Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Roasted Autumn Soup With Potatoes, Carrots And Leeks

It happens every fall. The days grow shorter, the nights cooler, and grilling time becomes scarcer.

With no warning, no I think I'll make soup today, suddenly I must get out the large stockpot and begin to make that quinessential celebration of autumn: Soup.

Our soon-to-be in-laws, Vyrle and Dolly, generously sent us a bag full of purple, red, yellow and russet potatoes, freshly dug from their Oregon farm and hand-carried by Miles when he flew from Portland for a recent visit. Last week I roasted a pan of those beautiful potatoes with some carrots, always making enough for company (in this case Robert and Simona) and leftovers.

At the farmers market last Saturday I picked up fresh leeks, Walla Walla onions, garlic and a fat, happy jalapeno pepper. As always - beautiful, organic, and locally grown.

And there it was: Inspiration staring me in the face.

With grateful thanks to Vyrle and Dolly and, always, to our local farmers, I offer yet another iteration of my penchant for heart and soul warming fall soup.

Christine's Roasted Autumn Soup with Potatoes, Carrots and Leeks
Serves 8-10 as a main course
16 small, medium and large garlic cloves, peeled, left whole
1 large Walla Walla onion, coarsely chopped
2 medium leeks and 5 small leeks (or whatever you have on hand to equal about 3 cups chopped), white and light green parts only, cleaned, sliced lengthwise, coarsely chopped crosswise
olive oil for the pan
1 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-dry Vermouth for de-glazing the pan
10 cups vegetable broth or chicken stock (I used Pacific Foods Vegetable Broth, produced in Oregon
6 heaping cups previously-roasted potatoes and carrots, coarsely cut
1 rather large jalapeno pepper, charred, peeled, seeded, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
6-8 sprigs fresh thyme, leave whole
Juice from 1 very large Valencia orange, strained
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Have a large stockpot ready on the stove.
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
Lightly oil a large baking pan, add the onion, leeks, and garlic and season with kosher salt and black pepper. Cover with foil and roast for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue roasting another 15 or 20 minutes or until the vegetables become golden brown and caramelized.
Remove the pan from the oven and scrape the vegetables into the stockpot. Immediately pour the Vermouth into the hot pan and scrape up all the browned bits, pouring it all into the stockpot.
To the stockpot add the broth or stock, potatoes and carrots, chopped jalapeno pepper, chopped oregano and thyme sprigs.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partly covered, for 25 minutes.
Pour in the orange juice and stir to blend. Taste and add more kosher salt and pepper if necessary.
Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Fish out the now-bare thyme sprigs; they will have left their herby leaves in the soup.
If you have an immersion blender, get it out now. If not, you can puree the soup in small batches in a food processor.
With the immersion blender on 3, begin blending the soup taking great care not to splatter it on you. It's very hot. As you blend, the soup will thicken. Stop blending when the soup is the consistency you desire. If using a processor, place 2-3 cupfuls at a time in the bowl and pulse until it reaches the consistency you desire. Repeat. (See how easy it would be if you had an immersion blender?)

To Serve:
There are any number of ways one can serve this soup. One of my favorites is to add a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream thinned with cream, then sprinkle the dollop with fresh thyme leaves and/or toasted almond slices. Another way is to stir a cup or two of buttermilk into the soup just before serving. Don't let it boil, however, or it will curdle. Me and Mr CC: we like our soup unadorned, straight from the pot, with good crusty bread, a fresh-from-the-garden tomato and cucumber salad, and a glass of deep red wine from the southwest of France. Mais oui!

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fig And Chevre Ice Cream With A 'Tot' Of Sherry

[It took three intrepid tasters to convince me that this was a blogworthy ice cream. I liked it, but would others? My tasters convinced me that others would like it. Sometimes I need a lot of convincing.]

Figs are showing up in the farmers market and our local Co-op these days. Sun-ripened and sugary-sweet, now is the time to eat them out of hand, grilled with your favorite meats or vegetables, in an appetizer or salad with snowy white, soft goat cheese (chevre), or drizzled with maple syrup or heavy cream for dessert.

Or, as ice cream.
If you can pair figs and chevre in a savory way, why not make a creamy, cold version?
Well, why not?

Christine's Fig and Chevre Ice Cream with Sherry
10 ounces (1 basket) brown Turkey (Turkish) figs, chopped
5 ounces soft white chevre, I used Cypress Grove's 11-ounce log and cut it in half
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons cream Sherry
1 1/2 cups 2% milk
1 cup half & half, I used Strauss Dairy's cream-top
1/2 cup fine sugar

Remove the stem ends of each fig then cut them into quarters, lengthwise, then into halves, making each fig into 8 pieces. This should yield approximately 2 cups of fig pieces.
Put the figs, eggs, chevre and sherry in a food processor and buzz until the mixture is very smooth.
Heat the milk, half & half and sugar to just under a boil.
Remove from the heat and, with the processor running, pour the milk mixture through the feed tube and process until it's all combined and smooth. Now you have an ice cream base.
Pour the base into a large glass bowl and refrigerate until very cold - at least 6 hours or overnight.
Process in your ice cream maker.
May be served soft right out of the ice cream machine, or packed into a container and frozen for a few hours.

