Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Final Harvest From The Greenhouse

This is what I foraged yesterday while cleaning up and putting the greenhouse to bed for the winter. After 15 years of not being able to grow any of the above in my foggy, cool, north coast garden, this is richness unsurpassed.
We made a quick pesto with the basil last night which was then smeared on catfish filets and pan-seared. Sorry, no photo. They were gobbled up too quickly.

Gobble, gobble

Copyright © 2005-2007, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving Recipes - Times Past

For the first time in too many years to count, we will not be having Thanksgiving at our house. As children grow to adulthood, get married and settle into their own lives, old traditions change and new ones are formed. This is the natural flow of life and should be embraced rather than resisted, or one could find oneself having Thanksgiving alone.

All this is to say, I won't be cooking this year. Oh, I'm responsible for two side dishes, but I've made them before. I haven't come up with any new recipes to post here. I'll be taking it easy, sitting back, chatting with family, maybe even reading a book, while others do the work. I'll be the crone of whom questions are asked: Mom, how do I get the lumps out of the gravy? Mom, do you sauté the onions first?

I'm looking forward to this.

Before we travel, I thought I'd leave you with links to some of the Thanksgiving dishes I've created over the last few years. I hope you enjoy them.

Happy Thanksgiving to my ever growing circle
of blogger friends and subscribers.
I wish you safe journeys and delicious eating.
See you next week.
Corn, Andouille & Chicken Chowder
This, or a variation of it, is what I usually have simmering on the back of the stove for those who arrive hungry the night before the big day.

Cream of Mushroom & Celeriac Soup
An elegant starter to any holiday meal.

Roasted Beet, Sauteed Fig Amuse Bouche
A fun way to amuse your guests as they sit down to table.

Mashed Yams with Garlic, Chestnuts & Sweet Vermouth
A decadent take on candied yams.

Lime Jello Salad
My mother made this every year. We kids called it Moldy Salad. Thanksgiving would not be the same without it. And, yes, it will be on the Thanksgiving table this year.

Cranberry, Apricot, Ginger Chutney
Put this on the table next to the more traditional cranberry sauce. Yours guests will be delighted. It's delicious on turkey sandwiches the next day.

Turkey Soup
This changes from year to year, depending on how full I am from the night before.

Butternut Squash Bisque with Maple Syrup and Sage
Gives pumpkin pie a run for its money.

Low Carb Pumpkin Cheesecake
Let the dessert speak for itself.

Quince-Raisin Tart Tatin
A quintessential offering of the season.

Copyright © 2005-2007, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanks and Giving

Timing is everything.

We'd been living at our current home, a 2-acre mixture of flat, sharp slope, towering redwoods, and invasive blackberries, for a year or so when we (me actually) decided that we had to raise poultry. I'd raised several flocks of chickens in our previous urban backyards and knew the drill.

Some months later, chickens happily scratching dirt, eating bugs and laying eggs, a friend asked if we wanted two bronze turkey chicks to raise for the table. Well sure, why not? Turkeys can't be any more difficult to raise than chickens. And they weren't. These turkey chicks bonded with the chickens right away, sharing both eating and living space. All was harmonious in the avian world.

The turkeys, fed on a healthy diet of bugs, kitchen scraps and supplemental feed, grew and flourished. Flourished and grew. They became so big that the dogs skirted around them, leaving well-enough alone. Smart dogs.

Our turkeys had beautiful, bronzy feathers and intensely ugly faces. Sweetly dispositioned, they could be approached by any human who wanted to pet them. Eventually they outgrew the chicken pen, so we just left them outside to forage and find a place to sleep at night. And on they grew.

