Tag: seafood (page 1 of 2)

Steaming Your Own Mussel Feast: A Guide For The Squeamish

Steamed mussels are the perfect meal to prepare if you want to feel like you’re feasting like royalty on a dime.

While bowls of mussels cost anywhere from $12.99-$25 at restaurants, they literally cost less than $5 a pound at the nicest seafood shops around the Midwest. Making your own mussels also means that you can ensure that they’re stored properly and cleaned well.

Before I even tried my first mussel, I remember reading about them in Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential. He writes:

I don’t eat mussels in restaurants unless I know the chef, or have seen, with my own eyes, how they store and hold their mussels for service. I love mussels. But, in my experience, most cooks are less than scrupulous in their handling of them.

I purchase seafood the same day I cook it and prefer to visit seafood-only stores like Coastal Seafood in the Twin Cities or Bob’s Seafood in St. Louis. It puts my mind at ease. You know that the fish mongers are experts because seafood’s all they sell! Plus, you might be surprised to find the prices are better, too.

If you examine older recipes for steamed mussels, they might instruct you to soak your mussels in a solution of water and flour to encourage them to purge any grit. Everything I’ve read recently says today’s farmed mussels are mostly grit-free. The Prince Edward Island mussels I bought at Bob’s Seafood were cleaned and de-bearded. This makes the cooking process even more simple.

The fishmonger at Bob’s instructed me to remove the bag of ice from my package of mussels when I got home and store them in the fridge for the few hours before dinner. They do release some liquid, so I recommend storing them in a contraption that allows the liquid to drain away from the seafood. I rigged old take-out containers by poking holes in the lids and placing them upside down inside the container. Then, I placed the mussels on top of the lids and stored them in the fridge for a few hours. Most articles recommend also covering the mussels with a damp cloth or paper towel.

When you are ready to clean your mussels for cooking, your goal is to essentially to remove any debris clinging to the shells and toss any damaged or dead mussels. Details follow in the recipe below. Don’t be surprised if you hear little suction noises as they open and close. I’m squeamish and found this alarming. My advice is to simply press forward. You can do this! You’re so close to a big pot of delicious mussels. 

We’ve ordered mussels everywhere. Our favorite version of all time is served at Meritage in St. Paul, MN. The shellfish are served in the most savory, winey sauce flavored with tomatoes, garlic and pancetta with plenty of charred bread. No one’s got them beat in terms of broth. We’re too far away from Meritage to visit for an occasional fix of moules frites so here’s my best impression:

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Cooks’s Notes: Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe for Mussels in White Wine. Inspired by the moules frites at Meritage in St. Paul, MN. If you want a chunkier sauce, use diced tomatoes or squeeze whole ones. I used a cheap bottle of pinot grigio and all was well. You could always use a nicer one. Just don’t use something sweet like a moscato or reisling. Ina Garten uses shallots. I thought diced onion tasted just fine. Fresh herbs are always ideal and dry work fine in a pinch, too. 

Ingredients:
3 lb. mussels (Serves two people very generously or three with no leftovers).
Thick cut bacon, about five strips
Butter, four tablespoons
Olive oil, about two tablespoons
1/2 onion, small dice
5 cloves garlic, minced
White wine (I used a $5.99 bottle of Beringer Pinot Grigio)
2/3 cup tomato sauce
Black Pepper
Salt
(Optional) Red pepper flakes
Honey
Thyme
Basil

1. Rinse & inspect mussels. Gently brush them with a cloth or brush under cold running water to eliminate any grit. De-beard if necessary. Discard mussels that are damaged or open. Mussels will open and close slightly. Check an open mussel by tapping on the outside or squeezing it closed. If it remains open, toss. If a mussel that was closed when you were washing it opens a little bit, it’s alive. Don’t be alarmed if you hear little suction noises as they open and close. If you’re squeamish like me, this is kind of freaky. Do your best to forge ahead.

2. In a large stock pot, cook chopped bacon with a little bit of olive oil. When it’s crispy, remove and set aside. Remove bacon grease from the pan leaving the residue for flavor. This can be saved for cooking later. If there’s a lot of debris, strain through cheesecloth.

3. Return stock pot to burner. Saute onions in about two tablespoons of butter and a drizzle of olive oil until softened. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, herbs (if using dried basil and thyme, start with a good pinch of each), black pepper, and a good pinch of salt. Stir until fragrant.

