Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Low(er) Carb Kiwi Sorbet

Kiwi is a low carb fruit that comes in at 53 on the glycemic index. Kiwi is full of fiber, and, according to Wikipedia, is a rich source of vitamin C, A and E. The skin of the kiwi fruit is a good source of antioxidants although I don't eat it - too fuzzy.

Again, according to Wiki, "raw kiwifruit is also rich in the protein-dissolving enzyme actinidin", which makes "raw kiwi unsuitable for use in desserts containing milk or any other dairy products... because it soon begins to dissolve milk proteins." This effectively eliminates kiwi ice cream, kiwi panna cotta, kiwi creme brulee and a host of other kiwi-dairy impossibilities.

Beachnight friends Mark and Ilene have kiwi vines growing at their place which are loaded with fruit. They brought us a large shopping bag full earlier this month which we ate, and ate, and ate, until we could eat no more.

That's when the idea for a sorbet popped into my head. Wow! Was that ever a good idea. If you have kiwis hanging around and don't know how to use them up, I suggest you try this.

I used Splenda-Sugar Blend to make the simple syrup for the sorbet base, cutting the sugar content by just half. You have my blessings if you want to lower the carb count even more and use Splenda granular.

Kiwi Sorbet
Adapted from The Ultimate Ice Cream Book by Bruce Weinstein
1 1/2 pounds ripe kiwis, peeled and cut into chunks
3/8 cup plus 1 tablespoon Splenda-Sugar Blend
3/4 cup water
juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (no sugar added)

In a medium saucepan, combine the Splenda-Sugar Blend and the water and place over medium heat, stirring to dissolve. Raise the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, maintaining the boil for 1 minute.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
Place the cut kiwis and the cooled syrup into a blender and pulse a few times to start the blending.
Add the lime juice and vanilla and blend on low to medium until smooth.
Refrigerate until very cold, overnight is best.

Using an ice cream maker, process the kiwi mixture according to the manufacturer's directions. The sorbet will be at a soft-serve stage after about 25 minutes. It can be made firmer by freezing it in an airtight container for several hours.

Cooks' Notes:
If you freeze the sorbet for longer than a few hours, you'll have to let it thaw a bit before trying to scoop it out of the container. The longer it freezes the harder it gets to scoop.
The sorbet has a lovely soft green color that my camera didn't pick up well, so I tweaked this in PhotoShop. I hope it translates well to other computers.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Grilled Stuffed Turkey Burgers

I try to keep packages of ground turkey in my freezer at all times. It's so handy for a quick meat and tomato sauce, a low-fat meat loaf, or these cheese and avocado stuffed burgers.
Because ground turkey doesn't have much fat, I usually mix something into the meat to help it retain moisture while cooking. With meat loaf it can be egg, milk, rolled oats or good bread crumbs. But for grilling, I like to mix in a spicy jam to kick the flavors up a bit.
For these burgers I used a red onion confit, spiced up further with NapaStyle's Toasted Spice Rub. Now you can use my red onion confit, Sher's onion jam, or The Girl and The Fig Red Onion Confit, which is what I did, with these burgers. Any of these choices will have you pining for turkey burgers at odd hours of the day and night.

Grilled Turkey Burgers Stuffed with Avocado and Swiss Cheese
Christine's Original Recipe (with inspiration for stuffing ground turkey from Cuisine at Home Magazine)
Makes 4 to 6 burgers
1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
1/2 cup red onion confit (or a spicy jam of your choice)
1 tablespoon Toasted Spice Rub
1 teaspoon kosher salt
generous grindings of Tellicherry black peppercorns or other good black pepper
1-2 ripe avocados
1/2 pound Swiss or Swiss-like cheese or Gruyere (I used French Madrigal, called a 'baby Swiss')

In a large bowl, combine the ground turkey, jam or confit, spice rub, salt and pepper and mix with your clean hands until fully blended.
Using about 1/2 cup turkey blend per patty, roll and pat them out to a 1/4-inch thickness, shaping them into rectangles. Make all the patties a uniform size. The size you make them will determine how many patties the mix will yield.

Setting the patties in pairs on waxed paper (2 patties = one burger), place several slices of cheese on top of one of each pair of patties, then top with several slices of avocado.

Using the waxed paper to help you, flip the unadorned patty on top of the cheese-avocado patty and seal the edges by pinching gently.
Repeat this process with the remaining patties.
Cook patties until just done, using an outdoor grill or an indoor grill pan. Don't overcook or the meat will dry out.

One of these grilled burgers makes a nice low-carb meal with your favorite low or no-sugar coleslaw, salad or roasted vegetables as a side. You can kick the carbs up, if you wish, by serving your grilled burger on a toasted whole wheat bun.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Best Birthday Gift

So many wonderful people have left messages on my last post, wishing me a happy birthday and sending condolences on the passing of my little dog Jack.