Cook's Notes:
> This ice cream is only slightly sweet, relying on the figs, chevre and sherry to give it the flavors I was seeking. It ripens and mellows if allowed to freeze for 24 hours.
> If you don't want the tiny fig seeds in your ice cream, you can strain the mixture into your glass bowl before chilling. Personally, I like the texture of the miniscule, crunchy seeds.
> For me, the addition of Cream Sherry brings the flavors of fig and chevre together very nicely on the palate. Kind of like having a small glass of Sherry after nibbling on a plate of figs and chevre. Only colder.

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Flambéed Bananas With Lyle's Golden Syrup, Toasted Almonds, And Shaved Chocolate

There's been a jar of Lyle's Golden Syrup in my cupboard for several years now. Don't worry, it doesn't go bad - it's sugar. Besides, it was sealed up tight. Once upon a time I was going to make bobotie but couldn't find Lyle's, which is called for in my bobotie recipe, at any of the markets I haunt, so I didn't make it. When I finally found the Lyle's I was deep in my low-carb, no-sugar phase and had lost the desire to make bobotie, which I later found out, is often not made with Lyle's. Enough of that. Suffice it to say, the Lyle's has been languishing around my cupboards for a good long while.

Last night after a rather sparse dinner, as Mr CC and I were watching a movie and bemoaning the fact that we were out of ice cream, I got a hankering for sautéed bananas. Checking the cupboards for further enhancements, there was the Lyle's, and here was its chance.

Flambéed bananas are easy to make and take no time at all at the stove. My only word of caution is that you take caution when adding alcohol to heat, as the flare up can be quite exciting and possibly dangerous.

The only thing I would add to this deeply satisfying dessert is the missing ice cream. A small scoop of really good vanilla would be a safe and delicious choice. However, if you dare, Chunky Monkey comes to mind...

Christine's Flambeed Bananas With Lyle's Golden Syrup
2 ripe but firm bananas, organic free-trade are best
1 tablespoon butter
1 heaping tablespoon Lyle's Golden Syrup
1/4 cup Triple Sec
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon toasted, slivered almonds
Dark, bittersweet chocolate for shaving

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet (I used cast iron) over medium-high heat.
Peel the bananas, removing all the strings and things that accompany the fruit.
Slice each banana down the center lengthwise and place in the skillet when the butter has melted and is slightly bubbly.
Sauté the bananas until they are golden. Using two spatulas if needed, gently flip them and sauté the other sides.
Using all the syrup, drizzle it over each banana slice.
With the pan still on the heat, carefully but quickly pour the Triple Sec over the bananas. Shaking the pan should cause the alcohol to ignite (keep your face and body at arm's length from the pan). If it doesn't, tip the pan slightly so the flame from your burner catches scent of the alcohol. That should do the trick. If it doesn't, use a long match to light the Triple Sec in the pan. The flame will die when the alcohol has burned off.
To serve:
Place two banana halves on each plate. Stir the syrup mixture in the pan then drizzle over the bananas. Sprinkle with cinnamon then almonds and, finally, using a microplane, shave the dark chocolate over each plate. Serve immediately, with ice cream or without. But if I'd had some. . .

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Christine's End of Summer Tomato Sauce

Summers here are far too short and often foggy. Then comes Autumn with beautiful sunny days, star-studded nights and nippy mornings followed by warm, balmy afternoons.

And then there are tomatoes. . .
A plethora of tomatoes, ripening all at the same time, sending cooks into a frenzy trying to preserve them for the winter ahead. I'm proud to say that these beauties are just a few that came from my greenhouse this summer.
Here's a tomato sauce that can be prepared in a snap. Freeze some in zip-top bags for hearty winter meals. And if you can't wait that long, in the next few posts I'll show you some of the dishes we made recently to go with it.

Christine's End of Summer Tomato Sauce

5 pounds tomatoes, cut into chunks. Save juice.
1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes packed in extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tube (2-3 tablespoons) sun dried tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar (Splenda or Agave may be used instead)
2 bay leaves (I use fresh, but then I'm lucky)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon Italian herbs, crushed
5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

Place the tomato chunks and juice In a large pot over medium-high heat and cook until all the juices are released from the tomatoes.
Add the salt, sugar, sun dried tomatoes, tomato paste, and bay leaves. Cook until the tomatoes are really saucy, about 10 minutes.
Add the Italian herbs and garlic and cook until the sauce has reduced a bit and thickened, about 15 minutes more. The tomatoes will still be chunky but very soft.
Remove the pot from the heat and allow the sauce to cool for 10 minutes.
Remove the bay leaves and pulse the sauce in a food processor (you may have to do this in several batches) until the tomatoes break up into very small pieces but are still noticeable and the skins are not noticeable at all.
Pour the sauce back into the pot, stir it up and adjust the taste, if necessary, with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Cook's Notes:
> Leaving the skins on the tomatoes and buzzing them in the food processor gives this sauce a lot of body, so before you turn your nose up at cooked tomato skins, give it a try.
> Delicious by itself, this sauce begs to be a vehicle for any number of fresh, ripe vegetables. Serve it over grilled eggplant or zucchini topped with grated cheese; or combine it with cooked ground turkey or chicken and toss it with pasta. Add fresh basil to the warm sauce then spoon it over an omelette and sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley. Add capers, lemon zest and a pinch of cayenne and serve over oven roasted cauliflower. I'm sure you'll come up with something creative.

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved