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Archive for April 15, 2015

COCKTAIL: Tax Thyme Gin & Tonic

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For tax time, add fresh thyme to a G&T. Photo courtesy Q Tonic.

 

If your taxes are in, you deserve a drink today. And if you haven’t sent them in by day’s end, you may need two drinks!

Here’s a variation of the gin and tonic with a sprig of thyme, for tax time. It’s the creation of Q Tonic, an elegant, all natural* tonic water created to complement fine spirits.

RECIPE: GIN & TONIC WITH FRESH THYME

Ingredients Per Drink

  • 4 ounces tonic water
  • 2 ounces gin
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme†
  • 1 lime wedge
  • Ice cubes
  •  
    Preparation

    1. ADD the gin to a cocktail shaker. Add 3 sprigs of thyme and gently muddle. Add the ice and shake.

    2. STRAIN into an ice-filled highball glass and garnish with a line wedge and sprig of fresh thyme.

     

    *If you buy major brands, check the labels to see if they’re all natural or made with artificial quinine flavor.

    †Fresh thyme should be stored in the produce bin of the refrigerator wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. If you’re storing it for more than a day, put the damp towel with thyme in a plastic bag.

     
    WHAT TO DO WITH EXTRA FRESH THYME

    Don’t let fresh herbs dry out in the fridge; find something else to do with them. Thyme is a great partner many popular foods.

  • Beans: Thyme is the go-to herb for bean dishes, whether hot or in a bean salad.
  • Braises: Add it to anything braised (like pot roast), simmered or stewed. If cooking with multiple sprigs, tie them together with kitchen twine to make removal easier.
  • Breads: Add to corn bread or corn muffins, other savory muffins, sausage bread, etc.
  • Casseroles: Even if your recipe includes another herb, add an equal amount (or half as much) of fresh thyme.
  • Eggs: Add to omelets and scrambled eggs.
  • Freeze: Wash, dry thoroughly and seal in heavy-duty plastic bags. When ready to use, the frozen leaves come right off the stems, and the tiny leaves defrost almost immediately.
  •  

  • Fish: Poach fish, with lemon slices and sprigs of thyme on top of the fish, and additional thyme in the poaching liquid.
  • Pasta and risotto: Add chopped fresh thyme to the sauce or garnish for pasta; add to risotto towards the end of cooking with some lemon zest.
  • Pork: Add to sauces for grilled or roasted pork, or use in the marinade and/or as a garnish.
  • Potatoes: Add to roasted or scalloped potatoes. If you don’t have chives, add fresh thyme to baked potatoes as well.
  • Poultry: Add to the cavity of the bird before roasting, and/or tuck leaves under the skin. Add to the marinade of cut pieces.
  • Rub: Blend with mustard, salt and garlic to make a rub for roast lamb or pork.
  • Salads: Add to a vinaigrette‡ or sprinkle atop salad greens.
  • Soups and stocks: Season with fresh thyme (it’s great in bean or lentil soup).
  •  

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    It’s easy to grow fresh thyme indoors or as a patio plant. Get seeds from Burpee.com. Photo courtesy Burpee.

  • Spreads and dips: Mix in fresh thyme, to sour cream- or yogurt-based dips or hummus.
  • Stuffing: Mix in fresh or dried thyme.
  • Sweets: Try some in shortbread or other butter cookies.
  • Tomatoes: Add to tomato sauces and soups; sprinkle on grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches, or atop the tomato on a burger.
  • Vegetables: Add to sauteed mushrooms; make a thyme vinaigrette‡ or a Dijon-yogurt sauce for steamed or grilled vegetables.
  •  

    Thyme, like all fresh and dried herbs, should be added toward the end of the cooking process since heat can easily cause a loss of its delicate flavor. This is less of an issue with quick-cooking dishes like scrambled eggs, as opposed to long-cooking beans and stews.

    There are some 60 different varieties of thyme. The variety typically found in U.S. markets is French thyme, also called common thyme, Thymus vulgaris. The upper leaf is green-grey in color on top, while the underside is a whitish color.

    Check farmers markets for lemon thyme, orange thyme and silver thyme, or grow your own.

    THYME TRIVIA

  • Native to Asia, the Mediterranean and southern Europe, thyme has been used since ancient times for its culinary, aromatic and medicinal properties.
  • The ancient Egyptians used it as an embalming agent to preserve deceased pharaohs.
  • In ancient Greece, thyme was burned as a temple incense for its fragrance.
  •  
     
    ‡Thyme vinaigrette recipe: Crush a large garlic clove and add to 5 ounces extra virgin olive oil. Allow flavors to blend for an hour or longer. In a separate bowl, combine 1 tablespoon thyme, 1 tablespoon lemon zest, 1 tablespoon minced shallots,
    2 tablespoons Champagne or white wine vinegar. Remove the garlic cloves and gradually add olive oil, stirring constantly with a whisk. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Steamed Mussels (Moules Marinière)

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    A classic bowl of mussels. Photo courtesy
    Duplex On Third | Los Angeles.

