The smoked tuna dip and mussels were new recipes and both were great. Here’s a couple Xmas Eve photos and recipe for the mussels – great because you can make them totally ahead, pop them under the broiler when ready to serve and they’re super tasty.
Mussels Stuffed with Spinach and Parmesan
Fine Cooking Issue 14
1 cup dry white wine
4 Tbs. finely chopped shallots
1 tsp. cracked black pepper
4 sprigs parsley
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme (omit if fresh isn’t available)
28 medium mussels (about 2 lb.), sorted and cleaned
for the stuffing:
2 Tbs. butter or olive oil
2 cups lightly packed, washed, stemmed, and chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 Tbs. chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Combine the wine, 2 Tbs. of the shallots, pepper, parsley sprigs, bay leaf, and thyme in a pot (with a lid) large enough to accommodate the mussels when their shells have opened. Bring to a boil, add the mussels, cover, and steam until just opened, 2 to 3 minutes. Try not to steam the mussels longer than necessary, because they’ll be cooked again later. Remove the mussels with a slotted spoon and set aside. Strain the cooking liquid through a strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth and reserve.
For the stuffing—Heat the butter in a heavy-based pan. Add the remaining shallots and cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the spinach, cover, and cook briefly until the spinach wilts. Uncover and cook until the liquid from the spinach evaporates, another 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the strained mussel liquid and cook until the mixture is almost dry, about 5 minutes. Add the cream and again cook until the mixture is almost dry, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper; the mixture should be quite peppery.
Heat the broiler. Remove the mussels from their shells. Make a bed of rock salt or crumpled foil on a baking sheet (to steady the shells) and arrange as many half shells as you have mussel meats. Put a mussel meat on each half shell and spoon a teaspoonful of the spinach mixture over each. Top with the grated cheese and broil until golden and bubbly, 4 to 6 minutes. Serve with small forks and bread to soak up the rich juices
12/2017 note: I made a double batch – with about 4 lbs of smallish mussels – way over 100 – and two reg bags of fresh spinach. I ran out of spinach for the last bit so would make more spinach next time.
Courtney and I went on a long weekend trip to southern Ohio to celebrate her birthday. Leaving Sophie and Jack at home we headed south stopping at Heinen’s in Strongsville to stock up for the weekend. We stopped at the new Ikea in Columbus and stayed for about an hour and a half checking it out, just buying a few things – our typical Ikea items. The checkout lines were horrendous – would have skipped the whole place if we knew we would have to wait for so long. We headed to downtown Columbus and had lunch at Wolf’s Ridge Brewery. Nice place and ended up having brunch. Their coffee and vanilla infused beer was a keeper. I brought a six pack to bring home. We headed down to Hocking Hills area which was just about an hour from Columbus. We stayed in a cabin at Chalets in Hocking Hills. It was a good choice – all the cabins were private, seemed nice and only a minute or so from the state parks. We settled in, tried out the hot tub and quickly got into relax mode. We made steak, baked potatoes and salad for dinner and hung out for the rest of the evening.
After a good nights sleep we drove to the state park which was just five minutes away. We went on a vigorous hike from Old Man’s Cave to Cedar Falls – about six miles and it took us 2 1/2 hours. It was a cloudy day in the low 40’s but quickly warmed up as we started walking through the woods. There were very few people parked when we started and we only ran into people a few times. The area is beautiful with huge ravines, hemlock forests, mossy caves and waterfalls. We especially liked Cedar Falls area that felt prehistoric and the walk from there back to Old Man’s Cave was through the ravine and pretty amazing. We went back to our cabin after our long hike and took a nice long hot tub soak, had lunch and relaxed for a few hours. We headed out to an area called Rock House around 3:00 and just hiked about an hour around the area. After walking down into a huge ravine there was a huge cave that you could walk into that was like a rock house. Pretty cool. Made it back for a quick cocktail and then went to dinner at the Inn at Cedar Falls where we had a great dinner. It’s a nice relaxed but classy atmosphere and food was great – we both had salad and then I had rack of lamb with cous cous and great roast carrots, Courtney had pistachio crusted scallops with risotto and we split a pumpkin creme brûlée for dessert. All very good. Quickly crashed at home after a long day.
We went on another 5 mile aggressive hike in the morning, starting at Ash Cave, going to Cedar Falls and then back. Beautiful scenery again and we had the trails all to ourselves other than the trailheads where there were just a few people. Found a fire tower towards the middle of the trek – we started climbing up but changed our mind about 1/3 of the way up as it was pretty scary. We relaxed the afternoon away not doing much of anything besides hot tubbing, reading and sleeping. We ended up not turning on the TV once which is always a good sign. We cooked ravioli for dinner and went to bed really early.
