Chef On A Shoestring

Amanda Hesser
Reporter for the Dining In/ Dining Out Section of the New York Times and author of The Cook and the Gardener
May 1, 1999

The following recipes have been adapted from The Cook and the Gardener.

Creamy Leeks and Tarragon on Toast
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2 medium leeks, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise and washed
2 tablespoons butter
Coarse or kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup soft goat's milk cheese (usually sold as logs in vacuum-packed plastic), with rind (if there is one) removed, and broken into small pea-size pieces
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves (about 6 sprigs)
1 ½ tablespoons chopped tarragon leaves (about 4-5 branches)
Freshly ground black pepper
4 slices crusty bread, toasted in the oven
1 clove garlic

Slice the leeks crosswise to make 1/4-inch half-moons. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Add the leek, season lightly with salt, and cook over low heat so it softens but does not color. Once the leek is meltingly soft (8-10 minutes), turn up the heat to high to cook off excess liquid, 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and pour in the cream. Reduce to thicken, about 1 minute. Add the goat's milk cheese and stir until it is melted and the mixture is well bound. Add the parsley and the tarragon and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside but keep warm.
Rub the slices of bread with the garlic clove. Mound the leeks on the toast and serve.

Mussels with Garlic and Fine Herbs
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3 pounds mussels
1 ½ cups white wine
4 shallot lobes, sliced thin
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, slice thin
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves (about 3 sprigs)
2 teaspoons chopped tarragon leaves (about 2 branches)

Clean the mussels: scrub them well under cold running water. Debeard them, if necessary, pulling out any wiry fronds coming through the seams of the shells.
In a large pot or deep sauté pan, combine the white wine, half the shallot, and the bay leaf. Place the mussels on top and cover with a lid. Bring to a boil over high heat to steam open the mussels, 3 to 4 minutes. You may want to give them a stir after 2 minutes to disperse the heat evenly among the mussels. When the mussels have opened (if there are a few that don't, this is an indication that they are dead or bad - discard them), transfer them to four shallow bowls.
Strain the cooking liquid, through either a coffee filter or several layers of cheese cloth, into a clean pan, add the olive oil, remaining shallot and garlic, and bring to a boil over heat. Reduce the mixture slightly; it will condense to an opaque liquid. Taste. If it's too salty, add a little water. Sprinkle the herbs and spoon the sauce over the mussels. Serve promptly, with a tangy baguette torn into large piees, which you can us to soak up the broth when you're finished with the mussels.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Confit
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1 pound rhubarb, washed and trimmed
3/4 cup sugar
½ pound strawberries, washed and hulled, sliced if large
Ice Cream

Cut the rhubarb stalks into 1-inch lengths and place them in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and 1 to 2 tablespoons of water, and stir to mix. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the rhubarb is tender (5 to 7 minutes), shaking the pan occasionally to prevent sticking. (If you stir, the rhubarb will break up.) Shaking the pan allows the rhubarb to stay together.
Remove from the heat and stir in the strawberries. They will soften and bleed under the heat. Spoon into serving bowls and serve at room temperature or chilled, with a great big dollop of crème fraîche, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Cost Breakdown
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Appetizer
Leeks
$1.89
Heavy Cream
.79
Goat Cheese
3.49
Tarragon
.99
Baguette
1.79

Entree
Mussels
2.99
Garlic
.49
Parsley
.49

Dessert
Strawberries
2.25
Rhubarb
1.91
Ice Cream
2.79

TOTAL
$19.87