Back when I got pregnant a YEAR ago (because what’s up: you’re pregnant for 10 months, hello, fifth grade health class you’ve got some curriculum updates to do) I became wildly uninterested in anything that wasn’t bread. Or cheese. Or melted cheese on bread. For a while, I think the Husband thought he had basically won the lottery. Pizza every night sans those pesky vegetables. Holler.
However, even though I slowly re-introduced important food groups into my diet (thanks, Ben & Jerry’s, for all the support), mussels — something I have loved since I was a very small child — never made it back to the rotation. In fact, until about three weeks ago, the very thought of mussels made me feel unhappy. This made my husband feel unhappy.
To celebrate two months sans pregnancy, we had mussels, and they were delicious. (Thanks to the one & only Ina for the recipe.)
Mussels with White Wine & Tomato Saffron Sauce
2-3 pounds mussels (or at least a pound a person)
big scoop of all-purpose flour
big pinch saffron threads
2 tablespoons butter
3-4 large shallots, chopped OR a large sweet onion
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
15 oz can chopped tomatoes, juice drained
lots of chopped parsley
about a cup of white wine
Clean your mussels: add them to a large bowl or pot with lots of cold water. Add the flour, and let soak for 45 minutes. Drain and then remove the beards by hand, bringing it toward the hinge and then pulling it gently off. Throw out any noticeably bad mussels and give the whole batch another good rinse.
Meanwhile, add the saffron to a half a cup hot water and let soak for about 15 minutes.
In a large pot, add butter and olive oil and melt down over medium heat. Add shallots or onion; cook until translucent and then add the garlic and cook for 3 more minutes. Add the tomatoes, saffron & saffron-flavored water, parsley, thyme, wine, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil.
Add mussels, stir it all together and then cover the pot. Cook over medium heat for about 8 minutes, or until the mussels open up. You don’t want to undercook them – gross – and you don’t want to overcook them, either – rubbery. Discard any that do not open. Another sprinkle of parsley won’t hurt anyone, either.
Serve immediately, with garlic bread for the critical step of dipping into the sauce.
Every so often, you need to get fancy. As in: fancy = your highest heels + your reddest lipstick + the expensive bottle of wine you’ve been saving.
Or, when you’re gestating a human, and you want to put on your best lined slippers and your size-up yoga pants…the good news is you can still cook with really fancy ingredients, to make up for the wine you’re missing. I’m talking those things you bought when you went to the specialty kitchen store or spice bazaar and your husband was like, seriously? Do we even have room in the cabinets? When are we going to use these things? And you give him a look that says: this is already done. You know what I’m talking about.
Saffron, fennel seeds, calasparra rice, all in one dish. You can even wear red lipstick.
Artichoke + Fennel Seed Paella
two white or yellow onions, chopped
2 bell peppers (I used an orange and a green)
5 garlic cloves, minced
small handful fennel seeds
small handful saffron threads
4 cups vegetable stock
1 and 1/4 cup calasparra rice (super hard to find – you can substitute another short grain rice like bomba or calrose)
1 cup dry sherry or white wine
bunch parsley, washed and roughly chopped
small handful smoked paprika
1 jar or can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
other vegetables as you please: grape tomatoes, scallions, spinach, etc.
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add a bit of olive oil and then onions + peppers and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. While these cook, pour the veggie stock into a bowl with the saffron and allow that tasty goodness to infuse the broth.
Add garlic and fennel seeds to the pan, saute for another few minutes, or until onions begin to brown. Turn the heat up and then add a bit more olive oil, add the rice and cook for a few minutes. Pour in the sherry or wine and cook until the liquid mostly evaporates.
Add salt, pepper, parsley, and smoked paprika – stir and cook for a minute or two. Pour in the stock, turn down the heat to medium again and leave your paella alone. No really. No stirring. Let the rice cook in that beautiful stock until there is just a tiny bit of liquid bubbling on top – about 10-15 minutes.
Add the artichokes and/or other vegetables into the top of the rice and push them down (again, taking care not to stir the rice). Cook another 5-10 minutes, then turn off the heat and cover the whole thing, in order to let all the liquid absorb.
Just before serving, squeeze the juice from the lemon all over the paella and scatter with parsley.
This paella gets even better on days 2 + 3 (which is a good news because this is a LOT for two people, even one person who counts as 1.5). Depending on your level of love for artichokes (mine is quite high) I might even suggest doubling up on those. Get really fancy.
I love getting dressed up. I love drinking champagne. I love rocking out way too hard on the dance floor with the Husband. I love the many, multiple reasons to come home to Boston and see my friends.
