Mussel Madness!

Cleaned, Debearded and Ready for the Pot

Jeanne and I love eating mussels but it is one of those foods that we seldom think to prepare. Maybe we don’t spend enough time wandering through the seafood section of the grocery store or maybe we are just getting forgetful in middle age. Whatever the reason, it is always a delightful surprise when we “come to” and decide to do a batch.

Mussels have a lot to recommend them as a choice for your dinner table as well. They are a sustainable seafood choice (according to Seachoice), they are inexpensive (usually about $2.00/pound), they are easy to prepare and they are very nutritious.

Mussels are very rich in vitamins and minerals and very low in fat. They are also a very healthy source of protein and contain omega-3 fatty acids. Mussels have almost the same protein content per weight as beef, but only have ¼ the calories.

Nutritional Information Per Mussels (100g cooked meat)
Amount per serving              % Daily Values
Calories: 100
Fat: 2.0g                                           3%
Saturated: 0g.
Trans: 0g.
Cholesterol: 40mg.                     13%
Sodium: 200mg.                          11%
Carbohydrate: 6g.                        2%
Fibre: 0g.
Sugars: 0g.
Protein: 16g
Vitamin A:                                       4%
Calcium:                                           2%
Vitamin C:                                       0%
Iron:                                                25%

Steamed Mussels in White Wine

4 lbs. live mussels
3 Tbs. butter
1/4 cup shallot minced
1/2 cup white onion diced
1 red pepper diced
1 clove garlic minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley chopped
1 cup white wine

To prepare the mussels start by discarding any mussels that are open or broken in any way. These are most likely dead already so may be unsafe to eat. Next soak the mussels in cold fresh water for about 20 minutes. This allows the mussels to expel any sand that they may contain. Remove the mussels from the water one at a time and scrub and remove the beard. The beard or byssal threads are a fibrous material that the mussels use to attach themselves to rocks or in the case of farmed mussels, ropes. The beard is easily removed by grasping tightly and pulling toward the hinge of the shell.

That’s it, the mussels are ready for the pot!

Chopped Shallots

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the onions and peppers and saute until tender but not yet brown, about 3-4 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic and saute for a further minute.

Chopped Peppers

Chopped Onions

Add the fresh parsley and white wine to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the mussels, stir well and steam the mussels until they open, about 5 minutes. Remove the Mussels with a large slotted spoon and place in bowls. Make sure to discard any mussels that have not opened. Boil the remaining liquid until reduced by approximately half. Spoon over the mussels.

Mussels in White Wine

Serve the mussels with a crusty french loaf to soak up the sauce. We paired the mussels with a 2008 Wine by Joe Pinot Gris from Oregon.


Best Bacon Crab Cakes Ever

A couple of weeks ago I picked up a small tin of Old Bay Seasoning at a local gourmet grocery store. Living in Calgary you need to buy these items whenever you see them because they might not be around the next time you go shopping. At the time I didn’t know what I would use the Old Bay for but I knew it would come in handy at some point.

That point in time came quickly when we picked up a pound of lump crab meat on Saturday and that gave me sudden inspiration for a crab cake recipe to make for Sunday, especially since I have 5.5 pounds of freshly cured pancetta in our freezer that I need to find a use for.

Both my wife and I love crab cakes and we are always experimenting with the recipes we try but have not as yet settled on a favourite until now. These crab cakes were the highlight of our Sunday night and by far overshadowed the Oscars which we watched while eating. They have a crisp crust with a warm, meaty texture inside. The crab flavour is deepened with the addition of the Old Bay Seasoning and the pancetta was a great counterpoint to the crab without overpowering it.

Bacon Crabcakes

Bacon Crab Cakes

1 pound of lump crab meat
3 slices of bacon chopped finely – we used pancetta but any bacon would be fine
3 Tbs. of minced shallots
2 Tbs. of celery chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic minced
4 Tbs of bread crumbs
1 1/2 tsp. of Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 tsp. of cayenne
1/2 tsp. of black pepper
1 egg beaten

1/2 cup of all purpose flour
1 egg beaten
1/4 whole milk
1 cup of bread crumbs

1 Tbs. of Butter
2 Tbs. of Canola Oil

Saute the bacon over medium-high heat until just lightly browned. Reduce the heat to medium and add the shallots and celery. Cook until the celery and shallots are translucent, about 4-5 minutes and then add the garlic and saute for another minute. Remove from heat and put in a large mixing bowl to cool, about 5 minutes.

