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Mussels in white wine, chilli and tomatoes


Mussels, without a shadow of a doubt – are my absolute favourite seafood.
They are full of glorious, meaty flavour. I love how they sound as you swish them around in a pan, the clickity clack as the shells hit the edges.
They look wonderful too – the shells all black and shiny. And amazingly, in Australia anyway, they are super cheap!!!

However, mussels aren’t all fun and games.
The reality is, it takes a fair bit of work to prepare them, and sometimes the rules surrounding whether a mussel is safe to eat or not, can be really confusing.

But, don’t be afraid! Once you get a hang of how to prepare them, cooking is a breeze. The best news is …. Mussels are sooooo worth the effort!

So, here are a few tips to help you prepare mussels.

  • Buy them from reputable fish monger.
  • Once you get your mussels home, you really need to use them that day for the best results. This is one thing that shouldn’t be stored too long. However, if you can’t prepare them right away – pop them in the fridge. Just make sure you don’t leave them wrapped in plastic – they should be kept in a container and covered lightly with a tea towel, to let them breathe.
  • As you are going through your mussels, some of them may be slightly open. Give them a sharp tap on the side of your kitchen sink. If they close tightly, they are fine cook. However – if they don’t – you must throw them away. They are dead and no good to eat.
  • To prepare the mussels, give the shells a good scrub to remove any barnacles – I use a rough cleaning pad to do this (a fresh one out of the packet, not one I have used to scrub pots and pans … eewww!).
  • Remove the beard (that’s the fibrous thing sticking out of the mussel) – give it a good, strong pull and it should come off.

That’s just about it – now it’s time to cook them and I have a really beautiful recipe that can be used as either a starter or a main. This one is a perfect dish to make your significant other for a romantic dinner – clean the mussels, cut up all the ingredients and cook immediately before serving. You’ll impress your significant other with your cooking skills, but the dish won’t take too long to get on the table. Perfect!

Mussels in white wine, chilli and tomatoes

  • 500gm of mussels, cleaned and sorted
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 3 rashers of bacon, cut into strips
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 red chilli, finely sliced (or you can add more, if you like it really hot)
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 1 400gm can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 handful of basil, roughly torn

Method

Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a large, heavy-based pan.

Cook the bacon, until it’s getting slightly crisp – then add the onion, garlic and chilli and season with salt and pepper. Cook over a medium heat until onion is soft.

Turn up the heat and add the wine, allowing it to simmer briskly for a minute or two.

Add the canned tomatoes and once they start to simmer. Add the mussels.

Cover and cook for a minute or two, or until the mussels have opened (it doesn’t take long – and this is how you tell they are ready). Add the fresh basil and serve.

Important: As you serve the dish into bowls, ensure that you discard any unopened mussels. If they are closed, then they are no good.

If you are cooking this as a main course, toss through some freshly cooked pasta at the end. If not, just serve the mussels as they are, with some fresh sourdough bread to mop up all those awesome juices.

A romantic dish deserves a matching song with it. This song is by an Australian artist called Sia and featured on the Twilight Saga Eclipse soundtrack. It’s the song playing in the background when Edward asks Bella to marry him. A little corny, I know – but a very romantic moment and a truly amazing song. Google Sia and check out the rest of her music, she has an amazing voice.

Sia – My Love

If you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comments section below. Also, if you have any other tips for cooking mussels or seafood in general – I’d love to hear from you!

 

The Weekly Cook Up: Morrocan Beef Tagine


Moroccan food, in my book, is absolutely gorgeous. This tagine is no different because it’s filled with delicate flavours, amazing freshness and the pangs of yumminess that come from lemon and olives.

I admit, there are a few ingredients in this dish – but that’s why it’s a Weekly Cook Up recipe. It needs a little love and time to ensure you are left with a succulent, tender and flavourful dish.

I generally get annoyed when people call dishes like this a tagine – when they didn’t actually use a tagine to cook it in. I mean, that’s the whole point! So, I apologise to myself right now. I am calling this a tagine, because the flavours deserve that title. I didn’t have mine handy because we were house-sitting for my brother and his girl while they were off sunning themselves in warmer places of Australia. Also, this is a large batch, which will serve 6 to 8 to allow for freezing, so it wouldn’t probably fit in a tagine anyway. Feel free to halve the quantities and break out your tagine, if you have one. They are definitely a worthwhile investment.

You will see below that the first component of the recipe involves making a chermoula. This is like the equivalent of a curry paste – but in this case the consistency is more like a watery salsa. This is a critical step in making this dish as it’s where you start to build the flavour base. Keep in mind when making this dish that you really need to marinade the meat for about two hours after adding the chermoula.