I have no adequate words to express what your kind thoughts and wishes have meant to me, but I want all of you to know that your kindnesses helped me to get through this week and I thank you from the bottom of my heart, all of you.

So, not only did I have a birthday this week, but Mr. CC surprised the heck out of me with the best present a gal, and mom, could have.

Last Tuesday, after putting up this post, we took a walk on the head hoping to see some whales. My friend Annie told me that she'd seen them the previous day and I was looking forward to a sighting. We didn't see whales, but had a great walk during which time the fog cleared and the sun came out.

Then I got a call from son Miles. He said he'd made a special slice of pizza for me and would I stop by Smug's on my way to Wherever Mr. CC Was Taking Me Next. Sure, said I, and off we went.

You know how your brain reacts (or not) when you see something or someone so completely out of context that your mind doesn't immediately recognize what or who you're looking at? That's what happened to me.

I walked in the door of the pizza place and looked straight at both of my other sons, whom I had no idea would be there, and for a second or two didn't respond. I recognized them, surely, but my brain just wouldn't wrap around it. When it finally did, I was so completely overwhelmed with joy I could barely stand up. And that's the way the rest of my birthday and this week began.

Having all three of my boys in one room at the same time is quite an acheivement.

Josh is my oldest, lives in Sacramento and is engaged to his sweetie Kelly.

Jeffrey, my middle son, lives in Los Angeles with his lovely wife Amy.

Miles, my 20 year old and youngest son, still lives very close to us so we get to see him often. The handsome devil beside him is the famous Mr. CC.

Josh and Kelly gave me a gift certificate to the very cool Chumayo Spa, just a short distance away in Blue Lake, for my birthday. I'm going to use it just as soon as I can decide on which wonderful treatment to have. They were able to spend two days here and then had to leave to get back to their jobs. I'm so lucky to be able to see them several times a year.

Jeff and Amy were able to stay until Friday evening, and for my birthday present they helped me pick out colors and then painted several rooms in our house. This was such a treat. Not only did I have the the pleasure of their company for 4 days (the last time I saw them was 2 years ago!!!), but the gift of their talents (he does house painting and is very, very good, she is an artist and not only is very, very good, she knows color!) applied to the walls of my house now makes me think of them everytime I walk from room to room. (The pear green in the far room is now gone, replaced with a beautiful marine blue.)

What a gift. What a week.

There's lots I'm leaving out. This is, afterall, a cooking blog, not a personal diary.

But I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Mr. CC also got my dearest friend Erika and her equally dear boyfriend Bill up here for my birthday dinner. Another surprise that spun my already reeling head around.

Whatta guy my guy is!

I'm going to end here and hope to lure you back with a few recipes that are waiting in the wings: a quite delicious kiwi sorbet, a roasted celeriac and pear soup, and an avocado and cheese stuffed turkey burger.

See you soon.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Today It's My Birthday

Well, I wasn't going to do this but it seems I can't help myself. Nor do I want to, I guess.

Today I become one of the Grand Dames of the food blogging community. I don't know the ages of many bloggers, but I did tell Kalyn on her birthday that I was not far behind her; that I would soon become a member of that oft dreaded decade... (did you really think I would tell you?). And, as it turns out, rejoice in the achievement.

When I was young(er), the thought of being this age conjured up visions of wrinkles, creaking joints and a moribund settling in to the downside of life. Well, I have just one word for that: PAH!

Having reached the beginning of a new decade, I can look at this, finally, not as the beginning of an end, but as an inspiration to do more. To achieve more. To be as healthy as I can possibly be and to laugh - long and with gusto. And let me tell you, with Mr. CC at my side, laughter is a huge part of my life. A secret to longevity if ever there was one.

There is one sad thing I feel, again, compelled to share (we bloggers are a sharers, are we not?):

My sweet little dog Jack died on Sunday night. He'd been my constant companion for 11 years and the last few weeks have been very difficult to endure.

Now that I've written this, I don't know what else to say. Those friends and visitors to this site will now know the reason for my absence. Those who don't know me at all will probably shrug their shoulders and move on.

As it should be.
We move on. We have birthdays and, in spite of sadness, we celebrate.
I'm told that today I'm to let myself be led, don't ask (too many) questions and just go with the flow. If I'm lucky I'll see whales. I'll keep you informed.
Then, when I can shake off the sadness, I'll cook again.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Rotisseried Leg of Lamb With Rosemary-Garlic Paste Filling

This group of recipes should be entitled Christmas Redux. Late in getting them posted, I try nonetheless to keep my promises--even though in the world of blogging, Christmas is SO past.