In the large mixing bowl add the crab, beaten egg, Old Bay Seasoning, cayenne, black pepper and bread crumbs and fold the ingredients together until the mixture is evenly combined and moist.

With wet hands form 6-8 patties and refrigerate them for 30 minutes. Or if you live in Calgary you can put them outside in the -30º weather for 5-10 minutes.

Make three dredging stations in shallow bowls. The first for the all-purpose flour, the second for the egg and milk and the third for the breadcrumbs. Put the butter and oil in a hot pan over medium-high heat.  Meanwhile dredge each patty in the flour, then the egg/milk mixture and then the breadcrumbs making sure to shake off any excess. Then place the crab cakes in the pan 3 or 4 at a time and cook for 4 minutes on each side. The crust should be golden brown and the insides should be cooked all the way through.

You could serve these with a nice garlic aoli or like we did with a Thai sweet red chili sauce. Pair with a nice crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

Pancetta Stuffed Mushrooms


The Charcutepalooza Challenge #2 came and went without my pancetta being ready. (Thank goodness the fresh cured bacon came through for me in time!) But better late than never is actually true when it comes to bacon. Pancetta is pork belly that is cured with salt and spices for a week and then is hung to air cure for a further two weeks.

After 2 weeks in the curing chamber, the pancetta still felt a little mushy in the middle so we left it for another 4 days before we determined that it was ready. We had to wipe some mould off of the surface of the pancetta with vinegar in a couple of places but it was only on the surface and came off easily.

We cut the pancetta into slices about 1/4 inch thick and quickly were able to dismiss our major fear of air pockets. For a first attempt I think we really nailed it. Between the fresh cured bacon and the pancetta, I don’t think we will ever have to buy bacon again.

So what to cook? We had a bunch of cremini mushrooms leftover from the pickled mushroom recipe as well as fresh thyme and a can of artichoke hearts in the pantry. Obviously pancetta stuffed mushrooms were destined to be.

Pancetta in Mushroom Form

Pancetta Stuffed Mushrooms

1 lb cremini mushrooms, stems removed and finely chopped
6 oz. pancetta finely chopped
1 medium white onion finely chopped
6 oz. artichoke hearts finely chopped
2 garlic cloves minced
1 Tbs. fresh thyme chopped
1 egg beaten
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup pecorino cheese grated
1/2 tsp black pepper

Preheat oven to 375º F

Add olive oil to a hot pan and saute the pancetta over medium high heat until brown and crisp. Remove the pancetta from the pan and set aside. Add the onions to the pan and saute until tender or about 5 minutes then add the garlic and saute for a further minute. Add the mushroom stems and the fresh thyme and saute for another 5 minutes. Return the pancetta to the pan and add the white wine and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Remove the stuffing from the pan and cool.

Mix the bread crumbs, eggs, black pepper and pecorino together in a bowl and then add the cooled stuffing mixture and combine. Stuff each mushroom cap with a heaping teaspoon and arrange on a baking sheet.

Cook in the oven until the mushroom caps are tender 8-9 minutes then remove from the oven.

Turn the oven to broil and move a rack to the upper half of the oven.

Sprinkle a little pecorino over the top of each of the mushroom caps and return to the oven until the cheese is melted and slightly browned.

These are a great appetizer and would work with just about any type of bacon.

Fresh Pickled Mushrooms

Fresh Pickled Mushrooms

I have always wanted to make pickles but always imagined that there would be an immense amount of work to prepare them. The hassle of buying all the jars and then sterilizing them. Lots of boiling and cutting and basically putting aside a weekend to make it all happen. On top of all that it is the middle of winter so what could you pickle anyways?

