Friends: Meet our Remodel

There are, of course, lots of good things about entertaining. There’s the ensuing laughter that comes with being with friends and family. The food is generally good and often are things that you only eat when you entertain or are entertained. Like Pigs in a Blanket. Can you imagine how odd it would be if Bill asked me what we were having for dinner and I told him little smoky links wrapped in crescent roll dough? But they are yummy, and often make an appearance at a cocktail party unless the Barefoot Contessa is hosting. In that case, you eat Tartare de Filet de Boueuf or Pissaladieres. Not a single little sausage in Ina Garten’s refrigerator. Poor Jeffrey. I wonder if sometimes he wishes he could just eat meatloaf with ketchup.

But at least for me, one of the good things about entertaining is that it requires me to clean the house. I’m not ashamed to admit I take a bit of prodding when it comes to homemaking — unless it’s cooking. My specialty? You guessed it. Pigs in a Blanket. I make them fancy by sprinkling on poppy seeds. I’m pretty sure then people think the party was catered…..

Bill and I invited our neighbors in last night to see the house remodel that he worked on all summer long and into the fall. Like me, they also listened to months of grinding and hammering and cutting because he had his work station set up on our front porch. We resembled the Beverly Hillbillies, and owed our neighbors some wine and Pigs in a Blanket.

By the way, I’m being a bit hard on myself. I also served Brie en Croute (which I can spell but can’t pronounce), hummus, and deviled eggs. That fancy thing that I can’t pronounce is actually just brie that is smeared with raspberry jam, covered in pecans, wrapped in store-bought puff pastry, and baked. Ina Garten doesn’t even make her own puff pastry.

My signature cocktail (having a signature drink is something I learned from my sister Jen who believes you can’t have a party without a signature drink) was prosecco with a splash of cranberry juice, garnished with a real cranberry. I spent the evening in silent prayer that no one would swallow the cranberry and require the Heimlich. My prayers were answered. But only because, contrary to Jen’s firm belief in a signature cocktail, my guests all drank wine.

But back to our remodeled house. Though we still have some things to do in the house – primarily painting and carpeting the bedrooms, which will happen next spring – we couldn’t be more pleased with the results. All of the pounding from May through October was worth it. I don’t have any BEFORE shots, but suffice it to say that 25 years ago, when I walked into this house, I loved it immediately; however, I told Bill that I wouldn’t be able to live with the carpeting or the paint color. It only took 25 years for the change to finally happen.

But here are some pictures of the final (ish) result…..

Prior to our remodel, the brick on the fireplace of our family room was a yellowish color and the carpet was an off-white that I hated about 15 minutes after it was installed. The rug was a gift from Bill’s brother Bruce.

The living room floor was covered in the carpeting that I said I would replace immediately. Finally, 25 years later. The sofa, chairs, and coffee table belonged to Bill’s mom, Wilma.

Bill installed wood floors in his office several years back, but they were a very light color. The floor was sanded and restained to match the other rooms.

The floors in the formal dining room were previously also hardwood of the same light color as Bill’s office and the kitchen.

The kitchen was the room about which I was most worried, having grown used to the light colored floors. I was delighted with how they turned out.

The stairway is perhaps my favorite area. Previously, they were carpeted in that same carmel-colored carpeting and the spindles were wooden. I love the fresh look of the metal spindles and the dark wood.

Bill did an immense amount of work, and it’s as good a job as any craftsman would have done. The job required removing the carpeting, removing the pressboard that lay underneath, installing plywood before finally nailing in the hardwood. He did that in two big rooms, the staircase, and the upstairs hallway. In addition, he removed circa 1970 wall paneling and put up drywall on one wall, and remove wallpaper from another wall. He painted our fireplace, installed canned lights in the family room, and redid the mantle.

And he has Parkinson’s disease. Go figure.

By the way, he had his semiannual appointment with his neurologist on Monday, and got another thumb’s up. Thank you God.

Cooking for Dummies

I feel like I’m not a great cook any more. I’m not horrible, but I feel like I’ve lost the patience necessary to be a tremendous cook. Almost daily I thank my lucky stars that I elected not to do a blog exclusively about cooking. Because some of my most recent failures would not offer a compelling read, unless my blog was entitled Cooking Blunders.

Take Monday night’s dinner, for example. No, seriously. Take it, because it was practically inedible. And God bless Bill because he doesn’t EVER complain about my cooking. So he bit into the pieces of completely charred Italian sausage and said something like, “Food Network would call this carmelized.”

