tiny amount of the boiling sugar into a cup with cold water, when it becomes a hard, crunchy mass once in the water, you’re done.

Meanwhile, put egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Raise speed to high. Pour hot honey mixture into egg-white mixture in a slow, steady stream, and beat until mixture has cooled and thickened and begins to stick to whisk, about 10 minutes.

Ingredients

Reduce speed to medium-low; beat in vanilla, pistachios, coconut, and cranberries.

Working quickly, spread mixture into prepared dish. Place another sheet of rice paper on top; press down to flatten and spread evenly. Let cool on wire rack at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Ready to cut

Cut around edges of Torrone to loosen. Remove from baking sheet; transfer to a cutting board. Trim edges to be straight. Using a long, sharp knife, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch slices.

Watercress Composed Salad with Citrus Dressing ~ March Daring Cooks

Salad

I haven’t been living in one place for a long enough period of to really concentrate on joining any cook-alongs. It’s been over 6 months with this back and forth stuff! I’m so excited t his month to not join one of The Daring Kitchen’s challenges, but TWO!

For March’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge, Ruth, Shelley and Sawsan asked us to totally veg out! We made salads and dressings, letting the sky be the limit as we created new flavors and combinations that reflect our own unique tastes.

I’ve always made my own dressing. Probably because my mother always made her own dressing and my grandmother always made her own dressing. I will occasionally buy a dressing in a bottle, if I want a quick marinade for something, but otherwise I just find them … hmmm, ICKY! Thick and gloppy and off-tasting.

This challenge was right up my alley!

Many, many moons ago, Erie and I went to a Spanish restaurant in Queens (the name escapes me at the moment and perhaps she will chime in and let us know). We had the most wonderful composed salad – and I was surprised as I’m not usually a fan of composed salads.

Since then, this is my go to company is coming, steak themed dinner, salad. It’s simple with lots of great ingredients.

  • 1 bunch watercress
  • 2 hard boiled eggs
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 1 can hearts of palm
  • 1 shallot
  • juice from 1/2 an orange, lime and lemon
  • 3 t extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 t oregano
  • s&p

NOTE: I used plum tomatoes, use whatever tomatoes make you happy.

Watercress

Wash watercress thoroughly and cut off stems. Place watercress on a platter

Quarter hard boiled eggs into wedges.  Scatter over watercress.

If using Roma tomatoes, cut into wedges. If using other tomatoes, cut into chunks. Scatter over watercress.

Slice hearts of palm into 1/4″ rings. Again, scatter over watercress.

Thinly slice shallot into rings. Scatter over salad.

Dressing salad

In a bowl, whisk together citrus juices, oregano and s&p to taste. While whisking, stream in olive oil. When ready to serve salad, drizzle dressing over the top.

Hard Crunchy Pretzels

Done 2
So what’s your favorite snack, I ask? I know my answer already ~ hands down, potato chips. I cannot even trust myself to buy them. On the rare occasion that I do I am either (a) really upset at someone or something or (b) just really, really wanting them! And then I buy the smallest bag I can find and stuff them all in my face at once ~ naturally washing it down with a Diet Coke to negate the calories!
Not so for the Dear One. Pretzels. Those Hard Sourdough Pretzels are his absolute favorite snacking thing – well, next to Cheez-Its (and I made those again for him recently).
So here I am in Maine, and bored, and waiting for him to come home and watching flight after flight be cancelled. I know! I’ll make hard pretzels to take to the airport – if he can EVER get on a plane and if it EVER stops snowing!
Once I, I could hear Ernie shouting – BUY THEM! BUY THEM, YOU TWIT!
I was a little wary about trying this recipe. Things raising, cutting them into strips, rolling it into long tubes, FORMING pretzel shapes, dropping them into a baking soda bath … YIKES … but once started, the fear washed away … a few sips of wine didn’t hurt … this was pretty easy to do.
And they tasted great. Definitely to be done again – with a little tweaking.
  • 4 C all-purpose flour
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 t sugar
  • 1 C lukewarm water
  • 2 pkgs active dry yeast
  • 3 T butter
  • Coarse salt for sprinkling

Soda Bath

  • 1/2 C baking soda
  • 2 quarts water

Dissolve yeast in the lukewarm water.

