Monday, June 29, 2009

Temporary Kitchen

We are finally set up in our temporary apartment while post-flood restoration work goes on in our house. While it's pretty roomy for a short term rental, and the building itself has lots of great amenities, the kitchen is lacking many of the cooking implements that I would consider basic. It's actually more limited than most beach rentals. Plus, the cabinet space is pretty limited and we're here for such a short time that I don't want to bulk up on pantry items. As a result, I've realized how truly spoiled I am in my kitchen with all my toys and tons of pantry space.
This last weekend, after the chaos of moving into the apartment and moving the better part of our possessions out of the house and into storage, and the consecutive nights of carryout, I got down to some serious healthier cooking. I had to be a bit creative as there are many items I don't have here - though I did run out to Home Goods and buy an inexpensive chef's knife and a couple of spoons, and scored a salad spinner for $2.99 at Target.
Saturday morning I went to my usual farm stand in Garrett Park and stocked up on fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit. I then headed over to the Kensington farm stand at the train station and bought 3 pounds of mussels. After a quick stop at sub*urban for a baguette and some buratta cheese, I was set. Dinner that night was a tomato and burrata salad, steamed broccoli and mussels with Barilla Plus thin spaghetti. We had a houseguest, so I probably went a little overboard serving both pasta and a baguette. Generally, I'd serve one or the other. I did, however, have to cook the pasta first and let it sit in a bowl with a touch of olive oil after draining it, as I only have one pot large enough for pasta or three pounds of mussels.
Mussels are a great dish to serve family or even when you are entertaining. They are very inexpensive (I think I paid $2.99 per pound), filling, healthy, easy to prepare and delicious. There is very little preparation these days as most mussels these days are cultivated and are relatively beard-free.
The method I use for mussels is not a hard and fast recipe, and you can adapt this to suit your taste and what you have in the house. There are any number of delicious possibilities. As I have a limited pantry right now, I simply used diced up onion, celery and garlic scapes (I happened to see them at the farmstand -you can just use a couple of cloves of regular garlic) in a little olive oil as a base, and then added a glug or two of dry white wine in which to steam the mussels and a touch of parsley to finish. You could easily add a little diced bacon or pancetta at the beginning if you like as well. I kept it meat free this time.

Steamed Mussels

(serves 4 - 6)

1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 stalks celery, diced
1 small or 1/2 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch salt and pepper
1 cup dry white wine or vermouth
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 pounds fresh mussels, rinsed and debearded (pull off any hairy bits)

Heat a large pot on medium heat. Add the olive oil and the celery, onion and garlic. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. When the onion and celery are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes, add the wine, raise the heat and bring to a boil. Add the parsley and then the mussels to the pot. Cover pot. Lower the heat to a rolling simmer and cook for about 5 - 10 minutes. I used to follow the "rule" that you should cook the mussels only until the shells open, but the last couple of times I made them, that wasn't enough time and the mussels were stringy and undercooked. I would check the pot after 5 minutes and look inside a few of the mussels and check to see if they look like they are a plump, thumblike shape rather than a gooey mess stretched to the inside of the shells!

Serve over thin spaghetti or linguini or with a baguette to sop up the juices.

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