Steamed mussels with herbs and vegetables

Friday, 3 February 2017

Nigella Lawson was my first chef crush. I loved watching her show, Nigella Bites. Even though I had a tiny kitchen at the time, I would meticulously try to reproduce her mushy peas, rare beef, and bĂ©arnaise sauce. YUM! 

Now I have a crush on dozens of celebrity chefs (Valerie Bertanelli, Mario Batali, Peter Kuruvita...) but I often find Jacques Pepin to be the best when it comes to teaching his audience how to create a dish. He made steamed mussels on an episode and it looked so easy. I tried the recipe myself (with a few alterations) and guess what - making mussels IS simple and fulfilling. You just have to follow basic steps.

1. First, put the mussels in a bowl of cold water. Leave them in the bowl, changing the water often, for up to an hour, but at least 20 minutes. (They will begin to release grit and sand into the bowl.) 

2. While the mussels are soaking, chop onions, celery, and garlic. (I had leeks on hand and used those instead of onions.) 

3. Next, pour olive oil into a large, deep pan and turn on the burner to heat the oil. Add above chopped ingredients to the pan and sautĂ© on medium heat. (I add a tablespoon of water to the pan when I put the ingredients in so that the4 garlic is less likely to burn.) 

4. As the ingredients cook (for approximately five minutes), scrub the mussels with a brush to remove any debris. They usually come with the "beard" already removed but if there are hair-like things on the mussels, clip them off with kitchen shears.

5. Pour approximately 1 cup of dry white wine into the pan. The pan should be hot enough that you hear a "sizzle" when the wine goes in. Allow the alcohol to cook off for two minutes and add warm vegetable or chicken stock. Allow the liquid to a simmer.

6. Add the clean mussels to the pot and put the lid on.

7. Stir the mussels after three minutes, or, as the professionals do, hold the lid on and shake the pot. 

8. Check the mussels after letting them cook for two more minutes. When they open up, they are ready to eat! Put the mussels in a shallow bowl and pour the broth over the mussels. Season with salt and pepper as needed, top with fresh parsley, and serve with garlic bread.

To me, this is such a satisfying dish with a rich aroma. If you use vegetable stock that is fat-free and low sodium, this is also a fairly low-calorie meal with abundant flavor. It is also impressive to guests (make sure there are no allergies) and about $3.99 for a pound of mussels. Enjoy!

Print Version has Arrived

Wednesday, 25 January 2017
I'm thrilled that my book, Land of Spice and Heat, a Fulbright Scholar's Sri Lankan Adventure has been printed! I received the author proof copy in the mail yesterday and read it in one day. Thankfully, it is an easy, informative read and I hope you, my reader, feel the same way.

The cover design shows a photo that I captured during a cooking class near Galle in Sri Lanka. I'm especially excited about the design because it was completely my creation. I even think the title fell into place once I decided on the photo because I had several choices. James and I don't have children yet but I can imagine that choosing the title of a book is in a very small scale, sort of like naming a child. It was a difficult decision but one I'm happy with.

My next book project centers around cooking classes that I've been fortunate to take all over the world. Each one taught me something about cuisine and also about life. I'm gathering energy and inspiration to get started and to stay disciplined while writing. 

Back to Blogging

Thursday, 19 January 2017
I'm glad I started teaching again (News Writing 220 at Northern Kentucky University) because I'm already learning things from my students. One bright young woman has a passion for writing and asked to talk to me after class. She shared some of her work and I told her to stay consistent... keep writing! Decent advice, right? Except that I'm not following it myself. I haven't blogged in two months.

I have a decent excuse (IMO): My second book, Land of Spice and Heat, A Fulbright Scholar's Sri Lankan Adventure is complete! I've published it in digital format through Pronoun, a hybrid self-publishing platform. You can order it here ($5.99) and read it on your iPad or Kindle. The print version of the book is in production and should be available in approximately a month. The company just contacted me today to say that the proof has shipped. I can't believe it.

The book shares my experience as a Fulbright scholar in Sri Lanka. I lived there for three months with my husband while I conducted research on journalists who covered the civil war there. The book doesn't discuss my research but instead provides information on travel, assimilating to another culture, and gives tips and hints for other Fulbrighters and college students who may travel for educational purposes.
Sri Lanka produces hundreds of vegetables and fruits. This is a market stand in Galle.

All of that is to say that I've been busy. Writing, editing, and publishing a book with a skeleton team takes a lot of time. I have the time but that means my blog has been on the back burner. No more! I need to keep writing - for my own sanity at least. What's new with you?

It was usually 100F and 90% humidity in Sri Lanka. The women used umbrellas to keep the sun off of their faces.

