SPICY MUSSELS IN WHITE WINE

I found this vintage mussel dish on ebay.

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It’s kinda ugly in an interesting sort of way.  I believe it was made in France in the 1950s by Vallauris.

Have you ever heard the saying “some days you’re the pigeon and other days you’re the statue?”  How about “some days you’re the dog and other days you’re the hydrant?”  Well, I’ve got another one for you — some days you’re the seagull and other days you’re the mussel.  Seagulls have a taste for mussels and other shellfish.  To get at the meat inside the shell, they carry the mussel high in the air, and then drop it on rocks below.  They do this over and over until the shell finally cracks open, and then they feast.  (A nice video of this, with some sea lions as an added bonus, can be seen here.)

After certain unpleasant and entirely fascinating recent events in American politics, I think we all might feel a little mussel-like, as if we’d been repeatedly dropped on sharp rocks until a seagull can come and pick our innards out.  This feeling, together with the mussel dish, is the inspiration for this recipe for Spicy Mussels in White Wine.

On Fridays and Saturdays, the Costco near me has a sort of pop-up seafood shop, and they almost always have 3-pound bags of beautiful Prince Edward Island (“PEI”) mussels   — rarely a broken shell in the whole bunch.  In researching mussels, I learned that the size of the mussel varies with the season — they are largest in October and smallest in March.  If a batch of mussels appears to be different colors, don’t worry — pale white meat indicates a male mussel, and a warmer, more orangey colour, a female.  (Yep, another step closer to being Cliff Clavin.)

This recipe is quick and easy, and is  a delicious light meal any time of year. Crusty bread is, of course, mandatory for sopping up the broth.  For times when you are perhaps feeling mussel-like, a soothing, steaming, savory bowl of mussels in white wine will help you feel like you are soaring with the seagulls in no time, at least momentarily.

SPICY MUSSELS IN WHITE WINE
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Recipe type: Seafood, Main Courses
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2¼"-thick slices of lemon
  • 2 pounds fresh mussels, scrubbed and debearded (discard any broken shells or that won't close)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup chopped seeded tomatoes
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, crushed red pepper, and salt, and saute until onion is golden, approximately 4-5 minutes. Add wine and lemon and bring to a boil over high heat. Add mussels and cook, covered, until mussels open, stirring once to rearrange mussels, approximately 6 minutes. Discard any mussels that do not open. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mussels to individual serving bowls. Boil liquid remaining in pot until reduced to 1 cup, approximately 3 minutes. Season broth to taste with salt and pepper. Pour broth over mussels. Sprinkle with parsley and tomatoes, and serve hot.
  2. (Note: Have lots of crusty bread on hand to sop up the broth.)

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NEW ORLEANS CRAB SOUP

 

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I found this brass turtle lemon grater at a local estate sale.

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Unfortunately, the grating holes are too dull to grate, after what I assume is years of use.  But it is still a wonderful decorative item.  It is especially interesting to me because it came from the estate of Suneeta Vaswani.  Suneeta moved to Houston from Mumbai 30 years ago, and has taught Indian cooking classes here for quite some time.  Her cookbook, The Complete Book of Indian Cooking:  350 Recipes from the Regions of India, which I bought yesterday and am looking forward to receiving, has lots of fans.

Speaking of turtles, do you remember those cute little fellas in the plastic dish with the palm tree?

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Once upon a time, these were popular pets for children.  Parents liked them because they were low maintenance, and if the turtle happened to die, chances are no one would notice for a while.  Unfortunately, my kids never got to experience the joy of owning a little turtle.  Seems that snuggling up to one of these cuddly cuties is like playing Russian roulette, because you never know if an encounter with one might result in a deadly salmonella infection.  According to the Center for Disease Control, the sale of turtles under 4 inches has been banned in the U.S. since 1975 because of the risk of salmonella.  (I expect to see these on Facebook soon — you know, “Click ‘like’ if you remember these,” just like rotary phones and the Brady Bunch.)

When I first moved to Houston, I was introduced to Turtle Soup at Brennan’s.  I thought it was a joke at first.  Really, Turtle Soup?  But it wasn’t a joke, and it was delicious.  According to one of the chefs at Brennan’s, Turtle Soup is “unquestionably the most popular dish” at the restaurant.  He says they make it in 35-gallon batches “in pots the size of small bathtubs.”  He also says that the restaurant only uses fresh water turtles, such as the snapping turtle.  That’s a relief —  I can’t imagine how many little turtles they’d have to use to make a batch of soup.

Inspired by the turtle grater, I set out to make Brennan’s Turtle Soup, except that I had no idea where to buy turtle meat, and even if I did, I wouldn’t.  The Brennan’s chef said you could substitute ground beef or a combination of ground beef and ground veal in chili grind, but I decided to use crab instead.  The recipe I adapted this from came from the New Orleans Turtle Soup recipe in the Breakfast at Brennan’s cookbook (it is different than the Brennan’s Turtle Soup recipes I found on the internet).  It makes a really nice meal this time of year (it was 35 degrees here in Houston when I took my son to school this morning).  If you want to stretch it — because after all, crab is expensive — you can serve it over white rice.  Don’t forget the drizzle of sherry!

