Archive for September, 2007

Skillet Roasted Mussels

If you happen to look for a recipe for skillet roasted mussels you find plenty – either by googling or browsing through various cookbooks; some recipes more convincing than others. And then you find IT. Michael Bauer in Secrets of Success Cookbook: Signature Recipes and Insider Tips from San Francisco’s Best Restaurants* presents Iron Skillet Roasted Mussels. And how could i forget – we had a dinner at LuLu last winter and of course ordered these mussels! ( the rendition was not up to accolades i read everywhere but i liked the name and the idea).

This is what Bauer has to say in the recipe introduction:

When people think of LuLu, one dish comes to mind: Iron Skillet Roasted Mussels. This was the first place in Bay Area to do them. The seafood is roasted with dry heat which makes the shells brittle and gives the mussels a firmer texture and more concentrated flavor. At LuLu, the mussels are roasted in a wood fired oven which imparts a smoky quality. At home they can be cooked in a dry cast-iron skillet on top of the stove… The mussels are served with a clarified butter sauce redolent of garlic, thyme and pepper, making a truly wonderful dish.

This recipe is all about the essential flavor: stark and ultimate. 


I used Le Creuset enameled 12" skillet **, dry heated on high for about 5mins, added thoroughly drained mussels in one layer and cooked uncovered (shaking once in a while) : it took less than 2mins to open them all. Off the heat a generous s&p with some parsley. Damn perfect – in fact so much so that nobody used the drowned butter i made – a pure (and rich) mussels flavor needed no adornment…

*: well i don’t own the cookbook but i’m savvy enough to use a search inside books feature at A9.

**: the 12" pan will hold not more than 1.5 lb of mussels so if you have a party plan for several batches – these mussels would be delicious at any temp – hot, warm or chilled.


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Couple of days ago i pulled out Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli to learn about home (i.e. hand) made pasta. The book is a delightful read and i continued way beyond the pasta section, at some point stumbling on an unusual technique of cooking eggplant (attracted by the funny introduction to the recipe where he basically trashes all known ways with this vegetable). Interestingly i feel the same: i love eggplant in theory but very rarely find satisfactory dishes (much more success with asian eggplants though).

Back to Bertolli:

"…eggplant too often suffers in the kitchen from forced compliance as though it is only thorough companionship or manipulation that it is delivered from blandness…when minimally cooked, eggplant has a marvelous slippery texture and its essential flavor comes to the fore…

Eggplant taste is diluted in the large amount of water it contains…But after a brief plunge in a boiling acidulated water it can be twisted in a towel to rend it flavor free…"

And this is how he does this: eggplants are cut into 1/8" matchsticks (mandolined lengthwise, slices stacked and cut crosswise by knife, and the strands are dropped into a boiling water (for 6 quarts add 1 cup pf champagne vinegar and 3/4 cup salt). Wait for 1min and taste  – there should be a bit resistance left to the bite…


In my case it took just a little shy of 2mins. Seasoned with a simple seasoning  (just enough "…to support and enhance…") of lemon juice, thinly sliced cayenne pepper, garlic, mint and olive oil, everything in minuscule amount, be especially careful with olive oil.

Well the recipe delivered – the dish came out very flavorful and of a delightful texture – silky and slippery; strands instead of the usual mushiness.

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Riding to Mount Desert Island

Finally set aside some time to finish long ago started post on our motorcycle trip to Bar Harbor, Maine: to relive these several magical days in August.


To beat the traffic we started Sat afternoon and made it to Portland, with a detour to Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery for lunch: terrific fried oysters.


