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Friday, May 25, 2012

Mussels, unemployment style

When I was at the unemployment office the other day, trying to find out what other options I had and figure out what I might not be doing right, I struck up a conversation with a fisherman. Specifically, a very out of work fisherman looking for any little day-labor job that might be available. He had a pretty hefty chip on his shoulder, and that's coming from someone who these days wears a permanent scowl and is mad basically all of the time, even in my sleep. Seriously, I wake up with this weird little rage-furrow that's been etched all night into my face and not even Stella's strange antics can get it to budge. Although she has been chasing the screen saver lately and that's pretty funny. I don't believe she's really all cat, I think she's part cat, part alien. But I digress.

After my new fisherman friend exhausted his complaints about his last boss and how this country is going straight to hell, etc. we got to talking about shellfish. I made my usual groan-y puns like "hey, your boss sure sounds shellfish" (Got crickets on that one, btw) and he mentioned that for him there is nothing better than a steaming hot plate of mussels. And I got to thinking hmmm, I agree with that statement. And if a fisherman who knows his shit can make that statement, who am I to argue?

Of course, fresh mussels is strictly the purview of those who have jobs, or at least, families with extra cash or families that have a door on the bathroom, so that route is not in the cards for me just now. Fortunately for me I live close to a great little market run by a nice family that has everything you can think of including an impressive collection of previously frozen shellfish. I picked up 12 gorgeous, over-sized mussels from New Zealand on the half shell for $4. Packed the day before and springy to the touch. Perfect.

After returning some empties (hangs head in shame) I came home with my catch (see what I did there? That one's for you Kevin. You'll get back on the sea) and ran them in their package under cold water just to make sure they were completely thawed. I chopped fresh garlic (2 cloves) and shallots (2 small, thanks shallot!) and some fresh parsley that was in the fridge (keep your fresh herbs in a glass full of water, they last longer. Same for green onions) and a couple Roma tomatoes (the cheapest kind of tomato, you know) and a cup of chicken stock, and steamed the whole mess with the mussels face down until I was satisfied:

I mixed angelhair into the pan and chowed down like it was the last thing I had to do on this earth (there were a lot of parenthesis in that paragraph):

It was absolutely delicious. A little white wine on the side and a sunbeam from the window were my accompaniments. Ah, summer!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fiddlin' Around

Have you ever had a fiddlehead?

If you haven't and have no idea what I'm talking about, a short explanation below from Wikipedia:

Fiddleheads or Fiddlehead greens are the furled fronds of a young fern, harvested for use as a vegetable. Left on the plant, each fiddlehead would unroll into a new frond. As fiddleheads are harvested early in the season before the frond has opened and reached its full height, they are cut fairly close to the ground.
Fiddleheads have antioxidant activity, are a source of Omega 3 and Omega 6, and are high in iron and fibre.

They become quite popular in BC around this time and are sold in higher-end grocery stores. I personally used to see them shooting up on hiking trails all over the place but have never actually eaten one. So I decided to pick some up at my local Urban Fare and test myself by making a gourmet salad for me and Tenacious C (this is what I'm calling Chris these days).

Gourmet Fiddlehead Salad with Pickled Red Onions and Maple Toasted Pecans (Food Network)

Pickled Red Onions

cups sliced red onions
1/3 cup sugar

1/3 honey

cup dry white wine
cup lemon juice
teaspoon salt

Maple Toasted Pecans
cups pecan halves
tablespoons pure maple syrup
teaspoon ground black pepper

Fiddlehead Salad
tablespoons lemon juice
tablespoon finely minced shallot
teaspoon Dijon mustard
grapeseed or canola oil
salt and pepper

tablespoons tepid water
tablespoon chopped chives
cups fresh or frozen fiddleheads
cup pickled red onion
maple toasted pecans

Pickled Red Onions

  1. Simmer all ingredients, uncovered, over medium heat until onions are tender and liquid has evaporated.
  2. Pickled red onions will keep for up to 6 weeks, refrigerated

Maple Toasted Pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Toss pecans with maple syrup and black pepper to coat. Spread pecans on prepared tray and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, without stirring, until toasted. Once cooled the maple syrup will caramelize onto pecans.
  2. Store pecans in an airtight container for up to a month.

Fiddlehead Salad

  1. For vinaigrette, whisk lemon juice, shallot and Dijon to blend. Gradually whisk in grapeseed or canola oil until incorporated, then whisk in water. Season to taste and stir in chives.
  2. For fiddleheads, trim off stem end and wash thoroughly, rubbing gently between your fingers. Drain well. Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Blanch fiddleheads until tender, about 5 minutes (tasting is the best way to judge). Drain fiddleheads and shock in ice water to halt cooking. Drain and chill until ready to serve.
  3. To assemble salad, arrange radicchio on a platter. Toss fiddleheads with vinaigrette and arrange on platter. Spoon pickled red onions over and top with maple toasted pecans. Serve immediately.

This was light and delicious and perfect for a warm spring night. Tenacious C and I had ours with garlic toast (homemade, natch).

You know what else is in season? Stellaheads:

I love it when my cat imitates my food. It's like she knows.

We haven't seen much of the Royal Bitch on Crass Cuisine lately, mostly because her life is completely boring. Much like mine these days. But don't worry. Times they are a changin'. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Missing New Orleans

Sweets were very rare in our house when I was growing up. So as a child, if I happened to get something sweet; wine gums or marshmallows or toffees, I would park it between my cheek and gum and occasionally revisit it, wedging it out and sucking it, then returning it to its spot. This not only made the sweet last longer, but allowed me to rediscover it 20 times over. To this day I still use this system, although strictly speaking there is no moratorium on how much I can have, since I live alone. I mean, who's gonna know? (The answer to this, I have discovered, is everyone, once they see your big butt). But anyway.

I feel this way about the idea of visiting New Orleans. I'm drawn to it for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, but I think it has something to do with the intersection of food, music and culture that's even a bigger melting pot than Vancouver. There is music and food there you cannot find anywhere else in the world. Very very special. And heat! They have heat. They have rain but it's not always shitty and bone-chilling damp like it is here. The history is huge. The parties are huger. It knows what it is. I love Vancouver but I get so mired down in it's endless rules and rain that my fantasies about New Orleans are growing bigger by the minute.

So I use my thoughts and plans of NOLA much like I use sweets; I park it in the corner of my mind and take it out 20 times a day. But today, I wanted to park it in my mouth too. So I made Louisiana seafood gumbo, just to satiate myself until more definite plans can be made for my visit there. One day I will just bite down hard on this dream and crack it in half against my molar. But until then, gumbo (from the Food Network with my variations):

Louisiana Seafood Gumbo

(All ingredients)

Olive oil, for sauteing
1 1/2 medium-sized onions, coarsely chopped
1 cup celery, cut crosswise into 1/3 and coarsely chopped
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 orange bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, coarsely chopped
Roux, recipe follows
6 Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
Stock, recipe follows
1-1/2lb shrimp, raw, deveined and peeled (save peels and tails)
2 or 3 crabs, cleaned, and chopped into chunks or 1 package pollock
Lemon slices
Chopped green onions

First, make the stock:

8 cups water
The original recipe calls for shrimp heads. However if you have bought frozen with heads removed, you can use the tails and bodies
1 stalk celery
1/2 lemon
1 bay leaf
3 basil leaves
Creole seasoning (see Jessica's Awesomesauce)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Boil all ingredients together for 1 hour, then strain out materials:

Set aside, then make the roux:

1/2 cup flour
Olive oil

Combine the ingredients in a separate pan. Brown on a medium high heat until it turns light brown.

Coat a large heavy-bottomed saucepan with oil and cook the onions until translucent. Add the celery, garlic, bell peppers, and okra. Add the roux and mix thoroughly to pick up all the excess oil in the pot.
Next add the tomatoes and bring the mixture to a boil. When mixed, strain the stock and add it to the pot, mixing thoroughly to prevent lumps. Cover with lid, bring to the boil and cook for 20 minutes. Clean the shrimp and saute in a separate pan to get rid of any excess moisture. When they have turned pink add the shrimp and crab or pollock to the gumbo. Cook for 10 minutes. Lastly, add lemon slices and chopped green onions

Oh, delicious. Notice how the roux makes this stew a little creamier than a soup, but less thick than a stew. That's Southern magic right there.

Enjoy with warm crusty bread on the side or over rice. This takes awhile but it so, so worth it. And before I exit, here's a little ode to NOLA from the man himself, Louis Armstrong. Funny to miss a place you've never been, eh?