phobicfoodie

My Year of Adventurous Eating

Mussels, Muscles, and Fennel Leek and Potato Soup September 12, 2011

I am officially the worst blogger ever, by the way.

I’m not very good at commitment (when it comes to posting regularly, anyways).

I make promises I don’t keep (when it comes to posting regularly…ahem…).

I run off and ignore you for nearly a month without so much as a how-de-do or a phone call or a post card…

I realize it may be a bit late in the relationship to be telling you about all this, but there it is.

You forgive me, right? You still love me?

Well, because all of my readers are either

A:  Married to me

B:  Related to me

C:  My co-workers, but still willing to hang out with me after normal work hours

D:  My very good friends

I’m going to go ahead and believe that yes, you still love me.

I may have found a solution to my blogging conundrum though!  Free wi-fi at Da Bean, Berthoud’s loveliest, hippest and inspiring-est coffee shop!

Because a donut may be purchased for a mere 25 cents here, and because they play songs like “The Promise” by When in Rome at 9:20 on a Monday morning, you will likely be hearing from me on a much more regular basis now.

That’s right.  You heard  me.  25 cents.
And they’re darn good donuts too!

Anyhoo, back to the blog and our regularly scheduled program.

Yesterday was Mussels Day!

After much agonizing over where in landlocked Colorado we were going to find mussels that would be fresh, cooked well, delicious, and not-scary, my faithful foodie friend and blog supporter Sarah suggested Brasserie Ten Ten in Boulder.

In spite of the odd name (which makes no sense at all to me), The Brasserie is one of the most popular, world class restaurants in Boulder.  They serve classic French cuisine, fresh takes on French cuisine, and Creole influenced French cuisine.

Um.  Delish!

I asked our waiter which of the three equally appealing preparations of mussels he would recommend.
He suggested the Moules A La Mariniere  (mussels steamed with crème fraiche, thyme, butter, white wine,  garlic and shallots) for a first time mussel eater, because white wine and garlic is perhaps the most classically French preparation they offered.  We took him at his word.

The mussels arrived drowning in decadent smelling sauce and topped with crispy, golden shoe string fries.

Or Kennebec Fries, if you are a fancy French restaurant.

If I were going to die by drowning, I’d want it to be in that sauce.

Each shell had popped open to reveal its’ steaming, fleshy, vaguely scandalous resident.

Mussels are just a bit obscene, ever notice that?

I guess there’s something about a hard-shelled creature that will open up to reveal its most privatest and secretest parts as soon as a little heat is applied that seems a little…well, implies a little… I guess sort of brings to mind…

Innuendo!!!

That’s the word I want to use.  I just can’t seem to make it fit into that sentence.

The Mussels gleamed softly and steamed in their little black dresses, skirts parted to reveal the pearly blue linings beneath.

I leaned in and took a good whiff.

Now, it may be because I’ve got a little fall hay fever going on here, but I’m choosing to believe it’s because they were the freshest, best quality mussels.  Those mussels didn’t smell like anything at all!  I smelled wine.  I smelled cream.  I smelled butter and thyme and garlic and deep fried potatoes, but I didn’t smell the mussels at all!

That’s a good sign, my tablemates told me.

I forked one of the little bites out of its shell.

I felt a little guilty.

Maybe a little ashamed.

I felt like I was invading someone’s home.

With the intention of eating its’ resident.

And, I guess I was!

I placed the morsel on my tongue and chewed once.

I held my breath.

I chewed twice.

It was like…it was like….

It was like eating over gelatinized gelatin, with a little gristly chew on the side.

I swallowed and allowed myself to inhale.

“Bleeehhhhhhh!!!!”

“Was it the taste or the texture?” asked Hubby.

Bleeee….I guess the texture, really.  I couldn’t actually taste the mussel itself…”

I took another one.

“The sauce is good though.”

I ate it.