We took off around 9:00 from our cabin and decided to drive home through Amish country as we wanted to check out a place that sold sheds that we heard about. It was interesting driving through all the little, mostly depressed towns. Trump country for sure. The shed store didn’t impress us much but we did stop for lunch at Der Dutchman which is always the best reason to go to Amish country. We also stopped at Lehman’s and got a few things. Got home without any trouble and after getting unpacked we decided to run downtown to see if we could get lucky at the Wicked lottery. Sure enough… Courtney’s name was drawn so we lucked out and got 2 $25 tickets box seats right up front. We hung out at Masthead for an hour having beer and pizza and then saw Wicked which was great once again.
1 1/2 lbs flank or round steak cut into thin strips
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. ginger
1/4 t. sugar
1/4 c. soy sauce
2 green peppers cut into large chunks
1 lb. fresh bean sprouts
1 medium onion, sliced
4 medium sized tomatoes, quartered
2 T. cornstarch
1 c. beef broth
Heat oil in wok or large frying pan. Add meat, garlic, salt, pepper, ginger and sugar; stir-fry until beef is no longer pink. Move meat from center of skillet; add soy sauce, green pepper and onion. Cook, covered about 3 minutes. Move food from center of wok and add tomatoes and bean sprouts; cook 3 more minutes. Make a smooth mixture of cornstarch and broth; add to hot mixture. Stir gently until thickened. Service over hot white rice.
Cake 2 1/2 cups (355 grams) plus 2 tablespoons (20 grams) all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder 1 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt 1 cup (8 ounces or 225 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 3/4 cups (340 grams) granulated sugar Zest of 1 lemon 3 large eggs, at room temperature 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 3/4 cup (175 ml) buttermilk 3 cups (350 to 450 grams) mixed berries
Glaze 2 cups (240 grams) powdered or confections’ sugar Juice of 1 lemon 1 tablespoon (15 grams) unsalted butter, very, very soft
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 10-cup Bundt pan, either with butter or a nonstick spray.* Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk or sift 2 1/2 cups flour (leaving 2 tablespoons back), baking powder and salt together and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and impossibly fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Then, with the mixer on a low speed, add your eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Beat in vanilla, briefly. Add 1/3 flour mixture to batter, beating until just combined, followed by half the buttermilk, another 1/3 of the flour mixture, the remaining buttermilk and remaining flour mixture. Scrape down from time to time and don’t mix any more than you need to. In the bowl where you’d mixed your dry ingredients, toss the berries with the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour. With a silicon spatula, gently fold the berries into the cake batter. The batter will be very thick and this will seem impossible without squishing the berries a little, but just do your best and remember that squished berries do indeed make for a pretty batter.
Spread cake batter — you might find it easier to plop it in the pan in large spoonfuls, because it’s so thick — in the prepared baking pan and spread the top smooth. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, rotating the cake 180 degrees after 30 (to make sure it browns evenly). The cake is done as soon as a tester comes out clean of batter. At 10 minutes before my baking time was up, a tester was totally wet with batter and I was certain it would never be done in the estimated time. 7 minutes later, the same tester was clean as a whistle, so fret not.
Set cake pan on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes, before inverting the cake onto a serving platter to cool the rest of the way. Cool completely. Once cool, whisk together the powdered sugar, lemon juice and butter until smooth and very, very thick. (If you’d like it thinner, add more juice, but I like the thick drippiness of it, seen above.) Spread carefully over top of cake, letting it trickle down the sides when and where it wishes. Serve at once or keep it covered at room temperature for 3 to 4 days.* Updated note, due to comments about cake sticking: If you have a nonstick Bundt, just a coat of butter or nonstick spray should do. However, if you have a regular Bundt, not nonstick coated, you’re really going to want to make sure every nook and cranny is well-coated with butter or even shortening (the solidity of both helps them stick to the cake walls), and then dust the inside with flour. Setting your cake pan in the fridge or freezer (to set the coating even further) while you make the cake batter will provide even more insurance. I hope this improves the release rate of the cake!