It was such a nice try on his part, but the truth is Food Network would call it a cooking fail.

The recipe was simple. Tiny new potatoes, fresh green beans, sliced pieces of Italian sausage, seasoning, all doused in olive oil and put into a piece of aluminum foil. The foil was closed up to make a package, and cooked for 30 minutes on the grill. Easy, right?

Except that I should have double wrapped it in the foil because it cooked fine on the closed side. However, I turned it so that the part that I had allegedly pinched closed was on the bottom, and unfortunately, it really wasn’t closed. At least not tightly enough.  As a result, the olive oil dripped onto the grill and a rather large fire ensued. A fire of which I was entirely unaware because I was engrossed in a book. I was reminded of a simply hilarious episode of the Bob Newhart Show in which Bob was grilling steaks on his Chicago condo’s patio and unbeknownst to him, the steaks caught fire. Bob was in his living room doing all of the funny conversational things of which Bob Newhart is the master, and in the background the audience watched as the grill was consumed by flames.

That was me on Monday night.

Here’s an interesting fact about moi. I am easily influenced by reading what someone in a book is eating. So if I read a book that takes place in India, I crave Indian food. If Mexican food is mentioned, that’s what I want for dinner. It happens the book that I’m reading (in which I was so engrossed and totally missed out on a grill fire which rivaled the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, minus Mrs. O’Leary’s cow) takes place in Scotland, and the characters routinely eat scones.

Normally I can take or leave scones, but after reading about the characters eating scones with their tea, I simply HAD to have a scone. If I was in Denver, I would simply have walked over to Whole Foods and purchased a peach scone. Despite giving it plenty of thought, I couldn’t think where I could get a scone around our AZ house. (Bec has since reminded me that Starbucks sells scones and there are probably two or three hundred Starbucks in a five mile radius of our house. Oh well.)

So I made my own peach scones. Had I shot video of my endeavor, it would not have made the cut on Next Food Network Star. Perhaps on America’s Worst Cooks. Ina Garten makes the process of making scones look easy (using peaches imported from a small organic and sustainable peach grove in the south of France). She ends up with a beautiful disk of dough that she easily cuts into triangles and bakes until they are a golden brown with sugar crystals glistening on top. I, on the other hand, ended up with a crumbly mess that I pressed into roughly a round disk, all the while frantically patting the crumbs back into the dough.

But it didn’t turn out too bad…..

peach scone disc

And when it was all said and done, the scones were quite delicious, as evidenced by Bill eating two in a row.

Just as an aside, when I’m cooking, Ina Garten often comes to mind. Mostly how she would be horrified to observe me in the kitchen. For example, I thought of her recently when I was making chicken. I had seasoned the chicken, and needed to throw something away. Because I had not yet washed my hands (which were full of whatever it was that I wanted to toss) and didn’t want to touch anything with raw chicken still lurking there, I opened the cabinet door with my feet. While doing so, a couple of thoughts came into my mind: 1) I have never seen Ina Garten open a cabinet with her feet; and 2) I wonder if it is any more sanitary to put your feet on the kitchen cabinet handle than using chicken-laced hands.

Don’t worry, I used an antibacterial cloth to wipe the handle.

Here is the recipe for the peach scones. Despite the crumbly dough, the scones were delicious.

peach scone cut

Peach Scones, courtesy

2 c. plus 2 T. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 T baking powder
½ t. salt
½ c. unsalted butter, cubed and cold
1 egg
¼ c. heavy whipping cream, plus more for brushing
¼ c. sour cream
2 t. vanilla extract
½ c. fresh peaches, diced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a bowl, mix together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Once combined, cut in the butter with a fork or pastry cutter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Whisk together heavy cream, sour cream, egg, and vanilla extract. Slowly add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Stir in the peaches, and mix until just combined.

On a well-floured surface, turn out the scone dough and pat into a small disk that’s about a half inch thick. Cut into 6-8 slices, and transfer to the baking sheet. Brush each scone with just a bit of heavy cream.

Bake for 16-18 minutes, or just until golden brown. Allow to cool.