This time there was no crunch of gristle, and I allowed myself to breathe while I chewed.  The sauce was creamy, tangy and thyme-y, with a mild undertone of garlic and shallot.  It was perfect, really.  The mussel itself, while innately ocean-y and briny and otherworldly, had no flavor other than what the sauce imparted.  It was tender and sort of fell apart in my mouth as I chewed.

By the third mussel I realized that horrible gristle in the first one was from the little foot that attaches it to the shell.  It had remained stuck to the mussel when I pulled it out.  In the subsequent mussels, that little foot stayed with the shell and was thus unable to ruin my chewing experience.

By the fourth one I was shifting from “tolerate” to “almost enjoy.”

But by then the dish was empty.

We moved from mussels to lunch and from there on to the rest of the day, but the texture of the mussels stayed with me.  I reviewed it in my mind, reminding myself, pondering, trying to decide what I really thought of them.

By nightfall I couldn’t get them out of my head.  I couldn’t wait to try another one, just so I could refresh my memory.

I think I might love them.

But it’s hard to say.

Isn’t it that way with every good love story?

I lied in the title of this post by the way.

I have absolutely nothing to say about muscles.

But I do have something to say about Fennel, Leek and Potato Soup!

I’m going to put the recipe here, even though I don’t have any pictures to put with it.

*gasp!*

I know, I know.  But I did say I’m a terrible blogger!

I made this the other day, and it was probably the most amazing soup I have ever made.

Also, I made it on a hot plate.  I think I get bonus points for that.

It’s a twist on the classic Leek and Potato Soup that you find in every cookbook of basic recipes.  The addition of fennel gives it freshness, sweetness and unbelievable flavor.  Try it?  Please?
And forgive me for not including any photos?

It’s worth it.  Believe me.

Begin by slicing two leeks in half lengthwise and running the halves under cool water for several seconds to rinse all the sand and dirt out.  Cut each half in half (also lengthwise) then thinly slice each quarter crosswise.

In a large pot, heat a couple of tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat and add the leeks.  While the leeks sweat and get translucent, dice a couple of bulbs of fennel.  Reserve some of the fronds if there are any.  Add the diced fennel to the pot and allow to sweat and become tender with the leeks.  Salt generously and add one cup of dry white wine.   Allow wine to reduce until the bottom of the pan is dry when you run a wooden spoon across it, then stir in 32 oz chicken stock.

Peel and dice two large russet potatoes.  Add to the pot.  Bring to a simmer and cook until all the vegetables are tender.  Remove from heat.

At this point you could remove half the soup and puree it in a blender before adding it back in to the pot.

Or you could puree all of it and have a lovely, smooth creamy soup.

Or you could leave it completely chunky.  It’s really up to you and your soup preferences!

But no matter how you like the texture of your soup, do not skip the next step!

It’s probably the most important step in this recipe.

If you skip it, the soup will be ruined.

Ruined, I say!

Stir in one cup of heavy cream and two more tablespoons of butter.  Adjust seasoning as needed.  Serve warm, garnishing with some of the chopped fennel fronds if desired.

The soup will be creamy, and rich, and tangy, and sweet, and savory, and delicious!

Here’s the recipe with handy measurements!

FENNEL, LEEK AND POTATO SOUP

2 Leeks, rinsed, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced

2 Fennel bulbs, diced

2 Large Russet potatoes, peeled and diced

32 oz. chicken broth

1 c. dry white wine

1 c. cream

4-6 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, melt 2-3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat.  Add leeks and allow to sweat slowly for 2-3 minutes.  Add fennel and salt, sauté with leeks until both are translucent and tender.  Stir in wine and let reduce and evaporate.  When the wine is fully evaporated (the bottom of the pan will be dry if a wooden spoon is run across it) add in chicken broth.  Season with salt and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are all tender.  Remove soup from heat.

At this point you can puree all or half the soup base, or leave it chunky.  Stir in cream and 2-3 more tablespoons of butter.  Adjust seasoning as needed.

If there were any fronds on the fennel, mince a few and sprinkle over the soup as a garnish.  Serve with crusty bread or garlic toasts.

Eat and be happy!

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