The answer to that is apparently anything! It seems that over the past couple of months there have been something has been pushing me to try it out. There was an article in Fine Cooking magazine #109 that I filed in the back of my mind, telling myself that I would go back and read it later. Then with the announcement of the March Charcutepalooza challenge being brining, namely corned beef, there was mention that brining is just pickling and it is easy to do so…voila! Fresh Pickled Mushrooms.

Fresh Pickled Mushrooms – based on recipe from Fine Cooking Magazine

2 cups cremini mushrooms cut into bite sized pieces
2 cups oyster mushrooms cut into bite sized pieces
2 cups shiitake mushrooms cut into bite sized pieces
2 cups button mushrooms cut into bite sized pieces
2 cups Portobello with the gills removed and cut into bite sized pieces
1 2/3 cups of white wine vinegar
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. sugar
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic slivered
16 peppercorns whole
8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbs. Kosher salt

Boil two 1 quart canning jars in an 8 quart canner for 10 minutes with the lid and band. I like to boil the bottom half of the tongs at the same time to reduce the chance of cross contamination. Lift the jars, lids and bands out of the water with the tongs, drain and set on a clean cloth to dry.

 Boil mushrooms in 4 quarts of water for 10 minutes then drain and remove and place in the jars with the sprigs of thyme.

Mix the vinegar, olive oil, sugar, salt, garlic, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, peppercorns and a cup of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over the mushrooms, screw on the lids and refrigerate for 48-72 hours before serving.

You do not really need to wait that long to serve the mushrooms. I actually made a batch that I cooled and then served a couple of hours later and they were very good. However, there is a lot of flavour that develops in a few days.

The mushrooms are good for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

February Charcutepalooza – Bacon, Sausage and Potato Soup

Getting Ready for the Soup

Back from a great vacation in Mexico for a day and I have to make a recipe for the February Charcutepalooza challenge. No time to go grocery shopping and the deadline is tonight for the post. What can we make? Soup? Yes we can make soup. In fact, we have all the makings of a Tuscan Potato soup! Necessity is the mother of invention they say and that is never more true than in cooking at home sometimes.

All the Ingredients!

Bacon Sausage and Potato Soup

12 oz. Homemade Chorizo Sausage casings removed and chopped (see Sausage Party Post)
8 oz. Homemade Fresh Bacon chopped (see Charcutepalooza Challenge #2)
1 Medium White Onion diced
4 Cloves Garlic minced
3 Large Potatoes Cubed 1/2″x1/2″
1/2 cup dry white wine (we used an Orvieto)
4 cups chicken stock
3 cups milk
2 Bay Leaves
1 1/2 tsp. thyme
1 1/2 tsp. rosemary
1/2 tsp. cayenne
black pepper to taste
salt to taste

Heat a 4 quart pot on medium high heat. Add the sausage and saute until slightly browned. I used a mild chorizo sausage that I made and had in the freezer but an italian sausage or an andouille sausage would work well. Once brown remove from the pot and set aside.

Chorizo Sausage

Add the bacon and saute until crispy. Pancetta would be the first choice for this soup but since mine is not ready for 3 more days I used my fresh bacon. Once it is crispy remove from the pot and set aside.

Fresh Bacon

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions and saute until they are tender and translucent about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for another minute.

Add the white wine and deglaze the pot. For those of you who may not know, this means that you want to use the liquid and a your spoon to get all of the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. This is where a ton of flavour for the soup will come from.

Once you have deglazed the pot, then add the stock, milk, thyme, rosemary, cayenne and return the bacon and sausage to the pot. Bring the soup to a boil and add the potatoes. Simmer the soup until the potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

The Finished Product

The soup is a nice, rich winter meal with a little heat from both the chorizo and the cayenne. Eat with a fresh baguette and a glass of the white wine.

Bison and Blue Cheese Meatloaf (Bacon Wrapped)

Meatloaf has always represented comfort food for me. My grandma’s meatloaf recipe was one of the first dishes I ever learned to cook and has provided me with a sense of continuity and stability whenever I have cooked it. The recipe has remained virtually unchanged except for a slight update in ingredients such as replacing onion soup with sauteed onions and garlic as well as the addition of a teaspoon of hotsauce. As far as cooking techniques the only change has been the addition of home ground top sirloin instead of store bought ground beef.

So it was with some trepidation but also some excitement that I read through the Fine Cooking article on meatloaf in the February/March edition and came up with some ideas of how to lift meatloaf out of being just comfort food and turn it into a star attraction.

Meatloaf Recipe: Based on the Cooking without Recipes – Meatloaf in the Feb/Mar Fine Cooking Magazine

2 1/2 Lbs. of Ground Top Sirloin Bison
2 large eggs
1 Tbs. Worcestershire Sauce
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
1 1/2 tsp. sriracha hot sauce
1 medium white onion finely diced
2 Tbsp. minced shallots
4 cloves of garlic minced
3/4 cups red wine
4 oz. staled french bread in 2″x2″ cubes
1 cup skim milk
1/3 cup camb0zola cheese crumbled
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
300 grams double smoked bacon

I ground the bison myself, actually I put it through the grinder twice to get a nice texture from the meat. Once ground refrigerate the meat for about 30 minutes.

Saute the onions, garlic and shallots on medium-high heat in a tbsp of olive oil until they are browning. Then add the wine and reduce to a simmer until almost all the wine is absorbed. Set aside in a bowl to cool.

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Meanwhile place the bread cubes in a 9″x9″ baking pan and add the milk. Soak for 5 minutes and turn over and soak for a further 5 minutes. Remove the bread cubes a few at a time making sure to squeeze out any extra milk. Chop the cubes finely and add to the meat.

Add the eggs, hot sauce, onion/garlic/shallot/wine mixture, cheese, worcestershire, tarragon, salt and pepper to the meat and mix by hand.

Grease a baking sheet. Shape the meat mixture into a loaf shape on the baking sheet. Lay bacon over the entire loaf, overlapping each slice slightly.

Place in oven for approximately 60-70 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 160° F. Then raise the oven rack so that the top of the meatloaf is 6″ from the broiler and broil until the bacon is nice and browned. Remove the meatloaf and let rest for 10-15 minutes.

This was, by far the most amazing meatloaf me or my dinner guests have ever had and there are a couple of reasons for this. The first is the moistness thanks to the milk soaked breadcrumbs. Second would be the wine reduction with the onions, shallots and garlic and the third reason, of course, was the bacon.

Bacon Marmalade – First Attempt

As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, one of the major reasons I started blogging was to document my journey to replicate the bacon jam that we tasted at the Niagara Street Cafe. The bacon jam seemed more like a marmalade to me so that is where I decided to start.

I took a basic marmalade recipe that is simply:

4 Oranges
1 Cup Water
1 Cup Sugar

Usually you would use the peels from all of the oranges but I didn’t want all of the peel flavour. So I used the peel from one orange chopped finely. Then removed the peel from the other 3 oranges and chopped all 4 oranges keeping as much pith as possible. The pectin is in the peel and pith and since I am only using the peel from 1 orange I need more pith.

Put the orange and peel in a bowl of cold water and refrigerate for at least an hour. Then remove from water and put into a pot with a cup of fresh cold water. Heat until boiling and then cover and simmer for an hour.

Once the orange and peel have simmered for an hour add a cup of sugar and reheat to boiling. Reduce and simmer the mixture until the temperature is 220° F. Use a candy thermometer to measure this. But if you don’t have one you can check by taking a teaspoon of the marmalade out and putting it into a bowl. If it sets within a minute then it is ready.  Takes approximately 40-60 minutes to get to the required temperature.

Meanwhile I cut a pound of double smoked bacon into lardons and sauteed over medium-high heat until just short of crisping. Removed from the pan and then sauteed 1 medium onion, finely diced, in the bacon fat for 5 minutes then removed. I gave the lardons a further chop to get to a fine dice and then mixed with the onions and let cool and placed the mixture into a one pint jar.

Once the marmalade was done I put it through a strainer into a pint jar with the bacon since I only want the liquid portion of the marmalade and not the pulp and peel.

Overall the bacon marmalade was good but not quite what I was looking for. There is too much peel taste in the marmalade compared to the Niagara Street Cafe version, so on the next attempt I will just make an orange jam or jelly to mix with the bacon. It will still make a great glaze for a pork roast or pork tenderloin.