Nana’s Notes: Her recipe had a glaze; I chose to sprinkle mine liberally with sugar after brushing on the cream. Also, since I was facing the above-mentioned crumbly mess, I formed my disk right on the baking sheet, and that seemed to work fine. Finally, I didn’t use fresh peaches; instead, I used canned. That made the dough a bit wetter and the resulting scones a bit more moist. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Thursday Thoughts

Like Chasing a Rabbit
I’ve had a Fitbit for a couple of years now. Fitbits, as you know, measure your activity. My daily goal is 10,000 steps, and I reach it on the days I work out; other days I have to work a bit harder to reach the goal. One of the incentives is that you compete against others, who agree to compete against you. Bec’s grandchildren got Fitbits for Christmas, and shortly thereafter, they asked me to be on their list of “friends” against whom they compete. I can look at any time and see how I’m faring against the others, and let me tell you, when it comes to Mackenzie and Carter, it isn’t a pretty picture. It’s seriously like competing against Jack Russell Terriers. The numbers are given in 7-day averages, and Carter is always, ALWAYS in the hundred-thousands. How can I possibly compete against someone who has Running Club in the morning and plays soccer every day at recess?  I’ll bet on any given day, he has beaten me by 9 o’clock in the morning. I’m pretty sure he gets up during the night and just runs up and down their hallway for an hour. I wonder if Bill would notice if I did that……

Rich and Famous
I truly wonder how many famous people I have walked past without ever seeing them. When the family was in NYC a number of years ago for Heather’s college graduation, every once in a while as we walked the streets of NY, Allen would say, “Oh look, there’s Yoko Ono,” or “Did you see him? That was Alan Rickman” (the guy who played Hans Gruber in Die Hard (may he rest in peace). In 1995, Bill and I were in the Oak Bar at The Plaza Hotel in NYC having a drink, when Bill said to me, “There’s Marcia Clark.” If you will recall, Marcia Clark had her 15 minutes of fame because she was the prosecuting attorney in the OJ Simpson trial. So it’s of very little surprise that the other night, when we were out to dinner for Bec’s birthday and suddenly there was some commotion at the door, I paid ABSOLUTELY NO ATTENTION. This, despite the fact that a giant of a man accompanied by a bevy of people had entered the Cajun restaurant where we were dining. It was Erik, who actually had his back to the door, who casually said, “Huh, there’s Charles Barkley.” Well, I looked up and confirmed that it actually was the former Phoenix Sun great himself. After getting past being stunned by his sheer size, I made a very quick decision. I grabbed Mackenzie’s and Carter’s hands and briskly led them through the crowded restaurant to his table, just as he was getting ready to sit down. I politely asked him if he would be willing to let me take his picture with my niece and nephew. Now then, that could have gone south very quickly. After all, I was interrupting his private dinner. But it didn’t. See……

Charles Barkley Carter Kenz 1.16

When I’m rich and famous, I’m going to be as nice as Charles Barkley.

Cake Wars Continues
Bill isn’t the only one in this family who can bake. I made some cupcakes from scratch yesterday afternoon, using a wonderful Barefoot Contessa recipe. I changed them up a bit by using leftover icing from Bec’s birthday cake as a filling. I put the icing – a mixture of cream cheese, marshmallow fluff, and powdered sugar – into a squirt bottle and filled the chocolate cupcakes with the cream before icing them.  They were delicious.


Chocolate Cupcakes, courtesy Ina Garten and Food Network

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 tablespoons brewed coffee
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup good cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium, add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. On low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended. Fold the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it’s completely blended.

Divide the batter among the cupcake pans (1 rounded standard ice cream scoop per cup is the right amount). Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely before frosting.
Nana’s Notes: The Barefoot Contessa wouldn’t even consider OWNING a plastic squirt bottle, but too bad, her loss. The filling makes the cupcakes good. And, unlike Bill, I used store-bought frosting. So there.

Saturday Smile: Got It?

Cheese Danish as Mylee envisions it.

Cheese Danish as Mylee envisions it.

You might remember that a few weeks ago, Mylee was Student of the Week, an honor which eventually goes to each kindergarten child throughout the year. It is basically a Show-and-Tell on steroids. While in the spotlight, she was asked by her teacher what she wanted to be when she grew up. Much to my (and I think her parents’) surprise, she said she wanted to be a chef. Well, then.

The other day I was driving her home from school. It was just Mylee, as Kaiya had her first-ever Brownie meeting. As we drove home, I mentioned to her that I had taken Cole to get a cheese Danish roll at Starbucks, and that he ate it just as she did — cheese filling first.

“Of course, Nana,” she responded. “That’s because it’s the best part.” (Duh! she’s thinking.)

I went on to tell her that I thought I might try and see if I could make cheese Danish myself.

