Dinner with Juliah

Only a feast is fitting when long-lost friends come to visit.
My dear friend Juliah recently returned from a year-long journey around the world and to celebrate her return, we cooked up quite a dinner.

We found fresh mussels at my local fish market and built the meal around them. Some dishes simply needed to be assembled, none were complicated, and I made the dessert in advance, so it was an easy meal to throw together while we caught up.

  • Heirloom Tomato Salad  Green zebra tomatoes, orange heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, home-made hemp nut pesto
  • Mussels in Vermouth Cream Sauce  Blue mussels, shallot, garlic, vermouth, Santa Julia Chardonnay, organic cream  (Recipe below)
  • Broccoli with Red Wine Vinaigrette  Steamed broccoli, red wine vinegar, garlic, Dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt
  • Coconut Chocolate Ice Cream  Coconut milk, cocoa powder, honey, vanilla  (Recipe below)
  • Fresh Fruit Plate  Concord grapes and white figs
  • Jasmine Pearl Green Tea

Mussels with
Vermouth Cream

It’s best to cook mussels as soon as you buy them, but if you get them in advance, keep them on ice in the fridge. (Place a sheet of aluminum foil between the bivalves and the ice to prevent them from being submerged in water as the ice melts.) Always cook the mussels just before you serve them.

The fresh herb we used in this dish is savory. A member of the square-stemmed mint family, it's related to sage, rosemary and thyme. It has a surprising peppery flavor that works wonders with savory dishes.

If you don’t have savory, substitute another fresh herb, like dill, basil, thyme, rosemary or bay.

2 two-pound bags of live mussels
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
2 tbsp grass-fed butter
¼ cup finely chopped shallot
3 cloves garlic, or more, grated or crushed
Several sprigs savory
½ cup dry white vermouth
1 cup dry Chardonnay or other dry white wine
2 to 4 tbsp grass-fed cream

Scrub the mussels, remove the beards, and discard any that are open and do not close when tapped. Set them aside in a strainer.

In a large pot with a tight-fitting cover, preferably one that is more tall than wide, warm the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and saute until soft. Add the garlic, stir, and continue cooking until it becomes aromatic (less than a minute). Do not burn the garlic. Add the savory and vermouth. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in the white wine and add the mussels.

Cover the pot and allow them to steam until just cooked through, checking after 15 minutes. Cooking time will depend on the size of the mussels. Do not overcook them.

Remove the mussels from the pot and discard any mussels that did not open. Cover to keep warm.

Strain the sauce and stir in 2 tbsp cream Taste and adjust as necessary, adding a bit more more cream or a pinch of sea salt (most likely it will be salty enough).

Fill individual bowls with mussels and pour some sauce over the top. Serve with soup spoons and an extra empty bowl to collect the shells.

If you' re not serving a separate green vegetable or salad, place 1/2 cup steamed chopped beet greens (or chard or spinach) at the bottom of each individual bowl before you fill it with mussels and add the sauce.

Ice Cream

This delicious dairy-free dessert has only 4 ingredients and really is more than the sum of its parts. If you don't have a vanilla bean, you can substitute a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.

Because the coconut milk will solidify in the fridge and may separate, I blend the mixture again briefly before I put it in the ice cream maker to ensure it will be smooth and well-mixed. I find it most convenient to chill the mixture in the glass pitcher from my blender.

2 cans unsweetened coconut milk (not low-fat)
½ cup plus 2 tbsp natural cocoa powder (non-alkalized)
¼ cup honey
1 vanilla bean, halved and scraped to collect the seeds

Place the freezer bowl of an ice cream maker in the freezer overnight.

Place the coconut milk, cocoa powder and vanilla in a blender. While mixing, drizzle the honey into the blender until completely incorporated. Transfer the mixture to the fridge and chill overnight. 

Once the coconut milk mixture is thoroughly chilled, blend it again briefly and then pour it into the frozen ice cream bowl of an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Initially, the frozen mixture may be soft. Transfer it to a glass container (a 7-cup Pyrex dish is perfect and comes with a cover) and place it in the freezer to harden.

This ice cream is best served after it's been in the freezer for an hour or two. If you freeze it overnight, it can become quite hard, so take it out in advance and allow it to sit at room temperature until it becomes easy to scoop.

Serve as is or garnish with unsweetened coconut flakes.