You’re never alone in the blogging world, so when two separate real-life blogging friends drew my attention to a cookbook challenge called “Cook the Books” over at Grow and Resist and Oh Briggsy I decided to give the idea a try, for January at least. They order up a new cookbook each month, you pick a recipe (or two), and then blog about your creation. I don’t want to go out and buy 12 new cookbooks in a year, but that’s what libraries are for, right? I can save money on a book, and spend on the stuff I buy to make.
First up is a book for what I can only describe as French cooking for this generation: “Around my French table: more than 300 recipes from my home to yours.” The library has half a dozen copies, and it proved surprisingly easy to one in time for the January cookoff.
I spent an evening drooling over the pictures and the recipes, before enlisting the spouse to make the final decision. “Mussels,” he said firmly, which threw me completely, given that I have never cooked mussels because I always assumed they would be complicated, finnicky and not worth the effort.
How totally wrong can you be? Dorie’s moules marinieres took maybe 12 minutes from start to finish, most of which involved chopping an onion and a couple of shallots and scrubbing the (already clean-looking) mussels. Cooking time is about six minutes, with another couple of minutes at the end to make sure the shellfish open up properly. They were runaway tender, and the broth mindbogglingly delicious. And more to the point, I used the blue onion-pattern china my mother used to use for her own dinner parties for the first time. I liberated the china five years ago at least. Now I can say I’ve used four plates.
Moules marinieres (slightly adapted to serve two)
2.2 pounds mussels
1 finely chopped onion
2 finely chopped shallots
2 minced cloves of garlic
3/4 cup dry white wine
strip of lemon zest
Fry the onions and shallots very, very gently until translucent, add the garlic and fry another minute or two. Then add the wine, herbs and lemon and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the mussels, and bring to a boil. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Switch the heat off, and keep the lid on for another minute or so until all the mussels open up.
Serve immediately in big, deep bowls, with some bread to mop up the juices.
We ate this one with Dorie’s cheese and olive bread, which I admit to finding a tad disappointing. It uses Comte cheese, which I love for its dense texture and nutty flavor, as well as both chopped olives and tapenade. Either I didn’t chop the olives fine enough, or I didn’t need them in the first place, because this (quickbread style) bread is salty, and you don’t taste the Comte. But there again the recipe suggests chopping and changing, experimenting with sun-dried tomatoes instead of olives, or using different sorts of cheese.
Now that’s a recipe book after my own heart. One that encourages you to play. Any other recipe book suggestions out there that deal with guidelines rather than rigid rules?