Without a second thought, Mylee said to me, “Here’s what you do, Nana. You take a slice of bread. You cut off the crusts and make it square. You put cream cheese in the middle of the bread and you bake it. Got it?”

I swear she said, “Got it?” I nodded, because she’s the boss. I was pretty sure my recipe would be a bit different than that. And, in fact, it was…..


Cheese Danishadapted from Ina Garten and Food Network

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
2 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream them together on low speed until smooth. With the mixer still on low, add the egg yolks, ricotta, vanilla, salt, and lemon zest and mix until just combined. Don’t whip!

Unfold 1 sheet of puff pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll it slightly with a floured rolling pin until it’s a 10 by 10-inch square. Cut the sheet into quarters with a sharp knife. Place a heaping tablespoon of cheese filling into the middle of each of the 4 squares. Brush the border of each pastry with egg wash and fold 2 opposite corners to the center, brushing and overlapping the corners of each pastry so they firmly stick together. Brush the top of the pastries with egg wash. Place the pastries on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry and refrigerate the filled Danish for 15 minutes.

Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking, until puffed and brown. Serve warm. Makes 8 Danish rolls.

Nana’s Notes: DO NOT USE WHITE BREAD FOR YOUR DANISH ROLL DESPITE WHAT MYLEE SAYS! Got it? I cut the recipe in half and made only four Danish rolls. 

Cooking Teachers

I’m not sure I can entirely remember what life was like prior to Food Network. This fact, of course, isn’t exactly surprising since I can’t remember where I park my car at the mall. The irony I’m afraid is that I CAN remember my home telephone number from when I was a 6 years old and the words to all of the songs from the 1960s. Sigh. Way to waste those important brain cells.

I guess our parents used those funny things called cookbooks. They didn’t have anyone to teach them to cook from their little black and white television sets. Well, except for Julia Child. And I don’t know about anyone else’s mom, but my mom didn’t particularly want to learn to cook French food. I would have liked to seen the look on my dad’s face should mom have plopped sole meuniere in front of him one night.

My mom says she learned to cook from my paternal grandmother (her mother died at a very young age). I learned to cook by watching my mother. And more recently from watching Food Network and PBS cooking shows.

It used to be that Food Network consisted almost entirely of actual cooking shows. Nowadays, you can find a few cooking shows on during the day, but nighttime consists entirely of competition shows. They don’t particularly interest me. So I mostly watch during the day. Ree Drummond, Trisha Yearwood, Ina Garten, Giada De Laurentiis. Others.

If I’m to tell you the entire truth, most of the stars of the shows drive me crazy. I can’t imagine cooking showing as much cleavage as does Giada, if for no other reason than that I would undoubtedly splash my chest with hot bacon grease. I sometimes think that if Ina Garten says “How (fill in the blank) is that?” one more time, I will throw my coveted seasoned cast iron skillet through the television screen.

But I have learned things from all of these Food Network and PBS cooks that I think has made me a better cook. Here’s a few of the things I have learned…..

Ina Garten: As annoyed as I get when the Barefoot Contessa instructs us to use “really good wine” or “good vanilla” or, as in one recipe, “really good saffron” (as if you should spend even more on an ingredient that already requires you to pawn your wedding ring to buy), I have learned that she is right that the better the ingredients, the better the final result. But the way I look at it, it doesn’t mean you have to fly to Madagascar to pick up a bottle of vanilla. It means, if possible, buy real vanilla extract as opposed to vanilla flavoring.

Paula Deen: Paula’s use of butter is (and I think was meant to be) ridiculous. But she taught me not to be afraid to use butter in my recipes. It simply tastes better. I also learned the easiest way to prepare collard greens – fold them in half and pull the leaves off the stem in one fell swoop.

Giada De Laurentiis: Despite my constant annoyance with her cleavage and the fact that she won’t simply say “spaghetti” or “fettucine” the way we do, she has taught me to use the freshest ingredients possible. Recently, she made a pasta red sauce that looked delicious, and she threw the rind of a piece of Parmigiano Reggiano into the sauce to flavor it. I will definitely give that a try. Giada also uses a lot of fresh fennel, and once I gave it a try when using one of her salad recipes that included fennel and grapefruit, I was hooked. Yum.

Ree Drummond: The Pioneer Woman has given me permission to use store-bought ingredients. Though Ina Garten must turn her nose up at Ree Drummond, I love that Ree will open up a box of chicken broth or use a jar of store-bought pesto.  If she can do it, so can I! It makes me happy to see her use her cast iron skillet so often because it’s one of my favorite cooking utensils. I couldn’t live without it. I love her 16-minute meals. Next to Lidia, I probably use more of the Pioneer Woman’s recipes than any other.

