Sunday, November 8, 2009

Men With Mussels, Curried Mussels That Is

There is a restaurant in Paris called Academie de la Biere, or literally translated, The Beer Academy. It sounds like the ultimate Man Cave, but it is a fun restaurant with half as many beer choices than days on the calendar! Now there's a thought! The long tables are often filled with young men as they "study" the choices at the Academie! You can click on the pic to see the many beers to choose from. I'm not a beer drinker and always look for recommendations, since some of these beers are from Belgium micro breweries. Sometimes you may even be given a sample before committing...what's not to like about that? If you can't decide, you can always default to wine. And then there are the mussels and frites...mussels meunière, mussels moutarde, curried mussels...and even m-m-m-more choices. If you are lucky you have a friend beside you who likes to share!! I always look them over, making sure to only eat the ones that open, since all it takes is one bad one to send you to a place you don't want to go to!Yesterday I went to my local fish market and bought 2 pounds of Prince Edward Island mussels. I wanted curried mussels and thought I'd add some coconut milk to give them a different punch. With Asian undertones they don't taste like their Parisian inspiration, but they are delicious alone as a starter or as I had them, with linguine.

Curried Mussels
With Coconut Milk
(I adapted this from an epicurious.com recipe and changed some of the ingredients for my taste.)

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped shallots
2 tablespoons Madras curry powder*
1 1/2 cups dry white wine**
1 14 ounce can unsweetened coconut milk

1 3-4 inch piece lemon grass, sliced lengthwise
2 small bay leaves
2 pounds mussels, cleaned, scrubbed and debearded

sea salt to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

*The quality of the curry powder defines this this dish, so use the best you can get.
**I chose a Chardonnay for its fuller flavor that works well curry.
Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add shallots and curry powder; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add coconut milk, wine, lemon grass and bay leaves; simmer 10 minutes. Add mussels. Increase heat, cover and boil until mussels open, about 6 minutes. Using tongs, place mussels in 4 bowls (discard any mussels that do not open). Boil sauce until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes or more. Season with salt and pepper; discard bay leaves. Spoon sauce over mussels. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Serves 4.

Click here for tips for cleaning mussels.
Curried Mussels With Coconut Milk recipe (pdf)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

For The Birds, Rose Crème Brûlée


Sometimes series of events seem connected and not really coincidental at all, as in my week of Rainbows, Diamonds, Trust and Fortunes. The following week, I was presented with a much less dramatic and much more fun set of coincidences. In the 1920's Carl Jung introduced his Theory of Synchronicity, to explain such events. My son Zac, who is a very pragmatic engineering major, usually quotes the Baader-Meinhof phenonenom as a reason. Whatever the reason or theory, I am still fascinated when certain sets of coincidences occur. For instance, take my day in Paris a few weeks ago. I love birds and roses, so naturally I take notice when I see them, in whatever form. But, I can't tell you how many times I have been in the St. Michel RER stop and casually enjoyed the mosaic on the wall as you exit, but never really took conscious notice of the bird form.  My friend Laura took a shot of me walking past this lyrical art.

We then exited and crossed the river towards Notre Dame, and it really wasn't anything unusual to see a flock of birds flying and enjoying the afternoon by the bridge. I snapped a pic and we then carried on to discover an event in front of Notre Dame heralding a giant white dove! The wings flapped in the gentle breeze as we stood beneath it.
This couple looked on....somebody should've told them not to feed the pigeons!
There were some lonely late blooming roses that were mainly remarkable in that they were still in bloom. It was a Sunday afternoon and the service was just beginning in Notre Dame. This gray bird at the entrance almost seemed to be part of the architecture. 
The late afternoon sun streamed in through the Rose Windows giving the inside of the 

cathedral a warm glow.
It doesn't matter what religion you practice or don't practice, as the choir sings and the music plays, the all encompassing spiritual presence can be strongly felt. Feeling full of light, we left and walked along rue Chanoinesse to go by Au Vieux Paris, a restaurant that my friend Debbie wanted to point out. 
Yes, charming faux birds graced the front!
We didn't eat there, but enjoyed the old world ambience. Ambling along toward Isle St. Louis, I was telling Debbie and Laura what I'd learned about Herkimer Diamonds through my Rainbows, Diamonds, Trust and Fortune experience the previous week. We crossed the street and looked up to surprisingly see this sparkling mineral shop. Giving each other an astonished and knowing look, we went in.
"Do you have Herkimer Diamonds?", I asked. "Bien Sur", was the reply, and I was shown two magnificent examples. O-o-o-K, so I guess there are more chapters to this story yet! After a very satisfying dinner on Isle St. Louis, we were reflecting on our day of birds and roses and on the amazing Rose Crème Brûlée with our meal the night before. I've never had a flaming Rose Crème Brûlée, and following the oohs and ahhs, we were stunned by the shape the dancing flame displayed!


Rose Crème Brûlée
(adapted from Paula Dean's Crème Brûlée)

2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2-1 teaspoon rose water*
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3-1/2 cup raw turbinado or brown sugar
*Diane's notes: 1/2 teaspoon gives a subtle yet hardly discernible rose flavor. Increase the rose water up to 1 teaspoon to your preference of rose flavor. I prefer just a hint of rose flavoring.


Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

In a heavy-bottomed medium non-reactive saucepan, heat cream with vanilla bean over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring to ensure it does not burn; do not let boil. Remove from heat and let steep for 15 minutes. Remove and discard the vanilla bean, or save for another use. Strain cream through a fine mesh sieve (if using vanilla bean). Add desired amount of rose water.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, beat egg yolks with an electric mixer on high speed for 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar. Add about half the cream mixture, a little at a time, to the egg mixture, whisking until well blended. Then pour the egg mixture into the remaining cream mixture. Stir until completely blended.
Pour the custard into 4 (9-ounce) or 6 (6ounce) ramekins or custard cups. Place the dishes in large baking pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the mixture is set in the center (it should still wiggle when shaken). Carefully remove the dishes from the baking pan. Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours. Let crème brûlée stand at room temperature 20 minutes before serving.
Divide 1/3 to 1/2 cup turbinado or light brown sugar in a thin, even layer over each custard, covering it completely. To caramelize the sugar, light a culinary propane torch and hold it so the flame just touches the surface. Alternatively, it may be caramelized under the broiler.
Start at the center and spiral out toward the edges of the ramekins until the sugar melts and lightly browns. If the sugar begins to burn, pull the torch away and blow on the sugar to extinguish the flame.
Garnish with a fresh rose petal. Serve immediately.
Makes 4-9 ounce or 6-6 ounce servings.
Rose Crème Brûlée recipe (pdf)

As I was writing this I got a call from my friend, Christine and we were discussing the Rainbows, Diamonds, Trust, and Fortunes post. Knowing me well, I discovered she thought I was making a play on words with the Joan Baez song, "Diamonds and Rust". After listening to it, I was chilled by the lyrics and the synchronicity of them. Another chapter added as the beat goes on.....Thanks Christine for yet another new layer to those events.