Fkour

Mix flour and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Form a well in the flour mixture then add the sugar to the center of the well. Pour the yeast/water mixture into the well. Let it rest for 15 minutes before mixing.

Add the softened butter to the mixing bowl and knead everything to a smooth dough.

Dough

NOTE: Use the dough hook for about 6 minutes on speed #2. If it’s too dry add about a tablespoon of additional water so you can gather all the dry ingredients. Remove the dough hook and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

Rolling

Cut the dough into twelve equal parts, then roll each piece on the table (don’t flour the surface, you shouldn’t need it) to about 20 inches, tapered toward the ends.

Knotting

 

Shape pretzels.

NOTE: Don’t make it smaller than 20 inches as it’s impossible to get a good shape with a short, thick rope of dough. The dough should not get too warm as you roll it out, or it might tear. The warmer it gets, the harder it is to roll. Also, my ropes were too thick. Made it harder for me to get that crunchy texture I was seeking.

Place the pretzels without covering them in the fridge for about an hour. This helps build a skin that will absorb the dipping solution better and make a beautiful shiny crust.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

NOTE: Pretzel recipes usually call for a lye solution, but baking soda is a perfectly acceptable and widely used substitute. LYE? Nope, not going there!

Ready to boil

Fill large stock or pasta pot 3/4 full and bring the water to a boil. Carefully and slowly add the baking soda to the boiling water. Add the baking soda a little at a time.

NOTE: There will be a bubbling up reaction when the baking soda hits the water but it’s just for a moment and then it stops. Stand back a bit just to be safe.

Boiling

Using a slotted spoon, gently drop each pretzel into the bath for 10 seconds, then turn over for another

Score the dough once like for a baguette with a razor blade or sharp knife.

NOTE: This step may have been part of my mistake. I think scoring it made them softer for a longer period of time so they had to bake for a longer period of time to get the crunch factor. Well, that and my ropes were too thick!

Ready to bake

Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake the pretzels for about 15 to 20 minutes (mine took almost 30 minutes for a nice dark crust), depending on how dark you like them.

NOTE: I ended up baking them a second time because they were too soft in spots. Don’t let them touch when baking, those spots will be soft.

Done

Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie

Baked

We’ve had snow. We’ve had rain. We’ve actually had SLUSH fall out of the sky. Windy … well, all I could think upon opening one eye one morning was ‘Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!’ Ice everywhere. So much ice our friends won’t all drive down our driveway, and I find myself praying as I drive up the driveway, please make it, please make it, so that I don’t suffer the INDIGNITY of being watched as I don’t quite make it to the top of the hill!

Welcome to Maine! Seems to be the mantra here of fellow sufferers, or perhaps it’s a condolence from another who has not managed to escape.

As we stand outside, the Dear One keeps looking at me, mostly smiling, an occasional grimace as a blast of arctic wind finds a tiny speck of skin not covered, and asks, ‘You will be here when I get back, right?’  Ask me again when I’m not shivering in my boots … well, truthfully, the answer will be the same, yes, I’ll be here when you get back, and if I can manage the driveway, I’ll even pick you up at the airport.

(As an aside … I have spent two weeks either in slippers or my Bean boots. I have had a line from a movie constantly floating around in my head. Remember the Goldie Hawn movie Private Benjamin? The scene where she’s marching around in a circle out in the pouring rain wailing  “I WANNA WEAR MY SANDALS! I WANNA GO OUT TO LUNCH!” All I keep thinking is … I want to wear shoes! I want to wear a cute pair of heels!)

But when it’s too frigid to go outside. Well, too frigid for me to go outside, I get bored. We’ve watched all of Sherlock, The Tudors, House of Cards, Jon Stewart, every decent movie on Hulu, Netflix and Crackle. Bookshelves have been built. Every single bit of laundry done. It’s 9:00 am … NOW WHAT!?

When cabin fever sets in I only have a few things on my mind … cooking and eating (oh, what did you think I was going to say!!). If I cook or bake, I don’t want to eat. So better to cook than graze. But what to make?

