Moules Marinieres

Appetizers and Starters, Main Dishes, Recipes

Martin and I love replicating our favorite restaurant dishes in our own kitchen. Last week, we finally attempted a dish that is one of my all-time favorite to eat yet we had never realized just how easy it would be to make at home — moules frites. Inspired by our brunch at Meet in Paris, we wanted our first batch to keep it simple with garlic, shallots, butter, thyme, and white wine. We managed to find Prince Edward Island (PEI) mussels at our local supermarket chain, though the size of the flesh was nowhere near as gigantic as the ones we had at Meet. This classic mussel preparation is known as mariniere, French for “mariner’s style” but defined in the culinary world as a dish that is prepared by cooking in white wine.

Moules Marinieres

Moules Marinieres

Storing the Mussels: Odds are, the guy behind your grocery store’s seafood counter will toss the mussels into a plastic bag, tie it up, and wrap the whole thing in butcher paper. As soon as you get home, be sure to properly store the mussels. Most importantly, either take them out of the plastic bag or poke holes in it so that they do not suffocate. We transferred ours onto a metal tray, covered them with a damp paper towel, and kept them in the refrigerator until dinnertime. Here’s where it got a little tricky (to me anyway): BEFORE COOKING — the mussels should be tightly closed. Any open ones should close if you tap or otherwise gently disturb it. If the shells are agape and it does nothing, then it is dead and should be discarded. AFTER COOKING — all of the mussels should pop wide open. Any that remain shut are dead and should be discarded. Dead mussels are no bueno.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

2 lbs mussels (PEI ones are great)

1 shallot, finely diced

4-6 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Pinch of salt

A few sprigs of fresh thyme (or a small handful chopped fresh parsley), optional

2 cups dry white wine (any drinkable but well-priced white wine will do; we found a 2012 Beringer Chardonnay for $3/bottle — do NOT use “cooking wine”)

Crusty bread or baguette, warm or toasted if desired

Cleaned Mussels

Cleaned Mussels

First, clean the mussels under cold running tap water. Our mussels were pretty clean, but if needed, you’ll need to remove the beards from between the shells. Set aside.

Sauteing the Garlic and Shallots

Sauteing the Garlic and Shallots

In a large skillet, melt the butter. Saute the shallot and garlic until softened and translucent, about 1-2 minutes. Season with a sprinkling of salt.

Adding the Wine and Mussels

Adding the Wine and Mussels

Add the herbs, if using, and pour in the wine. Turn the heat up to high and add the mussels, arranging them in a single layer if possible.

Cover and Let Simmer

Cover and Let Simmer

Cover and let simmer for about 5 minutes. You’ll notice that they will gradually pop open. Start toasting off crostini-style slices of bread, if desired.

Almost Ready

Almost Ready

Stir the mussels and continue to boil, covered, for another minute or two. Remove the cover and serve immediately.

Beautiful Mussels!

Beautiful Mussels!

Yields 2 servings (the typical serving is about 1 pound of mussels per person).

Serving Suggestion: alongside wine and crusty bread

Serving Suggestion: alongside wine and crusty bread

Serving suggestion: in a large bowl alongside crusty bread and French fries (to complete this dish as moules frites). Provide a spoon, if desired, but I think the best “spoon” is the discarded shell of one of your eaten mussels. Savor the flavorful broth.

Pair with a glass of the same white wine used for cooking or a better Chardonnay if preferred. Bon appetit!

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our-growing-edge-badgeThis post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. I love to eat moules marinieres, but this was our very first time making it at home and boy, is it easy! I never would have imagined that we could recreate a gourmet dish like steamed mussels; light some candles and whip up a batch of these for your next date night at home for a boost of fanciness and romance.

This month is hosted by Leah at Sharing the Food We Love.

Cheers!

Homemade Chicken Stock

Appetizers and Starters, Food Life, Recipes, Side Dishes

Happy Day-After-Thanksgiving, Nom Nom Cat Readers! I hope you were able to partake in a gluttonous quantity of turkey (or chicken, or ham, or lamb) with all the fixin’s, and most importantly, spend quality time with loved ones. And for those who did carve into a whole poultry bird, I certainly hope that you kept the carcass… which brings me to today’s recipe — homemade chicken stock. Martin makes fun of me for it, but one of my favorite Sunday afternoon activities is bringing home a whole bird, butchering it into the assorted parts (breasts, thighs, drumsticks, wings), and making a stock out of the remnants. I just use the raw chicken scraps as-is, but roasted chicken bones would impart even more flavor to your broth or stock, so keep that carcass!