This post is dedicated to Mr. CC and son Josh who not only love a good leg of lamb but who also were a tremendous help in my kitchen over Christmas, keeping a close eye on the roasting lamb amidst the cacophany of company, laughter and merriment.

If I had to pick just three foods in all the culinary queendom to combine into a meal, they would be garlic, rosemary and lamb. Throw in a good red wine and I would want for nothing else, no matter the season:

Two boneless butterflied legs of local lamb, spread with a thick paste of garlic and rosemary, rolled, tied, or, in this case, encased in netting, and skewered to the rotisserie spit of our gas grill. Just writing these words brings back the taste sensations of Christmas dinner.

At about 3 1/2 pounds each, in a 350 degree closed grill, the legs were a perfect medium-rare in 1 1/2 hours. We let them rest for about 15 minutes then sliced and served them with a roasted winter vegetable medley of celery root, parsnips, whole garlic cloves, carrots and garnet yams, accompanied by another tray of roasted broccoli, cauliflower, fennel and more whole garlic cloves. Ya gotta have your veggies.

To make the paste, I used a golden balsamic vinegar dressing that I'd made for a dinner salad the previous night. This turned out to be the perfect vehicle for the garlic and rosemary.

Golden Balsamic Salad Dressing
Christine's original recipe
Makes 1 cup
2 ounces golden balsamic vinegar
1 heaping tablespoon dijon mustard (I use Maille)
1/4 teaspoon sugar or Splenda granular
pinch kosher salt
several grinds black pepper
3 ounces toasted walnut oil
3 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
In a measuring cup, pour in the vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper. Whisk until combined.
Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the walnut oil then the olive oil.
Keep whisking until the mixture has thickened and is fully emulsified.
Taste and adjust seasonings.

Rosemary-Garlic Paste
Christine's original recipe
Makes about 1/2 cup
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1 medium head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon good olive oil
2 tablespoons golden balsamic dressing
Place rosemary and garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Drizzle the olive oil then the dressing through the feed tube, pulsing all the while until emulsified. Mixture will be thick.

Rotisseried Leg of Lamb with Rosemary-Garlic Paste Filling
Christine's original recipe
Serves 8 to 10 with leftovers
2 - 3 1/2 pound boneless, butterflied legs of lamb
1/2 cup Rosemary-Garlic paste
good olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Lay the unrolled legs on a cutting board, cut side facing up.
Spread 1/2 of the rosemary-garlic paste over the entire cut surface of each leg.
Roll each leg firmly into an oblong shaped log.
Tie with string or encase in an elasticized net bag (which was provided by my butcher.)
Rub the outside of each leg with olive oil and sprinkle generously with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Skewer the legs onto a rotisserie spit, leaving enough space between the legs to ensure even roasting.
Have the gas grill pre-heated to 400 degrees.
Once the rotisserie has been set up and the legs are turning over the grill, lower the heat to 350 degrees, cover the grill and allow to roast until the internal temperature reaches 135 to 140 degrees for medium rare.
Remove the legs from the spit and let sit, tented loosely with foil, for about 15 minutes. During this time the internal temperature will continue to rise 5 to 7 degrees.
Slice the lamb crosswise and serve hot.

Cook's Notes:
Preparing the leg of lamb above assumes that the cook has some knowledge of how to use a gas grill and a rotisserie set up.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Butternut Squash With Creamy Tofu, Thyme And Walnut Stuffing

If I were a resolution-making kinda gal, which I'm not, I suppose one that I'd make would be to eat a little less meat.

Now I'm not saying I've made a meatless resolution for 2007, but I have been making a few dishes lately that are sans les viandes. Not by conscious design, mind you. They just came about, in the serendipitous way that food happens in my kitchen, and I didn't miss the meat.

So of course I got to thinking that this might not be a bad thing. You know, go a few nights a week without chicken or fish. (We don't eat much red meat at all, an exception being lamb - post coming soon - so that won't be a sacrifice.)

This particular dish came about because of the tofu. We smug folks up here on the north coast have our very own tofu company, The Tofu Shop, which makes organic tofu daily and distributes it, so far as I can tell, to all our local grocery stores, even Safeway. What lucky people we are.

Did you know that a 3-ounce serving of tofu has a whopping 10 grams of protein? I actually did know that. I used to be a vegetarian back in my hippy days when the cookbook I reached for the most was Molly Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook.

But my point in telling you how much protein is in tofu is that it's a perfect substitute for meat, if you happen to be a low carb person, as I am. I gotta have my protein, but it wouldn't hurt for me to lessen my intake of cholesterol. And tofu is a cholesterol-free food.

Go ahead, visit the Tofu Shop's web site. They have a lot of interesting info on tofu and the other products they make. Don't forget to come on back here for my recipe though.