Wildlife near Sonora Island, BC

Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Canada really is a wonderful destination. I find it easy to get there, communicate with locals, and it is relatively safe. My favorite cities include Montreal and Toronto but we recently visited Vancouver and took a trip north to the wilderness of BC. We stayed at the Sonora Resort on Sonora Island and spent time on the water watching for wildlife.
On our first day, we took a group boat tour and spotted the majestic Bald Eagle. This one had caught a large fish and was chowing down on the rocks. Unfortunately, our boat spooked it and he/she flew off. It was quite a site to see so close up. 
How often do you see "Caution Bear In Area" signs? Not often unless you routinely spend time in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The bears in this case are Grizzlies, however, and we were able to see them. They live on an island inhabited by First Nations people and we took a fascinating tour with a Homalco Wildlife Tours guide who was extremely knowledgeable about the animals. 
The bears are in their "hyper-feeding" stage and are attempting to pack in 1 million calories before it is time to den for the winter hibernation. We learned that they don't hibernate because of the cold but instead because they lose their food supply completely. 
It looks like we were able to get fairly close to these large creatures but we used zoom lenses. It was certainly close enough when I considered just how quickly they can move and how powerful they are. 
Another large mammal that lives near Sonora Island is the Stellar Sea Lion. They are enormous and can be a bit clunky in the water. Their smaller cousin, the Harbor Seal, moves more quickly in the water but really can't do much when lounging on the land. I was enamored by their beautiful coloring. 

Solmorejo from the south of Spain

Monday, 3 October 2016
Chef Llamas taught me how to make another cold tomato soup. It is perfect for using up those end-of-the-year garden tomatoes. Unlike gazpacho, solmorejo doesn't use cilantro and it takes a bit more bread than gazpacho. 

I didn't peel the tomatoes but I did seed them. That's pretty easy to do - just core them and gently squeeze the seeds into your compost bowl. I also gently brush out any leftover seeds away from the inside flesh. 

SOLMOREJO – a cold tomato soup from the south of Spain
2 cloves of garlic
2 tomatoes, peeled
¾ c extra virgin olive oil
day old bread
1 red pepper

Soak bread in water, sherry vinegar. Process soaked bread with liquid if needed with all other ingredients. Add ¾ c olive oil slowly to the mixture while processing.

Garnish with red peppers, fresh herbs, ham (bacon?), and goat’s cheese. I didn't have cheese or bacon on hand so I toasted cubes of bread with salt, pepper, and garlic powder with a little olive oil to make croutons. 

Cooking with Chef Gabriela Llamas (part 1)

Monday, 12 September 2016
As I was checking in for my flight in Madrid to head back to Atlanta, the Delta representative asked me a few questions. She wanted to know about my favorite part of being in Spain. I enthusiastically told her about my cooking class with Chef Gabriela Llamas. It was arranged through Heritage Tours and if I had the chance to do it again, I certainly would. 
On the day of the cooking class, Chef Llamas met me at the hotel and we walked to Mercado de San Anton. The market is modern and very clean. Even though there is a seafood counter in the market, I didn’t notice a fishy smell. We purchased some beautiful dried tuna in slices for appetizers, as well as cured Serrano ham.
The dried tuna was delicious and I'm going to try to find it in the U.S. After the market experience we walked through the streets of Madrid and found our way to Chef Llama's studio. It is sort of like a loft apartment with a large, stainless steel kitchen. She has an assistant and many of the ingredients were already laid out. 
We first worked on a watermelon gazpacho. I thought it turned out so tasty! If you have leftover tomatoes this season, give the recipe a try. I've included it below.
GAZPACHO DE SANDIA (Watermelon Gazpacho)
Serves 4

4-5 large to medium peeled and seeded ripe tomatoes
1/2 of a medium to large watermelon, seeded
1 large cucumber peeled and seeded
½ red bell pepper for color
2 garlic cloves
½ c extra virgin olive oil
Day old bread (a few slices optional)
4 T sherry vinegar

Process all ingredients except olive oil. Use sieve to remove any additional seeds. Add olive oil at the end and season with salt. Serve very cold. Avocado or diced vegetables for garnish.

Welcome the wisdom of another year

Wednesday, 6 July 2016
Another year… another birthday party that I threw for myself! It has sort of become a tradition and I kept it going even though I’m now living in Columbus and all of my Knoxville friends are far away. I have made some friends through James’ friends and we had a group of about 25 people. Most of our friends have children so they are always welcome as well.
This year we partied at the pool at our country club and hosted a little BBQ on the lawn. It was so fun with tiki torches, red and white tablecloths and modest flower arrangements that I made myself.
The chef grilled brats and burgers and we served them alongside homemade, fresh potato salad, grilled corn on the cob, and a delicious green salad. We then had Graeter’s ice cream for dessert (chocolate chip cookie dough, raspberry chip, vanilla, and double chocolate chip).
It rained earlier on Friday, July 1st so I was pretty worried that the clouds would hang around but by the time the party started at 5:00 p.m., the sun was shining, there was a lovely breeze through the tall pines, and it was a perfect 75F.

A quick reflection on the last year made me realize that overall I have no fear of aging and in fact, welcome the wisdom that another trip around the sun brings. Even though “37” is “late 30s” and no longer “mid 30s,” it doesn’t bother me. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be a Fulbright Scholar at the age of 36. Here’s to the surprises that my 37 year old self will experience this year!