How ‘Bout Them Bivalves?

They’re cheap, quick-cooking, sustainable and downright yummy … yet most people I speak with are skittish about cooking bivalves like mussels and clams. Such a pity.

how-bout-them-bivalvesI came to love bivalves while in France. My first time eating mussels was at my maman’s house in Lyon, where she showed me how to cook moules marinere—mussels steamed with onions and tomatoes. This was a working-class household who watered their wine, and mussels fit their frugal budget. Of course, they were scrumptious too.

So if you’re interest is piqued and you’re feeling adventurous, let’s get some bivalves in your kitchen.

How to Buy and Store Bivalves

Mussels and clams are alive when you buy them (and, actually, when you cook them), so be sure to give them air. Your best bet is to lay a moist kitchen towel in a wide bowl and pour in the mussels or clams. Then fold the towel over the top and place in the fridge.

How to Cook Mussels and Clams

The shells should be tightly closed when you take them out of the fridge. If you find one that’s not, give it a little pinch (sometimes they’re just a little jolted from the cold); if it still doesn’t close tightly, pitch it in the trash.

Most mussels come “debearded” when you buy them these days, but check the flat seam of the shell for loose, hairy strands and tug them off if you see any. Soak clams in cold water for 10 minutes or so to loosen any grit, then transfer them to a colander and give them a rinse before cooking.

Mussels are a bit more delicate than clams and are best steamed—although don’t let that hamper your creativity. Try the classic onions, white wine and tomato sauce, or our lip-smacking Curried Mussels (makes my mouth water just thinking of them). Clams take to steaming well too, but they’re also happy being roasted or grilled. In any case, be sure to take bivalves off the heat shortly after they open to avoid drying them out.

How to Eat

My French maman taught me a fun trick to eating mussels. Take the first mussel out of the shell, and then use that shell as a pincher to pull the other mussels out one by one—no fork needed. With any steamed bivalves, too, there will be gorgeous broth to sop up; so plan ahead with some crusty bread or sticky brown rice.

And just in case you’re still feeling squeamish, here’s a little video I shot a while back actually cooking this dish—Clams with Bacon and Garlicky Spinach. Give it a gander and you’ll see how easy it is!





Clams with Bacon and Garlicky Spinach

Clams and bacon have quite an affinity for one another. Take time to get the bacon nice and crispy and the onions nice and brown (you’ll need a heavy-bottomed pan for this so they don’t burn). Their flavor will infuse the whole dish.


1 pound spinach
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Juice of 1/2 lemon
4 slices bacon, sliced crosswise into slivers
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 cup white wine
3 pounds clams, scrubbed
freshly ground black pepper

Wilt the spinach in a wide, covered sauté pan over medium heat, for about 4 minutes, and pour off liquid. Remove spinach from pan, turn up heat and let any remaining liquid burn off. Swirl in 1 tablespoon olive oil and add the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, for 4 minutes, until golden. Add spinach back to pan and sauté for another 2 minutes, until completely wilted. Turn into a serving bowl and squeeze lemon juice over top. Remove spinach from pan; set aside.

Wipe out pan, reduce heat to medium and add bacon and onion. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until bacon is well-browned, about 10-12 minutes. Turn heat to medium-high, add thyme and white wine, and deglaze pan. Bring to a boil and let wine reduce to about half, about 4 minutes.

Add clams and reduce heat once again to medium. Cover and let simmer for 6-8 minutes, until clams are opened. Drizzle 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle black pepper over top.

To serve, place a bed of spinach in each of four wide bowls. Top with clams and broth.

Serves 4


10 Ways to Dress Up Your Veggies

Veggies are awesome. I am forever enamored with how many flavors and textures and colors there are to play with. And the fact that the palette changes each season makes me feel like a wide-eyed kid playing nature’s version of Iron Chef.

10-ways-to-dress-up-veggiesBut I can get in a rut with veggies too. I love the uber-simple Alberto’s Grilled Marinated Asparagus so much, for instance, that I make it over and over and over again. But then, that’s not very fun.

