Mussels! I can make mussels!

I love seafood. I eat pescetarian most of the time. This is not because I’m the type of person that names all their animal friends and talks to them all the time (I am, in fact, that person – one day this will probably cause me much mental torment). It is, simply, because I like the taste of seafood much better than all other types of meat, barring specific dishes. For example, oxtail stew, lamb ragu, chicken rice, and loh mai kai. 

Mussels!!

Most of all, I love all the things that live in shells. To eat, I mean. Not just the clammy types, but prawns, scallops, shellfish, crayfish, crab *swoon*, and all the rest of them. Of course, mussels, clams, lala, oysters, and those swirly looking things in twisty shells are part of this list.

First time I ever cooked fennel

And when I realised mussels only cost $4 for 800g at the market, my reaction was predictable. Despite the fact that I don’t know how to cook mussels.  These things make me far too excited.

In honour of my favourite mussels from Brussels, I had no choice but to learn. Shock and horror, it was pretty easy to do well. Mussels are going to become my staple dinner treat. Vongole, here I come!

Now I just need a pretty pot for them

Mussels with Garlic, Fennel and Parsley

After much internetting, I realised that you can pretty much put anything in mussels providing you steam by adding at least 1/4 inch of liquid on the bottom of the pot, and closing the lid tightly until the mussels are steamed. This is a bit of an ad-libbed recipe, based on looking at roughly 500 other mussel recipes. 

800g mussels
1 onion, sliced into rings
8 cloves garlic, chopped
1 baby fennel, sliced into strips
~1 cup water
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Salt & pepper to taste

Yield: 2 servings as a main + 2 servings the next day as a side

  1. Assuming your mussels aren’t pre-cleaned – first thing when you start, dump them in very very salty cool water on your countertop and leave them there while you prep / chop everything else, for at least 15 – 20 minutes.
    • This is to make them expel the sand they are holding on to. They are alive, and when in salt water will open up and spew out all their sand.
  2. While waiting for your mussels to expel sand, put your stock on the stove in a pot:
    • Fry the garlic until light golden, then add the onion. Lower the heat and keep going until they turn transparant.
    • Add the salt and sliced fennel. Keep cooking, the fennel might get a little charred at the edges – that’s fine.
    • Once your fennel is cooked, add the water and lemon juice. Cover the lid and let it stew until you are done with the mussels. If needed, you can add a bit more water – but let it boil down to about 1/4 inch depth from the bottom of the pan before you put the mussels in. The longer you do this for, the better it will taste. Don’t worry if it’s a bit bland now, the mussels will make it approximately 1,000,000 times tastier.
  3. The not-fun part: now that your mussels expelled all their sand, you need to clean the shells and debeard them. Do this over the sink.
    • To debeard: find the hairy weird bits poking out of the shell, and pull them all off. You might need a knife. You don’t want hairs that look like they came from someone’s armpit floating in your steamed mussels.
    • To clean: scrub hard with a dish scrubber / steel wool until the shells look clean. You may need to chip off some especially stubborn bits with a knife.
  4. You’re ready to cook your mussels! Make sure you have the right amount of liquid (about 1/4 inch depth). If not, add water / boil off. Make sure the liquid is at a rolling boil, then throw in all the clean mussels and close the lid on the pot tightly. Count around 6 minutes. Look through the lid – are the mussels open? If not you can give it a little longer. If they are, your mussels are ready!
  5. Add pepper. After that, you can either serve immediately, or you can remove the mussels and boil the stock down further before pouring it back over the cooked mussels. Your choice. I cooked mine down 🙂

Tiny Tasty People

Apart from ginger flavoured baked products, my other favourite thing about Christmas is that it is socially acceptable to eat tiny baked people.

I feel that eating such people head first is the kindest way, because it ensures a clean and quick end to their misery, and is also the weakest point of the biscuit.

Squishy sogginess It was too squishy to make into a single ball

Given how I feel about this, you’d think I would be the first to blog about the spiciest gingerbread (people) biscuits, but the fact is that I haven’t yet found a homemade gingerbread biscuit that I liked. I enjoy eating gingerbread biscuits that other people have made, but if I’m going to make them myself, I want something really dark and spicy. And crisp, not cakey or chewy. So, in lieu of gingerbread people, I get my eating-tiny-people fix from other other baked goods.

But. As with all baked goods requiring the use of cutters, mince pies are a pain in the behind.

Yes that's a koala. My bookmark. Yes, that's the hobbit. I'm going to watch the movie this weekend (in 3d!)