4. De-glaze the pan with one cup of white wine. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to incorporate the brown bits into the sauce. Simmer for a few minutes until slightly reduced.

5. Add the tomato sauce, a good splash of water or low-sodium stock and stir. You want plenty of flavorful broth because dipping bread into the mussel sauce is the most fun part of eating mussels! Simmer until the sauce tastes mellow and doesn’t have an alcohol bite. This will take a few minutes. Add another dab of butter, touch of honey (or sugar) and salt and pepper as needed.

6. Turn up the heat a little bit so that the sauce is boiling and add the mussels. Give them a quick stir and cover. Reduce heat back to medium-low. Steam until the mussels open, shaking the pot every so often so that the mussels on the bottom don’t burn. This should take between 5-8 minutes. Some of the mussels just won’t open, so don’t wait until every single one opens. Turn off the heat and remove the pan when most of the mussels are open. Toss the mussels that won’t open. If they’re cracked open pretty well, we still eat them.

7. Serve immediately with plenty of crusty bread for dipping. If you need to wait a little bit before serving the mussels, place them somewhere off the burner with the lid removed. They’ll be OK for a little bit. Overcooked mussels develop a firm, mealy texture. You want them to remain silky and delicate.

When You Celebrate A Birthday At Joe’s Crab Shack

Photography Disclaimer: If you have a low tolerance for lousy phone food photography, avert your eyes after the section about Joseph’s Grill. This post is chock-full of bad phone photos. Pinky-orange crab, yellow-tinted whites, neon cocktails + a blurry, self-gratuitous selfie all bathed in the jarring lighting at Joe’s Crab Shack. I wanted to keep Martha Steward on her toes. Frankly, perfection bores me. If you feel the same way about food blogs, then this post is for you. 

How does one describe my mother-in-law?

Well, for one thing, she really likes themes. Like, really, really likes themes. Theme parties have become such a normal part of Jake’s existence, that he hardly bats an eye at her newest schemes. He smiles as he recollects a childhood of flower parties, color parties, first or last initial parties, and happy pumpkin parties.

On the other hand, my family didn’t give much thought to themes. They took it as far as asking me what I wanted on my birthday cake and possibly finding matching invitations, but no further. It’s no wonder that themes kind of frighten me.

We returned to the Twin Cities last weekend to celebrate Jake’s dad’s big 60th birthday and the theme was “Joe” since his hame is Joe. When I first caught wind of the themed weekend my mother-in-law hatched, I experienced a wave of anxiety. We were supposed to eat at three Twin Cities restaurants with the word “Joe” in their name, all on one day.

The restaurants chosen were Joseph’s Grill, Joe Senser’s, and Joe’s Crab Shack. Until this day, I had never visited any of these places.

We convened at Joseph’s Grill Saturday morning. Dreading two more Joe’s stops later that day, I kept it simple with poached eggs and a virgin Bloody Mary. Jake ordered the Greek Florentine Omelet filled with lamb, feta, tomato, onions, spinach and topped with tzatziki sauce. I’m sure it’s no surprise his entrée was more exciting than mine and, so I kept stealing bites of his lamb. If you go to Joseph’s, try something with lamb.

Joseph's grill collage border Collage

All in all, everyone was satisfied with their first Joe meals. Our server was friendly and served with finesse, portions were large and we were full.

My mother-in-law broached lunch at Joe Senser’s on the drive home and nobody bit. “What about if we just stop there for appetizers before dinner,” she asked? We groaned and arrived at the group consensus to strike on less “Joe restaurant” from the itinerary.

And then there was Joe’s Crab Shack. My first thought was that Joe’s Crab Shack looks like a space ship. Or at least, something can could be seen from space.

Joe's outside

The interior of the restaurant is as festive as the exterior. Bright lights, tropical stuff mounted on the walls and even an in-store gift shop.

Joe’s Crab Shack doesn’t waste time with napkins. Each table receives a big roll of paper towels. I was in the restroom when our server introduced himself and reacted with confusion when I noticed the roll. “Who the hell is Andrew and why is his name written on a paper towel?” I asked, before it dawned on me.