So I developed a little arsenal of ways to dress up any vegetable. Use these like shadows and highlights on your ever-changing palette of seasonal veggies to add a bit … more to something that’s already quite lovely. and by all means, mix and match at will.

  • Toasted nuts – Nuts have a lot of things going for them. Their (healthy) fat adds a touch of richness, they have an incredible range of flavor, and then … there’s that crunch. I like to chop or slice them rather than using whole nuts, both because I like the texture better and because it makes a little go a looong way.
  • Cheeses – Gone (I hope) are the days when vegetables had to be covered in a gooey blanket of cheese to be appealing. Fresh seasonal veggies from a CSA, farmers’ market or garden are way too interesting to be covered up like that. But a tiny bit of flavorful, pungent cheese—shredded, shaved or crumbled—is a wonderful addition to almost any veggie.
  • Brown butter – Try these Sautéed Radishes with Mint to see the effect brown butter has on veggies. Just a tad adds luxurious texture and deep, nutty, lip-smacking flavor.
  • Vinegar – Not all flavor additions have to do with fat. Vinegar—and vinaigrettes—brightens veggies even out of the salad bowl. Try our Roasted Beet Wedges with Champagne Vinegar to see how. I also like tossing our Mustard-Shallot Vinaigrette with grilled or roasted veggies.
  • Spices – Simply adding a new spice to a basic dish elevates it to a whole new level. I make roasted broccoli all the time, for instance. Then I pushed the envelope and came up with Roasted Broccoli with Garlic Chips and Spanish Paprika.
  • Citrus zest – Citrus zest packs a surprisingly bright, tangy wallop. A little run of a lemon, lime or orange over a Microplane zester does wonders, especially on richer items like asparagus and potatoes.
  • Soy sauce and miso paste – Both soy sauce and miso paste are umami enhancers, which means they add that voluptuous mouthfeel to the foods. This is especially helpful for vegetables which, for the most part (the big exception being mushrooms), are low on the umami scale.
  • Grated aromatics – I like grating things like garlic, ginger and shallot onto veggies; I find the effect more pungent than simply sautéing them with minced or chopped aromatics. Do beware though: they can burn super-quickly. It’s best to add them in closer to the end of cooking, as I did with our Swiss Chard with Grated Garlic.
  • Honey – Honey truly gilds the lily when it comes to vegetables that have an inherent sweetness to them—like carrots (try our Honey-Ginger Roasted Carrots and you’ll see what I mean). Use it, too, as a semi-sweet counterpoint to salty and sour components like soy sauce and vinegar.

There are my 10 … have any you’d like to share?

Roasted Asparagus with Miso, Honey and Lime Zest

I deliberately left the dressing for this roasted asparagus super light so that nothing, with the exception of the cayenne, would tug your tastebuds too far away from the asparagus itself. The result is bright and zingy; it also pops asparagus out of the Mediterranean profile so you can serve it with Asian-leaning dishes. If you can get your hands on an unfiltered peanut oil, like Spectrum Organic’s, you’ll gain even more flavor.


Pizza Dough: A Blank Canvas

I love a good pizza, but I don’t always want to go out for one and I’ve gotten fed up with the too-expensive, ho-hum pies delivered by our local pizzeria. If I want a decent pizza at home, I’ll need to make one. And that means making my own pizza dough.
pizza-dough-blank-canvasBut it’s no chore. Making pizza from scratch is simple and invites culinary creativity. You can play with the dough by experimenting with different types of flours (we’ve found a combo of all-purpose and whole wheat flours, plus a long proofing time, yields a hearty yet light-textured crust). Even if you opt for a premade crust or dough (choose a whole wheat version, if you do), you can make it all yours with the toppings you choose.