Nothing special to report from Portland – we got there pretty late and had a trouble to find a decent place for a dinner – every place suggested on Chowhound had a long wait so we crushed at Gritty McDuff’s brewpub for a so so burger and awful fries. The beer was not much better. Was too early to go back to hotel and we wandered a bit but there was nothing much to see – boutiques and galleries were already closed for the day. Fortunately we stumbled on Sebago pub, another brewing company in Portland. With no high expectations (had Sebago’s beer before and were not impressed) we ordered Frye’s Leap IPA, and it was ambrosial: A perfect wind up of the day…

Skipped breakfast at Portland in anticipation of a substantial lunch at Sea Basket, Wiscasset on the way to MTI. But the address on GPS brought us to the middle of nowhere. Back to Route 1 passing Red’s Eats, another notable shack w/o stopping turned off by a very long line. And then we noticed a road sign inviting to Glidden Point Oyster Farm just within several miles off Route 1. We pulled in and got some fresh oysters just to realize that not only they don’t shuck them, the farm doesn’t have any place outside for DIY. Refusing to give up we buy an oyster knife, and start riding around looking for a spot for an impromptu picnic. We end up in a small marina of some unknown town, and eat our oysters on a narrow stone beach pretty much on a parking lot. With a tiny bottle of tabasco as the only condiment, these are nonetheless the best oysters we ever had!


Back on the motorcycle now to our final destination with a short stop to admire the Penobscot Narrows Bridge.


Stay tuned for the next installments…

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Baby Potatoes, Two Tasty Ways

Usually Wegmans has a nice spread of various baby (or otherwise cute) vegetables in season, and this time of the year it  often includes Melissa’s Dutch Yellow Peewee Potatoes. They’re really tiny, not more than 3/4" in diameter, tight yellow skinned and just impossible to pass by: well i cooked them twice this week…

From one of the greatest cookbooks in the world came a recipe for perfect butter-baked petite potatoes: roasted in a good butter covered until completely tender (about 40mins at 375F) and then uncovered for additional 20mins at 425F to brown… Before you (and potatoes) are done, you might find your family (including assorted pets) already in the kitchen – brought by the intoxicating aroma of baked potatoes, brown butter and roasted herbs…


The other way with these babies came out naturally w/o the usual cookbooks perusing, somehow wired into my brain: potatoes 1) par-steamed, 2) flattened (carefully squashed) and 3) pan browned with some creme fraiche added at the end. 

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Quick Dinner in Pretty Colors

Dare i say that we ate and drank too much last night so this dinner was about all about recovering in an easy, quick  and tasty way:  so of course seafood and beer came to mind.

Freshly shucked littlenecks, with a squirt of lime; paired with Malheur 10. (clam shucking proved to be less challenging than the oyster’s).

Gulf shrimp, sliced long hot pepper (the crinkly type) and garlic baked under pecorino sardo (note yet another interpretation of Marcella’s dish) and served over mache/radicchio/frisee (god bless the people at Epic Roots for this clever salad europeen mix); paired with Victory Old Horizontal – not exactly the time yet for barleywine but this beer is absolutely divine.


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Braised Greens, Avgolemono Style

One of the dishes i sorely missed from my russian childhood was a sorrel soup made through the summer and served with sour cream and quartered hard-boiled eggs. Or oftentimes we would forage some young nettles for another version of the soup…

Well i missed this dish, until one day i stumbled on a recipe for lamb and lettuce stew with avgolemono sauce in an excellent Modern Greek cookbook and decided to give it a try. It tasted delightfully familiar sour (lemon vs sorrel), flavored with typical russian herbs of dill and scallions. Note the eggs were still there though present in a different form, as a thickening for the sauce, instead of a sour cream.

The version in the book calls for romaine but since then i made the stew many times using different sturdy greens: romaine or escarole for silky texture vs chicory rough (actually like nettles). 

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Shy Boy, She Devil, And Isis

We went to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to see couple of new craft exhibitions – on jewelry and fiber. Instead we spent all the time at just opened Shy Boy, She Devil, And Isis, Conceptual Craft from Wornick Collection. More than 100 objects, mostly three dimensional with some wall art. Wood pieces were especially eye opening… No wonder – it occurs that Wornicks were initially collecting what they would call "sculptural wood vessels" (the interview and some wood works from their collection are available at youtube here).

Art Knowledge News has some pictures and an excellent description of the exhibition (not so much so on the MFA site itself).


Couldn’t resist getting the exhibition catalog – besides excellent photos of all presented objects it contains essays on several interesting subjects – craft vs art, the materialization of arts, the role of private collectors…

And i keep thinking that exhibitions like this seriously raise the bar for craft artists: it’s hard not to measure works we will encounter on the next arts and craft fair we visit against it. 

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