Beautiful Stock

Beautiful Stock

The process is surprisingly simple, and once I used homemade stock in a recipe, I never turned back. Soups, sauces, and especially risotto benefit from a quality base that the canned and carton variety just cannot replicate. Making stock is also a relatively forgiving process. Short on time? You’ll get a nice clear broth. Leave it too long? You’ll end up with a concentrated demiglace that can be diluted later in cooking. But simmer it for just the right amount of time and you’ll yield a rich, full flavored stock that embodies the essence of chicken.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

Chicken: carcass, neck, 2 wings, excess fat

1 large onion

2 carrots

2-3 stalks celery

3 cloves of garlic

2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme

3-4 dried bay leaves

3 quarts cold water

Egg shell, optional*

* If having a very clear stock is important for your next recipe, toss in an egg shell and/or egg white. The albumen will attract and trap the “junk” and you can just skim off the floating “raft” at the end.

Carcass

Carcass

Butcher the raw or roasted chicken carcass.

Mirepoix

Mirepoix

Roughly chop the mirepoix vegetables. The garlic can be left whole – just smash it a bit to release the oils.

Browning the Chicken

Browning the Chicken

I like to start my stock by browning the chicken first. The one I bought had a large flap of fat that I had trimmed off, so I started that first to render fat and then tossed in the whole carcass. I also added the neck and two wings. The wings have a great bone to meat to fat ratio for making stock. For a true stock, I do not season the chicken at all. Any seasoning will come from the next stage; the stock only harnesses the chicken flavor.

Add the Veggies

Add the Veggies

Add the mirepoix. You can also make a chicken stock with only chicken, but I like the flavors that the vegetables add to the final product.

Pour in the Water

Pour in the Water

Time to pour in the water, cold as starting with cold water will result in a less cloudy broth. Also toss in the aromatics. Bring to boil and simmer for 3 to 4 hours, less for a broth (but at least 1 hour so the chicken cooks through), more for a reduced demiglace.

Strain the Stock

Strain the Stock

Remove the boiled chicken. After about 4 hours of simmering, the chicken itself will probably be dry and bland. I toss it (there isn’t much meat left on the carcass anyway) but to prevent waste, you can pick the meat off the bones and use for a chicken salad or toss in nuoc cham and eat over rice. Using a sieve or even a skimmer (in the very first photo), strain out the vegetables and herbs. The recipe should yield about 1.5 to 2 quarts of stock.

Muffin Tin Storage

Muffin Tin Storage

I stored my latest batch of stock in a freezer safe plastic container, but I wish I had taken the extra step to make my “broth bullion” as Martin likes to call them. It’s so easy — just strain the broth or stock into a muffin tin, about 2/3 to 3/4 full. Freeze overnight.

Frozen Broth Bullion

Frozen Broth Bullion

Once frozen solid, just pop them out (dip the tray in a bit of warm water to loosen if it needs help) and store in a zip top bag. Whenever you need broth, just reheat in a small saucepan. I also love these little discs because they add just the right amount of oomph to my sauces. No need to defrost more than you’d use right away, and it’s just as easy as popping open a can of the store-bought stuff. And like I said earlier, nothing beats homemade!

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SPONSORED POST

Speaking of Black Friday, a little birdie told us that Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (CBTL) is participating with a Buy One Get One Free sale all weekend (November 29 through December 1) on their Kaldi and Americano machines. Not willing to brave the crazy crowds at your local mall? Have no fear — this sale is also taking place online with the promo code BOGOCBTL. Check out the website for more info and for the fine print. Enjoy!

13CBV_PS_BOGO_BlackFriday 11x17* Disclosure per FTC regulations: we were not paid for this post but expect to receive a CBTL machine from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in the near future to try and review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely those of Nom Nom Cat authors Alice and Martin.

Minestrone Soup

Appetizers and Starters, Main Dishes, Recipes

Minestrone. A classic Italian vegetable soup, I see minestrone offered everywhere — served alongside sandwiches at small cafes, as the zuppa di giorno (“soup of the day” in Italian) at a hole-in-the-wall ristorante, by the ladle-full in salad bars, and even out of a can. Made with seasonal and available vegetables, every batch is different. But one thing is for sure – the final product is hearty, comforting, and packed with nature’s bounty.