In fact, toppings are where the fun takes off. We polled the NOURISH Evolution Facebook community to find out what our fans like on their pizzas. The top 3 vote-getters (drumroll, please…):

  1. Prosciutto, ricotta and caramelized onions
  2. Pepperoni (a classic)
  3. Spinach, green olives and tomatoes (tied with pepperoni!)

People also shared their personal favorites, like chicken, artichoke, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, or artichoke hearts and salami (hmm…I sense a theme: artichokes!). Turns out, we have many inspiring pizza components on NOURISH Evolution:

The Sauce

Of course, the sauce is optional, especially if you want to make a pizza bianca (white pizza), but it adds a nice layer of flavor. Tomato sauce is a classic, and our Easy All-Purpose Tomato Sauce or Kelly’s “Sneaky” Veggie-Laden Marinara Sauce would do the job nicely. Also think beyond tomato. Pesto (like our Spicy Sage and Parsley Pesto or Asian Pesto) adds a zingy kick. Or you could try our Spanish-Leaning Spinach Dip, which has a lovely creaminess that lets you get away with using less cheese–I’d like this one topped with a light sprinkling of grated Manchego cheese and thinly sliced Spanish chorizo. Come summer, try our Roasted Red Pepper Romesco as a smoky alternative to tomato sauce.

The Cheese

It’s easy to go overboard on cheese, but if you combine it with other strong-tasting ingredients, you can use less. Also opt for high-quality, flavorful varieties like pecorino Romano, goat cheese or feta.

The Extras

There’s no limit to what you can add to your pie–sausage, pepperoni, roasted or sauteed veggies Tamara Murphy’s Wild Mushrooms Roasted in Parchment would make a beautiful topper; I love roasted beets. Lia’s Swiss Chard with Grated Garlic is simple and stunning on a pizza. NOURISH Evolution advisor Rebecca Katz suggested using it with red chili flakes, a grating of fresh nutmeg and feta or goat cheese.

With a combo like that, maybe I should open my own pizzeria.

Long-Rise Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

Whole wheat pizza dough can be heavy, but we’ve found that using a combination of flours and a long rise gives the yeast plenty of time lighten the texture. This no-knead method is based on Penni Wisner’s no-knead bread. You can double this pizza dough recipe and freeze the extra to make pizza another time (thaw the frozen dough in the refrigerator overnight).



Five Ways with Chicken Breasts

I have a very funny story about chicken breasts that has become something of a legend amongst our friends. And it has nothing to do with how to cook them.


Ten years ago, my husband and I lived in Costa Rica for a few months. While we were there, we treated ourselves to weekly massages with Marie and Omar. One night, after a month or so, I was on my back sinking into a lull when Omar folded the sheet down … to my waist.

I tensed. Chatter flooded my head. Was I being prudish for cringing? Was he totally out of line? Don’t the Europeans do breast massage? I agonized about what to do all through the next week. Should I wait and see where the massage goes? Should I tell him up front that breasts are off limits? Should I even be going back?

In the end, I decided to face the issue straight on. I rehearsed what I was going to say, I practiced my Spanish; I was prepared. When I walked into the room with Omar, I turned to him and said, “No mas pechugas.”

Omar looked at me with a blank face. “No mas pechugas,” I repeated.

Omar shook his head. “No intiendo,” he said. So I grasped the body parts I was talking about and repeated. “NO. MAS. PECHUGAS.”

At that moment, Omar’s wife Marie walked into the room with my purse. Her eyebrows shot up and her lips curled into a grin. “You forgot your purse in the kitchen, Lia,” she said. I dropped my hands and flushed. “And just so you know,” she added, “pechugas are chicken breasts.”

So now you know Lia’s infamous pechuga story.

Aside from the fact that I chuckle whenever I think of pechugas, I have a love-hate relationship with chicken breasts. During my many years of low-fat dieting I, like millions of others, felt compelled to make boneless, skinless chicken breasts the foundation of my meals. I still remember how the dry strands made a sticking sound as I chewed — and flavor … what flavor?

