A Little Sunshine [Moules Frites with Aioli]
I have not come here to tell you about the rain. Really, I haven’t. I will save those rants until at least next week when you might have forgotten that it’s all I seem to be doing lately. Spring in Ottawa is usually on the wet side, but never as much as this year. I’ve seriously considered sleeping in my rain boots since they seem to be on my feet more often than not. OK, I complained a little. I just can’t help it.
Though I’d usually be hard pressed to find a bright side to the ever-grey gloom that is Ottawa in April, I have to admit that this past weekend was an eye opener. A wonderfully warm, and sunny awakening that was appreciated that much more as a result of the grey days that preceded it. After on and off weeks of seeing umbrellas where faces would normally exist, there was no better reward than seeing the ear-to-ear grins of just about anyone who timidly stepped foot outside their front doors. And as though it was planned just for us, the weather decided to agree, not a second too soon, in time for our local Farmers Market to kick off the season.
This is Mr. GL. He’s usually the first to run for cover from my lens, but I got him this time.
As we weren’t sure how long this token from Mother Nature would last, we wanted to be sure to soak it all in as best we could. And if you know me, you know that means eating outside on the balcony. Of course, we were surrounded by stacked bins, my bicycle, planters filled with last year’s soil, and a barbecue (we haven’t had sun long enough to warrant prepping the balcony for summer), we still enjoyed every little ray of sunshine that graciously cloaked our skin.
Undoubtedly, one of the best parts of Moules Frites is using the mussel shells to pick at your frites.
While out on our Sunday jaunt, Mr GL and I found ourselves at a family run fish market that boasted some pretty lovely looking mussels. And what better to sit outside and pick at lazily than a batch of mussels…and maybe some french fries. If you’re unfamiliar with Moules Frites (Mussels & Fries), it’s something you should try and aquaint yourself with sooner rather than later. Primarily a Belgian or French bistro treat, they are the perfect meal to share with friends over loud, excited conversation, or perfectly acceptable to share over pints of Belgian beers on a lax date night. Of course, as you might have guessed, Mr GL did not take part in the eating of mussels, but rather, a crispy roasted chicken leg. Because mussels are such a cinch to make, it’s easy to make a batch for one. Don’t let a picky eater hold you back from the joys of the poor man’s shellfish.
If you hadn’t already gathered from previous posts, I have a dipping problem. A serious one. I will dip anything into anything, so it goes without saying that these frites were not complete without a creamy dip to accompany them. If you’ve been avoiding aioli, defined as a garlic mayonnaise but often refers to any flavoured mayo, because you think it’s a fancy dip that takes time and many ingredients to create, you’d be sadly mistaken. It’s one of the easiest dips and even you, yes you, the kitchen novice, can whip it up in mere seconds with a few kitchen staples.
Moules Frites with Garlic Aoili
I steamed my mussels in Hoegaarten, a white wheat beer, but the steaming liquid variations are endless. White wine, Absinthe, Beer, Stock…. so feel free to switch it up for a change in pace.
The mussel recipe is enough for one. Double the mussels, beer, cream and Dijon mustard for two.
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk, room temperature
1 cup canola, plus more for frying
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
5-6 russet potatoes, cut into 1/4” thick sticks
1lb mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
1 leek, sliced thin (light green and white parts only)
2 tbsp butter
1 cup wheat beer
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Add the salt and garlic to a mortar and, using your pestle, grind them together until a garlic paste forms.
In a bowl, add the Dijon, egg yolk and garlic paste. Whisk until combined. Whisking constantly (put a towel under the bowl to keep it from wobbling around), add the oil in a slow steady stream until it starts to emulsify and thicken. Whisk in the lemon juice. Set aside.
In a 6qt (or larger) pot over medium-high heat, pour canola oil to a depth of 2”. When oil reads 375 on a deep-fry thermometer, add potatoes and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer fries to a wire rack to cool. Increase oil temperature to 385. Working in batches, add fries to oil and cook until golden brown and crisp. 4-5 minutes. Return fries to rack and season with salt.
If your fries are a little too greasy, which can happen if your oil isn’t hot enough, put them in a preheated 400 oven for 10 minutes.
In a large pot over medium heat, add the butter. Once melted and bubbling, add the sliced leeks and cook until tender and soft, 5 minutes. Pour in the beer and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the mussels, turn the heat down to a simmer, and cover. Cook until mussels have opened, 5 -6 minutes. Any mussels that have no opened after 5-6 minutes should be discarded. Transfer mussels to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. Remove pot from heat and add cream, a little at a time, whisking it into the mussel broth. Whisk in Dijon and add mussels back to pot.
Serve mussels with frites and aioli. And be sure to have an extra bowl around for discarded shells.
I also needed to make mention, once again, about the pie we got from Hall’s Apple Market at the Ottawa Farmers Market on Sunday. It was one of the most delicious pies I’ve had in a long time. It boasts a tender, flaky crust and is filled to the brim with beautifully sweet and tangy wild blueberries. It goes without saying that I will be back, perhaps multiple times, over the summer.