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone Soup

Aside from simply having too much squash leftover from our ratatouille adventures, what really inspired me to make minestrone was the fact that while Martin enjoyed my pasta e fagioli, he spent much of his time picking out the cannellini beans. You can’t have pasta e fagioli without the fagioli, but you can have a similar broth enveloping a medley of vegetables sans legumes. Without further ado…

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 medium onion, diced

2 zucchinis, diced

1 yellow squash, diced

1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes

3-4 dried bay leaves

2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme)

1 32 fl oz (quart) vegetable stock (or beef stock)

1/2 lb small pasta, like ditalini, stars, orzo, etc.

Salt & pepper to taste

Saute the Onions

Sauteing the Onions

Step 1: Heat a stock pot over medium-high heat. Saute the garlic and onions in a bit of olive oil until translucent.

Dicing the Zucchini

Dicing the Zucchini

Step 2: Prep the vegetables, dicing them into evenly diced cubes.

Sauteing the Vegetables

Sauteing the Vegetables

Step 3: Add the vegetables and saute with a sprig of fresh thyme for a few minutes until softened and aromatic. Season with salt and pepper.

Adding the Tomatoes and Herbs

Adding the Tomatoes and Herbs

Step 4: Pour in the canned tomatoes (including the juices) and toss in one or two additional sprigs of fresh thyme along with the bay leaves.

Simmer Simmer

Simmer Simmer

Step 5: Add the stock and bring to a boil, tasting and seasoning as you go.

Boiling the Pasta

Boiling the Pasta

Step 6: In a small pot, boil salted water and cook the pasta according to package instructions.

Soup is Ready!

Soup is Ready!

Step 7: When the broth has come to a boil and the vegetables are tender but not mushy, it’s ready to go.

Portioning the Pasta

Portioning the Pasta

In each bowl, portion a scoop of pasta, about 1 cup. Ladle the broth and vegetables over the pasta and serve immediately.

Minestrone Soup - piled high with veggies

Minestrone Soup – piled high with veggies

Makes about 4 hearty servings, perfect for a cold wintery night. Because you know, anything below 75 degrees Fahrenheit counts as “wintery” here in LA.

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Pasta e Fagioli

Appetizers and Starters, Main Dishes, Recipes

“When the stars make you drool, just-a like pasta fazool, that’s amore…” It has been getting pretty chilly around here, and you know what that means –’tis the season for soup! We make lots of chicken based soups, but sometimes, you’re just in a mood that only a bacon and beef based broth can satisfy. Pasta e fagioli, literally “pasta and beans” in Italian, is a simple soup that’s packed with flavor. It’s also surprisingly easy and plus, I’ll bet you can’t help but hum Dean Martin’s That’s Amore as this simmers on the stove.

Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli

Another perk of making “pasta fazool” — not only can you whip it up in a jiffy, the ingredients list is largely made up of shelf stable items commonly in stock in the pantry. Just… make sure you have a working can opener. (Without one, it was a lot of extra unnecessary effort getting those tomatoes and beans out of their aluminum shields… not speaking from experience at all, but just saying – if you need advice on how to pop open a can without a proper can opener, shoot me an email.)

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

2-3 strips bacon (I used thick-cut applewood smoked bacon), sliced into lardons

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

3-4 dried bay leaves

(Optional: sprinkle of dried red pepper flakes)

1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes

1 14 ounce can cannellini (white kidney) beans

1 32 fl oz (quart) beef stock

1/2 lb small pasta, like ditalini, stars, orzo, etc.

Salt & pepper to taste

It's BACON! (says the dog from the Beggin' Strips commercials in the 90s)

It’s BACON! (says the dog from the Beggin’ Strips commercials in the 90s)

Step 1: I like to use the same cutting board whenever I can, so first, mince the garlic and set aside. Take out the bacon strips and cut into large lardon-like pieces.

Mmm bacon grease.

Mmm bacon grease.

Step 2: Heat a stock pot over high heat. Saute the lardons and render the fat.

Amazing aromatics with the bacon-garlic combo

Amazing aromatics with the bacon-garlic combo

Step 3: When the bacon has cooked through, add the garlic. Once the garlic has just barely started to brown, sprinkle in the herbs and red pepper flakes, if desired.

After finally prying open those cans...

After finally prying open those cans…

Step 4: Add both the tomatoes and cannellini beans. Mix around and heat on medium / medium-high for a few minutes.

Adding in the Stock

Adding in the Stock

Step 5: Pour in the beef stock and cover to quickly bring to a boil.

