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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Gallic Inspiration: Moules Mariniere

I think if there is one place I could travel to over and over, it's France. There are few places in this world that soothe my culinary soul the way France does. It is quite clear to me as to why this is: It is the marriage of food and travel. Here you can enjoy the world's finest cuisine in celebrated restaurants as well as the little unpretentious gems frequented by the locals and all of this highly accessible thanks to a fantastic and extensive train system and Grade 12 French class.

And of course, my return luggage is a Canadian Customs officer's curiousity. They unzip my luggage only to find a chef's menagerie of sel gris, truffle oil, herbes de provence, wine, dark chocolate, and whatever exotic Gallic delights the country offers me. I have learned overtime, you can't bring back butter, or foie gras laced with black truffles no matter how much you plead. And boy do I try.

During our last visit to France, we took the train to Dieppe in the northern province of Normandy. We had spent the better part of the week exploring the fine cuisine Paris had to offer and now we craved soemthing more rustic and indicative of how people eat everyday.

The town of Dieppe is several hours away from Paris and we enjoyed the slow langourous ride through the French countryside. Rolling pastoral green fields stretch out beyond the horizon, occasionally interupted by small farmhouses frame after frame like pages of National Geographic. It was serene.

When we arrived in Dieppe, there was a distinct smell that city people don't experience often: the sharp metallic smell of the sea. It is a briny and strangely fresh smell that appeals to anyone who loves seafood. It's the smell of that kind of fresh. As we strolled past the many seaside bistros, it became apparently clear what the part of Normandy had to offer us today: Mussels.

Every bistro along the boat quay advertised its the daily special on hinged blackboards out front. It beckoned like a siren to hungry tourists to stop in for a little lunch in the seaside beach town. Moules et frites. Mussels and fries. Who could resist the shiny onyx shells lured open by a fragrant boozy steam to reveal dedicate saffron coloured mollusks in light garlic studded broth and a large bowlful of crisp delicate potato matchsticks and creamy pale mayonaise? So we stopped in and ordered huge bowls of steamy mussels and watched as boats bob up and down and fashionable French tourists wondered if they should stop for a bite. It was ridiculously contagious.

But today, we were at home missing that day. So, we decided when we were at St. Lawrence Market this morning, we would take a peek at the huge tank of PEI mussels at the fishmonger's. If the stars were aligned, we were going to have a delicious lunch that would transport us back to that summer day by the sea in Northern France.

Moules Mariniere
2 pounds of PEI mussels (bearded & cleaned)
1 small onion - diced
1/2 small pepper - diced
2 small carrots - sliced into coins
1 c of halved baby heirloom tomatoes
1/2c of white dry vermouth
3 cloves of crushed garlic (we love garlic)
1 tbsp of butter

In a pot large enough to hold the mussels, melt the butter until it is foamy and hot. Add the onion and garlic and saute until softened. Turn down the heat slightly and add the peppers, and carrots. Cook until the vegetables start to soften. Add the cleaned mussels to the pots and pour the vermouth on top. Cover. After two minutes, add the tomatoes to the pot and cover the pot again. Steam until the mussels open. Pour into a large serving dish and serve with slices of cursty baguette or fries.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

My summer time snack

Several years ago, I took a leave of absence from work and spent a huge chunk of time touring SE Asia. It was a wonderful time for me... It really broadened my horizons and really crystallized what it meant to be me.

Although, it wasn't primarily a culinary journey but rather one of self-discovery, I often look back at that experience and the foods I became acquainted with through the wonderful people I met with great affection.

One of these majestic places is a little country named Laos. In fact, I ended up in Laos not really by design. I headed to Laos to kill time - I was returning home in a month and I was a little bored and a little restless. What I found was a cultural wonder filled with an unspoiled landscape, a generous people and a balance of old world tradition creeping toward development. Really very humbling.

One night, in a backpacking town called Vangvieng, I had this wonderful dish called Laap. It is a minced meat served with a sticky rice which is very popular in Laos and Thailand. My version is adapted for the modern life. It is fantastic for lunch when it is too hot and steamy to eat anything but a delicious salad.

I use Boston lettuce because its buttery leaves are my favorite. They make wonderful cups for this dish.

Minced Turkey in Lettuce Cups with Tea Rice

1 package of minced turkey
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp of light soy sauce
1 tbsp of nuc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce - if you don't have it, just use extra soy sauce)
1 pinch of red chili peppers
1 tsp of minced garlic
1/2 green or red pepper - small dice
1/2 small onion - small dice
1 head of Bottuce lettuce - leaves washed, separated, and dried

1 c of Japanese sushi rice, uncooked
1 tsp of Jasmine tea

garnish: fried onions*

1. Cook rice following the package instructions.
2. In a coffee grinder, whiz up the jasmine tea into a fine powder. If you don't have a grinder, open a tea bag of jasmine tea. Sprinkle over hot cooked rice and turn gently with a rice paddle. Cover.
3. Heat a large skillet, add vegetable oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add onions and garlic and the package of ground turkey and break up meat as it cooks. When the meat is mostly cooked (ie. there is still some pink), add pepper, soy sauce, fish sauce and red pepper flakes. Cook until fully cooked and the juices run clear.
4. Place several lettuce cups on a plate.
5. Scoop a small amount of the jasmine tea rice into the lettuce cup and top with a small amount of the minced turkey. Sprinkle a little bit of the fried onions on top and dig in.

*The fried onions I am referring to are the deep fried crispy onions that are often sold in the Asian grocery stores.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

15 minute soup: Creamy Corn & Potato Chowder

It was a busy week... but I managed to squeeze out a quick recipe. I looked into my fridge and cobbled together some vegetables for a delicious corn chowder. Sometimes if we are making potatoes for dinner, I make extra and store them in the fridge for quick meals during the week.

Cream Corn & Potato Chowder
1 c of corn kernels
3 stalks of celery - diced
1 large carrot - diced
1 small yellow onion - diced
1 small orange pepper - diced
6 new potatoes - boiled & cooled & diced
1 tbsp of minced garlic
1/2 tsp of dried dill
3 tsp of chicken / vegetable bouillon in 1 c of water
(if you have chicken stock use that instead)
1 l of skim milk
1 tbsp of olive oil

1. Heat oil in pan, saute garlic and onion until onion starts to sweat.
2. Add diced celery, carrot, potato, pepper and dill. Saute until soft.
3. Once the vegetables are heated through, add the chicken stock or the bouillon powder mixed with water. Heat until bubbling and turn down heat to low-medium.
4. Add the milk and cover with lid. Stir often to ensure that the soup does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
5. When the soup is heated through, plunge an immersion hand blender into the soup pot. Ensure the blender is fully immersed as the soup is very hot and could cause serious burns. Don't blend it until you have a puree but leave it rather thick and chunky. You still want to see the vegetables but blending the vegetables creates nice creaminess and beautiful texture.

It is literally a 15 minute soup if you buy the pre-packaged diced vegetables.

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