MUSSELS WITH SWEET POTATO FRIES AND GARLIC AIOLI

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If there was ever a question that global warming is real, just ask anyone in New England what the last few weeks have been like and we'll tell you something isn't right. We had very little snow in January, but by the beginning of February we got nailed with back to back storms. In a single five day stretch, close to thirty inches fell. Two weeks later, however, the temperatures were in the fifties and crept up into the sixties, which is unseasonably warm for these parts.  Now, I'm sure some folks are saying "That sounds awesome. Stop complaining!" And, don't worry, I've been enjoying it. But this isn't normal. 

The spike in temps brought out all the little critters, too, including a skunk that sprayed Maki in our backyard. I'm not sure there is any smell worse than skunk. A friend compared it to that of burning tires, but I have to throw gasoline in there too. It's just awful. And it got into our house. Maki received multiple baths that night and the next day Eric took her to get another wash. Even with all of that, she still has a bit of a funk to her (especially her head, where she got sprayed). The irony of it all is that while the warm weather brought the skunk out of hibernation, because it was so warm we could leave the windows open for three straight days to air it out. It all worked out. But it was a bit traumatizing for everyone. 

This bowl of mussels was our Valentine's Day meal from a few weeks ago. I'd meant to share it earlier, but things have just been a bit crazy over here and I never got around to it. Sorry about that. Better late than never, right? I am a huge fan of mussels. It always feels so elegant and decadent, but takes very little work to prepare. To elevate it further, I served them with sweet potato fries and a garlic aioli. A spin on moules frites. I tried to resist eating the whole thing, but failed miserably. Go ahead and make it and you'll see what I mean. 

MUSSELS WITH SWEET POTATO FRIES and garlic AIOLI

SERVINGS
4 servings

INGREDIENTS
For the sweet potato fries
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil

For the aioli
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil

For the mussels
2 1/2 lbs mussels, debearded
1 shallot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 plum tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons dry vermouth

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. While it is heating, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut sweet potatoes into sticks that are 1/4 inch by 1/2 inch wide by 3 inch long. In a small bowl, stir together salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and paprika. In a large mixing bowl, toss the sweet potato with the cornstarch until lightly coated. Toss with olive oil and season with salt mixture. 

2. Spread the potatoes in a single layer onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, until brown and crispy on one side. Take out of oven and flip potatoes. Return to oven for another 10-12 minutes until crispy. 

3. To make the aioli, put the egg yolk in a medium-sized mixing bowl, along with the Dijon mustard, lemon juice, garlic, and salt.  Using a whisk, gently blend the ingredients. Now, whisking continuously, but not too quickly, start to pour in the olive oil a couple drops at a time. Do this until you've used half of the oil and the aioli starts to take form. At this point, you don't have to be as careful and can pour in a larger stream of oil. Whisk in the remaining oil. Taste for seasoning and, if necessary, add salt. Transfer to a bowl with a lid and transfer to the refrigerator. 

4. For the mussels, heat oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallot and, stirring continuously, cook for 30 seconds. Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add chopped tomato and, stirring occasionally, cook for 1 minute.  Sprinkle in thyme. Add mussels, heavy cream and dry vermouth. Season with salt and pepper and cover skillet. Cook, occasionally shaking the skillet, until the mussels have opened.  Spoon mussels into bowls. Serve with sweet potato fries and mayonnaise.

MEZCAL PALOMA

The majority of the time, I'm the one who prepares dinner.  It makes sense. I'm home before Eric, I can often get to the store... plus, I enjoy doing it. It's not that he can't cook or that he's not good at it (he's actually very good), it's just become a task that I've taken over. But why not find some time to cook together? The idea has been lingering in my mind ever since I read Ashley's Date Night In, a cookbook featuring recipes and stories from the evenings she and her husband spend preparing dishes. I found the whole thing truly inspiring and at one point even suggested it... but over a year went by gone and we never followed through. A few weeks ago, however, after a particularly hectic week, Eric suggested that we spend our Saturday night at home. The lightbulb flickered on. "Hey, we have all of these cookbooks around. Why don't we make something from one of them?" We pulled out a recent addition to our collection that features authentic Chinese recipes, made a list, went to the store, and cooked up a storm. The food was incredible. Probably the best we've ever made. And we did it together (all while sipping on palomas). This past weekend we did it again, this time going in a more Mediterranean direction: braised octopus, roasted eggplant, whipped goat cheese, and homemade pita (that evening we went with martinis).

The paloma, featured here, is an easy, refreshing drink. Typically it includes tequila, but I like the slightly smoky notes the mezcal provides. A simpler version of the recipe can be made by using grapefruit soda instead of the fresh grapefruit juice, sugar and soda water, but if you have grapefruits on hand, I prefer this method. 

MEZCAL PALOMA

GLASSWARE
Highball or rocks glass

YIELD
1 drink

INGREDIENTS
Kosher salt
1 lime wedge
1/4 ounce lime juice
2 ounces grapefruit juice
2 ounces mezcal (or tequila)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 ounces soda water
1 grapefruit wedge, for garnish

DIRECTIONS
1. To rim the glass, pour salt onto a plate. Rub the rim of the glass with the lime wedge and then dip the rim into the salt, spin slowly until rim is lightly coated in salt.

2. Pour lime juice, grapefruit juice, mezcal and sugar into a glass. Using a spoon, stir until sugar has dissolved. Fill glass with ice cubes and top with soda water.