Thursday, December 29, 2005

'Tis the Season for Crab Cakes

Finally, after much price haggling plus deferments by Fish and Game, opening day for commercial crab fishing begins today. Pots will be placed in our Pacific waters so we may savor the bounty for which our local fisherfolk risk life and limb - fresh Dungeness crab! That is, of course, if the weather cooperates. Which it's not doing. Nooooo. One storm after another has been hitting us since Tuesday with another one coming on shore right now. This one is supposed to pack high, gusty winds (up to 80 mph), hurling our higher-than-normal high tides way up the beaches, flooding our already swollen rivers to the breaking point, and wreaking general havoc. And in order for our guys to be able to bring the catch in, they must be able to get the pots out. No mean feat in 17 to 25-foot waves along with a churning, frothy, angry ocean. Our prayers go out with them for a save journey and a prosperous catch.

So how, you might ask, do I happen to have fresh local crab for crab cakes? A few weeks ago we had sunny and unseasonably warm weather. Sport crab fishing being allowed, some industrious friends dropped a couple of pots in the harbor. On retrieving the pots and finding they had too much crab for themselves, they offered to share. Could I say no? Didn't even think of it. Took my kettle and went right over. There they were; big, fat, lively crabs set aside just for me. Oooooh, the richness of it all! I still have goose bumps. Clay and I took them home, fired up the kettle and soon were shelling and picking our treasure, packing it in freezer bags for Christmas Eve crab cakes. Well, we did eat one of them then and there as it came out of the boiling kettle. Standing at the kitchen sink. With a bottle of Champagne. It's a tradition at our house. Champagne chills in the fridge at all times. You never know...

I devised a recipe for crab cakes a number of years ago, using ingredients that had been written down and left in a restaurant where I worked for a brief moment in time. The list did not include instructions so I was left to figure the recipe out on my own. And I did. And the restaurant clients loved them! (I did not love cooking in a restaurant, however, and after 6 months went sobbing back to my own home kitchen where I've happily been since, which is another story.) I brought that recipe home with me, have changed it around a bit, adding this and that to suite my fancy.

Christine's Crab Cakes
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 jalapeno pepper, charred, peeled, seeded and minced
1 small white onion, peeled and cut into small dice
1 cup heavy cream

1 red bell pepper, charred, peeled, seeded and diced small
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, minced
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
1/2 cup, or more as necessary, ground toasted slivered almonds
1 to 1 1/2 lbs. cooked, picked crab meat (from about 2 crabs)

1 extra large egg, beaten lightly
1/2 cup, or more as necessary, toasted, seasoned bread crumbs

1 tablespoon peanut oil or more if needed
1 tablespoon butter, or more if needed

Place the peppers over a gas burner and char until skin is black and blistered. Place peppers in a paper bag, fold top down and allow to steam for 10 minutes. Using your fingers and a small knife, peel the skin from the peppers then remove the seeds and veins. Use latex gloves to peel the jalapeno.

Place oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute gently until tender but not browned. Add diced jalapeno and cream. Bring to boil and maintain slow boil until cream is reduced by one half. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, add picked crab, diced red pepper, chives, thyme, salt (if using), ground almonds and cream reduction. Mix lightly but thoroughly with your hands.

Place the toasted bread crumbs (I use Brio seasoned croutons, spun a few times in the food processor) on a plate. Have the beaten egg in a bowl next to the plate. Scoop a scant 1/2 cup of crab mixture into your hands and shape into a patty about 2 1/2 inches across. Brush the crab cake on both side with the egg. Gently dredge it in the bread crumbs, coating both sides. Set on a sheet of waxed paper. Repeat with the remaining crab mixture. At this point you can cover the cakes and refrigerate them up to two days before cooking.

Place the peanut oil and butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Place up to 4 cakes in skillet, not crowding them, and cook until both sides are nicely browned and cooked through. Keep warm in a low oven. Repeat process until all the cakes are cooked.

You may notice that the cakes in the photo above have corn in them. Beginning with the basic recipe, you can add any number of things to your crab cakes. In this case, I added lightly roasted corn kernels. Keep in mind that the more you put in, the harder it is to keep the cake from falling apart. A small annoyance that does not detract from the divine taste in the least.

Top the crab cakes with a remoulade, tarter sauce, or this luscious roasted red pepper sauce, adapted from a recipe in Bobby Flay's "Bold American Food".

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Char, peel and seed 2 large red bell peppers and place in a blender. Add 1/4 of a red onion, chopped, 1/2 of a canned chipotle pepper in adobo, 3 tablespoons lime juice and blend until smooth. With the blender running, add 3/4 cup of olive oil in a slow stream until the sauce is emulsified. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Cook's Notes:
These crab cakes are very rich. Two per person with a salad will make a very filling meal.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Josh Likes Rutabagas, Plus Recipes From Christmas Dinner

As we sat down to Christmas dinner last night, son Josh started picking a certain vegetable out of the melange of roasted root veggies that accompanied our racks of lamb. He said they tasted somewhat like Brussels Sprouts, a vegetable for which he's recently acquired a taste. At first I couldn't determine which one he referred to out of the diced mix of parsnips, rutabagas, celery root, carrots and yams, along with tiny, whole pearl onions. Ruling out the orange veggies first, a process of elimination determined that his favorite was the lowly, under-appreciated rutabaga.

You'd think that I'd have known, cook that I am. But I just don't cook with rutabagas. I think I put one in a soup once. Nor do I often use celery root or parsnips. I've had bad luck with parsnips - something about a hard, pithy core - and have avoided them. More's the pity, I discovered last night. The veggies almost upstaged the lamb, which is saying a mouthful (ahem) as the lamb was superb. (Lamb recipe follows)

Well, dare I say that I got the idea for my roasted root veggies from my former food writing teacher, the delightful David Leite. His multiple award-winning web site, Leite's Culinaria, is well worth visiting, often. The recipe, Roasted Caramelized Root Vegetables, adapted from Maria Helm Sinskey's The Vineyard Kitchen (HarperCollins, 2003), is one I will not write down in this post out of respect for copyright propriety (Davis, you may use your red pen!). David will appreciate this, as I researched and wrote an article on copyright law while taking his class. During that and subsequent research, I found that copyright law, as it pertains to recipes, is murky at best, and at the very least is downright confusing. Since this is not a post about copyright, but about the fabulous root vegetable dish, Christmas dinner and Josh's love of the rutabaga, I will not, at this time, continue my digression.

What I will tell you is that I used all the ingredients called for in Ms. Sinskey's recipe, doubled them, used dried thyme as I did not have fresh, kosher salt and fresh-ground telicherry pepper, covered the pan with foil for the first 30 minutes then removed the foil for the last 45 minutes. Mine took a bit longer to roast and didn't caramelize as much because of the greater volume of veggies. They were, however, mouthwateringly delicious and firmly cemented Josh's love of the slightly sprout-flavored rutabaga. I am proud to say that he has developed quite a diverse palate of late. I'm sure, as a younger person, he would have preferred the briar patch to even the thought of eating a Brussels sprout, let alone a rutabaga. And as for the dish, while I prefer using fresh herbs over dried any day of the week, the dried thyme worked just fine here, helped along by the dotting of butter over the top prior to roasting. Use Smart Balance if you must, but don't skip that last step.

WARNING: the following paragraph(s) may contain material unsuitable for non-meat eaters! Read on at your own risk.

Now for the lamb. I've written before about where we get our lamb - one per year from our dear neighbors across the road. Organically raised, grass fed; we watch them being born, cavort in the field and then give thanks to them for the healthful richness they give us as they grace our dinner table. This may make some folks squeemish. Lamb cuteness is not lost on me. However, I do feel that if one is going to eat meat, the closer you can be to the process, the whole process, is better and healthier (for the body and the mind) than picking up shrink-wrapped chops sitting on a foam core tray in the supermarket. Even going to a local butcher shop is better. (Someday I will write about the two turkeys we raised one year, aptly named Thanks and Giving respectively.) Even though I'm an unapologetic carnivore, I do get a bit apprehensive writing about our lambs, knowing that some in my family, who are either vegetarian or vegan, may read this post. I can only do so much, then I must be who I am.

Alrighty then. I wish I'd had Clay photograph the finish racks, but great French wine was flowing and in the process sometimes those little details get forgotten. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Rub two 8-rib racks of lamb all over with a small amount of olive oil. Using your home made Ras el hanout , sprinkle the racks liberally with the seasoning, pressing it into the entire surface of each rack, even the rib bones. Follow the same procedure with some kosher salt. Heat a cast iron pan, large enough to hold both racks (the rib ends can overlap slightly), over high heat. When hot, place one rack fat side down in pan and sear until lightly browned, rendering some of the fat into the pan. Turn rack with tongs, browning all sides. Set on a plate. Repeat the process with the other rack. When both racks have been seared, return the first one to the pan with the other, both fat side up, rib ends overlapping slightly if necessary, and immediately put in the hot oven. Roast 20-25 minutes for medium-rare (instant-read thermometer should register 145-150 degrees when poked into the meaty loin).

