Cooking is my passion. This summer, I’ve been cooking more than ever before in my life. Not only am I preparing meals for my big family (all 9 of us), but I have also been cooking recipes for my upcoming cookbook. I am very excited to finally announce that my book will be published by Clarkson Potter in New York, the publishers of some of my favorite cookbooks. The book is scheduled for fall 2014. Ever since this spring I have been experimenting, adjusting and savoring all my favorite dishes. The impatient side of me would love to share some of the recipes (I never could keep a secret), but I just have to keep them warm until the book comes out. I remember once, a few moons ago when we lived in Paris, I was in my tiny kitchen on rue de Grenelle talking to our sweet au pair Amanda. She was eighteen, full of promise, and we had a little chat about dreams and aspirations. We corresponded recently and she reminded me of our conversation, how I had mentioned my thought of moving to the country one day and perhaps do something with all my knowledge on food. Maybe a book someday…
Sometimes the dreams that come true are the dreams we never thought we had, or the dreams we had forgotten. I think our subconscious sometimes takes over and leads us down the right, and in my case, muddy path. Bonjour Médoc!
Back to food, I went to the fish market last Saturday and explored the crustacean world. I am the type who loves talking to everyone (something I picked up from my father) and I can start conversations out of the blue with just about anyone, as long as it’s about food. I also have a ‘food sense’ which allows me to smell out fellow foodies. My neighbor in the queue looked like a fellow food lover, her gaze so enthusiastic and precise, she was looking at squid with such happiness and anticipation, just like a child in a candy store. We chatted about her lunch recipe, squid in a cocotte, with lemon juice, wine and olive oil, and the obligatoire garlic of course. She fell for the squid, I fell for the mussels, it was love at first sight. They were glistening black, with a hint of electric blue when the light hit them in a certain way. How could I resist them, such vivid yellow meatiness, such promise.
I associate mussels with two places, forever stored in my food memory. ‘Les Vapeurs’ in Trouville for some delicious moules marinières (and à la crème!), and ‘Chez Hortense’ in Cap Ferret, about an hour away from where we live in Médoc. After much deliberation I chose to cook mussels inspired by ‘Chez Hortense’, a restaurant we love to visit in the summer for some finger licking good mussels and an exquisite view of the dune of Pyla.
Imagine mussels cooked with Bayonne ham, sausage meat, garlic, shallots, breadcrumbs, white wine, parsley. Most of my favourite ingredients combined with little gems of the sea. Irresistible. Served with fries or a great baguette, or both, to soak up the beautiful sauce.
I came back home with more than 5 kilos (the five I asked for plus the ones they threw in as a bonus), half of them went straight into my book, the rest I cooked for my family.
Talking of family, let me tell you about Þórir (Thorir). He’s my 16-year-old stepson and he’s the hungriest boy I ever met. Stick-thin and handsome he’s ever worrying if we will have enough food. Usually I boil about 750 grams of pasta, he’d rather I would do a kilo. In fact he makes sure I do. Last night, we had pizza night which my husband always turns into competitions with sore losers and gloating winners. Thorir was more worried about getting enough than winning the prize. “Is it two pizzas per person?” he asked with a hopeful look. These are big pizzas by the way.
On Saturday he volunteered to help me with the mussels, probably because he thought I was being slow, he did a pretty good job at cooking and even better job of eating the spoils. Watching him sitting there in the glorious sunshine, blissfully working his way through what seemed like a mountain of mussels, reminded me of myself and of my father.
I guess when it comes to food, all of us food-obsessed people are kindred spirits.
Mussels with sausage meat (serves about 4)
1.5-2 kilos / 4 pounds fresh mussels
2 shallots, finely sliced
4-5 garlic cloves, finely sliced
6 slices Bayonne ham, finely chopped
300 g good-quality pork sausage meat
1 glass white wine
A large bunch of parsley, chopped finely
4 slices of fresh breadcrumbs (pain de mie, white loaf bread, crumbled finely in food processor)
120 g/ ½ cup unsalted butter
Black pepper for seasoning
1) Clean the mussels under cold running water. Place them in a large pot, add white wine and a dash of black pepper. Cover and cook on a high heat for 5 minutes approx, or until mussels are open. Drain and set aside in a large bowl, reserving a few ladles of the liquid in another bowl.
2) In the same pot, melt the butter on a low heat and fry the shallots and garlic until golden. Set aside. In the same pot, add more butter and fry the sausage meat and Bayonne ham on a medium heat until golden. To avoid lumps, use a fork and press to crumble.
3) At the same time, heat one to two tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and fry the breadcrumbs until golden and slightly crunchy. Set aside.
4) Return the mussels to the pot. Mix all the ingredients together making sure that the sausage meat/Bayonne ham/garlic mixture coat the mussels. You can add a ladle of mussel cooking liquid if you wish. Add the fried breadcrumbs and parsley, mix well. Serve immediately with French fries on the side.
Traou Mad (salted butter cookies)
To add a sweet touch to this exciting meal, I craved the tasty Traou Mad, little salted buttery biscuits, sort of like the French version of shortbread, originally from Britanny. They are rich, no wonder Traou mad means ‘good things’ in Breton. I improvised the recipe, adding a dash of honey (just like my madeleines), using a muffin pan so they don’t lose shape and an egg cup to press them. It’s all about improvisation!
300 g / 2 & 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
150 g/ ¾ cup granulated sugar
50 g/ 2 ounce honey
4 egg yolks
200 g/ 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp salted butter (set aside one tbsp to brush cookies) – at room temperature
A pinch of salt (sel de Guérande)
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center and add the butter (save a tbsp of butter to brush the cookies), egg yolks, sugar and honey. Mix until you get a good dough. Place dough on a cling film and roll into a sausage shape approx 5 cm/ 2 inches approx wide. Place in the refrigerator for about 4 hours.
Slice the dough 1 cm thick and place in a muffin pan (so they don’t lose shape) – they usually have 6-8 moulds).
Bake in a preheated oven 180°C/ 350 F for 10-12 minutes until golden (depending on oven strength), 5 minutes before the end, take the pan out, brush the cookies with melted butter and use the base of a standard eggcup to press them. (This last step/pressing is optional).