To cut to the chase, my recent hankering for some tofu resulted in the following dish, which turned out pretty darned tasty to this carnivore.

Butternut Squash with Creamy Tofu, Thyme and Walnut Stuffing
Christine's Original Recipe
1 medium butternut squash
1 14-ounce block firm organic tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 onion, diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
a pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons dry vermouth
1/2 cup 1/2 & 1/2*
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
olive oil and Earth Balance** for the pan

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cut the stem end from the squash and discard. Cut the squash in half lengthwise.
Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and then cut each piece in half crosswise, leaving the scooped out portion intact.
Place all 4 pieces in a roasting pan, skin side down. Fill the pan with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the squash with salt and pepper. Cover the pan with foil and put in the oven for 45 minutes to one hour, or until the squash is tender.
You can remove the foil during the last few minutes to let any water left in the pan evaporate.
When cooked, remove the squash from the oven and tent with foil to keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a heavy skillet over medium heat, saute the onions in a small amount of olive oil and Earth Balance until they are very soft.
Add the garlic, thyme, cinnamon and cayenne and stir for a few minutes more.
Add the tofu to the pan and gently stir (avoid breaking up the cubes) until it has heated through.
Pour in the vermouth and cook, stirring, until the liquid evaporates.
Add the walnuts.
Pour in the 1/2 & 1/2 and cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens.
Remove from the heat and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To serve***, mound spoonfuls of the tofu mixture into each squash cavity, sprinkle with shaved parmesan (optional), surround with a green salad and enjoy.

Cooks Notes:
* You could substitute soy milk for the 1/2 & 1/2, making this vegan-firendly.
** Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread is my new "butter" of choice. It has no saturated fat, is cholesterol free, is easy to cook with and has lots of other attributes that are good for you. Have I given up on butter? No. I just don't use so much of it.
*** I came up with other ideas for the tofu mixture as I was merrily cooking away:
Add sauteed mushrooms to the mix (if only I'd had some)
Mix toasted, seasoned bread crumbs with finely grated parmesan cheese, sprinkle it over the top of the tofu, dot with more Earth Balance and return the whole thing to the oven to melt it deliciously into the mix.
Menu For Hope III:
A reminder to all who participated in the Menu For Hope raffle, Monday, Jan. 15th is the day to check at Chez Pim to see if you won the prize of your dreams!
I'm taking the long weekend off from blogging. Back on Tuesday!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Eggplant Ricotta Timbales With Faux-Fresh Tomato Sauce

This recipe is an adaptation of one I used to make for a local restaurant many years ago. It involves a bit of preparation but is worth every minute of time you will spend. A company pleaser for sure, it's vegetarian to boot. Add a simple salad and you're done.

Eggplant Ricotta Timbales
Loosely adapted from the Larrupin' Cafe
2 large globe eggplants
Olive oil for brushing
15 ounces part skim ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons seasoned, toasted bread crumbs (I use Brio croutons and buzz them in my food processor)
1 heaping teaspoon dried basil
2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
1/3 cup parmesan, grated
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, left whole (walnuts may be substituted)
8 sun-dried tomatoes that have been packed in olive oil, minced
1 large egg, slightly beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Slices of mozarella or provolone (optional)

Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees.
Cut the stem end from each eggplant and slice each down the middle lengthwise.
Laying each half cut side down, cut into thin slices lengthwise.
Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil and place on the prepared sheets.
Roast in the oven on two racks, switching racks halfway through the roasting time, until the slices are completely softened but not cooked dry. About 10 minutes in a very hot oven. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Lower oven temperature to 375.
Mix the ricotta, breadcrumbs, basil, garlic, parmesan, pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes together and blend well. Season to taste with the salt and pepper then add the beaten egg and mix to combine.
Using a paper towel, oil 6 6-ounce souffle cups.
Beginning with one strip of eggplant, lay eggplant slices, one next to the other, in each cup, one end in the bottom of the cup with the rest of the strip laying over the edge and draping on the outside. See photo for example.

Fill each cup 2/3 full with the ricotta mixture then, going around the cup, bring the eggplant strips up and over the top of the mixture, cutting the ends on a diagonal to fit.
Place cups in a roasting pan, pour hot water into pan to reach halfway up the sides of the cups and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 1 hour or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove the timbales from the water bath and allow to cool.

To serve, tip a timbale out of its cup onto a warmed plate.
In the oven, melt a slice of mozarella cheese over each timbale.
Spoon the warm tomato sauce (see recipe below) around the timbale and serve immediately.