Lidia Bastianich: I left Lidia until last because, well, you know. I want her to adopt me. She speaks to me. For example, the day after I burned my hand because I grabbed the handle of a pan that I had taken out of the oven a minute or so before, she told me, “Kris, make sure when you take something out of the oven, you place a towel on it to remind yourself and others that it is hot.” (Well, she might not have directed it specifically to me, but she said it on her show the next day, and I know she meant it for me.) She has taught me not to fear anchovies but to embrace them as a rich and salty seasoning that melts in your fry pan and therefore won’t scare others, who will simply wonder why your sauce is so good. I also learned to salt my food as I cook, every time I add an ingredient or move to a new step. (If you fear oversalting, place the amount of salt you want to use in a little bowl and take from that. That’s what Lidia told me.) And maybe my favorite instruction from her is, “Clean hands are your best kitchen tool.” Amen.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Lidia recipes…..

Pasta with Baked Cherry Tomatoes, courtesy Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, Lidia Bastianich

3 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
½ c. plus 1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 c. fine dry bread crumbs
1 t. kosher salt, plus more for the pasta pot
¼ t. pepperoncino flakes, or to taste
1 lb. spaghetti, gemelli, or penne
10 plump garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 T. chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 c. loosely packed fresh basil leaves, shredded
½ c. freshly grated pecorino (or half pecorino and half Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano) plus more for passing
4 oz. Ricotta or ricotta salata

Arrange a rack in the center of the oven, and heat to 350 degrees.

Toss the cherry tomato halves in a large bowl with 3 T. olive oil. Sprinkle over tomatoes the bread crumbs, salt, and pepperoncino; toss well to coat the tomatoes evenly. Pour the tomatoes onto a parchment-lined sheet, and spread them apart in a single layer. Bake until the tomatoes are shriveled and lightly caramelized (but not dried out), about 25 minutes in all.

Meanwhile, fill a large pot with salted water, and heat to a rolling boil. When the tomatoes are nearly done, drop the pasta into the pot, stir, and return the water to a boil.

As soon as the pasta is cooking, pour the remaining olive oil into a big skillet, set it over medium-high heat, and scatter in the sliced garlic. Cook for a minute or two, until it is sizzling and lightly colored, then ladle in about 2 c. of the pasta cooking water, and bring to a vigorous boil, stirring up the garlic. Let half the water evaporate, then lower the heat, stir in the chopped parsley, and keep the sauce barely simmering.

As soon as the tomatoes are done, remove them from the oven.

When the pasta is al dente, lift it from the water, drain for a moment, and drop it into the skillet, still over low heat. Toss pasta quickly with the garlic-and-parsley sauce in the pan, then slide the baked tomatoes on top of the pasta. Scatter the basil shreds all over, and toss everything together well, until the pasta is evenly dressed and the tomatoes are distributed throughout. Turn off the heat, sprinkle on the grated cheese, and toss once more.

Serve immediately.

pasta with baked tomatoes

Nana’s Notes: I cut the recipe in half by simply halving the ingredients. I used fresh tomatoes out of my garden, which I’m madly harvesting. The only cheese I used was Parmigiano. The meal was delicious. Thanks again Lidia.

Not My Mom’s Cooking: Using My Mussels

For having grown up and lived in a relatively small community in central Nebraska for a lot of their lives, my parents were fairly sophisticated eaters. It’s true when we were growing up, Mom’s cooking was pretty typical meat-and-potatoes fare. That’s what Dad wanted, and he worked hard and was hungry by the end of the day. A cobb salad with grilled chicken would not have passed muster with Mr. Gloor. Roast beef and mashed potatoes were more to his liking.

But I think Mom stretched her cooking muscles once she and Dad were semi-retired and living in Dillon, Colorado. She had more time and probably there were more interesting food supplies available to her. Seafood, for example.

I mentioned before that I enjoy going through Mom’s old recipe box. A few things in that box have surprised me, but none more than the hand-written recipe for Coquilles St. Jacques – basically scallops with mushrooms in a gruyere cheese sauce. Yum. I, of course, never remember her setting a plate of Coquilles St. Jacques down before me in Columbus, Nebraska; however, Jen is positive that Mom actually made such a dish at one time or another. Not for me, but then Mom always did like her best.