Courtney and I travelled to Austin, TX for a week to visit Jack and attend Courtney’s professional organization’s national conference that was conveniently in Austin this year. We flew to Austin with no troubles arriving at noon after a brief layover in Dallas. Jack picked us up in the steamy 90 degree heat and we made our way to the AirBNB we stayed in for 3 nights just a block from Jack’s house. The house was very nice – seemingly brand new with two outside patios and nice everything. We went to lunch at Torchy’s tacos and had some fantastic tacos, queso and Texas beer. I had a fried avocado taco that was great. We then headed to the grocery store to get some provisions for us and Jack was having dinner at his house so he needed some things as well. My grocery store genes shine through as I love going to new grocery stores to check them out. Nice chiles. Went back to our house and had a much needed siestas for a few hours and then headed to Jack’s for dinner. Jack has been renting a room at his friend Rick’s house for the past year. It’s a great East Austin house, very modern with concrete floors, interesting nooks, chickens in the back yard and best of all a smoker loaded with pork belly, pork shoulder and lamb shanks smoking away. We drank lots of natural wine, beer and had really great tacos with the meat, guac and other goodies. Courtney and I didn’t last that long walking back to our place around 9:30 and falling asleep.
Sunday, May 28th, 2017
Jack came over early and we had breakfast at the house and we drove over to Barton Hills for a walk. We walked four miles along the river going through different terrains. One part called the flats was molded rocks with water flowing through – very prehistoric. We stopped at that point on the way back and put our feed in the water. Nice. It was hot and humid and we forgot to bring water which was really dumb. We stopped at a place called Shady Grove on the way back because we were dying of thirst and needed some water. Of course we had to have some margaritas and pulled pork nachos too. Great patio and great watermelon margarita.
Went home and quickly showered up as we were going to a picnic at a friend of Jack’s. We stopped at the beverage store and got a bottle of natural prosecco and made our way about 15 minutes south of Austin. It was fun to meet some of Jack’s friends and see lots of babies. Beautiful, perfect house (of an interior designer) and great food too. We stayed about two hours and then drove about 15 miles more south to the Jester King Brewery.
The brewery was a ranch in almost the middle of nowhere with old ranch buildings and great beer gardens under old live oaks. They are know for their sour beers so we sampled quite a few and enjoyed sitting in the shade soaking up the hot Texas heat. We got back around 6:00 just and the rain that was supposed to come the last two days finally arrived. We were all beat after a long day so hung out watching Netflix and ordered pizza and salad from East Side Pies.
Monday, May 29th, 2017
After breakfast we drove to Gruene, Texas a little town 45 minutes south of Austin. It was a block of restored old buildings. Strolled through a nice garden store where we bought some fancy bee catchers for my Dad and checked out several of the antique stores. We had lunch at The Gristmill, an old abandonded mill converted to a huge restauruant. It was a nice spot and filled up quickly. We were smart to go early. After a leisurely lunch we walked over to Gruene Hall which advertised itself as the oldest dance hall in Texas. Had a few more beers and listened to a pretty good country band.
We chilled out in the afternoon and then walked to Hops and Grain, one of Jack’s favorite breweries. We kept walking around but struck out at the two food trucks we wanted to go to as it was Memorial Day and everything was closed. We ended up back at our place and ended up getting tacos at home at El Chilito – always a good thing.
Tuesday, May 30th, 2017
We got ourselves organized and checked out of the Airbnb around 10:00. We stopped at Jack’s to pick up some picnic tools and went to the grocery store to pick up food for a picnic. We drove out to McKinney Falls State Park – only 15 minutes south of the city. We found a nice spot next to the river/swimming hole and spent the next few hour relaxing in the sun, swimming in the river and rock and having a good picnic. Great spot and good way to spend the afternoon. We recognized the spot from a scene in The Leftovers on HBO which we confirmed when we got back to CLE. Creepy. Jack dropped us off at the hotel downtown where we stayed for the rest of the week. We stayed at the Marriott on Congress and East 2nd. Very nice, new large convention hotel. We relaxed for a few hours and then met up with Jack again at the open air bar of our hotel on the street and Gunny also met us there for a drink. We went to Handlebar bar, a block or so away from the hotel for (another) cocktail before dinner. A nice grungy spot on the roof. We then drove just to the other side of the river for dinner at Odd Duck. We sat on their great patio and had an amazing meal. Best meal in a long long time. Excellent service and excellent waitress who we took all her advice. Highlights: palomas with sea salt foam, pig face stuffed pretzel, and pork belly. We had six or seven plates that we split and had some great gelato and fresh peach cobbler. Great spot.