The pasta really soaks up a lot of the liquid -- add water if necessary

The pasta really soaks up a lot of the liquid — add water if necessary

Step 6: Once the soup has reached a boil, add in the pasta. This is also a good chance to taste the soup and season as needed. Keep in mind that the stock and bacon are inevitably salty.

Ready to Serve!

Ready to Serve!

Step 7: Continue to simmer for about 10 minutes or until the pasta reaches al dente texture. Serve immediately.

Buon Appetito!

Buon Appetito!

Makes about 4 hearty servings of soup. It’s best to only make enough for same-day consumption as the pasta continues to expand the longer it sits in the soup. (Still delicious, even though my lunch of leftovers was more saucy than soupy.)

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Parmesan Thyme Crackers

Appetizers and Starters, Recipes

Of all the dishes and items that I’ve been wanting to make at home rather than purchase from a store (pasta and croissants, for example), crackers just never seemed to cross my mind. Not that I reach for those bright red boxes of Cheez-Its very often anyway, but once I saw these homemade crackers on Dinner of Herbs, I decided that I would give it a go. Plus, they would be the perfect addition to the picnic I was packing for a girls’ night out at the Hollywood Bowl. As it turned out, they were easy to make while seeming deceptively impressive to friends and guests.

Parmesan Thyme Crackers

Parmesan Thyme Crackers

Instead of wheat crackers, however, I ended up using this Smitten Kitchen recipe for the basic dough ratios and took off from there. Parmesan and thyme sounded like a great classic combination for those starting out, and they certainly blow those neon orange assembly-line squares out of the water! But soon, I’ll try my luck at some more daring flavor combinations – perhaps parmesan, parsley, and truffle salt, like a deconstructed order of truffle frites. Oh, I can feel the wheels turning…

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup grated parmesan

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus extra for sprinkling

1-2 teaspoons dried thyme

1/4 cup cream (I watered down heavy whipping cream and it worked fine; you can use half & half as well)

(adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Mark Bittman of the NY Times)

Step 1: Pulse

Step 1: Pulse

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a food processor, pulse together the flour, parmesan, butter, salt, and thyme. Continue pulsing until the butter has been broken down and the mixture resembles finely crushed breadcrumbs.

Step 2: The Well

Step 2: The Well

Step 2: Cover your work area with a large sheet of parchment paper. Turn out the contents of the food processor and make a well in the center. Add the cream.

Step 3: The Dough

Step 3: The Dough

Step 3: Knead gently to distribute the cream. There should be just enough moisture that it comes together like a dough. If it is still crumbly, add more cream or water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Step 4: Roll

Step 4: Roll

Step 4: Roll the dough into a thin sheet, no thicker than 1/4 inch. If the dough starts to stick to the rolling pin, lightly dust with flour.

Step 5: Cut

Step 5: Cut

Step 5: Using a pizza cutter or pastry wheel, cut the rolled-out dough into square pieces, approximately 1 to 1.5-inches. Don’t worry about the rough edges – you can either ball up the scraps, re-roll, and re-cut, or just bake them as is. Imperfect crackers are still delicious crackers.

Step 6: Arrange

Step 6: Arrange

Step 6: Arrange the crackers about an inch apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. They will rise and puff up a bit while baking.

Step 7: Dock

Step 7: Dock

Step 7: Using the tines of a fork, gently dock each cracker a few times to prevent them from puffing up into pillows.

Step 8: Bake

Step 8: Bake

Step 8: Sprinkle with a bit of salt (I used Himalayan pink salt). Bake in the 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes. I rotated the pans halfway through (swapping the trays that were on the top and bottom racks and turning them 180 degrees before returning to the oven) to promote even baking.

Step 9: Cool

Step 9: Cool

Step 9: Let the baked crackers cool on a wire rack. You can serve them warm, but if you plan to store them for later, wait until they are completely cooled and transfer them to an airtight container.

Step 10: Enjoy!

Step 10: Enjoy!

Step 10: Bon appetit! These homemade crackers are more dense and crumbly than the store-bought kind, and they are packed full of flavor. Great on their own for snacking or as accompaniments to a charcuterie board at your next wine & cheese party. Try it – you’ll never go back to buying those cardboard boxes again. Yields about 40 crackers.

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our-growing-edge-badgeThis post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. I, for one, am glad to have tried making homemade crackers, and you can bet that I’ve since left that aisle of the grocery store and will never look back. In fact, I’ve already made this recipe twice in the past few weeks!

This month is hosted by Marija at Palachinka.

Cheers!