Faux Fresh Tomato Sauce
Christine's original recipe
1 large can whole fire-roasted tomatoes, such as Muir Glen organic
8 slow-roasted tomatoes a la Kalyn, diced to make about 1/2 cup
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 tablespoons sweet Vermouth
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor until well blended. The sauce should be thick. Adjust seasonings to taste then heat gently in a saucepan.

Cook's Notes:
This is a photography note actually. Lately I've been taking my photos at night with the resulting yellow-tinged effect that I dislike intensely. I apologize for this and want you to know that I'm trying to find a permanent home for the great Photo Studio in a Box that I got for Christmas so I can start using it regularly. At the moment I can't leave it out because the cats, being the curious creatures they are, eye it longingly. Taking the studio out of the box, taking a photo, then putting the studio back into the box not only makes for cold food, it's not my idea of fun. I must figure this out.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Candy Cane Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream

Here's an (almost) guilt-free way to use up those leftover holiday candy canes.

Some time ago, I developed a fairly low-carb, low-fat ice cream (ice milk, actually) that, by itself, you can eat guilt-free, in moderation of course. The "almost" comes into play with what you add to the basic recipe.

Here I've crushed candy canes and chopped a dark, 70% cacao, bittersweet chocolate bar to enhance my base. While this does add to the carb count, you can always have friends over to help you eat it. Plus, chocolate is good for you.

I've just discovered a new (to me) evaporated milk that is fresh milk with 60% of the water removed. It's very white, as compared to Carnation which always has an unappetizing yellow tinge to it. The brand name is Santini. They also make an organic, sweetened condensed milk and I'm hoping that soon they will come out with an organic, low-fat evaporated milk. Then I'd be happy. I found the Santini evaporated milk at my local food Co-op.

Candy Cane Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream
Christine's original recipe
2 cups low-fat milk (2%)
1 cup egg substitute (or you could use 4 eggs)
1 13-ounce can evaporated milk (low fat if possible)
1/2 cup Splenda granular
2 teaspoons pure peppermint extract
2/3 cup crushed candy canes
1/3 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate (60% to 70% cacao)

Start this at least 6 hours ahead of time or the night before to allow enough time for the custard to chill before making the ice cream.
Put the egg substitute in a large glass measuring cup and whisk in the Splenda until fully blended.
Place the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and bring just to a simmer. Small bubbles will form around the edges of the pan when it reaches this stage.
Remove pan from the heat and slowly whisk 1/3 of the milk into the egg mixture.
Whisking constantly, pour the egg mixture into the remainder of the milk in the saucepan and put back on the heat, this time on low.
Cook gently, whisking constantly until the custard thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon.
Remove from the heat and pour through a fine sieve into a clean bowl.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes then stir in the evaporated milk and the peppermint extract.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, overnight is best.
When ready to make the ice cream, give the custard a stir then pour it into your ice cream maker and freeze according to instructions.
When the custard reaches a softly frozen state, pour in the crushed candy cane and chocolate and continue with the ice cream making process until the ice cream has reached a soft-serve state.
At this point it may be eaten as is or placed in the freezer compartment of your refrigerator to firm up even more. To do this, pour the ice cream into a freezer-safe container, lay a piece of plastic wrap on top and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Put in the freezer until firm, about 4 hours.

Cook's Notes:
In general, I use Splenda instead of sugar in most of my sweet creations, an egg substitute (Lucerne's Best of the Egg from Safeway has the lowest sodium content) whenever possible instead of whole eggs, and either Smart Balance or Earth Balance instead of butter.
But that's me. Any of my recipes can be made with the real deal, with my blessings. Here are the equivalent whole food measurements:
Splenda Granular - to use sugar instead, measure cup for cup.
Splenda-Sugar Blend - to use sugar, double the measurement, e.g., for 1/2 cup Splenda-Sugar Blend, substitute 1 cup sugar.
Splenda-Brown Sugar Blend - to use brown sugar, double the measurement same as for the Splenda-Sugar Blend.
Egg substitute - 1/4 cup equals one large egg.
Smart Balance or Earth Balance (do not use "Lite" in baking or cooking) - use butter measure for measure. Never, ever, ever use margarines that contain trans-fats.
All that said, there are times when only the best whole food products will do, and at those times I use whole eggs, organic butter and, gulp, sugar. But not too much sugar. And NEVER trans fats.

YAY! Happy 200th blog post to me!!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

My Unfinished Kitchen

The fantastic photographer and cook, Ilva, at Lucullian Delights, is hosting an event called "Show Us Your Kitchen". Her deadline for entries is Tuesday, Jan. 9th, so if you want to have your kitchen included in her round-up, better get crackin'.

My kitchen is, and has been, in an unfinished state for quite some time. This made me think for quite a while whether or not I wanted its unfinished self to be out in the world. Then I decided to go ahead. This is a blog after all. My culinary journal. Consider these the "before" photos. I'll post the "TA DA!", "after" photos when the long-anticipated day arrives that the project is finished.