Anyhoo, while good seafood wasn’t readily available in Columbus in the 1950s and 60s, Mom and Dad did like them some seafood later in their lives. Bring on the shrimp, the mussels, the oysters, the clams; you name it, they enjoyed it. Thankfully, they had a daughter who lived on the east coast and who frequently traveled with them to places like Florida where seafood was plentiful. Mom could order a huge dish of mussels and eat every single one.

But I don’t think she ever made mussels herself.

For the longest time, mussels intimidated me. There was always all that talk about the beard of the mussel. It seemed so scary. That, and getting the sand out of the shells. I was afraid to tackle them. Plus the whole notion that they’re alive. Eeeeeewwwww.

But I did. And it couldn’t have been less terrifying or more easy. So I serve them a lot when I’m in the mood to entertain with something impressive and festive-looking, but easy. There are many delicious recipes, but mussels in white wine and garlic are my favorite, so that’s what I always make.

I tackle the so-called beard using a needle-nose pliers that you can get at any hardware store. My mussels almost always come from Whole Foods, and their fishmongers carefully sort them so that there are few with broken shells. The mussels are largely farm-raised, and I find most of them don’t even have a beard. (Wild mussels use their beard to attach themselves to rocks or bottoms of bridges. Farm-raised mussels sit in chaise lounges and soak up the sun!) But if they do, simply grab the beard with the pliers and gently pull it out.

Ina Garten suggests soaking the mussels in water into which you have tossed a handful of flour. According to her, the mussels open their shells to eat the flour and the sand is dislodged. I find that isn’t necessary in the way that it IS necessary for clams, which live in the sand. I simply rinse them and rinse them and rinse them again, and I have never had sandy mussels.

One thing to remember when cleaning mussels, however, is that you must take the time to look at each mussel. It must be closed, or close if you tap it on the counter, and the shell must not be broken. It’s a bit time consuming, but easy enough.

Two tidbits before I give you the recipe….

First, I knew a man from Connecticut. (Sounds kind of like There was a man from Nantucket…) He was with me once in a restaurant when I ordered mussels. He laughed, and said when he was growing up on the Atlantic shores of Connecticut, they considered mussels to be “garbage fish.” Mussels were apparently very plentiful and he would find them attached to anything along the shore. Including garbage cans. They would throw them away.

Second, when Bill and I were on our European adventure, as we traveled through the Province region of France, we ate mussels, mussels, and more mussels. The first time we ordered them was in Nice, and they were all-you-could-eat moule e frites (mussels and French fries). They brought us each a bucket of mussels the size of a small garbage can, and they were DELICIOUS. Nevertheless, we couldn’t eat more than one bucket apiece. After about my fifth or sixth time eating mussels in a café along the Mediterranean, I finally told Bill, “Well, that’s it. I cannot and will not eat another mussels for a long, long time.”

I got over it.

Don’t be afraid to give these a try.

mussel wine bread

Mussels in White Wine and Garlic
Adapted from Ina Garten, Food Network

6 lbs. mussels
3 T. butter
3 T. olive oil
1 c. chopped shallots
1-1/2 T minced garlic
1 c. diced tomatoes, drained
1/3 c. chopped Italian parsley
2 T. fresh thyme leaves
1-1/2 c. white wine
2 t. salt
1 t. freshly ground pepper

Rinse the mussels very well, and allow them to soak in water for about 30 minutes. Drain the mussels, then remove any beard using your fingers or a needle-nosed pliers. Scrub the mussels if the shells are dirty. Discard any mussels whose shells aren’t tightly shut or with broken shells.

In a large non-aluminum stockpot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 5 minutes; add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes more, or until the shallots are translucent. Add the drained tomatoes, parsley, thyme, wine, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil.

Add the mussels, stir well, then cover the pot and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until all the mussels are opened (discard any that do not open). With the lid on, shake the pot once or twice to be sure the mussels don’t burn on the bottom. Pour the mussels and the sauce into a large bowl and serve hot, with a baguette on the side for dunking.

Serves 4 or 5 adults

Nana’s Notes: The amount of mussels will vary according to the number of people you are serving and how much they will eat. When my grandson Alastair is eating my mussels, he can eat something in the neighborhood of 1-1/2 to 2 lbs. by himself! Adjust the other ingredients accordingly. The mussels look spectacular when they are poured into a big bowl. And taste just as good. But I like to serve them in individual bowls so that each person has their own juice in which to dip their bread. 

This post linked to the GRAND Social.