Paper Towels watermarked

Andrew did a great job taking care of our table. Joe’s is located near Northwestern College & Bethel. Many of the restaurants in this part of Roseville employ students from these colleges.

Because we were celebrating a special occasion, one of Jake’s brothers treated us to a variety of appetizers. My favorite items were the crispy hush puppies which arrived in a metal bucket along with ranch dressing. It can’t be hip to enjoy ranch as much as I do.

And then there were the drinks. A few people ordered the Category 5 Hurricane, a cocktail with a disclaimer. The menu states that each customer may only order two which is a good rule because the drink’s not only goblet sized, but strong. Plus, there’s no telling what might happen if a drunken brawl erupted at Joe’s. There are just too many mason jars and pointy marlin fish on the walls for anyone to be safe.

hurricane waternarjed

On the other hand, my margarita was weak. I know this to be true because I am the epitome of a lightweight and if I can’t feel a cocktail it’s weaksauce.

Those of us who ordered crab experienced a moment of surprise when servers approached our table to tie paper bibs around our necks. Mine said Hottest Legs Around. I could not complain because at least it wasn’t decorated with an STD joke. The rest of the bibs said things too ridiculous to mention here (nod to Marilyn Hagerty with my use of the word ridiculous).

“Help,” scream my eyes.

Bib watermarked

Of course Jake and I ordered crab at Joe’s Crab Shack. We split a Classic Steampot for two.

I was delighted that our steampot contained two, separate, perfectly symmetrical mesh bags because it meant we wouldn’t have to fight over halfies. Each contained two queen crab leg clusters, a handful of shrimp, one ear of corn, halved red potatoes, and a sausage.

Crab Pot watermarked
Customers can choose from six different flavor options for steamed seafood, but we kept it simple with Old Bay. If you want drawn butter with your crab, you have to request it. Joe’s serves it in small plastic cups that cool quickly into solid masses. I did not let this slow me down.

Jake ate slowly and avoided the “filler” items, hoping I’d leave him some crab. He waited in vain as I ate every single thing in my bag.

Crab Remains photo

The crab legs weren’t particular meaty, but tasted fresh enough, unlike crab legs I’ve ordered at similar (and nicer) establishments that reeked of ammonia. I assumed the sausage would be a bland filler, but found it to have a pleasant snap and flavorful spicing.

And then my father-in-law turned into a bird.

Chain restaurant birthday rituals are their own strange bird. They always seem to involve things like balloons, marching in single file lines, clapping, and singing and this was no exception. Joe’s took the restaurant birthday thing one step further by dressing Joe up as a bird with a styrofoam beak and wings and encouraging him to flap around the dining room. I don’t know if my memory of this incidient is hazy from too many sips of Jake’s Hurricane or a possible retreat into my happy place, but I have this picture so it must have happened.

Bird watermarked

My father-in-law was a great sport.

Joe wasn’t the only birthday boy in the shack. Shortly after, staff led another birthday charge. While they didn’t give the next birthday boy the royal bird treatment, they showered him with a procession of singing and clapping. A birthday celebration at Joe’s Crab Shack is perfect for those who want everyone to know it’s their birthday or tolerate mild form of public humiliation. Everyone else will want to die.

At the end of the evening, Joe declared that this was his favorite birthday of all time. 

The zany restaurant crawl was not made in vain and we could feel confident our dirty-joke bibs were worn with honor. The weekend served its purpose to celebrate Joe and launch him into his 61st year surrounded by family. Someone else’s birthday is never really about us, anyway.

Is Joe’s Crab Shack for everyone? Probably not. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a darn good time.

Becoming The Grown-Up Assistant With Knife: Fish Sticks!

Earlier this summer I reunited with my first, three cookbooks.

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It took me some time and internet research to figure out their titles before I could locate them on Amazon.

I remember pouring over these books as a child. Most especially, the spiral-bound Kids Cooking: A Slightly Messy Manual that came with a plastic set of measuring spoons in primary colors. The books’ recipes aren’t anything mind-blowing for an adult who cooks a lot, but they are priceless for the memories.

Growing-up, my parents weren’t too keen on me experimenting in the kitchen, aside from baking projects. However, I do remember trying a few recipes from Kids Cooking such as the Alphabetter Soup and Frosted Chocolate Conecakes. I made mental checklists of recipes that I wanted to try someday when I had my own kitchen and, now, here I am!