I love my kitchen. It's warm and homey and the color of honey. It has old things (stove) and new things (wall oven - not shown because it's not installed yet, but it will be). It has hefty wooden beams from which my pots, pans and baskets hang.

It has beautiful (still unpainted) window and door trim that Mr. CC made and that sports a sweet wave pattern, in keeping with the whole ocean thing.

It has my mother's ceramic match holder, hand-painted from Italy, which graced her kitchen bricks when I was a child. And it has a scratched and worn pine floor that I didn't used to like but have come to cherish over the years.

My kitchen has a real butcher's block that came from an old, greasy restaurant in Redding years ago. Mr. CC schlepped it back home to me, knowing how delighted I would be to have it. After the initial sanding and cleaning, it has graced the center of my kitchen, developing a whole new patina.

My kitchen has a "dry" side where the stove lives surrounded by thick wooden counters. The "wet" side, where the sink and dishwasher reside, is still waiting for the sunny yellow tiles with the cobalt blue filet to be laid on the counter top and on the wall around the sink.

My kitchen has two prized crocks that I dearly love and which hold cooking utensils on either side of the stove.

My kitchen has my mother's bread box, nestled snugly against the fridge. I don't think about it much, but I use it every day and know that that's somehow a comfort to me.

But mostly, my kitchen has love. It's the heart of my home. It's where I ponder what I will cook for those I love and it is, of course, where I put my thoughts into action. My kitchen is filled to overflowing with memories of family and friends, laughter and joy, new beginnings and lives laid to rest.

My kitchen, finished or not, is where I'm happiest.

Is where I follow my bliss.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Spicy Peanut Encrusted Jarlsberg And Avocado Stuffed Chicken Breasts

It must have started with Sher's Bok Choi with Peanuts and Cilantro, then was egged on by another food blogger (I think it was Sam) who had a peanut butter ice cream base in her fridge, when last night, faced with yet more chicken breasts to prepare for dinner, I was struck with the idea of peanuts.

All hail the power of suggestion.

Mr. CC and I tossed around a few ideas and came up with this winner of a recipe. If you don't have NapaStyle's Toasted Spice Rub, treating yourself to a container of this time-saving spice medley is worth the shipping cost - promise.

Plate this with a large spoonful of roasty-toasty veggies and you've got a low-carb dinner worthy of company.

Pair it with a deeply black Malbec from Cahors in the southwest of France and you've got a perfect, cozy evening at home with just you and your main squeeze.

Spicy Peanut Encrusted Jarlsburg & Avocado Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Christine's original recipe
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded with a mallet to 1/4-inch thickness (remove tenders)
Kosher salt and peppercorn medley (I used McCormick) for inside the breasts
4 to 6 2-inch long x 1/4-inch thick pieces of Jarlsberg cheese
6 to 8 thin slices of ripe avocado
1 cup pan-roasted, unsalted, skinless peanut pieces
1 tablespoon NapaStyle Toasted Spice Rub
1 teaspoon kosher salt
25 grinds peppercorn medley (about)
1/4 cup egg substitute (or 1 egg, lightly beaten)
Olive oil and butter for the pan

Lay the pounded chicken breasts on a flat surface, insides facing up. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and a few grindings of the pepper medley.
Lay 2 or 3 pieces of the cheese on each breast (the number of pieces you use will depend on the size of the chicken breast. Overstuffing will only cause the filling to spill out of the rolled up chicken as it's cooking.)
Lay 3 or 4 slices of avocado over the cheese. (Ditto)
Beginning at the larger, rounded end, roll the chicken breast up, jelly-roll fashion, toward the smaller, pointed end and secure with toothpicks. Set aside.

In a food processor, add the cup of peanuts, the toasted spice rub, the salt and peppercorn medley and buzz until the peanuts are fairly finely ground. Be careful to not process too long or it will turn to peanut butter. You want this to be like crumbs.
Place the egg substitute or beaten egg in a bowl large enough to dip each chicken breast in.
Place the peanut mixture in another bowl to do the same.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Heat a heavy skillet to medium high heat and add equal amounts of oil and butter - I guess I used about 1 tablespoon of each, but I don't measure.
Dip a breast in the egg, rolling it around to coat it completely then dredge it in the peanut mixture, coating it well. Repeat with the second breast.
Place in the skillet and brown well on all sides. Some cheese may ooze out of the chicken breasts. Unless you've invited the Queen, or Thomas Keller, to dinner, just serve it along side the chicken when plated. It tastes very good.
When both breasts are browned, place the skillet in the oven to finish cooking the chicken until just done, about 10 minutes.

