Friday, December 16, 2011

Wine Poached Mussels

Scott left this morning to run errands in the city and Lily and Dawn took off to do some Christmas shopping, so I was blissfully alone to bake, bake, bake. Farmers Market is in the morning and bread was on my agenda. Scott came in around 5 and I knew he'd be hungry, so I made these Wine Poached Mussels. In 15 minutes, we were seated at the table with three big bowls in front of us...two empty ones for us to fill and another for the mussel shells. Farmed Mussels are a sustainable seafood and considered eco friendly. They are also incredibly cheap-our local grocery has them for $1.83 for a one pound frozen package. This is how I make them  (I wish I had pictures but these are so easy, there is no need...besides I forgot to take any). Set a fairly deep skillet (I use a French skillet) on the stove and set heat to medium. Pour about 1 1/2 to 2 cups white wine into the skillet. Add the juice of 1/2 a lemon and about 2 Tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces. Crush up about 3/4 teaspoon saffron into the mixture and let it come to a simmer. Open the bag of frozen mussels (you always cook these from their frozen state-don't thaw them) and pour into the skillet. I used 2 pounds (2 bags) because we are gluttons really like mussels. Cover the pan and nudge the heat a bit higher-medium high-and let the mussels cook for about 15 minutes. After about 8 minutes, take the lid off the pan and scoop the mussels so the ones on top go to the bottom. Cover the pan and continue to cook. They are done when you take off the lid and most all the mussels are open. While they are cooking, slice some good bread (usually in abundance at our house) REALLY thin and place on a cookie sheet. Pop in the oven at about 400 degrees. When the mussels are done, the bread should be crisp. I cut the bread diagonally and we put a slice or two in our bowls, scoop a bunch of mussels out of their shells onto the bread and then ladle lots of the cooking liquid over the bread and mussels. Heavenly. I will admit that after dinner I poured the remaining "broth" into a cup and drank it. It took us longer to eat this dinner than it took to make it. When I am busy, this is my kind of cooking.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

RAIN! And Browned Butter Snickerdoodles...

Mild weather in the Texas Hill least for the time being. Misty, moisty mornings and breezy, wet afternoons. Received almost an inch of precipitation overnight...a slow, soaking, drizzly rain. Temps have remained very comfortable with the days in the 60's, but that is coming to a screeching halt starting tomorrow night with a cold front moving in. It's about time! Monday and Tuesday may reach the 40's in the daytime, but will plummet to the 20's at night. Winter weather!!!
Rain keeps me inside and that, combined with the Holiday Season, means lots of baking. Indeed, I sometimes wake at 4 a.m. thinking about things to bake. I know...obsessed...what can I say?
And my major obsession lately has been Browned Butter or rather, baking with it. It is a delight from beginning to end. Yeah, it's an extra step, but you can brown lots ahead of time and then use it as you need it. I browned 1 1/2 pounds of butter yesterday and used every last bit of it this morning in one recipe. Granted, I am making LOTS of cookie dough, but I just as easily could have weighed out the 8 ounces I needed and put the rest in the fridge. It smells heavenly as it is browning (and to me this is the ultimate way to know when it is adequately browned) and elevates everything it comes in contact with. And not just baked goods...try it on fresh steamed green beans, brussels sprouts, asparagus or delicate fish-think tilapia!
But for now I have cookies on my brain, so the entire batch of browned butter went into a jumbo recipe of Snickerdoodles. Laurice Heath is responsible for the original Snickerdoodle recipe I've used for years. I used to make them for every rug hooking retreat I catered for her...and the retreats numbered well over a hundred. Over the years I have changed it ever so slightly to include toffee bits and now to make them with browned butter. A really good Holiday recipe, because the dough can be made in advance, rolled in balls and refrigerated or frozen. When you are ready to make cookies, simply bring the balls to room temp, roll in cinnamon-sugar and bake!
My last post included a description of how to brown butter, but I thought pictures may help. Remember to go low and slow and use your eyes and nose as a guide when you are reaching the end.
Start with melting unsalted butter in a heavy, light colored skillet (the light color allows you to see the progress of the browning).
The butter will foam and bubble.
You'll begin to notice brown bits on the bottom of the pan (under the foamy stuff), but the butter will be golden, not yet brown. Keep the heat low and swirl the pan a bit if you are bored.
You may start detecting a nutty smell. You'll want the solids (the browned bits on the bottom of the pan) pretty dark and the liquid on top to be amber colored. When it is ready the nutty smell is strong and the solids need to be scraped off the bottom of the pan. Don't neglect the solids...I think they carry lots of the flavor and a nice color to the finished product. Although I've seen recipes where the butter is strained so it is nice and clear, to me this is the white bread of browned butter...all the good stuff left behind.
It might be easier to distinguish the colors in this pic where the butter is poured into a white bowl.
At this point just let the butter cool and then store in the fridge or freezer.When it cools it solidifys to the texture of shortening. Try the browned butter in a recipe you already make and see what a subtle, but delicious change it makes.
Here is the Snickerdoodle recipe for you. You can make it with regular unsalted butter-not browned-and you won't be dissappointed. You can also make it with or without toffee bits...good each way. It is really just a great recipe however you decide to dress it up or down. Thanks, Laurice!!
Laurice's Snickerdoodles

2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, room temp (brown it or not-your choice)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 2/3 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup toffee bits (optional)

Cream butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix again. Add flour, soda, cream of tartar, salt and toffee bits, if using and mix to blend. Roll into balls and then roll in cinnamon-sugar. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. Cookies will be soft to touch. Cool on rack. About 3 dozen cookies. You can roll these into balls and then freeze or refrigerate them. When you need cookies (and sometimes we just NEED cookies, don't we?), bring however many cookie balls you need to room temp, roll in cinnamon-sugar and bake. If the dough is still cold, flatten them a bit before baking.

We finished our huge Thanksgiving gig last Sunday and this year, I took some pics. Not of the meals, or the techniques of creating the meals, but-strangely enough-of the table settings. I've always marveled how my life has turned out, that my profession is a cook, because I've joked that the only thing domestic about me is that I was born in this country. But still, my true joy happens in the kitchen. When I began the job of feeding the masses at Thanksgiving, I found cabinet after cabinet filled with different patterns of dishes, glasses, napkins and placemats. It was, truth be told, a bit overwhelming for me. Now, after 8 years, it is a really fun part of my job. Weird, huh? So I thought I would share some of the tables I set during the week. I'm not sure what this says about me, but here it is.