One of these recipes was Home-Baked Fish Sticks from Kids Cooking.

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The legend goes that my mom choked on a fish bone when she was a child which led to her lifelong disdain of all things fish. Therefore, we never ever ate fish at home because the smell would make her feel ill. I grew up thinking I hated fish, too, even though I was fascinated by seafood. It was like a little hate crush.

Someone else’s family vacation snapped me out of my aversion to fish. I traveled with my friend’s family to Livingston, Montana in grade school and tried all kinds of new foods on our epic road trip west. I can still taste my first bone-in pork chop, chicken-fried steak, jumbo prawns sizzled in fondue oil, and crispy, fried shrimp nearly twenty years later.

After tasting that first bite of fried shrimp, I remember realizing, “Well, I guess I do like seafood,” and then I never turned back.

My first childhood cookbook meal was a smash.

Fish Meal Salad

I prepared cucumber-tomato-onion salad with “Snappy Dressing” from Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake! to accompany my Home-Baked Fish Sticks and tartar sauce. Of course, I fiddled with the recipes.

For example, I added a step by dredging the fish in seasoned flour before dipping it in eggwash and bread crumbs. I may have added some garlic to Encyclopedia Brown’s snappy balsamic vinaigrette and chopped onion to the tartar sauce. Afterall, I am my own grown-up with a sharp knife now.

Kids Cooking Collage

Someday when Jake and I have children, I hope we can enjoy these cookbooks together. We’ll be ready to accept our new roles as their grown-up kitchen assistants.

My Take On Oven-Baked Fish Sticks
Kids Cooking’s method of drizzling melted butter over the panko-breaded fish sticks before baking produces a crispy, satisfying coating. While this is not fried fish, it definitely scratched my itch. 

Ingredients:
1 lb of white fish such as cod, halibut or tilapia
1/2 cup flour (or enough to lightly dredge the fish) seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic powder
2 eggs, beaten into eggwash
1 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (add more if you run low or they become too mushy with eggwash)
1/4 cup butter, melted
Finishing salt

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400℉.
  2. Set up breading station by placing the seasoned flour, eggwash and panko in their own wide, shallow dishes.
  3. Cut fish fillets into manageable strips. I cut the tilapia fillets in half.
  4. Lightly dredge the fish in seasoned flour, shaking off the excess.
  5. Dip the dredged fish into the eggwash. Allow the excess to drip off.
  6. Coat the fish in bread crumbs. Turn and press the fillets until they are completely breaded.
  7. Place breaded fish in a single layer on a baking sheet that is lightly greased or covered in parchment paper.
  8. Drizzle each fillet with as much melted butter as you’d like.
  9. Optional: Sprinkle each fillet with a little sweet or smoked paprika for extra color and flavor.
  10. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown and cooked-through.
  11. Sprinkle with sea salt immediately after removing from oven.
  12. Serve with tartar sauce and fresh lemon wedges. I made my tartar sauce by mixing mayonnaise with lemon juice, minced dill pickle, minced onion, pickle juice, salt and sugar, to taste.

Baked Salmon With Creamy Mustard Sauce

I got over my fear of buying fish.

Earlier this year, I bought some fillets that tasted so horrible they put me off cooking fish at home of a while. I’m happy to say that I’m cooking fish again, even if the selection is not ideal. The fish available to us is either frozen or previously frozen, so I just do the best with what looks the most fresh. I’m also trying to remember to research what options are more sustainable before I buy.

My parents are enthusiastic Costco members and gave me the Enjoy Cooking the Costco Way book for Christmas which is also available online. The recipes tend to be brand-driven since they’re written by Costco food vendors and some recipes go overboard by listing a specific product for every ingredient. However, many others are much less markety. The book’s seafood recipes especially caught my eye.

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Chicagoland Adventure Part I: Calumet Fisheries, Mariano’s, Greektown & Revolution Brewpub

I’m having a difficult time writing about Chicagoland.

The city is a monster. It’s so massive. Mindblowingly diverse and strikingly segregated. I wanted to eat everything. The buildings are tall and there’s nowhere to park. We hit a terrible, $4 tollbooth (that’s not a toll, that’s extortion!) and Jake got his first traffic ticket, yet we love it anyway.