To serve, first remove the toothpicks from each breast. If you want to be really fancy-schmancy, using a sharp knife, slice each breast into rounds and serve overlapping eachother. If fancy doesn't matter, serve whole or cut into halves.

For the roasty-toasties, I roasted a medley of cauliflower, broccoli, cipollini onions and whole, peeled garlic cloves, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with kosher salt, generous grinds of Tellicherry black pepper, and dotted with small pieces of Earth Balance buttery spread or butter, in a large roasting pan, covered with foil, in a 375 oven for about 30 minutes, shaking the pan often. I then removed the foil and let the veggies get golden brown for about 10 minutes more. I've blogged variations on this theme many times. It's foolproof.

And for dessert?

How about home made Peppermint Chocolate Chunk Ice Milk?

Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Saffron Bread Holiday Tree And Rolls

The ornaments have been taken off the tree and packed away, the twinkling lights rest in their boxes until next year, and the tree is leaning against the picnic table in the back yard, keeping company with several species of birds.

Thus marks the end of another Holiday season replete with family, friends, gifts and, best of all, the sharing of seasonal food.

Now, with the beginning of a new year, my thoughts are turned to the future and what lies in store: A new job perhaps? A few resolutions to set into (and keep in) motion?


But there are a few unfinished items lingering from the holidays that are leaving me with a feeling of loose ends, as I did promise to post a few of the recipes from my Christmas table. I've already given you dessert(s) and one loaf of bread. Here is yet another bread that harkens from my past. Before now, I'd only made it one other time...

I was a very young mother-to-be, had never made bread before, found this recipe in a magazine (the name of which has long been forgotten), and scribbled it onto a piece of paper. On that very day, knowing absolutely nothing about saffron, I bought my first tin of those tiny orange threads and my first box of dried yeast packets.

Once home, I began making this heavenly-scented, slightly sweet, festive bread which I have, this time 'round, adapted slightly from my original scribblings, always trying to lower fat* and carb count.

Holiday Saffron Bread
1/2 cup warm water
2 packages active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar for the yeast
2/3 cup Splenda-Sugar Blend for the dough (you could use 1 1/4 cups regular sugar if desired)
1/8 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
1 cup egg substitute (or 4 large eggs)
1 13-ounce can low-fat evaporated milk, room temperature (original recipe called for full fat)
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
9 1/4 to 9 3/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour**

Prepare the Dough:
Combine the water, yeast and 1/4 cup sugar in the large bowl of a stand mixer and let stand 2 minutes.
Add the saffron, Splenda-Sugar Blend, egg substitute, milk, butter, salt and 4 1/2 cups of the flour.
Mix on low speed until smooth, then beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes more.
Gradually beat in 4 3/4 cups more flour, allowing the mixer to do most of the kneading, until the dough is satiny smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, shape it into a ball, cover with the mixing bowl and allow it to rest for 15 minutes.
Uncover the dough. If it sticks to the surface, knead it with your hands, incorporating the remaining flour until it no longer sticks and is shiny and smooth.
Place dough in a greased bowl, turning it once to bring the greased side up. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 8 to 24 hours.
Turn out onto a surface (the dough will be very stiff) and knead for 1 to 2 minutes.

Compose the Bread:
Lightly grease three large baking sheets.
Divide dough into 3 equal parts. Each portion will make a sheet of bread or rolls.
To make the rolls,using your hands, pinch off a piece of dough and roll out a rope 16 to 18-inches long and 1/2-inch thick.
On a baking sheet, make a tight circle with the rope, pinching the end to adhere.
Repeat with more ropes of dough, forming a pattern of your choosing, until the entire portion of dough is used.
To make a tree, begin by making a 1/2-inch thick rope in each of these lengths:
8-inches, 11-inches, 14-inches, 17-inches, 20-inches, 23-inches, and 26-inches.
Continue to make 9 more 1/2-inch thick ropes that are 6-inches in length.
To assemble the tree (follow the photos above), make the curving branches from the top down and space each branch with a tight circle of 6-inch rope. Braid the remaining 3 pieces of 6-inch rope for the trunk, tucking one end under the lowest branch and the other end under the braid.
To make the trees look even more festive you can press a candied cherry into each of the swirled ends of the branches.

Cover all the bread shapes with a towel or towels and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.
Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.
Place one large egg in a bowl and beat slightly.
When the dough has risen, brush each of your creations with some of the beaten egg then slide the sheets into the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
Brush again with the rest of the egg and bake for 10 minutes longer or until golden brown.
Slide breads onto wire racks and cool completely. Wrap with festive holiday ribbons to give as gifts.

