Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mussels and Beer

I've been feeling especially homesick lately. The life I left behind in Maine when I left for college was a simple one. Summers were filled with good friends; there were amazing (but rocky) beaches almost around every corner, pan dances,  Blue Hill Mountain, endless BBQs, The Blue Hill Fair...and last but not least, seafood.
Curtis Cove, East Blue Hill, Maine. 

Curtis Cove, East Blue Hill, Maine.
I grew up going down to Newbury Neck beach with my mom at low tide to pick mussels from the rocks, buried under all the seaweed. As soon as I could walk, I would go with her.  This also happened to be around the same age I decided bathing suits were for chumps, and in my discomfort would immediately take mine off once we got to the beach, much to the horror of my father: 

"Susan!! She's not wearing her bathing suit!!!" 
My mom 's reply :  "So?? She's 3!!"

We never paid for mussels, ever. Why pay for them when you could just pick them yourselves??  We never had to worry about pollution, or red tide or any of that stuff. It was like an easter egg hunt to me, but for FOOD. Finding a nice patch of decently sized mussels? The best thing ever!

"Mama!!! MAMAA come look!!" I would yell, scrambling over the rocks in my bare feet (And lack of bathing suit) trying not to fall from sliding around on the seaweed, or cut my feet on barnacles.
Underneath Perry's Pier, Newbury Neck Beach, Surry, Maine. 

The only downside of picking them right off the beach was that they might be a bit gritty. Sometimes our family friend Perry would let us hang some in a crate off the side of his dock, and we would come back and get them the next day. Purging them gets rid of the all the grit. You still have to be careful and watch out for tiny mussel seed pearls's a miracle I never broke my teeth on them!!

So, we would take them home in a 5 gallon bucket topped with seaweed to keep them moist and cool. My mom mixed it up a lot, but it was not uncommon that they would be steamed in garlic, onion, white wine, and parsley. We would eat them by themselves dipped in lots of butter, sprinkled with lemon, and maybe over pasta. Sometimes with cream...sometimes not.

But one thing's for sure...they were always delicious and I have very fond memories of growing up eating them.

Here is my take on steamed mussels. I steamed them with beer ( I used Newcastle brown), onions, garlic and chile flakes. I finished with a touch of parsley,  salt and pepper,  and a bit of half and half. Oh! And perhaps the most unconventional: I cooked the garlic and onions in some sweet white clover butter I had stored in the freezer that I had leftover from my previous post last weekend. The clover lent a sweetness and herbaliness reminiscent of tarragon. I suppose you could try that instead, and just toss a little bit of chopped fresh tarragon in towards the end. 

I served with some baguette I had toasted, drizzled olive oil on and rubbed tomato all over.
I do not have pictures of prep...but here is an ingredients list. I did not measure...I am sorry! Measurements are approximate.

Mussels Steamed In Beer With Sweet White Clover
Serves 4 as an app, 2 for dinner.

1 1/2 pounds of fresh mussels. I will never trust frozen. 
1 bottle (12oz) of beer, your choice. 
1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 TBSP sweet white clover  butter (or, just unsalted butter)
1 to 2 TBSP of freshly chopped parsley
Chile flakes to taste
A splash of half&half

GO THROUGH YOUR MUSSELS. Especially buying them at the store. If you live close to the beach, check and make sure it is safe to gather them, and see if you need a special permit. For all I know....we were picking illegally  all my life...haha. It's a good thing to check in this day and age. 
But seriously. Scrub all of your mussels. If any are open, or slightly open, and with a little prod do not close, TOSS. They are dead. You can remove the beard if you like. I never had a good method for doing so and would just pinch them off after cooking. If any mussels do not open while cooking, TOSS.
Nicely steaming and bubbling along!

Heat up the oil in a deepish pan. Sautée garlic and onions with S+P until soft. Add chile flakes, and taste. Once onions are soft, add a bottle of beer and all of your mussels, and cover. Once all mussels are open, add fresh parsley, sweet white clover butter (or tarragon, or what have you) and half&half, and stir to combine and heat through. Serve. Do not overcook the mussels, they can become tough. 