Beef Tagine with Lemon, Olives and Coriander

Chermoula

  • 6 tomatoes, finely diced
  • 3 tbs of fresh coriander root, finely chopped
  • the zest of a whole lemon
  • the juice of half a lemon
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large green chilli, finely chopped
  • 2 cm of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tsp of Moroccan spice paste (I used Dave Bittons – but there are others available in the spice section at the supermarket)

The tagine

  • 2 kg of chuck steak – trimmed of excess fat (but leave a bit on for tenderness and flavour). Cut into 2cm cubes
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 2 potatoes (I didn’t peel them, but you can if you prefer) cut into wedges
  • 1/2 a cup of water
  • 1 cup of green pitted olives (you can use kalamata, if you like)
  • 4 tbs of chopped, fresh coriander

Method

Combine all the ingredients for the chermoula.

Place half the chermoula in a bowl with the meat. Mix thoroughly and seal both bowls with cling film and place in the fridge for an hour – 2 if possible to allow the flavours to meld and marinate.

 Take the meat and chermoula out of the fridge and set aside. Meanwhile, heat some oil in a large, heavy-based pan and add the onion, cooking over a medium heat until nice and soft.

Add the meat, the remaining chermoula as well as the tomatoes, potatoes and water.

Bring to the boil, cover and simmer over a very low heat for about two hours, or until the meat is lovely and tender. Add the olives, allow to heat through for a minute or two. Add the fresh coriander, then serve.

Serve with cous cous and some nice crusty bread.

This dish has amazing layers of flavour that will dance in your mouth. The soft, fluffy cous cous soaks up the juices perfectly. This really is an awesome dish.

As for my music recommendation – One Republic was definitely a feature of my playlist while I was making this. Make sure you look up their albums – but one of my favourite songs is called Lullaby. It’s a song about home, about feeling safe and content. Have a listen below. It’s a really beautiful song.

The tagine will freeze well for up to three months. Seeing as it’s the Queens Birthday long weekend, why not spend some time whipping up some dishes like this to freeze to make your life easier when work and life gets crazy again! Check out The Weekly Cook Up for more inspiration. Other than cooking – what are your plans this long weekend? I’m working at my brother and dad’s shop, and relaxing with my finacee. No doubt there’ll be some cooking going on too 🙂

Leek and chickpea soup


It’s so freezing outside that I thought I should share with you a soup recipe that has become one of my all-time favourites. I adore leeks and seeing as they are in season, now is an ideal time to whip this up. I really didn’t like the idea of chickpeas in soup at first – but although it only has a few ingredients, the flavour is amazing. I originally saw this made on a Jamie Oliver cooking show way back when. I’ve made it my own and no longer need the recipe to guide me. Everyone I have served it to has been impressed 🙂

So – introducing …

 Leek and Chickpea Soup

  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 4 leeks
  • 3 desiree potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 2 cans of chickpeas, drained and well rinsed
  • 1.5 – 2 litres of chicken stock
  • Parmesan cheese (to serve, but optional)

Cut leeks down the middle, discarding the tough green part at the top, and clean thoroughly under running water. Chop fairly finely.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add leeks and a few good pinches of salt. The salt will not only add flavour, but allow the leeks to wilt, without colouring. This should take about five minutes over a medium heat – ensure you keep an eye on it and stir regularly.

Add the potatoes, along with the chickpeas and cook until heated through. Add stock at this point – enough to generously cover the mixture.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes, or until potato cubes are tender.

Remove from heat and using a stick mixer (or blender), blitz the ingredients, but leave some chunky bits.

Blitzing ensures the soup is beautiful and creamy, but leaving some chunky bits of chickpea and leek means there is really nice texture too. However, feel free to blitz to a smooth consistency if that’s what you prefer.

Bring back to the simmer – now you can judge whether more stock needs to be added. Just add more until the texture is to your liking. Make sure you have a taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve drizzled with some olive oil and shavings of parmesan cheese.

This soup really is a meal in a bowl and also makes a fantastic lunch. You can freeze it too, if you want – but I find this one disappears out of the fridge pretty quickly!

My Groovy Kitchen Tunes track for this warm, nutty soup would have to be Dark Storm, by The Jezebels. Its title is reflective of our weather here in Victoria at the moment, but there’s something warming and hopeful about it at the same time. Curl up on the couch tonight in front of the TV, pop a blanket over you and enjoy this soup and just think, the weekend is nearly here!! Sounds like a perfect Wednesday night to me 🙂

Butter Chicken – the weeknight version


Butter chicken is one of those curries that won’t scare those opposed to heat and is great for kids. Not a chilli in site!

While curries are a bit famous for taking a very long time to cook – this version is actually quite quick (on the table within 40 minutes, including preparation) and doesn’t require going to the supermarket to purchase 10 different kinds of spice.

It’s a bit of a cheats version – but don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for that! This uses a store-brought mild curry paste. Some brands of these are better than others. I find Sharwood to be superior and the flavour is really fantastic. It’s all fine to spend a bit of time on the weekend grinding up your own curry paste, but it’s not something for during week.

You’ll notice that the quantities are enough to feed a small army – and that’s because I was cooking it not only for our dinner, but also as additional meals for my dad to put in his freezer.

