Original dishes to surprise your friends "

Some times when I invite friends over for lunch, as a starter I love to place a big bowl of freshly-steamed mussels in the middle of the table and watch what happens. Some just dive in with gleeful abandon while the shellfish newbies hang back to see how it's done. Either way, soon everyone is grabbing mussels from the bowl, slurping from the shells, and sponging chunks of bread to sop up the sauce. It's a happy, playful scene that never fails to get the lunch started. To steam a quick batch of mussels for a lunch starter is nothing but a bit of white wine, a dash of extra virgin olive oil, and a chopped shallot. The mussels themselves require little preparation. Most mussels that you find at the seafood counter are farm-raised, which is a sustainable choice for mussels, and they are already pretty clean when you pick them up. Most just need a quick scrub and a check for the "beard" before they're ready to be cooked. Mussels are best consumed on the same day you buy them. Until you're ready to cook, store them in the coolest part of the fridge. Be sure to remove the packaging around the mussels to allow airflow so the mussels can breathe. Discard any mussels with broken shells, that don't close up within a few minutes after you tap them gently on the counter, or that don't open after cooking.

 Goa Mussel Curry

It's funny that normally at the end of the day, when one is relaxed and stretched out in the comfort of the couch, one of the most common thoughts that come to mind is food. Last week after finishing our evening tea, Luisa looked at me from her corner of the couch  and  said: "Toni, do you know what I would love for lunch tomorrow?" Nope, I answered. To which she replied with a smile on her face. "I'm craving for an Indian-style dish ... some curry would be nice!!" What is on your mind I asked. She responded that I should surprise her. Well! I never spend a lot of time making curry recipes and has I've mentioned before curry is not one of my favourite dishes. Nevertheless I do prepare Indian recipes once in a while because Luisa loves Indian food, especially from Goa. The spicy, succulent recipes from Goa are as famous as the golden beaches and lush landscape of this premier tourist destination of India. Traditionally, the Goan staple was fish curry and rice, but under Portuguese influence there developed a distinctive cuisine that combined the flavours of Indian and European cooking with local ingredients being used to approximate the authentic Portuguese taste. I normally find assistance in a great recipe book. "The Essential Goa Cookbook" by Maria Teresa Menezes. After browsing through it, I came across a recipe for mussel curry and decided to  make some changes but respecting the mix of the sweet and aromatic flavours, of the original recipe. This version uses my standard steamed mussel technique and combines it with flavours from Goa (India) to create a dish whose basic process is pretty much identical to the traditional version, but whose end results are entirely different. All it takes is some curry paste, some coconut milk, and a few other odds and ends. Since mussels cook fast anyway, it's a quick and great recipe.

Ingredients: 2kg of fresh mussels,1 large chopped onion, 2 garlic cloves, 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger, 1 teaspoon of Indian saffron, 1 teaspoon cumin,1 tablespoon full of curry powder, 2.5 dl of coconut milk,1 tablespoon butter, 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons fresh chopped coriander, 2 peeled and chopped medium size tomatoes  piri-piri ( a little drop if you want )1 tablespoon of sider vinegar, salt to taste. Preparation: Rinse and stir mussels under cold running fresh water. Mussels naturally open and close their shells when out of the water. For any mussels that do not close after rinsing, tap their shells or lightly squeeze them while running under the water again. For any mussel that still does not close, throw it away. Place an empty pot on the stove and add some extra virgin olive oil.. Turn on the heat to high. Add the mussels to the pot and cover with the lid. Keep temperature to high. Cooking will take around  5 minutes. .When the steam is pouring out from under the lid of the pot for 15 seconds, they are done! Let  them cool for a few minutes and then tip the contents into a bowl remove mussels from the shells, wipe them and set aside. Inside a mortar crush the garlic cloves until they are mashed, next the coriander, add the saffron, ginger, cumin, curry and vinegar. Mix well, add a few tablespoons of water and stir until it forms a paste, reserve. In a  large pan, sauté the butter with the olive oil and onion. When it begins  begin to brown, add the tomato, stir and let it braise a little. Next, add coconut milk, and the previously prepared curry paste. Let it boil for 2-3 minutes, season with salt, add the shelled mussels, and allow to cook for another 3 minutes add a bit of warm water to sauce if necessary. Serve with basmati rice and steamed broccoli.

Ingredients for basmati rice: 1 1⁄2cups basmati rice, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1  cinnamon stick (2 inch), 2  green cardamom pods, 2 whole cloves,1 tablespoon cumin seed, 1 teaspoon salt (optional),2 1⁄2cups water, 1 small onion, thinly sliced. Preparation of Basmati Rice - Indian Style: Place rice into a bowl with enough water to cover. Set aside to soak for 20 minutes. Do not skip this step, it’s very important. Heat the extra virgen olive oil in a large pot or saucepan over medium heat. Add the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, cloves, and cumin seed. Cook and stir for about a minute, then add the onion to the pot. Sautee the onion until a rich golden brown, about 10 minutes. Drain the water from the rice, and stir into the pot. Cook and stir the rice for a few minutes, until lightly toasted. Add salt and water to the pot, and bring to a boil. Cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until all of the water has been absorbed. Let stand for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork  also remove the pods, cloves, cinnamon stick before serving.



