This past Tuesday, the weather gods shined upon Denver with frigidly cold negative temperatures. We’re talking below zero here. School status: cancelled. Mood status: Above average. After all, who’s not a fan of a stolen day every now and then?
I brainstormed day off possibilities, and arranged them into a priority list, with “cook, eat, and take photos” at the top, and “clean the house” in the “if school is also cancelled tomorrow” category. When I’m not at work, I’m thinking blog, and this was a perfect opportunity to start thinking about a post for Valentines Day.
I spent the first part of the morning curled up with my new cookbook obsession, In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark. If you’ve been around this blog for any time at all, you probably know that I quite fervently oppose being cold. It may puzzle you as to why, on a day with a high of -3˚, I stopped reading my cookbook about halfway through the seafood chapter and left the house in search of a lemon and one and a half pounds of mussels.
Hunger called, and I needed sufficient brain fuel to start thinking about whoopie pies, heart-shaped cookies, and pink cupcakes. I had already tried to make Valentines pancakes the previous weekend (looked great, tasted sub par). Then, it dawned on me. Pink frosting isn’t really my thing, but mussels are exactly the type of dish the mister and I would eat on February 14th.
Valentines Day is the opposite of a stolen day. Everything is orchestrated, from the jewelry commercials, to the ruffly boxes of filled chocolates. Just like most other parts of Valentines Day, restaurant food is mass-produced, marked-up, and not quite up to the same standard as other ordinary days of the year.
That being said, the mister and I still celebrate Valentines Day together–in our own way. We’ve eschewed the need to go out and spend a lot on a prix fixe meal and the requisite molten lava cakes. Instead, we spend a fraction of the cost of going out to buy good ingredients and cook exactly what we want to eat.
On Tuesday, the mister and I enjoyed a “stolen” lunch together. I started with some olive oil, heated until shimmering in the bottom of a saucepan. The fresh thyme, garlic (of course), and shallots made a satisfying “ksshhh” as I scattered them across the oil. Next, I poured in the wine and lemon slices, enjoying the heady aroma as it steamed out of the pan. I threw in the mussels, covered, and 5 minutes later, they had hinged open, revealing their perfect bite-sized morsels.
I whisked butter, parsley, and some dijon mustard into the sauce. We ate the mussels atop a tangled nest of baked parmesan and parsley pomme “frite”, to soak up all the lemony, garlicky sauce. I felt privileged to be eating a meal so fitting for a regal occasion on such an unsuspecting Tuesday.
- 1½ pounds mussels
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 2 large shallots, finely chopped
- ½ large lemon, cut into ¼ inch thick slices
- 1 cup dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or vegan butter
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- If your mussels are farmed, all you’ll need to do is rinse them under cold running water. If your mussels are wild, you’ll need to scrub their shells and de-beard them.
- Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the thyme, garlic, shallots, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring often, until the garlic and shallots are softened, but not browned.
- Pour in the wine and lemon slices, and heat to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add the mussels, and cover the saucepan. Steam the mussels for 5-10 minutes, or until all the mussels are open.
- Transfer the mussels from the pan to serving bowls using a slotted spoon, discarding any mussels that don’t open.
- Remove the lemon slices from the pan, squeezing the juice back into the broth. With the heat still on medium-high, whisk the butter, parsley and mustard into the pan juices. Season with salt and pepper, then pour over the mussels.
- 1½ pounds russet potatoes (about 3 medium), cut into ¼ inch sticks
- 2½ tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (omit to make vegan)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
- a splash of champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar (about 2 teaspoons)
- Preheat the oven to 450˚F.
- Heat the garlic in the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. The garlic will sizzle, but shouldn’t turn golden. Strain the garlic from the oil with a fine mesh strainer. Set both the garlic and oil aside.
- Toss the potatoes with the oil and salt in a medium bowl. Spray a nonstick baking sheet with additional oil.
- Spread the potatoes on the baking sheet in a single layer, and bake for about 35 minutes, or until golden and crispy.
- Toss the potatoes with the reserved garlic, parsley, parmesan, a splash of champagne vinegar, and additional kosher salt to taste if needed. Serve while hot.