Baking is more time consuming than cooking. You have to pay attention to every ingredient and it takes time. Cookies are always good. The Dear One LOVES chocolate chip cookies, and he did build a bookshelf in the kitchen for all most of my cookbooks. SO chocolate chip cookies it is! This recipe has been calling to me for quite some time, what better time to try it!?

  • 6 T unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 C packed dark-brown sugar
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 t pure vanilla extract
  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t coarse salt
  • 1 C semisweet chocolate chips

NOTE: Room temperature is really subjective. Room temperature, in Maine, is not the same as it was in NYC. A little zap in the microwave did the trick.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Creaming

In a large bowl, combine butter and sugars with a wooden spoon.

NOTE: The allure of this recipe, besides one ginormous chocolate chip cookie, was not using baking sheets AND the Kitchen Aid AND making a huge pile of bowls and pans, etc., BUT, that being said, creaming sugar and butter together by hand is for the birds!

Stir in egg and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking soda, and salt.

Adding chips

Stir in chips.

Transfer to a 10-inch cast-iron skillet; smooth top.

Ready to Bake

NOTE: A glob. A glob, I tell you. It’s the same as cookie dough that you would scoop for individual cookies. Getting it into all ends of the pan is tough. And smoothing it? HA! I tried flouring my fingers, no. I wet my fingers with cold water and that let me push the dough around to get the job done. But ICK!

Bake until cookie is golden brown and just set in the center, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes.

I cut this into wedges to serve.

Cranberry Juice

Ready to drink

I have COLD!

I have SNOW!

I have ICE!

I have freshly picked cranberries in my freezer, thanks to my friend Lisa! So there’s been breads, and cookies, and thrown in with pork and stuffing, and, of course, cranberry sauce. But I want to try something different and this was just the ticket!

I wanted healthy, virtuous even. It seems a lot of cranberries for not a lot of juice, makes about 1 quart and a half, but if you add vodka … or gin … a healthy squeeze of lime and some seltzer it stretches a long way!

  • 600 g (20 ozs) fresh cranberries (you can use frozen)
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar

Cranberries

Place the cranberries and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and cover loosely. Simmer 10 min. until the cranberries have burst.

Straining

Strain through a colander lined with cheesecloth.

Draning berries

Resist the urge to press on the fruit to extract more juices.

Pour the strained juice back into the pot and add sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes.

NOTE: I added the sugar a bit at a time, starting with a 1/2 cup. I didn’t want this to be too sweet.

Let cool to room temperature before cooling in the fridge.

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Mushrooms and Rice

Squash Baked Done

This recipe sounded great … in theory. What could be bad about it? Acorn Squash (if you like that sort of thing) stuffed with mushrooms and rice. At least the stuffing would have to be good – wouldn’t ya think?

Well, no.

I’m not a huge acorn squash fan. I had to search for a recipe for acorn squash due to the Dear One’s not being able to  resist these (for some reason) when he bought pumpkins for the girls.

Sadly, the stuffing, though having yummy ingredients, had the consistency and taste of wallpaper paste. Maybe some wild rice would have added a different texture.

It was received … well, kindly, with tiny bites, and a small smile when I said that I would NEVER make this again. Actually, if you added some sausage to the stuffing, it wouldn’t be too bad, but then it defeats the purpose of trying to feed it to a young lady who won’t eat things with faces.

Okay, so they can’t all be winners!

How would you change this to make it better, but still keep it vegetarian?

  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 T olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 pound cremini or button mushrooms, trimmed and diced small
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 3/4 t dried thyme
  • 1 C long-grain white rice
  • 2 C vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1/2 C grated Parmesan (2 ounces)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Squash Cut

On a rimmed baking sheet, season cut sides of squash with salt and pepper, drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil, and turn cut sides down. Cover sheet tightly with foil and roast until tender, about 35 minutes.

Suqash Stuffing Cooking

Meanwhile, in a medium straight-sided skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high. Add mushrooms, onion, and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Saute until mushrooms are golden, 8 minutes. Add rice and broth and bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until liquid is absorbed, 20 minutes.

Squash Baked

Remove squash from oven and heat broiler. Carefully scoop out 2 to 3 tablespoons flesh from each squash half and stir into rice; season with salt and pepper. Divide rice mixture among squash halves, sprinkle with Parmesan, and broil until melted, 2 minutes.

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