NEW ORLEANS CRAB SOUP
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Recipe type: Soup
Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup diced onion
  • ½ cup diced celery
  • ½ cup diced green pepper
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup corn meal
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 1 pound lump crab meat
  • Optional for serving:
  • Cooked white rice
  • Sliced lemons
  • Dry sherry
  • Tabasco sauce
  • Chopped green onions
Instructions
  1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, garlic, parsley, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, paprika, salt, and bay leaves. Cook the mixture until the vegetable are very tender, stirring frequently. Stir in the flour and corn meal, and continue cooking until they have absorbed all of the butter. Slowly whisk the broth into the pot and bring to a boil. Add the crab meat and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Discard the bay leaves.
  2. To serve, place approximately ¼ cup white rice (if using) in individual soup bowls. Drizzle with a teaspoon of sherry (if using). Pass lemons, Tabasco sauce, and green onions at the table for use as desired.

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 Look Mom, no turtles!

GINGERED TUNA SALAD

I found this carved wooden cat at a recent estate sale:

I originally thought it was supposed to be a Mexican cat wearing a sombrero.  Upon closer inspection, however, I realized it was an Asian cat wearing a coolie hat.  (Well, that and the “Japan” carved on the bottom.)

Cats love tuna, don’t they?  Inspired by the Asian kitty (who also appears to be a zombie), I made Gingered Tuna Salad for lunch this weekend.  To be honest, if I came across this recipe in a cookbook, I would skip right over it, as the ingredients don’t sound like they would combine to produce a tasty dish.  But I sampled this tuna salad at Central Market when they were using it to promote some crackers, grabbed a copy of the recipe, and have been making a version of it ever since.

GINGERED TUNA SALAD
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Recipe type: Seafood, Salad
Author:
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • 6-ounce can chunk white albacore tuna in water, drained
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Pinch of salt
  • Dash of Tabasco, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans
  • 2 teaspoons minced chives or green onions, green part only
  • Field greens or spring mix
  • Pecan or rice crackers, or favorite crackers
Instructions
  1. Place tuna in a medium bowl and flake apart with a fork. In a small bowl, mix together mayonnaise, curry powder, rice vinegar, mustard, salt, and Tabasco. Stir mayonnaise mixture into tuna. Mix in ginger, pecans, and chives or green onions, mixing thoroughly.
  2. Place field greens or spring mix on two serving plates. Divide tuna salad among plates, mounding in center. Add a few crackers, and serve.

 

TEXAS TUNA SALAD (WITH ONIONS)

It always makes me sad to see photographs at an estate sale.  I’ve seen wedding albums, studio portraits, school pictures — you name it.  It just seems so cold, so uncaring.  I treasure my photos, and hope my kids will too someday.  Or at least not sell them.

This photo I found at a recent estate sale must have been taken in the early days of the oil industry, back when men weren’t afraid to let a little sock peek out from their pant leg, and there was no such thing as ripped abs.  These guys worked hard in the field, but as you can see in this next photo, they also knew how to party:

Miss Sooner?  I’m thinking these guys were hoping she’d be Miss Later, if you know what I mean.   This must have been a helluva party–looks like they rented out the whole VFW for this shindig.

Anyway, as I stood in line at the estate sale with no air conditioning, waiting to pay for these two photos and a magicube (for another post) and my daughter rolling her eyes, I found myself reminiscing about what brought me to the Lone Star state in the first place.  It was 1981 and not only had I just graduated from nursing school, but I had also just seen the movie Urban Cowboy. Texas looked like so much fun — cowboys, mechanical bulls, two-stepping at Gilley’s.  So I headed down here with a few roommates, and we found jobs at one of the most amazing medical centers in the country.  We didn’t really plan to stay, but soon the triple digit temperatures, oppressive humidity, and frequent tropical disturbances worked their magic on us, and Texas became home.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but the dream of living in a trailer while my husband goes off to work at the refinery doesn’t seem quite as glamorous as it once did.  But I still love Urban Cowboy.  My favorite line in the movie is near the end where Bud is trying to keep Sissy from leaving, and he says, “I want to apologize clear back to when I hit you the first time.”  Don’t you wish you had a nickel for every time you said that?

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And then there’s the scene where Sissy and Bud are eating tuna salad that Bud’s aunt made for them.  Sissy’s picking out the onions, because, as she tells Bud, she likes her tuna salad “with apples and walnuts, not so much these onions.”  As Sissy gets up to change before they go out for the evening, she tells Bud, “Eat your tuna with the onions,” and he laughingly retorts, “Clean up, pig.”  So romantic!

I love plain old tuna salad — mayo, lemon, maybe some celery.  But today, inspired by the photo of the oil guys and the memories of Urban Cowboy, I’m making a Texas Tuna Salad, and yes, Sissy, it’s got onions!

TEXAS TUNA SALAD (WITH ONIONS)
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Recipe type: Seafood, Salad
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 5-ounce cans chunk white albacore tuna in water, drained
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 1 green onion, green part only, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh jalapeno
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons minced red, orange, and/or yellow bell pepper, plus extra for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • ¼ teaspoon tabasco
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ½ head iceberg lettuce, shredded
  • Microgreens, or sprouts, for garnish (optional)
Instructions
  1. Mix together tuna, onion, green onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and bell pepper in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, lime juice, and tabasco. Fold mayonnaise mixture into tuna, stirring until thoroughly combined. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. To serve, place shredded lettuce on 4 individual plates. Divide tuna salad among plates, mounding in the middle. Garnish with microgreens, if using, and scatter minced bell pepper around plate.