Archive | May 2014

Beer and Harissa Steamed Mussels

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While I like to think of myself as a fairly adventurous person, in reality I can sometimes be rather predictable. I definitely will order something crazy like fried grasshoppers if I happen to see them on the menu at a restaurant, but more often than not I’ll chose one of my favorites, like pork belly, mussels, scallops, or some sort of slowly braised meat.

Why do I tend to order those four things so frequently? They’re all delicious and all things I decided were too difficult to make at home. Pork belly: I haven’t actually tried this but it sounds like it would be tedious. Braised meats are far from difficult, but they require hours and hours of cooking time… something far too cumbersome for an average weeknight dinner. Scallops kind of scare me… I don’t want to drop that kind of money and accidentally overcook them, which is why I leave it up to the professionals. And mussels? Somehow, for a reason now unknown to me, I decided cooking mussels was too arduous of a task to do at home.

Once I actually decided to take a stab at cooking mussels—and realized how straight forward and simple it was—I kicked myself for not doing so sooner. The process of cooking mussels only involves (1) soaking them, (2) a bit of cleaning, and (3) steaming. The best part about steaming is that you can cook the mussels in almost anything you want. Wine, broth, beer, juice, or any flavorful liquids of your choosing could be used and feel free to add anything from a classic mirepoix (carrot, onion, celery) to chorizo to tomatoes. When cooking mussels you can use almost anything you have on hand, as the mussels hold up well to strong flavors and work with a wide array of flavor profiles.

While I love mussels steamed with white wine, shallot, and lemon, I knew I wanted to go a different route, and use beer. Since I think beer pairs so well with spicy food I decided to punch up the flavor by adding some harissa (chili paste). I had some lemon, onion, garlic, and parsley on hand and decided those ingredients would be more than enough for a simple but delicious dinner. Served with some crusty bread, salad, and a cold beer and I was one happy camper.

Notes:

  • I would imagine most lagers, pilsners, wheat beers, and mildly hoppy beers would work (I used a locally made Kolsch) but I would not recommend a stout or porter.
  • When buying mussels you want to make sure you buy ones that are still tightly closed.
  • I’ve found harissa spiciness can vary a fair amount from brand to brand so be sure to try yours first before deciding how much to add

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Beer and Harissa Steamed Mussels

Serves 2-4, depending on appetite

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 lbs mussels
  • 1 12oz beer (see above notes)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 diced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-4 tablespoons harissa (see above note)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Chopped, fresh parsley (optional)

Place 1/4 cup flour into a large bowl. Fill with water, and lightly mix in flour so it’s somewhat dissolved. Add in mussels and let sit for half an hour. This process allows the mussels to expel the sand within. After half an hour gently pull mussels out of water, being careful not to disturb the sand that has settled at the bottom of the bowl.

Scrub mussels of any grit stuck to the shell and remove the beard, which is a “tail” like thingy. I was able to just yank the beard off.

In a large, coverable pot (such as a stock pot or a dutch oven), heat butter over medium heat. Once melted, add onion and cook for a few minutes until softened. Add garlic and cook for a few more minutes until garlic is aromatic, but not too browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add beer, harissa, and lemon and bring to a boil. Add mussels, cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 5-6 minutes over medium-high heat (discard any mussels that haven’t opened). Top with parsley, if desired and serve with plenty of crusty bread.

Whole-Wheat Banana, Nut, and Chocolate Chunk Bread

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A while back I made banana and chocolate chunk bread…. and then dipped that in egg batter and pan-fried it, French toast style. I thought it was completely divine, but perhaps a bit rich and decadent for breakfast. And while I’m never opposed to something excessively indulgent, perhaps for the first and most important meal of the day, one should try to eat a bit more sensibly?

Some people seem to think banana bread is healthy enough as is, since, ya know, it has bananas in it. And fruit is good for you! While banana bread is a far more practical breakfast than a donut, there’s still room to make it a smidge healthier without making it dull. For starters, try substituting all-purpose flour with whole wheat. And then perhaps use honey instead of sugar, egg whites for whole eggs, and applesauce for oil.

Should you make all of these substitutions? Sure. With this particular banana bread recipe making all of the healthier substitutions results in a very good product. However, the texture was just a bit on the dry side. Still exceptionally good, but if you opt only to make a few of the healthier substitutions you may end up with something a bit more moist and rich.

… and yes, you could skip the chocolate, but why would you? This is pretty healthy so why not indulge a bit?

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Whole-Wheat Banana, Nut, and Chocolate Chunk Bread

Adapted from AllRecipes

  • 2-3 medium to large very ripe bananas
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil or 1/3 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup honey or 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs or 2 egg whites
  • 1 3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1/2 heaping cup chopped nuts (I use pecans)
  • 1/2 heaping cup chocolate chips or chocolate chunks (I prefer bitter-sweet)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mash bananas (you want 1 heaping cup of mashed banana). Mix in oil and honey (or alternatives).

Add eggs one at a time, incorporating well after each addition (if using egg whites only, add all at once).

Add vanilla, flour, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix until just combined.

In a small bowl, mix baking soda and hot water, stir to mix, and then add to batter, mixing until combined. Blend in chopped nuts and chocolate. Spread batter into a greased 9×5 inch loaf pan.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out with just one or two moist crumbs. I usually check around 50 minutes to ensure it doesn’t overcook. Cool on wire rack for 1/2 hour before slicing.

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