First you mix up the crust dough, then you chill it. Then you take it out and roll it a bit. It refuses to cooperate and sticks to the table because you used too little flour on the surface and it’s warm outside. You put it back in the fridge. Repeat this about 6 to 8 times, and you will feel how I feel about making biscuit cutter snacks.

I think it’s something about Christmas, I magically forget every year what complete bullocks these types of foods are to make and how they take 3 hours or more and how I get so sweaty and angry that I very seriously consider feeding the remainder of the raw dough to my dog (try not to do that, it might not be good for dogs depending on what you’ve made).

These are the standard (larger) pies

I suspect it’s because I usually freeze my mince pies after baking them earlier in December, so by the time I get to eat them on Christmas day, I have forgotten how much the process of making them irritated me.

Pretending to be an angry cannibal, ginger spice, and Christmas. Some things in life just go together.

And these are the mini pies. Meet the Fat Man and Spooky Lady

Christmas Mince Pies

Crust adapted from the Patchwork Apple Pie recipe (doubled).

2 jars of mince pie filling – I used Robertsons, vegetarian and alcohol free
1 small red apple – the addition of apples is my way of bulking up the mince pie filling
1 small green apple

500g flour – I used gluten free
100g sugar
Zest of 2 lemons
Pinch of salt
250g butter – cold and cubed
2 large eggs

Extra flour for rolling
Egg wash – an egg beaten with a little milk
Copious amounts of patience
A cup of tea – to prolong aforementioned patience

Oven temperature: 180 degrees C, for half an hour
Yield: 36 mince pies – I had 24 large and 12 slightly smaller pies, as well as a little family of shortcrust people

  1. Sift together flour, sugar, and salt. Stir in the lemon zest.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the butter cubes and flour mixture until the texture of the mixture looks like sand.
  3. Turn out into a bowl. Directly crack in the 2 eggs, and use your hands to get everything to stick together. You have to keep going for a quite a bit, I realise last time I probably stopped a bit early which is why my dough never came together.
  4. Cover dough and put it in the fridge to firm up.
  5. Peel and core your apples. Cut them into 8ths, then slice those 8ths into thin strips. Mix into the mince pie filling in a big bowl.
  6. Flour a surface and roll out your dough. You need quite a lot of flour because it’s a bit sticky, watch out!
  7. Use a round biscuit cutter / your mother’s fancy dinner party wine glass to cut out rounds. Put each into a hole in a greased cupcake tray and press in.
  8. Spoon in a little mince pie filling / apple mixture.
  9. Use a fun cutter to cut out the pie cover, and carefully place it on top of the filling. It doesn’t need to touch the sides of the pie, or be crimped or anything complicated. I used stars, hearts, trees, fat men, and spooky ladies. I have squirrel and snail cutters somewhere too but I couldn’t find them.
  10. Dab with egg wash, and stick it in the oven for half an hour.
  11. Cool in the cupcake tray.

Notes: freezes well in an airtight box layered with baking paper.

Happy unsuspecting pastry family

Patchwork Apple Pie

Egg wash covers a multitude of sins, and when you’re down to your last egg and making your mum’s birthday pie, forgo tomorrow’s breakfast and just use it on the pie.

Naked apples

Especially if said pie was set to be named disaster-pie rather than patchwork-pie, because for some reason, you didn’t figure out how to roll out the pastry properly. And it wouldn’t go hard, even in the freezer. Tasted good raw though.

You can't see how I wrestled with the crust - I won!

Despite my fiddling, the pie filling turned out really very well – just a little tart. I like it best that way, though other sweet teeth (sweet tooths? No, I think sweet teeth is better) were slightly less than impressed. Too bad, if you want more it sweeter, make your own pie *blows raspberries*

Patchwork pie!

We ate it with cream, and custard (those were the options, not both at the same time).

See what I mean about covering up imperfections?

Patchwork Apple Pie 

Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s apple pie, I changed the filling a bit. On a side note, I don’t usually make a lot of Jamie Oliver’s recipes as I’ve always found them rather complicated, but this one is great – he provides step by step instructions, with pictures. I’d totally recommend heading over to his website for that (I recorded it here to capture my minor changes to the filling).

Pastry

250g flour – gluten free works fine here
50g sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
125g cold butter, cubed
1 large egg
A little milk, if needed

  1. Pulse flour, sugar, zest, and butter together in a food processor. Keep going until it looks like sand.
  2. Add the egg, and a little milk if the dough doesn’t come together when you mix further. You may or may not need the milk, depending on the size of the egg.
  3. Put the dough in the fridge for a bit while you make the filling.

Filling

3 green apples – I used granny smith, they were quite small
4 red apples – I used pink lady/braeburn (I think?), again quite small
3 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablesp black treacle – molasses would work too
1/2 teasp ground ginger
1/2 teasp cinnamon
Zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
A handful of raisins – I used close to half a cup

  1. Peel, core, and slice the apples. I cut mine into 1/8th segments.
  2. Put the apples and all other ingredients in a pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the apples just start to soften.
  3. Set aside to cool while you sort out the pastry.

Assembly

1 egg, beaten
Butter for greasing
Flour for rolling

Oven temperature: 180 degrees C

  1. Flour a work surface. Take half the dough out the fridge, and roll it out. Carefully lift the dough into the bottom of a (buttered) pie plate. If you’re useless like me, and use slightly soft butter, you may need to dump it directly into the pie plate and press it out until the dough covers the bottom and sides of the plate.
  2. In go the apples – don’t just drop them in though, you will get holes in your crust. Be gentle!
  3. Take the other half of the dough out the fridge, and roll it out on the floured surface. Try to get it large enough to cover the pie. Lift it on top of the pie. Try not to break it. I didn’t manage this…so I made little coin shaped flat bits with my fingers and tried to get them all to stick together over the apples, like a jigsaw puzzle. As you can see, it works relatively decently. “Rustic”, I believe it is called.
  4. Brush on the beaten egg. If you managed to place your pastry on top of the pie in a single piece, cut a couple of holes in the centre of it so the steam can escape. I did not need to do this.
  5. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the pastry is brown and firm.

On a Lack of Chocolate, and Lazy Lemon Cinnamon Rolls

I am a chocolate addict. No house should be without chocolate. Chocolate is good for you, for the health of your mind and the health of your heart (flavenoids, yay!!)

However, I do concede that I eat too much chocolate for it to be considered healthy. Also, I generally binge on milk rather than dark chocolate. Nice dark chocolate isn’t quite as easily available in Malaysia as it is in other places.

Lemons and lemons Make sure you soften your butter first - not like me

Now that I’m in Melbourne visiting Bigfoot for a week, I have made the unfortunate discovery that he has no chocolate in his house. I correct myself, he has 3 chocolate truffle Lindor balls in a box in his room. Now, there are 2 balls left. I have realised that if I eat another Lindor ball I will get caught, as the difference between 1 and 3 Lindor balls is slightly more dramatic than between 2 and 3 Lindor balls. Hence, over the course of this week, I have eaten only one Lindor ball.

It is bad to be caught stealing other people’s chocolate, because that makes you look like an addict. If I thought he wouldn’t realise they were gone, there would probably be zero Lindor balls by now.

Yes I do pretend I like them misshapen like this

But, in the name of healthy diets, I’ve decided that I’m not going to take the easy way out, and buy some chocolate from the supermarket. No, surely I can last a week without eating chocolate at odd hours of the day? Even if barely?

Brown and crispy

In that vein, when deciding what to eat for brunch, I immediately concluded that it would need to be sweet, and include cream cheese. Sweetened cream cheese is *almost* chocolate. It also needed to be do-ahead, because neither of us wake up early to cook.

Chocolateless indulgence

Lemon Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze

Inspired by a recipe by The Kitchn, adapted to include the method of making rolls with puff pastry found in Just Jenn Recipes. Yeasty rolls seem far too difficult for breakfast.

2 sheets of puff pastry
2 lemons, juiced and zested
1 tablesp butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablesp cinnamon powder
1/2 tablesp nutmeg powder

80g cream cheese
2 tablesp milk
3 tablesp brown sugar

Oven temperature: 180 degrees C, for about 20 minutes or so – may take less time depending on your pastry

  1. Defrost the puff pastry, and lay it out flat.
  2. Mix in a food processer:
    1. 2/3 of the lemon zest
    2. 1/2 the lemon juice
    3. 1 tablesp butter, you can add a bit more if you need to. Make sure it is soft! (not like me)
    4. Cinnamon powder
    5. Nutmeg powder
    6. 1/2 cup brown sugar, note that I don’t like my rolls too sweet
  3. Spread half the butter mixture out on to the first sheet of puff pastry. Roll it up and slice into little rounds.
  4. Put the rounds into a greased baking tin, leave a bit of space between them.
  5. Repeat 3 and 4 with the second sheet! Then bake the rounds (or leave it in the fridge overnight until the next day’s brunch)
  6. To make the glaze, just whiz the cream cheese, milk, brown sugar, and 1/3 of the lemon zest in a food processer. This also keeps well overnight.
  7. Drizzle the glaze over the baked rolls, and done!