And I love going to bridal showers hosted by my mom.
A little over a year ago, my mom called me in a panic. She’d offered to do the bridal shower for her BFF’s daughter, but now she didn’t know what that actually entailed. Food? Decor? Drinks? She was supposed to figure out GAMES!?! She asked me if it’d be appropriate to call in sick, citing European-ness. (According to my mom the German, Europeans just don’t DO showers.) She made her delicious Beef Bourgouignon, and needless to say, the shower was amazing.
Last night, my mom hosted a shower for another friend’s daughter. As we cleaned up the kitchen, she turned to me and said, “this is just the most wonderful tradition.”
Agreed, Mom. Made all the more wonderful by this lobster paella. That’s right. Lobster paella.
Lobster Paella (Recipe adapted from Ina Garten)
2-3 chopped yellow onions
2-3 red bell peppers, sliced
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups basmati rice
4 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
salt & pepper (about a teaspoon each)
1/3 cup Pernod or Ouzo
1.5-2 pounds cooked lobster meat
1 pound cooked shrimp
1 pound kielbasa, sliced
1 package frozen peas
for serving: parsley, lemon wedges
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Heat olive oil in large, ovenproof Dutch oven. Add onions and cook over medium-low heat for 5-6 minutes. Add bell peppers and cook an additional 5 minutes. Lower heat, add minced garlic and cook another minute. Stir in rice, chicken stock, saffron, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover pot and place it in the oven.
Cook in the oven for about 12 minutes, remove, stir rice gently, and return to the oven to bake uncovered for an additional 10 minutes (or until rice is fully cooked).
Remove from oven and transfer back to the stove top. Add Ouzo or Pernod and cook over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed. Turn off the heat; add lobster, shrimp, kielbasa, and peas. Cover and allow to steam through, about 10 minutes, so all of the protein heats through. Sprinkle with lemon and/or parsley and serve hot.
That was one happy bride-to-be. And for an extra bonus round, we sent guests home with peppermint patties from Chequessett Chocolate and felt mighty pleased with ourselves. (We kept the leftovers for us!)
We had a very appropriately 30-something New Year’s Eve, replete with dinner guests, champagne, a charcuterie board, and of course, a game of vodka roulette (the Husband either won or lost, depending on your point of view. The next morning, he felt he had definitely lost). Totally approp.
Our dinner party plans were a little impromptu, and with a couple of guests with dietary restrictions, it was the prefect opportunity to deploy a recipe from Plenty, one of my THREE Christmas present cookbooks. (Apparently, cookbooks are what you get for Christmas the year you start a blog. This is mostly inspiring, though a bit terrifying, as they are beyond gorgeous. And I’m not talking just the food or the photos, either. How does someone raise seven children and a gaggle of dogs and look like this?)
Vegetable Paella For Six (Yotam Ottolenghi, with a few tweaks)
1 onion, sliced
2 orange bell peppers, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and sliced
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 carton baby Bella mushrooms
6 bay leaves
teaspoon smoked paprika
teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups rice (the recipe calls for Calasparra; I found this impossible to find and went with the medium grain Calrose instead)
12 tablespoons sherry
2 teaspoons saffron
4 cups of vegetable stock, brought to a boil
8 plum or Roma tomatoes, quartered
1 15 oz can artichoke hearts, well drained and cut into quarters
plenty of fresh parsley
If you’re serving this as a dinner party dish and want to get the timing done right, best to get your veggies prepped first. Cut up your onion, peppers, fennel, etc. and set aside. The rest of the dish takes about 45 minutes start to finish.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute about 6 minutes; add peppers and fennel and saute until they start to soften. Add garlic and mushrooms, cook an additional minute.
Boil your vegetable stock (your electric water boiler is perfect for this!)
Add bay leaf, turmeric, paprika, cayenne pepper and give the mixture a stir. Add the rice and stir it about for two minutes before adding the sherry and saffron. Let that cook off about a minute or so and then add your vegetable stock and a dash of salt (especially if you’re using low sodium broth!). Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 35 minutes or until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Don’t stir it.
When the rice has cooked through, taste it without disturbing it too much and adjust the seasonings. Add the tomatoes and artichokes to the top and then cover for about 10 minutes, to give a chance for the heat to gently cook them.
Serve with parsley and lemon wedges.
Fact: paella tastes better with seafood. That being said, this was very tasty rice with vegetables, and it had a pretty color, given the turmeric. No hay de que, por lo menos, ¡teníamos bastante cava!