Original dishes to surprise your friends "Meat and vegetable pie"

As most of my friends and blog followers know, during the last year I’ve been recuperating from an illness and due to this, I have not  been out of the house to meet with friends for lunch or dinner. So in moderation, we have been having friends over at home for mainly lunches. Better than better, I find this a more comfortable situation, I enjoy it, and  so do my friends. There is no better plan than to invite friends home to have a good time in company. I try to make quick meals in order to save my energies and also to be able to spend as much time as possible enjoying their company. There’s no  need to complicate too much, one can be the perfect host without spending hours in the kitchen and still leave guests open-mouthed. With a little imagination its easy to prepare a great meal that friends will never forget.  It’s important to keep it fun, casual, and simple, I tend to stick with the same easy-to-prepare menus that have worked well for me in the past. I only invite one or two people at a  time , with a maximum set at  three.  I’m lucky that my friends  are people I really like who don’t make me  nervous, regarding the food I output, but nevertheless I keep the menu simple and strait forward.  The preparation of meals that don’t involve a lot of last-minute hands-on time are the ideal. I want to be free and easy when guests arrive and not slaving over a hot stove. Here’s a weird, but important, step I always take:  I put on an apron or chefs jacket. For some reason, this helps me get moving.  It’s kind of like slipping on a uniform.  It allows me to officially step into the role of chef. I also like to have some happy cooking music switched on, classic is good, Pavarotti inspires me. After everyone leaves and we are clearing up the last of the dishes, I’m often filled with a warm glow of satisfaction and gratefulness for the special memories that were just created. Recently a good friend of mine Carlos visited me and asked for my advice, on an issue he was being faced with. So the story goes as follows; “a few weeks ago Maria and I went for lunch at friends and they made us plain ham and cheese sandwiches, can you believe that?” He continued “we did not want to be judgemental but we would have expected more”. he then went on to say “now they are coming to our house for the day and I don't know what to make for lunch. I feel like serving tomato and cheese sandwiches, but I don't feel right doing it.” He asked “Toni do you have any ideas for simple but interesting lunch?  I was happy to give him a couple of simple ideas to produce a good and tasty meal for his friends. A few days later, Carlos reported back, informing that the lunch with his friends had turned out to be an excellent and ery enjoyable meal. Well based on this experience today I start this new section, providing  ideas for easy and original dishes to surprise your friends.

Meat and vegetable pie

A very original, tasty and comforting dish that can start  to be prepared in advance. Place the stuffing of the meat pie in the mold and bake in the oven a few minutes before your guests arrive.This way it will be ready and freshly made when served . It is a very simple recipe that no one can resist, expecialy in colder days, but make no mistake, they are delicious at any time. The delicious stuffed meat with different vegetables is covered by a good layer of mashed potatoes and is placed in the oven to finish off, the smell that floods the kitchen when baked will make the stomachs of your friends roar. The list of ingredients, may seem overwhelming, even though it takes around an hour to prepare, you can trust me, it’s simple and easy to make and the result is worth it. Ingredients for 4 people: 1 kilo of potatoes, peeled and chopped, 1 cup of whole milk, 110 g butter, cubed + 1 tablespoon for sauce, Ground black pepper and salt, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 chopped white onion, 3 carrots, 1 clove of garlic, chopped, 1 / 2 red pepper, 1 tomato, chopped, 250 g green beans, 500 gr of beef minced meat, 1 / 2 liter of meat broth, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon of flour100 g grated cheese.

Preparation: To make the mashed potatoes: Peel and chop the potatoes into cubes, introduce them in a pot, cover with water add a pinch of salt, place on stove at medium heat. When water reaches boiling point, lower the heat and let potatoes cook until tender (about 15 minutes). Next drain the water, add 3/4 cup of milk and butter. Crush the potatoes until a smooth puree forms and the butter has melted. Season with salt and pepper and we reserve.To cook meat and vegetables:  Peel the carrot and wash together with the green beans introduce into a pot with water and cook in medium heat for 10 minute. Remove carrots and green beans from pot and reserve, Peel and finely chop the onion, red pepper, heat the extra virgin olive oil in a wide pan over medium heat, add the onion and red pepper, fry for 10 minutes, until tender.Peel and finely chop the garlic, add it to the pan so that it is fried for 2 more minutes. Wash the tomatoes, cut them in half, remove the seeds and chop it finely, add  to the pan and continue cooking a few more minutes. When the vegetables are tender, add the minced meat, crushing it lightly, add a little broth, and cook until the meat is brown, stirring constantly. Add the rest of the broth, the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and let it cook for 15 more minutes. Final Preparation: Place the remaining butter and the ¼ cup of full milk in a frying pan at medium heat then add the cooked carrots and green beans once it’s hot add the flour (previously mixed with water ) after a few minutes, the sauce must have thickened a little, stir together with the beans/carrots until its bound together and creamy. Place a thin layer of mashed potatoes at the bottom of a deep dish (about 20 cm) suitable for the oven, add a layer of vegetables then the meat, on top of the meat add some more vegetables. Cover with the mashed potatoes and smooth it. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top and place inside the oven for 20-25 minutes  at 190º C or until the surface is crispy and golden. Remove from oven and take directly to the table and serve, add on the side the carrots and green beans that were not used in the filling. I have no doubt that your friends will love it.