One and a half years ago, we got married amidst a small group of family and friends with a reception the following April. We were transferred to Mason City so quickly the next summer that we couldn’t even think about planning a honeymoon. With the reality that life will never slow down, we took off part of a week from work and hit the road towards Chicago. 

My cousin Brian, his wife Sara, and their five children invited us to stay with them in Calumet Heights. You may remember Brian wrote the guest post How to Make the Perfect Frozen Pizza. Growing-up, our family spent every holiday with Brian’s family. He and his brother always seemed much older than us, even though they are within about six years. It’s been a joy to get to know them and their wives as adults and relate more as friends.

The architecture is so different from what we’re used to. The homes are mostly built from brick and stone and adorned with sculpted shrubbery. From the outside, houses look small. Inside, they are deceptively spacious because they’re built long and in multiple stories. People seemed surprised that we were staying on the south side of Chicago, but Brian’s family likes their quiet neighborhood and we do too. I would totally live there.

One of my favorite moments occurred when Jake awoke to a new kind of alarm clock. The kind that’s two years old and sits in your face, diaper first. On Sunday morning, Matthias told us early risers he wanted to wake-up Uncle Jake. We instructed him not to, yet none of us tried very hard to stop him. Oops.

Here are some culinary highlights from the first two days we stayed with Brian and family.

Calumet Collage.jpgBrian and his daughter Grace took us to Calumet Fisheries for our first meal. Grace likes to explore new places and try every kind of food. She reminds me of myself a gazillion years ago.

  • We ordered the smoked salmon with black pepper & garlic, smoked trout, and smoked shrimp.
  • The smoked salmon had the most beautifully creamy texture.
  • Everyone’s favorite was the smoked shrimp. Lightly smoked so it didn’t overwhelm the natural shrimp flavor. Perfect snappy texture. Not cheap at $23/lb. but they are large and worth a taste.
  • Housemade hot sauces. The mild was our favorite. It tasted a little bit like BBQ and the kids liked it too.

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Brian took us to explore Mariano’s Fresh Market in Greektown. Here’s why this grocery store is so magical:

  • Large organic produce section with affordable prices.
  • Giant cheese section.
  • $1 donuts. Brian encouraged us to try his favorite salted-cashew variety.
  • Sushi bar, oyster bar, juice bar, wine bar, gelato bar with $1 scoops. The lemon was my favorite.
  • Seafood section: Grace’s class took a field trip behind the seafood counter earlier this year. She excitedly asked us if we saw the whole fish with eyes and the little squid.
  • I tweeted that Mariano’s should come to Mason City. They said they’d, “pass my interest along.” I hope they are serious.

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After wandering through Mariano’s, we explored Greektown.

  • Lunch at Mr. Greek GyrosGyros the size of fetuses, lots of tzatziki, and practically a whole onion’s worth of slices (which I like). The boys ordered combos which came with a large bag full of french fry planks. I’m glad I skipped the combo. One gyro was big enough to tide me over well into the evening.
  • Brian also took us to Artopolis Bakery. We were too full to try their pastries, but Jake got a strong, Greek Coffee.

Revolution Collage.jpg

 We met some of our old Fargo friends at Revolution Brewpub in Logan Square.

  • Loud and busy. Service was friendly.
  • This may be heresy, but I prefer light, cheap beer in bottles. Even though I was in a brewery, I chose the cocktail with absinthe because, well, absinthe. Jake enjoyed trying the tap beers.
  • Calamari was fine and I appreciated that it was not greasy. However, the barley-feta salad was weirdly the most compelling thing on the plate.
  • I was surprised when the side salad was only $3. It was generously sized and full of cherry tomatoes, carrot curls and cucumber. Not a limp lettuce leaf in sight. Perfectly dressed with house vinaigrette.
  • Our favorite food was the Farm Burger topped with spinach, roasted beet, horseradish cream & a fried egg. The burger was cooked medium-rare as requested and juicy. We loved the combination of burger + beet. My friend who lived in Australia told us that burgers topped with egg and beets are more common there. I hope we see this combination more often.

Thanks Dahlen family for opening your home to us and showing us some of your favorite places!

Stay tuned for Part II. I’ll tell you about the unique bed and breakfast we stayed at in Lincoln Park and our first experience dining in a Ghanaian restaurant.

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