Long about September I started calling them Thanks and Giving, Thanks being the slightly smaller of the two which allowed me to tell them apart. October rolled around, then November, and it was time to do the unsavory deed and get these guys ready for the table. I won't go into the details here. Suffice it to say, they were quickly and humanely dispatched, plucked, cleaned and refrigerated several days before Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving at our house is a big event. Family and friends come from far and wide, filling up our small, cozy home with laughter and love. This is the holiday Mr CC joyfully anticipates from year to year not only because of his love for family gatherings, but because he gets to make the stuffing for the turkey. With wild abandonment and gusto. Just like his grandpa Charley used to do.

The stuffing is started at around 8 am on Thanksgiving day. It takes a little over an hour to prepare then is stuffed into the bird which goes into the oven at around 10 am. We've been doing this for years, why not stick to the schedule? Only this time, when we opened the oven door to put the stuffed bird inside, it wouldn't fit. We looked at each other. We looked at the bird. My, it was big. It was bigger than any turkey we'd ever had. In fact, it was huge. We hadn't weighed it. We hadn't measured it. It hadn't crossed either of our minds to do so. Sometimes tradition wears a blindfold.

Mr. CC had to rig up a rack that sat on the bottom of the oven so the bird would fit, just barely clearing the top of the oven ceiling in our old Wedgewood gas stove. Whew! Turkey in and starting to cook, we turned to other matters. Friends and family who had not already arrived the night before started trickling in. Merriment abounded. Throughout the day the turkey was basted, side dishes were made and the table was set. We would sit down for dinner at 5:30.

Around 4 o'clock a thermometer was placed into the turkey's thigh. Hmmm, not even close. The temperature of the meat was way too low. We cranked the oven up a bit, kept the foil tent in place and closed the oven door.

5:30 came. And went.



The constant sounds of conversation and laughter began to wane as people wandered into the kitchen looking for food. And the turkey still wasn't done. That's when it began to dawn on Mr CC and I that we hadn't just miscalculated the size of this bird, we hadn't calculated at all. Even when it wouldn't fit into the oven, it hadn't occured to us that it might take many more hours to roast than our previous experiences with turkeys.

At about 8:30, our group of 24 very quiet loved ones looked longingly at the array of side dishes ready for the table. Those faces, filled with hunger, could not be denied. We sat down and ate. The turkey was still in the oven, no mashed potatoes or gravy had been prepared, but we ate anyway. The relief was palpable. Laughter swelled once again. It was Thanksgiving.

The turkey finally came out of the oven at 10 o'clock. Those with enough room in their sated stomaches took a few bites and declared it the most delicious turkey they'd ever tasted, and certainly the biggest.

For weeks afterward, we ate turkey sandwiches, turkey croquettes, turkey omlettes, turkey soups and turkey stews. We gave turkey away to friends, we sent turkey home with family. Thanks, the smaller, 37-pound bird, as we determined the following day, was wrapped and put into the freezer to await the time when we would do this again, sometime in the distant future, where memories of life's awkward moments finally come into their own as humorous stories to be told around the Thanksgiving table.

My friend Katie, blogging from France at Thyme For Cooking , has asked food bloggers to post their most embarrassing holiday recipes for "Skeletons in The Pantry". I do have a recipe for this event, but am not able to post it yet. Meanwhile, reading Katie's intriguing invitation, this little reminiscence just flowed out of my fingertips onto the keyboard this morning. Then I had a hankering to share. I will also share that cleaning and plucking a 40-pound turkey is an experience I will never forget, nor am likely to repeat.

Copyright © 2005-2007, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Home Made Potato Chips

Now before you shake your collective heads in dismay at the high fat, high carb fare appearing on this blog lately, hear me out.

These potatoes, organically grown here in Humboldt county, were an offering at the farmers market yesterday. Well, Mr CC loves potatoes and he rarely gets them because I don't cook or eat them. But the potatoes were so small, so cute, so colorful and his eyes so imploring, how could I resist? I'll make potatoes au gratin, he said excitedly. My eyes rolled in my head as I envisioned yet another pound settling around my hips.

It was not my idea to turn them into potato chips. It was his. We'd been asked to bring hors d'oeuvres to a friends house for dinner and he decided it would be a hoot to bring potato chips; organically grown, home made potato chips. What could I say? No, I do not bow to his every culinary whim, but I must admit to a bit of mischievous curiosity thinking about bringing potato chips as hors d'oeuvres.

Red Bliss, Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn, Russet, and Purple Peruvians all combined to make a basket of lovely little chips. I dare you to eat just one. It turns out that the purple and red in these little guys are the same antioxident rich anthocyanins that give blueberries their color and health benefits. Of course I didn't know that before we made the chips, but it does help to alleviate the guilt factor a bit.

My contribution to this endeavor was to slice the potatoes into very thin slices using a mandoline, then carefully blot the chips as they came out of the hot oil. Then I sprinkled them with kosher salt and tossed them with a grating of our local Mt. McKinley cheese from Cypress Grove Chevre. Mr CC did the frying. Exceedingly well.

Were they a hit? Did they make people smile? Oh, you betcha!

Mr CC's Home Made Potato Chips
About 3 pounds of a variety of small potatoes
canola oil
kosher salt
Mr. McKinley cheese, grated (parmesan would be good also)

Pour oil to a depth of about 4 inches into a large, heavy pot and heat to 375 degrees over medium heat.
Have a thermometer handy to check the temperature of the oil occasionally.
Wash and scrub the potatoes then dry them thoroughly. Do not peel.
Using a mandoline, position the potato so the slices will come from the length of the tuber, not the width, and slowly slice until all the potato is in thin slices.
When the oil is the required temperature, carefully place the slices, one at a time, into the hot oil. The oil will bubble ferociously at first because potatoes are so full of water.
Maintain the oil temperature between 350 and 375 degrees.
Using long-handled tongs, keep the chips from sticking to each other in the hot oil. Never leave the stove during this process.
Watch the chips very carefully as they begin to turn golden brown. As soon as they do this, allow them to cook for just a minute more then remove them from the oil with a skimmer and place them on paper towels to drain.
You can gently blot the oil from them with paper towels.
Toss them with kosher salt and then grate some of the cheese over the chips and toss them again.

Try not to eat too many before taking them to your hosts.

Copyright © 2005-2007, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Friday, November 16, 2007

Eggplant Timbales with Quick and Easy Tomato-Basil Sauce

Remember these? Nice presentation and all, but a bit labor intensive. Enter an easier, just as tasty version that takes half the time to prepare and plate: Tah-dah! Eggplant Timbales: Take Two.
Prepping the filling for the timbales took about 1/2 hour. The sauce is easily made while the timbales are roasting in a water bath for 1 hour. Not bad for a weeknight, hmmm?

Eggplant Timbales with Tomato-Basil Sauce
for the timbales-
4 cups peeled eggplant cubes (1/2-inch dice)
olive oil for the pan
Kosher salt
1 - 15-ounce container low fat ricotta cheese
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons chopped sundried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained
3/4 cup coarsely grated
parmigiano reggiano cheese
1/3 cup toasted, seasoned bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons
Italian herb mix
kosher salt
freshly ground
black pepper

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
Using a very sharp chef's knife, slice the peel from the eggplant, cutting off the stem and stern ends.
With the eggplant sitting upright, cut 1/2-inch wide lengthwise slices, then cut each slice in 1/2-inch wide lengthwise strips, then cut those into 1/2-inch cubes.
(It took 1 large and 3 small eggplants to get 4 cups of cubes.)
Place these in a large, well-oiled roasting pan and roast at 375 degrees for about 18 minutes, shaking the pan frequently, until the cubes are golden brown and softened.
Remove the pan from the oven, then the cubes from the roasting pan and set aside to cool.
Turn the oven down to 350 degrees, wipe the roasting pan and set aside. You will use this in a few minutes to bake the timbales.