Wednesday, May 31st, 2017
Courtney’s conference started today so she was out first thing. I got some coffee from the way too crowded Starbucks in the hotel and spent the rest of the morning working. Around noon I met Jack at Easy Tiger, combination bakery and beer garden that we have been to before, about a ten minute walk. We sat outside and had some beer and sausages and then walked down dirty 6th. We stopped at voodoo donuts to see what the fuss was about, just an overpriced donut as far as I can tell. A few days later there was a line of dozen of people waiting there at 10:00 at night. We then wandered to a place that Jack had on his radar that happened to be having a free Sicilian wine tasting going on this afternoon. It was at nice little Italian place called Italic around W6th and Congress. We sampled five different Sicialian wines. Very nice. We then made our way back to the hotel but stopped at Mort Subite, a Belgian Beer bar that Jack wanted to check out. We had one quick beer and then back to the hotel for a rest. We joined a big group of Courtney’s colleagues and went out to dinner at Bangers. We have been there two other times and it was good as always.
Thursday, June 1st, 2017
I went to Cafe Medici, a chee chee coffee shop across the street and had a cappuccino which was 1,000 times better than the Starbucks in the hotel. I then rented a daily bike and rode over to Franklin’s BBQ to get in line around 9:30AM. Franklin’s is the famous joint where people come from all over the world and wait in line for hours for the best brisket. We thought we were getting there early but we were towards the end and almost got cut off. 1/2 hour later and we would have gotten the boot. Doors don’t open until 11:00 and we did not get to the counter until about 12:45. It was fun though. Everybody brings lawn chairs and coolers of beer. Jack, Rick and I polished off brisket, turkey, ribs, sausages, beans and Cole slaw with no prob. The brisket truly is something. Jack and I spent the rest of the afternoon digesting by the side of the pool. We tagged along with Courtney to one of the vendor cocktail parties at a bar across the street… Jack and I didn’t last long. We left the ladies to chat away and went looking for a good place to watch the first Cavs/Warriors game. We found a nice outside spot on Rainey Street and snagged a table trying to stay away from the Warrior fans. Courtney and friends joined us later. It was fun watching the game except they lost.
Friday, June 2nd, 2017
Scoped out a coffee place called Alta’s Cafe that was looking over Lady Bird Lake and on top of a boat house where crew boats were going in and out. A nice spot to spend an hour at the beginning of the day. Connor was flying into Austin that morning so Jack stayed at his house to pack/pick up so I was on my own. I walked around the lake/river and crossed back at Congress and walked west to check out the Whole Foods store by their HQ. Crazy amazing store with anything you can possibly need. Courtney called and she was leaving her conference early and wanted to meet at South Congress… opposite direction of where I was. I hoofed it over and caught up with Courtney and Gunny and had lunch at Guero’s which was good. Ate inside as it was toasty outside. I walked back to hotel to relax and Courtney joined me later. Jack and Connor came over to the hotel and we ubered along with Gunny back to East Austin. First stop was Whistler’s on East Sixth with it’s super cool retro bar and East Side King Food Truck. East Side King is a group of Asian Fusion trucks run by Tom Chef winner Paul Qui. The boys all had some old fashions, missed happy hour by just a few minutes and we tried a couple dishes that were all great – fried chicken thighs and something else. We then walked down a couple more blocks to The Liberty where the second East Side King truck lives and had beers and lots of different dishes – Brussels sprouts something, pork belly buns and lots of other good stuff. Everything was perfect on a perfect night. Jack discovered in the past that the bartender is a Holzheimer cousin of some sort who we are related to so it was fun to talk to him. We then walked back downtown walking down 6th St. Bars and clubs everywhere. We got down to the Dirty 6th which was just getting started. Walked down the street and went into the Driscoll but decided to go to one of the rooftops instead. Ended up somewhere having another beer, listening to a good band, watching Connor work the crowd and enjoying the ATX view. We headed back and Jack and Connor ended going out to see a band somewhere after.
Saturday, June 3rd, 2017
Woke up at 5 Am for a 7:30 am flight. Got a text in taxi on way to airport that our flight was cancelled. uh oh. Tried to call but couldn’t get through so we decided to just go to the airport to see what we could do. Big mistake. It turned out there were 3 cancelled flight to Dallas, ours were one of them, and there were hundreds of people stuck. We ended up waiting in line forever finally confirming on phone that we had a flight booked for next morning as that was only option. So we were able to call hotel and get same room that we were in and were back in our room by 9:00am. Took a nap and then went to a nice French bistro around the corner for a nice late breakfast. Jack and Connor came back downtown and picked us up and we drove to the Whole Foods to get them lunch and walk around. We hung out at the pool in the afternoon which turned into bachelorette party central. We were kind of fooled out and tired from the last few days so we cooked out at Jack’s house. Good dinner of grilled chicken wings, eggplant, rice and veggies. A nice way to finish up our trip. We flew home the next morning with zero problems… of course.