Saffron: Touted as the most expensive, by weight, spice in the world, the threads are used sparingly in savory middle-eastern dishes, Spanish paella, and in some sweet breads. In medicine, anti-carcinogen and anti-oxident properties have been discovered. When combined with a sweetener, saffron not only imparts its lovely orange hue, but a sweet, hay-like essence, as it has done with my breads.

Weekend Herb Blogging is back from its holiday hiatus and is home this week at Kalyn's Kitchen. Kalyn's brainchild, WHB is one of the most popular food blogging events in the blogosphere today. Kalyn will be posting her round-up of entries this Sunday evening, so be sure to stop by to see what herbs, spices, veggies and plants are being offered up by food bloggers 'round the globe. Click on these links to read about the "rules of engagement" and up-coming weekly hosts.

Cook's Notes:
*No getting away from using 1 cup of butter. Sorry!
**Since I had only made this bread one time previous to this Christmas, and that was many, many years ago, I decided not to experiment with using whole wheat flours which can demand more liquid be used in the dough. If I do make this bread again, I'll experiment more freely.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Cocoa Panna Cotta - My Way

When an idea that's like a marble rolling around in a steel drum won't be quieted, sometimes you just gotta get it out of your head and into the saucepan. So to speak.

I can't remember now where I read this, but someone, somewhere said that you cannot successfully caramelize Splenda-Sugar Blend. Pah!, I say. Yes you can.

And to prove it I've made a variation of the Cocoa Caramel Panna Cotta from my previous post, not only using the Splenda-sugar for the caramel, but also substituting fat-free 1/2 & 1/2 and regular 1/2 & 1/2 for much of the heavy cream.

In doing so, I've made it way lower in carbs and lower in fat while still retaining its creamy, silky texture. In fact, I like this version better than the last: It doesn't have any of the coating-the-roof-of-your-mouth feel that using all heavy cream can sometimes impart; and it sets up prettier, creating a layered effect of dark to light chocolate color.

Yes, Virginia, even though you might be eating lighter fare after the indulgences of the holidays, you CAN, at least once in a while, indulge in dessert.

Lower Fat - Lower Carb Cocoa Panna Cotta
Adapted from The Essence of Chocolate, by Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger
2 1/2 teaspoons gelatin
1/4 cup water, divided
1/4 cup Splenda-Sugar Blend
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli)
1 1/2 cups regular 1/2 & 1/2
1/2 cup fat-free 1/2 & 1/2
1 cup heavy cream

Lightly spray six 4-ounce souffle cups with Pam. Using a paper towel, evenly distribute the Pam over the bottoms and up the sides of each cup, leaving a thin film. Set aside.
Place 2 tablespoons of the water in a small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin. Stir and set aside. This will become very firm.
Combine the cream and both 1/2 & 1/2s into a glass measuring cup and microwave until lukewarm. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, place the remaining 2 tablespoons of water and the Splenda-Sugar Blend over medium heat. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the liquid is a deep amber color, brushing the sides of the saucepan with a wet pastry brush if crystals form.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and quickly stir in the cocoa powder, stirring until fully blended.
Return the pan to the heat and slowly add the warm cream mixture, stirring constantly. The caramel will harden at first but will finally dissolve as the mixture heats up. Keep stirring until there are no hard bits left in the pan.
Remove the pan from the heat again and add the gelatin, stirring until it has dissolved, then strain the entire mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a pourable container.
Divide evenly among the prepared souffle cups and transfer to the refrigerator, covering the tops with plastic wrap so a skin doesn't form.
Refrigerate until set and slightly jiggly, at least 4 hours. Overnight is ideal.

I rather ruined the top photo by thinking I had to run a knife around the souffle cup to un-mold the panna cotta. But with the addition of the film of Pam (thank you for your support Jann), all you really need to do is flip cup and plate, give it a good shake, and the panna cotta will freely fall out, making for a smoother edge than you see in my photo.

Cook's Notes:
I opted out of preparing the custard sauce, adding a dollop of homemade creme fraiche as a garnish instead.
This dessert is so lovely in both taste and texture, it can stand on its own. A small shaving of good bittersweet chocolate around the plate is all it would need to give it a fine presentation.
Because gelatin is used to firm up the panna cotta, I see no reason why whole or 2% milk couldn't be substituted for the heavy cream, lowering the fat and calories even further. Give it a try!
Finally, you may have noticed that in my previous post I did not write out the recipe, providing a link and an explanation instead, but have written it for this post, creating what may seem to be a contradiction. Because I changed the recipe ingredients and the explanation of preparation significantly enough, I felt comfortable in giving credit to Mr. Scharffenberger and Mr. Steinberg for their wonderful recipe that I then adapted to suit my tastes. And because I now have their book, I'm not lifting anything from Mr. Leite's site.
And that's about all I'm going to say on this subject. :)