So as I adopted a more nourishing approach to food (and lost weight, by the way), I swore off boneless, skinless chicken breasts and embraced chicken thighs and legs with abandon. But I’ve come back around … sort of. I haven’t cooked a chicken breast as-is out of the tray since those fat-fearing days. Here’s what I do instead:

  • Pound it. One of my favorite ways to use chicken breasts is to place them inside a plastic bag (I often use one of the produce bags I got from the grocery store) and pound them with the back of a heavy pan or meat pounder to a uniform thickness of about an inch. This lets the breast cook evenly and quickly, and stretches it far enough to be able to serve two people with half a chicken breast.
  • Split it open like a book. This is a similar approach to the pound with all the benefits, only even easier. Just slice the breast horizontally right down the middle (with your knife parallel to the cutting board), stopping an inch before the far edge; as if you were slicing open a book to the spine. Then open it up and flatten it out.
  • Cut it into chunks. Boneless, skinless chicken breast makes a great addition to stir-fries and sautés if you keep the chunks big and keep the cooking short. Season them well with salt and pepper before you add them, so the chunks will develop a nice, flavorful crust while staying tender. But don’t keep them in the pan for more than a few minutes or they’ll dry out.
  • Thinly slice it. Another great way to use chicken breast is to slice it super thinly and let residual heat do the cooking. Thinly sliced chicken breast has a lovely texture and stays nice and juicy this way.
  • Stuff it. Stuffed chicken breasts may sound dated, but, man are they good. Adding a moist stuffing (like sautéed mushrooms) keeps the meat tender, while very small amounts of cured meat or cheese can amp up the flavor.

These simple tweaks to the old boneless, skinless chicken breasts can make your pechugas, well, simply irresistible.

Yum-Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Alison and I got to talking about chicken the other day and were reminiscing how, when she was my editor at Cooking Light, readers couldn’t get enough of stuffed chicken breasts. And then we remembered why. They’re moist and tasty, quite elegant-looking, and cook faster than you’d think. Because they’re “beefed up” by the stuffing, you can easily serve four with only two breast halves.

mushroom-prosciutto-cheese-stuffed-chicken-breasts2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 pound mushrooms, chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs thyme
1/4 cup white wine
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 slices Swiss or ementaller cheese, each sliced in half
4 thin slices prosciutto
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat and swirl in 1 tablespoon oil. Add mushrooms, shallot, garlic and thyme, and saute 5 minutes or until mushrooms are golden brown. Pour wine into pan and scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom. Cook 2 minutes or until liquid has evaporated. Stir in lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, remove thyme stems and transfer mushrooms to a bowl. Wipe out the pan.

Holding a sharp knife parallel to the cutting board and starting from the thick side of a chicken breast half, slice the chicken horizontally right down the middle so that it opens like a book (I like to “open” the flap about halfway in and then carefully continue slicing towards the center until the breast lays flat). Give the thick edges a few hits with your palm to flatten them out to an equal height (don’t worry, the chicken won’t bite–just wash your hands afterwards). When you’re done, you should have a fat, heart-shaped chicken breast half at a uniform thickness of about an inch. Repeat with the other chicken breast half.

Layer the cheese and then the prosciutto evenly on top of the chicken breasts. Mound half of the mushrooms on one side of a chicken breast and press the mound down gently with your hand. Fold the other side over the mushrooms and push two wooden toothpicks through the far edges to help keep them together. Repeat with the other breast. Lightly salt and pepper both sides.

Heat the skillet once again over medium-high heat and swirl in the remaining olive oil. Carefully place chicken breasts in pan. Cook for 3 minutes on one side, then turn (keep the seam side down in the pan so the stuffing doesn’t fall out–tongs work great) and cook 3 minutes on the other. Pour chicken broth into pan, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for another 6 minutes, or until chicken is cooked all the way through.

To serve, transfer chicken to a cutting board with tongs and cut each breast in half. Turn up the heat on the pan and scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom. Place one portion of chicken on each plate and drizzle with pan sauce.

Serves 4