Enjoy with some toasted crusty bread! You better not waste any of the juices! 
Mussels steamed in beer and sweet white clover.

Thanks for reading!

On the way to Newbury Neck, Surry, Maine.

**Please, do not steal my pictures! The site I use to watermark them with is down. As soon as it is back up I will replace with watermarked photos. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Wild Things and Giant Artichokes, Because Why Not?

Wow, it's been a few weeks, I'm sorry! Lots of things have been going on. I had a couple posts planned...and I accidentally just deleted all the pictures off my phone. Oh well....

But here's a little bit of what I have been up to.

First of all: GIANT artichokes. I ended up steaming them and making a basil(I grew it from seed!!) butter to dip the leaves in. Would you believe I had found these at Ralph's??
Artichokes as big as my head!!
2nd of all: A good friend of ours is in town and I decided to host a dinner for 6 people at our place last night. The original plan was to grill (burgers and things, I think everyone was thinking) but I got super excited and inspired (it's all my friend Mia's fault!!) and put together a pretty crazy menu....well, crazy for us and WAY above and beyond just "grillthing".

I wanted to do 3 small plates, a charcuterie plate, and a main dish with 2 sides, and a dessert. This was the most difficult food

And so the menu:

Small Plate 1:
Nettle leaves stuffed with fresh homemade fresh goat cheese, toasted pine nuts, and sauteed lambsquarter flowers and seeds, topped with a black mustard flower.

Small plate 2: 
Quail eggs marinated in smoked black tea, soy and spices on a pita cracker with nettle pesto and crispy pancetta.

Small plate 3:
Heirloom caprese wrapped in ribbons of summer squash.

Charcuterie plate: I did not put this together, and didn't get a chance to eat much of it, but it looked pretty great!

Chicken Kabab marinated in lemon, yogurt and wild California spice mix
Lamb Kabab marinated in spices (marinated by our friend)
both grilled, served on a bed of french green lentils, a side of baby potatoes roasted with sweet white clover,  and a side salad of watercress with roasted parsnips tossed in a simple red wine vinaigrette. 

Pink peppercorn panna cotta with homemade elderberry syrup, and candied toasted California buckwheat flowers. 

I don't have recipes or pictures of prep as I was wayy too busy. I went to Whole Foods before work on friday, and when I got home from work I got straight into prepping until the wee hours. I then woke up early and ventured out in to the wilderness to obtain stinging nettles, lambsquarter flowers/seeds, mustard flowers, sweet white clover, various sages and mugwort. Then went home and continued prepping until people showed up...

Here are some pictures of the final products!
Stinging nettle leaves stuffed with fresh homemade goat cheese, toasted pine nuts, and lambsquarter flowers and seeds, topped with a black mustard flower. 

Heirloom cherry tomato caprese wrapped in summer squash ribbons with fresh basil from my garden (I started it from seed!) with an olive oil drizzle and S+P.
Cracker topped with nettle and red skinned walnut pesto, quail eggs marinated in smoked tea, soy and spices with crispy pancetta.
All of the appetizers together! Top to bottom, left to right....wild foraged olives marinated in orange,  nettle pesto and quail crackers, charcuterie and cheese plate with rosemary marcona almonds, mustards and fig jam, stuffed nettle leaves, squash wrapped heirloom caprese.
Main dish: chicken kababs marinated in lemon, yogurt and wild spices, lamb kababs, baby potatoes roasted with butter and sweet white clover,  watercress and roasted parsnip salad with a simple red wine vinaigrette. The kababs are on a bed of french green lentils. 

And let's not forget dessert! Pink peppercorn panna cotta with homemade elderberry syrup and toasted candied buckwheat flowers:

That is all for now. I have lot's of posts planned...I just need to actually write them up!! Thank you for your patience. Thank you Mia and Pascal for your inspiration.  

And as always, enjoy!