Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Moving & Mussel Night - 6/10/08

I know I have not updated the blog in a little while. Truth is I am packing up everything I own for my big move to North Carolina. This means my schedule has been a little more full and some of my cooking equipment is being packed away. Also, I went on vacation recently, which means eating out every day. But I do want to put out one final entry before the move.

Salmon Farfalle

One goal I have is to eat all of the food in the house to lighten the load of the move. I had some salmon burgers left in the freezer, so I decided to use up those along with some farfalle pasta and a bottle of putanesca sauce to make this dish. It is very simple and not bad on flavor if you are in a pinch or, like me, moving. Not all of the food I am eating is this sad, though. I am being invited out by friends who want to get in the last few nights we'll have together for a while.

Moroccan Lamb Kabobs

I was invited to have dinner at a friend's family's home. I never like to show up to a dinner party empty handed, so I made these lamb kabob appetizers. The original recipe called for marinating the lamb in spices and buttermilk for at least 4 hours, which I'm sure makes the meat extra tender. I, however, wanted to optimize flavor and skip the dairy for one of the people in attendance. Hence, I used all of the spices in a rub: garlic powder, mint, parsley, cumin, salt, and pepper. I did not coat each piece, but I gave it a good amount of this spice mix. I then placed these on bamboo skewers (pre-soaked in water for about 30 minutes to prevent burning) alternatively with sliced red pepper, red onion, and a lemon wedge. I used my Foreman grill to cook these up with good grill marks in only about 2-3 minutes per batch.

Garlic Bread & Focaccia

Have you ever seen the pizza dough in the bakery area of Publix. Well, you can make an easy focaccia with it very quickly. First, make sure you let the dough come to room temperature. Sometimes I've been too impatient to take this step and the dough is very hard to work with when cold. Spread it out onto a greased pan of some sort. Here's a step you can omit if you want: push little dimples into your dough with your fingertips and spread some olive oil on top of the dough. The oil will well up into these pits for an extra burst of flavor. Now, you can put whatever you want on top of the dough. I usually use dried Italian herbs: garlic salt, basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, etc. But anything can work: sliced onions, fresh herbs, roasted peppers; cheese (mozzarella, feta, etc.), olives (hopefully pitted). Just remember that if you want a topping to be moist, put it on after you've baked the dough. Then just stick the dough into a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes until it is turning golden brown on the top. The garlic rolls in the picture are pre-made rolls with a little butter and fresh garlic on top. The garlic, since it is raw, adds some bite to the bread.


The main dish of the night: mussels. Mussels can be put into stews (see previous entry), paella, complex sauces from just about any type of cuisine and cultural background, but here's something I've learned: mussels are absolutely wonderful if you keep them simple. This is just the case. These mussels were steamed and then topped with melted butter and fresh garlic. Other small additions could be some white wine or a little saffron. The key is to have the seafood be the main feature. You want the fresh taste of the shellfish, almost tasting the ocean from which it came. When you are done with the mussels, feel free to mop up some of the sauce with your bread.

Passion Mango Drink

As a drink, they served a combination of passion fruit puree and mango juice blended with a little ice. This drink was simple in preparation, but wonderfully complex in flavor as the two fruits competed for your attention while still complementing each other. Lamentably, I was so ecstatic over the dessert that I forgot to take a picture before my plate was empty. One of my favorite foods, platanos maduros (ripe platains), was served with a warm, sweet mole. Before last night, I was used to mole being used only in more savory dishes as a part of the main course. But this was a combination of sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and a dried pepper (I'm not sure which one, it was dark and rather large). These are toasted and the placed in a food processor with a little bit (not much) of tomato. I think it is then heated with a special dark (not very sweet) chocolate to make a delicious sauce for the platanos. It was not overly sweet and only had the faintest hint of spice. This dish was probably the most unexpected pleasures of the night.

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