So, why not cook a large batch – serve it up for dinner, then pop the rest in an air-tight container for the freezer. It’ll give you a night off when you can’t face cooking.

Butter Chicken

  • 3 heaped tbs of mild curry paste (Sharwood is my prefered supermarket variety – but there are fabulous ones at Indian supermarkets)
  • 2 large red onions, finely diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2cm nob of ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 tbs of dried ground coriander
  • 2 tbs of tomato paste (this is a key ingredient, not only for flavour, but colour as well)
  • 2 kg of chicken thigh fillets, chopped into 2cm cubes
  • 500ml of thickened cream
  • 1/2 a cup of water
  • 1 large handful of chopped, fresh coriander (optional)

Method


In a large, heavy-based saucepan add the paste, onion, garlic, ginger, tomato paste and dried coriander and cook until the spices become fragrant, about five minutes. If they start to burn and catch on the bottom of the pan, add a little water.

Add the chicken and cook over a medium heat, stirring regularly, until the chicken’s juices start to loosen the mix. This will take 5-10 minutes. Add the water and the cream and stir well. Allow to simmer over a low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked and the curry is a lovely, rich orangey colour. Add the coriander, if using. and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with basmati rice and pappadums or naan bread, if you have it handy!

My Groovy Kitchen Tunes track choice for the cooking of this recipe would have to be something warm and comforting, just like this dish. As soon as this song comes on, I can’t help but smile, which is how I feel when I put the first fork full of butter chicken in my mouth. The Temper Trap is my new absolute favourite band right now, in and out of the kitchen! Their album Conditions was a big feature of the playlist at our engagement party in May. Their incredible – as is this song – Fader. Have a listen!

The Weekly Cook Up – Chicken noodle soup


I don’t know what the weather is like in your part of the world, but here it’s delivering mostly sunny days, but the evenings have inherited that true winter chill we haven’t felt for a while here in southern Australia.

While this is a cue for most people to pull out their fluffy ugg boots, cardigans and to curl up and watch TV with a nice warm blanket over your lap – for me, it’s also about cooking really yummy soups. Mostly, I take them to work for lunch, because I generally have a decent appetite at dinner time and really want something substantial. However, this chicken soup is a true meal.

With cooler weather comes colds and flues, and if you haven’t heard, chicken soup has wonderful medicinal, anti-inflamatory properties. All the more reason to get into the kitchen this weekend and cook up a nice big batch. This recipe will give you four to six large serves. It’s healthy, warming and completely delish!

Most of us have a long weekend ahead (Happy Easter, by the way!!) so now is a great time to get in the kitchen and do some cook ups. Don’t forget to check out these other fabulous recipes which will help you fill your freezer.

Delicious Dal

Braised pork chops with apples and cabbage

Ginger and coriander curry

Chicken Soup

The broth
– 1 whole free-range chicken
– 3 stalks of celery – roughly chopped (include top leaves for extra flavour)
– 3 carrots – roughly chopped
– 3 large red onions, unpeeled, roughly chopped
– 1 handful of fresh parsley
– 2 leeks (use only white parts) roughly chopped
– 3 cloves of garlic – whole with skin on
– 6 peppercorns
– 2 bay leaves
– A few good pinches of sea salt (to taste)
– I stalk of lemon grass – bruised (optional)
The soup
– 3 stalks of celery, washed and diced
– 2 leeks, washed and diced (use only the white part)
– 1 packet of vermicelli noodles
– The flesh of a whole cooked chicken (cooked using the broth above)
– 3 tablespoons of soy sauce (or to taste)
– Salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
 
Combine all ingredients for the broth in a large stock pot and pour over enough cold water to cover all the vegetables and to ensure the chicken is submerged.
Cover and simmer very gently for about 1 hour.
Remove from heat, retrieve the chicken and set aside.
Strain the liquid into a clean bowl, pressing the vegetables to extract the flavour. Transfer back into the saucepan and allow to cool.  Discard the cooked vegies.
 
Meanwhile, once the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull it apart with your hands, discarding the skin and bones, and separate the tender flesh into chunks. Set these aside for later.
Once the broth has cooled, scoop away any fat or impurities that have risen to the top and discard them. This leaves a beautiful, clean broth. An easy way to do this is to pop the cooled broth into the fridge overnight. The next day the fat and impurities will have formed a skin on top, making it even easier to skim and discard.
 
Bring the broth back up to the boil and add the remaining soup ingredients. Simmer until the noodles are cooked through, which sound only take a few minutes. Before serving, check for seasoning. I find this needs quite a bit of salt to bring out all the subtle flavours – so make sure you taste it and adjust to your tastes.
 
Serve in big bowls, with some nice, crusty bread.
Alternatively, if you’d like to freeze this for later use, pour into containers, label and freeze for up to three months. This can be reheated easily in the microwave and makes perfect lunches to take to work.
 
What kinds of soups do you look forward to eating in winter? I’m always looking for new ones to try!
Stay tuned for even more soups as the weather gets cooler!
 
Be Inspired~
Lisa
 
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