Ok, I know. I have been noticeably absent from my usual indented spot on the couch, with my usual glass of pinot noir, and my usual (not very) witty comments this week. I’m still coming down from the brain melt that was a wedding cake. Don’t get me wrong, I am so glad I did it. And would 100% do it again… but it was a lot of work and a lot of thought and a lot of butter and egg whites. It’s scary having even the tiniest piece of someones special-est of days in your hands. I wanted it to be perfect. And while it wasn’t perfect, I think it was as close as I was meant to get.
I’ve spent this week trying to get my kitchen back in order, eating mostly things that can be poured out of a cardboard box (that’s right. I eat Kraft Dinner. With hot dogs, sometimes. And I don’t feel one measly little bit bad about it.) and mostly just laying around like a furry sloth. I did, however, make one specific thing. One that I promised I would share. And I wanted to make sure I did before Thanksgiving (Canadian Thanksgiving, that is). Before I share, I need to ask you to please, please, keep an open mind about this one. I know it’s something that not a lot of people love the way I do.
Brussels Sprouts. An acquired taste for some, a passionate love to others. I am a member of the latter group. I have never not loved Brussels sprouts. In a strange way, I think they made me feel like one of the grown ups when I was younger. “Ohhh Kelly likes Brussels sprouts?! No kids like Brussels sprouts. She’s so brave and mature!”. I don’t think it really worked the way I thought it did. At all. But I still do love them. And up until about a year ago, I had no idea just how wonderful they could be. Molly Wizenburg (of Orangette - which I’ve gushed about too many times to name) posted a recipe ages ago for Cream Braised Brussels Sprouts. I can’t make this recipe without remembering a note she wrote about them:
”I don’t know what’s gotten into me, but I love this recipe. My stomach literally coos like a baby at the thought of it. I could lap up a plate of this stuff like a cat with a bowl of milk.”
There just isn’t any better way to describe these sprouts. The cream washes away any bitterness from them, leaving behind a warm blanket of nutty, creamy, earthy flavour. They are beautiful. And this year, I’m giving thanks for them. Among other things. But mostly for them.
If you care about your friends and family, you’ll bring them a dish of these Brussels Sprouts so they can be shared and cherished among your most loved. They make a beautiful side dish to whatever you’re serving on your Thanksgiving spread, be it Turkey, Ham, or a full on Veggiving!
Cream-Braised Brussels Sprouts
Buying good sprouts is important for this dish. The bigger the sprout, the more bitter they are. Look for small to medium sized sprouts with tight shiny leaves.
1 ¼ lb. Brussels sprouts
3 Tbs unsalted butter
¼ tsp coarse sea salt, plus more to taste
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
First, prep the Brussels sprouts. Trim the stem end of each sprout and pull off any ragged or nasty outer leaves. Cut the sprouts in half from stem end to tip, and then cut each half in half again. Ultimately, you want little wedges.
In a large heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the sprouts and the salt and cook, stirring every minute or so, until browned in some spots. Let them get fairly well browned in some spots, this will give them a really nice caramelized flavour.
(about halfway through browning)
Add the cream and stir well, pulling up the stuck-on bits from the bottom of the skillet. Let the cream come to a light simmer and put the lid on.
Simmer until the sprouts are easily pierced with a fork. The cream should be reduced and will be a light tan colour. Add lemon juice. Stir and taste for seasoning. Let simmer with the lid off until the cream thickens and coats the sprouts.
(this photo is from a point and shoot camera from years ago. I totally ate every single sprout before I remembered that I should have taken a photo to share with you. It wasn’t very generous of me. In fact it was down right greedy. And I wouldn’t change a minute of it.)
Happy Thanksgiving, friends! Don’t forget to say thank you to all the people you love for being the best ever. I know I’ll be thanking my lucky stars that I’m surrounded by such lovely people all the time. xo.
Heavenly Green Pasta
I wasn’t planning on posting today. Mostly because I figured I’d be having something boring and typical for dinner… until I saw this on Pinch My Salt. Farfalle with PISTACHIO CREAM SAUCE.
GET OUT OF FRIGGING TOWN! Pistachios… and cream?! Who is this and how does (s)he know my inner most desires? This was too good to be so easy. Great for a dinner-for-one but impressive and delicious enough to entertain with. It just doesn’t get any better.
Farfalle with Pistachio Cream Sauce
8oz Farfalle (about 5 cups uncooked) or Penne
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced fine
1/4-1/3 C unsalted pistachios, ground in a food processor/blender
1/2-3/4C heavy cream
Cayenne pepper, few pinches depending on taste
salt and pepper to taste
Parmigiano Reggiano to serve
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente (my whole wheat farfalle took 10 minutes to become al dente). Strain and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, heat some olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the diced onion and cook until just translucent. Don’t let it get brown. Add the ground pistachio and mix. If they are already like a paste, don’t add any more olive oil. If the mixture is still slightly dry, add just enough olive oil to make it into a paste. Add the cayenne pepper. Taste it and add salt to taste. I used salted pistachios so extra salt was not necessary.
Add the cream and let it reduce a little until it coats the back of a spoon.
Toss strained pasta and sauce together and serve with lots of fresh ground pepper, remaining 2tbsp of ground pistachios and Parmesan!
…and get ready to fall in love.
(I did not enjoy this. At all. Obviously.)