     

    Recently we joined a group for dinner at a French bistro.

    Others dug into rilletes and onion soup hidden under a heavy layer of Gruyère, cassoulet and steak frites. We, still feeling guilty about all the Easter candy consumed pre- and post-holiday, opted for the steak tartare and moules marinière, steamed mussels.

    As we devoured mussel after plump mussel, we pondered:

    This is such an easy to make, better-for-you, delicious dish. Why do we no longer make it at home?

    It turns out that our chief obstacle, sand, no longer exists.

    Wild mussels can be quite sandy, requiring soaking after soaking. We lacked the patience for it, especially when after all the soaking we still bit into grains of sand.

    But these days, most mussels don’t grow on the ocean floor; they’re farm raised, in bags that hang vertically on ropes above the ocean floor. They’re pretty sand-free. (Yay!)

    All you need is a good fish store; and you can even find quality frozen mussels that do the trick (check out VitalChoice.com—no thawing required, just pop them in the pot).

     
    The two most popular recipes hail from France and Italy:

  • Classic Mussels (Moules Marinière), made with garlic, onions/shallots, parsley, tarragon, white wine.
  • Mussels Fra Diavolo, made with fresh basil, crushed chili flakes, garlic, olive oil and tomatoes.
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    Many Recipe Variations

    After you’re comfortable with the basic recipe, you can go all out with seasonings.

    Flex Mussels in New York City serves 21 different recipes, from the classics to cuisine-specific riffs from Indian (cinnamon, curry, garlic, star anise, white wine) to Thai (coconut broth, coriander, curry, kaffir lime, lemongrass, lime, ginger, garlic).

    If you’re old enough to remember Alice’s Restaurant—the hit song, which begat the feature film and cookbook—Alice liked to vary her recipes. On steamed mussels, she commented:

    “Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.”

    Now, let’s get ready to make mussels!

    HOW TO BUY & CLEAN MUSSELS

    For dinner, figure two-thirds of a pound of mussels in the shell per person—more for hearty eaters. Leftover mussels are delicious the next day, either warmed or chilled with a green salad and vinaigrette.

    Mussels and other some other bivavles (clams, cockles, oysters) are sold live, kept cold on ice. Unlike other seafood, once a bivalve is no longer alive, the flesh decomposes quickly.

    Buy mussels with moist shells (not dry-looking) that are tightly closed, with no external blemishes. Western mussels have black shells. You may find New Zealand mussels, which have green shells and tend to be meatier.

    Even if you buy farm-raised mussels, you may want still want to go through the classic rinsing process.

  • Set them in a pot filled with cold water with a tablespoon of dry mustard. After 20 minutes, drain and move them to a colander.
  • Srub them under running water to eliminate any debris.
  • Check for beards, straw-like filaments that can get protrude from the two halves of the shell. Pull them off and discard. (Most farm-raised mussels won’t have beards.)

  • What about partially opened mussels?

    Most people who cook bivalves know to discard these: They may be dead. But here’s a trick:

    Tap them firmly a few times with a spoon or other implement. If they’re alive, they will slowly close their shells. If there’s no motion, consider them dead and toss them in the trash.

    And definitely toss any mussels with cracked shells prior to cooking. Bacteria may have entered through the crack.

    What if you’re not going to cook the mussels immediately?

    You can keep the mussels for a few days if you place them in a bowl or other container in the coldest part of the refrigerator (generally the rear of the bottom shelf). First line the bowl with a plastic storage bag filled with ice resting on top. Cover with a damp paper towel.

     

    RECIPE: MOULES MARINIÈRE

    Ingredients For 6 Servings

  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped onion or shallot (about 6 shallots)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley and/or tarragon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Optional: garlic cloves, sliced celery and/or carrot
  • Pinch cayenne
  • 4 dozen mussels
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt to taste
  • Garnish: chopped fresh parsley
  • Optional garnish: halved cherry tomatoes or strips/dice of red bell pepper for color
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the first six ingredients (through the cayenne) in a large pot, and simmer until reduced to a half cup. Strain into a large pot and add the mussels.

     

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    Spicy mussels. If you like heat, add sliced jalapeno or crushed red pepper flakes—or make Mussels Fra Diavolo. Photo courtesy Barnjoon | NYC.

     

    2. COOK 5 to 10 minutes or until the shells open, shaking the pot from time to time. With a slotted spoon, remove the mussels to individual soup bowls (ideally, large and shallow), retaining the liquid in the pot.

    3. MAKE the sauce: Add the butter and optional salt to the liquid in the mussels pot.

    MUSSELS FRA DIAVOLO

    Fra diavolo means “brother devil” in Italian, a nickname given to a Neapolitan guerrilla leader in his feisty childhood. The spicy-hot recipe was named in his honor. (The Italian word for mussels is cozza, plural cozze, pronounced CUT-sah and CUT-say).)

    The recipe features marinara sauce (you can use tomato paste and tomato purée) and heat from crushed red pepper.

    Here’s a recipe from Chef Jasper White.

    In Italy, it is often served atop a dish of linguine.

      

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