Meanwhile, combine the ricotta cheese, pine nuts, sundried tomato, parmesan, bread crumbs, Italian herbs (crush them with your fingers as you add them to release the fragrance) and eggs in a bowl and mix well.
Fold in the roasted eggplant as soon as it's cool enough to handle. Mix well but don't break up the cubes.
Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper if needed.
Fill 6 6-ounce, lightly oiled, ceramic ramekins with the eggplant filling. Place the filled ramekins into the roasting pan and pour enough hot water into the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan loosely with foil and roast in the oven for 1 hour or until firm to touch and slightly golden brown.

Using tongs, carefully remove the ramekins from the water bath and set on a heat-proof surface.

While the timbales are roasting...

...make this delicious sauce.
Quick and Easy Tomato-Basil Sauce
Christine's original recipe
1 cipollini onion, chopped fine
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled and minced
handful of fresh basil leaves, left whole
1 large can whole tomatoes (I used
Muir Glen Fire-roasted organic, simply the best canned tomato, IMHO)
1/3 cup red wine (I used a fun little
Cabernet that I found at our local Co-op for under $10.)
olive oil
flat-leaf Italian parsley for garnish

In a skillet over medium heat, add a teaspoon of good olive oil and the chopped onions and sauté until beginning to soften.
Add the minced garlic and continue to sauté a few more minutes until both are soft and aromatic. Keep the heat adjusted so no burning occurs.
Add the entire can of tomatoes, breaking them up gently with a wooden spoon, then the basil leaves and the red wine.
Allow this mixture to simmer gently for 5 to 7 minutes, then remove from the heat and let it cool slightly.
Pour the chunky sauce into a food processor and pulse until thickly puréed, about 30 seconds.
Pour the sauce back into the skillet and keep warm until ready to serve.

Speaking of serving:

Run a knife around the inside of each ramekin to loosen the timbale.

Place several spoonfuls of sauce on a warmed plate.
Invert the timbale into your clean hand and place upside down on the sauce.
Sprinkle with chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley.

Copyright © 2005-2007, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Monday, November 12, 2007

Artichoke Pasta With A Creamy Cheesy Tuna-Artichoke Sauce

Warning: If you've come to this blog looking for my more traditional low carb offerings, skip this post. This dish is high in fat and high in carbs and utterly, decadently delicious. If that floats your boat, read on.

So, what got into me? It was the pasta's fault. I couldn't resist. I went into my favorite Italian market and deli (Roy's Toscano Market in Eureka, CA) the other day and these jumped out at me. So softly green. Made in Italy. Two ingredients: Durum wheat semolina and dried artichokes. Produced by Maestri Pastai, the pasta is made using bronze draw plates that give it a rough surface and allows sauces to adhere better. I was doomed.

Then I had to come up with a sauce, didn't I? "Why didn't I skip this step and just glue it to my hips?" is what I ask no one in particular when I've indulged in something as highly caloric as this. Thank goodness I don't indulge very often.

Truly a what's-in-the-pantry sauce, I even managed to use a few locally produced ingredients which delights me no end:
Carvalho's "minimal mercury" hand packed white coastal albacore (see Cook's Notes), Midnight Moon aged goat cheese, Humboldt Creamery half n half, cipollini onion and garlic from the farmers market. It almost makes up for the calories. Almost.

Creamy, Cheesy Tuna-Artichoke Sauce Over Artichoke Pasta
Christine's original recipe
4 cups (about 1 pound) artichoke pasta or other small-shaped pasta
kosher salt for the pasta water
olive oil
1 cipollini onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 7.5-ounce can premium albacore tuna, broken up with a fork
1 jar marinated artichoke hearts, cut into small bites
1 3/4 cup half n half
1 1/2 cups grated Midnight Moon goat cheese
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
pinch red pepper flakes
kosher salt and freshly ground black peppercorns to taste
fried capers for garnish

