Monday, 18 January 2010

Mussel Power

And the weekend is over, but not without another little culinary triumph for me. Saturday night I was not required to cook as we were at a friend's place and they treated us to a late lunch of veggie tacos, and we weren't in need of any dinner after that. Sunday we went food shopping and decided to undertake mussels. This decision stemmed from the fact that we'd had mussels at a restaurant a couple of weeks ago and they were absolutely fabulous. I had not had them for quite a while and had forgotton how much of a treat they can be if cooked nicely. And the 'if cooked nicely' is the operative phrase there. If they are done well then they are tender and tasty with a nice sauce which you mop up with some warm garlic bread. If they are not done well they can be like eating rubber with a sprinkling of grit in a sauce that is not unlike warmed-up seawater. So ordering them at a restaurant is always a gamble, but one that paid off this time. As I have never cooked fresh (i.e. alive) mussels before I was up for the challenge this weekend, and luckily Sainsburys had fresh mussels in stock which must have been a sign as I have never seen them there before. As the nice fish counter man scooped some up for us I could not help feeling slightly guilty that these poor, innocent mussels were being wrenched from their nice, cosy tank and being thrown into a plastic bag for us to carry home and subsequently steam alive. But putting my conscience aside I tossed them into the trolley and went on my way.

When we got home we had to do a little research online about the procedure for cleaning and preparing mussels as we didn't have much clue on what to do with them. After browsing various websites we had a good idea of the process and left the mussels in some cold, clean water so that they could expel any grit that they had inside them. This is an important step as there is nothing worse then biting down on a delicious mussel and ending up crunching down on sand, yuck! So, after an hour in the cold water we proceeded to clean the little guys. Jel pulled the beards out, as this part requires some force and hand strength, and I scrubbed them clean. By the time we had done them all there was a lot of grit and dirt in the water, so their hour-long swim really did a lot of good. After the cleaning they went into the pot with 200ml white wine on a high heat to steam for 5-6 mins until they had all opened. Then I poured them out into a sieve and reserved the cooking water which i strained through a fine sieve to get rid of any remaining grit. After cooking some leeks in butter on the hob I added the reserved cooking liquor and aloowed to boil and reduce for 10 mins or so, then added some black pepper and a good glug of cream. Then back in with the mussels to make sure they are warm and mixed up with the sauce, and into a serving dish. And they were good. Grit-free, tender and the simple sauce was perfect, with a few good chunks of garlic bread it was a lovely Sunday night dinner.

I don't generally make desserts in the week, partly to save my waistline and partly because after getting home from the gym in the evening all my time goes on dinner, but as it was weekend I thought we deserved a treat. If you can't treat yourself on the weekend when can you? I had picked up a few fresh figs on Saturday and I recalled seeing Jamie Oliver cook them in his 'Christmas Special' and they looked lovely, and as I'd never cooked fresh figs before I thought it was worth a go. It is remarkably simple. Cut the figs in half and place in a baking tray, sprinkle with orange/clementine zest, cinnamon and a little sugar and cook for a few hours at a low temperature (110 deg). Serve on Bruschetta with goats cheese and lashings of honey. I love goats cheese and the combination of the creamy, salty cheese with the figs and sweet honey is absolutely heavenly and finished off the dinner with a decadent flourish.

Tonight I have been abandoned by my man so I am flying solo and making myself Nigella's 'Cuban Cure Black Bean Soup'. Its not that I need a cure but I am in love with Chorizo and the combination of fire and flavour in the recipe looks fabulous.

So until tomorrow, happy cooking x

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