Cookbooks feature great combination of unusual and commonplace ingredients

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By Rosalie MacEachern

For The News

With the grass greening, trees in full leaf and the promise of summer unfolding, our taste buds hunger for dishes new and different from winter fare. Fortunately, there are new cookbooks on the market that dish up unusual and commonplace ingredients in fascinating combinations.

If your appreciation of mussels, long considered the world’s easiest seafood to prepare, has been restricted to steaming in white wine or beer and a handful of herbs, you will be astounded to find an entire cookbook simply titled, Mussels, (Whitecap, $29.95.) It is the work of Braeside resident Alain Bosse, known to many as the Kilted Chef, and Linda Duncan, Charlottetown, who is the executive director of the Mussel Industry Council.

The book begins with a detailed primer on the growing, storing, buying and cooking of mussels.  One hundred and fifty pages of mussel recipes follow with another 20 pages of dips, spreads and breads to accompany mussel dishes, including the molasses butter served to Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall when they visited Hector Heritage Quay recently.

Mussels is so beautifully photographed even those who have resisted the popular bivalve are apt to be seduced. There is nothing particularly attractive about the mussel itself so it is impressive to see pairings with colourful vegetables such as bright green asparagus, red cherry tomatoes and orange peppers. Amazingly, also included are a few colourful mussel drinks such as cocktails, martinis and shooters.

The cookbook contains a list of ingredients matched with a detailed method of preparation but as with many cookbooks, the introductory paragraph is often what persuades the cook. In a Mussel Lettuce Wrap recipe it states Linda picked up this method while living in Australia where Thai food was frequently on offer. In Alain’s Cape Islander Salmon he warns against trying to fancy the dish up and advises the cook to stick with plain yellow mustard.

One tiny irritant is found in the notes that accompany the recipes. Some are clearly from Linda and others from Alain but the occasional one uses the first person pronoun leaving you to wonder which of the collaborators is advising you. It is an editing oversight, nothing to really interfere with the enjoyment of the book.

Who knew that mussels could be an integral ingredient on a whole range of pizzas? Who would have guessed anyone would actually take the time to bread a mussel and with panko, no less. These recipes run the gamut from a three ingredient dish that calls for steaming mussels in root beer and shallots to a Bosse family favourite, Seafood Napoleon, involving stacks of puffed pastry and a rich, creamy sauce.

A Taste of the Maritimes (Nimbus, $22.95) by food and garden writer Elisabeth Bailey advocates buying local and in season. Her book is divided into seasonal dishes and many of the recipes will be simple and familiar but with a new flavour twist. An experienced cook might get less out of this book than someone who is new to the art and committed to relying on local fish, fruits and vegetables.

Maritime Fresh (Nimbus, $27.95) is a more recent cookbook by Bailey and is ideal for the chef-gardener. Brussels sprouts are paired with pecans, apples with walnuts, ginger with potato salad and asparagus with bread pudding, continuing her theme of reinventing traditional foods.

Both Bailey books are well organized with appealing photography.

Organizations: Mussel Industry Council

Geographic location: Braeside, Australia, Brussels

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