Fill a pasta or stock pot with water and bring to a boil. Add at least 1 tablespoon of salt and the pasta. Bring back to a boil then lower the heat and keep at a simmer until the pasta is just tender.
Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil, toss and keep warm, covered.
In a skillet over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the chopped onion and sauté until softened.
Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and stir until the garlic has softened but not browned.
Add the tuna and the cut up artichoke hearts and stir until warmed through.
Pour in the cream and bring just to a simmer. Do not allow to boil or it will curdle.
Off the heat, add the cheeses, stirring until melted.
Adjust seasonings with Kosher salt and black pepper to taste.
To serve, place the pasta on a warmed plate, spoon the sauce over the pasta and garnish with a few fried capers.

Cook's Notes:
Carvalho's hand-packed albacore is roasted in the can in its own juices so please don't throw the liquid down the drain. Just stir it into the sauce with the tuna.
I highly recommend frying up a handful of capers before beginning to make this dish. It takes no time at all and really gives the sauce a flavor punch.

Copyright © 2005-2007, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Farmers Market Soup

All the vegetables showcased in this soup were locally, organically grown and bought at yesterday's farmers market: Carrots, celeriac, red bell peppers, cipollini onions, garlic and mushrooms. We served this to two weary travelers who arrived from the rainy Northwest craving a warm, hearty soup. Now how did I know that?

To bring out the sweet goodness of the vegetables, they were first sautéed to a golden brown then added to the hot stock. Hot steamed rice and grated Midnight Moon aged goat cheese from our local Cypress Grove Chevre were offered along side as additions to the soup as each person desired. Crusty Brio Whole Wheat Walnut bread rounded out our mostly locally-sourced meal.

Farmers Market Soup
Christine's original recipe
2 quarts vegetable stock, preferrably homemade
2 cipollini onions, peeled and cut into small dice
5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 large celeriac bulb, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
5 large carrots, scrubbed or peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large red bell peppers, seeded and cut as above
3 portobello mushrooms, gills removed, sliced then cut as above
1 bay leaf, fresh if you have it, dried if you don't
2 teaspoons freshly dried thyme
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Begin by putting the vegetable stock in a large stock pot with the bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a simmer over medium heat while you prep the veggies.
Place a large skillet over medium high heat and add 1 tablespoon of good olive oil.
When the skillet is hot, reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes until they've softened.
Add the carrots and continue to sauté until they are just barely tender, taking care that the onions don't burn.
Scrape all this into the pot of vegetable stock and add a bit more oil to the skillet.
Sauté the garlic and the celeriac next. Don't let the garlic burn. When the celeriac has reach a golden brown, add the mushrooms and sauté a few minutes more until the mushrooms are tender. Place all of this into the stock pot.
Next, sauté the bell peppers in the pan with a little more oil if needed and add them to the soup.
If you happen to have a glass of white wine on hand you can deglaze the skillet at this point, scraping up all the delicious browned bits then adding it all to the soup pot.
If you don't have a glass of white wine on hand, don't whine. Just ladle a bit of the stock out of the soup pot into the skillet and proceed.
Let your soup simmer until all the veggies are tender and you're done.

To serve, fish out the bay leaf, line up the steamed rice, the grated cheese, the soup pot, serving utensils, bowls and soup spoons and let your guests dish up to their heart's content. A basket of crusty artisan bread at the table will be appreciated. A glass of deep red wine can't hurt.

Copyright © 2005-2007, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Beginnings Of A Winter Garden

Good Horsey

I think I should have been a bit more descriptive with this photo montage:
Photo #1 - lovely Arab mare, Emi, aka the compost maker.
Photo #2 - gigantic pile of composted horse poop, courtesy of Emi.
Photo #3 - red worms happily breaking down the horse poop.
Photo #4 - composted horse poop being shoveled onto and mixed into garden beds.
Photo #5 - Chard, broccoli and arugula starts.
Photo #6 - the compost maker up close and personal.

Ah, country life!

Copyright © 2005-2007, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved