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 🙂
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Sugar in Strange Places

My brother doesn’t have sugar in his house. Say it with me “????!??!”

Marinade is marinating

That’s because I had nothing to say, my mind was too boggled. He doesn’t cook, that much we’ve established, but even people who don’t cook generally have a sachet of sugar floating around somewhere that they’ve pinched from a restaurant or something. Anyway, good for him, he is being healthy and sugar-free.

Taste of childhood

This meant that I Had A Problem, because I wanted to use sugar in my sauce.

Use white colour, crush well!

Solution: find the food in the house with the highest sugar content, and crumble that into the sauce. This happened to be the the icing of some gem biscuits. I used the white ones. I felt that pink or yellow spots in my sauce might not go down too well at dinnertime.

Well, at least I can add ‘resourceful’ to my CV now.

See what I mean about the microwave?

Steamed Tofu with Spring Onion

Inspired by Two Spoons, method taken from Rasa Malaysia (ish)

1 block of tofu – smooth silken type
3 tablesp light soya sauce
2 tablesp sesame oil
3 stalks of spring onion, chopped – I just took the green part of about 8, I used the base for something else
1/2 teasp sugar – or the tops of 4 gem biscuits….your choice
A dash of pepper
A dash of 5 spice powder

  1. Make the sauce – mix together the following: 
    • Soya sauce
    • Sesame oil
    • Spring onion
    • Sugar
    • Pepper
    • 5 spice powder
  2. Microwave on high for 20 seconds. Set aside in the fridge and let it sit there until you need to use it (probably not necessary, I was doing things ahead of time).
  3. Steam the tofu on a plate. Don’t microwave it, I did that, and the structure somehow disintegrated just a little bit.
  4. Pour sauce over hot tofu.

In Sickness and in Mild-Lactose Intolerance

Despite the fact that I’m more than often (read: every day if possible) willing to eat hugely indulgent cakes/ice cream, that cheese and chocolate are some of the ingredients I use most frequently according to the tag cloud (after chilli and garlic), and that I would do a great many things to spend an afternoon eating a large bowl of clotted cream garnished with raspberries, I do have a slight problem with milk products.

Clearly, I am of the opinion that a slice of really good cake is worth any slight potential inconvenience it causes. But what it does mean is that I get rather grouchy when I eat bad cake, or bad ice cream, or those weird plastic cheeses. Wasting the lactose quota for the day, you know?

Pre-creamy cashews. I wouldn't have believed it worked until I tried See it looks a little like cream..ish

I never used to be this way. If not for this little issue, I’d probably balloon up to the size of a small walrus in a few weeks. Because I do love my cheese and chocolate.

I blame my university in the Netherlands for feeding me cheese sandwiches at breakfast and lunch almost every single day for 3 years. Perhaps my body went on strike after that? I’m still not especially keen on sandwiches. My feelings towards cheese have, however, not been affected in the slightest.

The consequence of all this is that you probably shouldn’t expect to find me extolling the virtues of the “best carbonara sauce I ever made”.

Didn't chop carefully, was tired Getting a little hot and steamy Mushrooms and cashew sand

I understand that prior to providing pictures of a nice, creamy, brown mushroom soup may not be the best moment in time to discuss lactose intolerance.

Mushroom slurry

So, why cream of mushroom soup? Um, I like it. And sometimes I miss Soup Spoon. No, this isn’t even similar to the Soup Spoon recipe at all, I just felt like having cream of mushroom.

And then, the opportune moment arrived – I was staying with BigFoot in Melbourne for the week, and both of us were sick. I was slightly healthier than he was by soup day, having had the worst of my flu a few days prior. Hence, I got to decide what we ate while he spent time accidentally taking very drowsy medication that knocks you out. He was up and about after a few hours, though I don’t think anyone else would have wanted to share the dinner we made. *cough hack sneeze*

Egg salad! Ugh The other side is burnt...that I didn't show you

Is it sad that I need the excuse that both of us were sick before having soup for dinner? I think it is. I don’t know why I have such an attachment to square meals at dinnertime.  It must be the auntie lurking within.

I also think it’s kinda bad that I was excited about being sick because of the excuse to have soup and garlic bread for dinner.

Don't float the bread like this, we burnt our fingers. So much for attempts at fancy plating.

Anyway, vegan soup – because I didn’t need more problems in addition to flu. But I do think I will continue making cashew soup instead of using cream. I always end up with leftover cream in the fridge, and I never know what to do with it because it isn’t advisable for me to whip up the entire packet in one go and spend the afternoon eating whipped cream with a spoon.

Cashew Cream of Mushroom Soup, and Cheesy Garlicky Bread

Inspired by the recipes of Vegan Sparkles and Joy the Baker, though I’m not sure how close their method is to ours – I pretty much just glanced at their recipes for seasoning, before we went off and did our own thing in a congested stupor.

Cashew Cream of Mushroom Soup

2/3 rice cup unsalted cashews – yea, sorry I couldn’t find my usual measuring cup
2/3 rice cup hot water – as above… I don’t think it’s an exact science though
200g pre-sliced white mushrooms – I was sick, don’t judge. I usually don’t buy pre-sliced
200g large brown mushrooms – 3/4 roughly chopped smaller, 1/4 chunked large
1 red onion
3 cloves garlic
2 tablesp soya sauce
A few shakes of italian herb mixture
1 cube of vegetable stock
Black pepper to taste
2-3 more serving size bowls of water – like a cereal bowl size

  1. Dump the cashews in the hot water and leave them to sit for a bit.
  2. Throw the peeled garlic and onion in the chopper, and roughly chop.
  3. Heat up a big pot with a little oil. Add the garlic and onion and let them sizzle until they smell great (if you can smell). If you can’t smell, keep going until they are soft and a little charred on some edges. Heat should be on medium.
  4. Chuck in the white mushrooms and the browm mushrooms that you roughly chopped smaller. Keep the large chunks back.
  5. Pour in the soya sauce and a few shakes of herbs. Don’t worry, you can always add more later. Stir stir until all is cooked. Use medium heat, don’t burn the bottom of the pot.
  6. The cashews should have softened a bit by now. Put everything in the chopper and chop it well. I only chopped until the texture of large sand grains (note that I have a chopper not a blender).
  7. Once the mushrooms are cooked, dump in the cashew water mix. Combine everything in the pot.
  8. Then take everything out of the pot and chop it in the chopper until it goes smooth.  Pour it back in the pot over medium heat.
  9. Now you can add in the extra water. I added 3 cereal bowls full, and it was a little too much. I think 2.5 bowls would have been enough.
  10. Once the water is mixed in with the mushroom paste, crumble in the stock cube and make sure it dissolves. This is when you throw in the large mushroom chunks too.
  11. Add some black pepper. It should be done soonish, as soon as the large mushroom chunks are done. Just keep seasoning until you like it, and you can boil down to make it thicker if you want.

Cheesy Garlicky Bread

6 cloves garlic
4 tablesp butter, softened
Some cheese – it’s up to you what you use, we used the equivalent of about 4 tablesp of maarsdam (that was what was on sale in the supermarket)
2  short, slightly crusty bread rolls

Oven temperature: set it to grill

  1. Chop the garlic roughly in the chopper.
  2. Add the butter to the chopper and then pulse the chopper again.
  3. Dump in the cheese in the chopper and pulse a couple more times. The final mixture looks like egg salad, kinda gross in my opinion but whatever.
  4. Cut the bread rolls into slices.
  5. Spread the buttery, garlicky, cheesy spread on to the slices and reassemble into a  bread-roll shape.
  6. Wrap the rolls in silver foil and stick them in the oven for about 10 – 15 minutes, or when you can smell tasty roasting garlic. After that, check and see if they’re done. Ours were slightly burnt because we didn’t check until 20 minutes (we couldn’t smell the garlic…)

Rushed Jobs and Eggplants

When you have half an hour’s warning to make dinner, that’s most definitely when you should start getting creative and trying things you’ve never done before.  Not completely my fault, we didn’t have much in the fridge except for eggplant, garlic and onion. As well as the pre-requisite sauces you need for everything.

It’s alright. Happy surprises involving eggplants brighten up my day. It’s one of my favourite vegetables 🙂

Vietnamese Claypot Eggplant

Inspired by The Siracusas. I didn’t follow their recipe that well because I didn’t have most of the ingredients. Great blogger, well done Lea. So here’s a pretty heavily adapted version of their recipe.

2 skinny eggplants
2 tablesp soya sauce
2 teasp sugar
1 teasp paprika powder – I never ever have paprika powder, I guess I don’t really know what it’s for? It’s a bit mild and sweetish but not any defined flavour? Yes I’m a philistine. I used a little dark/caramel soya sauce
1/2 a small onion – I added this… (ok so this wasn’t my fault, the recipe calls for a couple of spring onions, chopped, and I didn’t have any so I subbed)
3 cloves garlic – and this… (this is totally new)
2 red chillies – and this. (this too….See a pattern here? Related to garlic and chilli?)
A few dashes of white pepper

  1. Chop the eggplants into sticks, and soak them in some salty water. Dry and drain.
  2. Cook the eggplants – you can deep fry them, I usually stick these things in the toaster oven for a bit, flipping after 5 minutes. Because I’m lazy and also scared of flying oil.
  3. To get rid of the oil, you can rinse the eggplants in hot water, or pat them with a paper towel.
  4. Break out the clay pot (or just a pot), and marinate the eggplants in there with all the other sauces, for at least 30 minutes. I hit about 15 minutes tops and it was enough.
  5. The recipe says you can cook it on medium heat with the top off for 5 minutes. I chose to dump it on the stove for 15 with the top on. Again, out of laziness. But I found that this made the eggplant get all nice and caramalised on the outside, so go for it 🙂