Remove the racks from the pan and set on a platter to rest while you make the pan sauce. De-glaze the pan with about 1/3 cup of good merlot. Whisk the boiling wine in the pan, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom and sides. Turn the heat down just a bit and add 1/3 cup Pomegranite au Merlot sauce, available from The Golden Whisk or a good specialty food store, and stir to blend. Remove from heat and quickly whisk in 3 tablespoons cold butter, one tablespoon at a time. The sauce will thicken slightly. Keep warm in the pan while you cut the racks for serving.

Cut each rack in half, 4 ribs per person, and then cut each rib part way down to the loin meat. Place a small pool of the pan sauce on a warmed plate then arranged racks loin down, with ribs up in the air. Accompany each plate with the roasted root vegetables and pass the pitcher of remaining sauce. Follow with a salad of baby greens topped with roasted red beets diced medium, coarsely chopped toasted walnuts, crumbled Point Reyes Original Blue, and, of course, Christine's black raspberry vinaigrette.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Yummy Pear Cranberry Ginger Upsidedown Cake

Friends Rebecca and Tony were here on the north coast this weekend visiting relatives and got themselves invited to dinner Sunday night. I'd already stockpiled the ingredients for this recipe, knowing I was going to bake it sometime over the holidays. So when Clay told me that our friends were coming for dinner, on a dark and rather stormy night to boot, I knew this would be a comforting finale to our meal.

This is a dessert that has it all: ease of preparation; beautiful presentation that is perfect for the holidays; an unpretentious, homey demeanor; and, it's delicious. The original recipe comes from the January 1990 Bon Appetit magazine. I have tweaked it over the years, the latest iteration being low fat/low sugar. I'll give you the full fat/full sugar ingredients first with my changes following in parentheses.

Pear Cranberry Ginger Upsidedown Cake

1/2 stick unsalted butter (1/4 cup Smart Balance butter substitute for baking, not the "Lite" stuff)
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar (1/3 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend)
6 canned pear halves, carefully rinsed and drained, keep whole
1 1/2 cups cranberries, coarsely chopped (if frozen, do not thaw)

1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt (do not use salt if using the Smart Balance)

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (9 tablespoons Smart Balance)
3/4 cup sugar (1/4 cup plus 1/8 cup Splenda Sugar Blend, or 3/4 cup Splenda)
2 large eggs (if you want to use an egg substitute here, use 1 large egg and egg substitute equal to 1 egg, approx. 1/4 cup. I think the real eggs give the cake a better texture than the substitute will.)
1/2 cup non-fat sour cream (I have also used non-fat plain yogurt, but make sure it's firm)
2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, chopped

Melt the 1/2 stick butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Add the brown sugar and stir until it dissolves. It will still be grainy, so don't overdo it thinking it will turn to a clear liquid, it won't. Remove from the heat and arrange the pears in the skillet, round side down with tips pointing to the center in a spoke fashion. Use any small pieces of pear to make a center hub. Sprinkle the cranberries around and between the pears. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, cardamom, baking powder and soda, and salt in a bowl to blend. In an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. If you are using Smart Balance, this does not do the "light and fluffy" thing that butter does, but comes close. Beat in the eggs, then the sour cream and ginger. Mix in the dry ingredients.

Spread the batter carefully over the pears and cranberries, covering the fruits completely. Lightly tap the bottom of the skillet on a hard surface to settle the batter at bit. Not too much, though. Bake in a 350-degree oven until a tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Watch that the sides and bottom do not burn. Cool in the pan 10 minutes and then invert onto a platter. Serve warm or at room temperature. Go ahead, gild the lily with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream. It's the holidays after all!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Herb Mushroom Stuffed Brie en Croute

We have some wonderful neighbors on our road who love to give parties. Great parties. Wonderful parties. Summertime, wintertime and sometimes in between. Not being able to choose any one party over another as my most favorite, I'll just say that one of their BEST is an annual Christmas ornament exchange party, the latest of which took place a few days ago.

Many, many people pack into their house bringing not only a wrapped ornament, but a savory or sweet offering to share as well. Always a festive occasion, this year was no exception; the food was wonderful, the ornaments top notch, the folks merry and cheerful as greetings were made, hugs were exchanged and friends "caught up" with one another. Our neighbors are good friends with warm hearts and a generous spirit of sharing and we love them.

Here then is my offering to this year's party. It comes from Sunset's 1989 Recipe Annual and is one that I haven't tweaked at all. No reason to. It's so good just the way it is. Well, there is one change I've made. I always use a larger round of brie than the recipe calls for (an 8 oz. round is specified). This year I used a 2.2 lb. wheel and tripled the ingredients but still used just the one sheet of puff pastry.

Warm Stuffed Brie in Golden Puff Pastry

Pastry Package
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 round (8 to 16 oz.) cold, firm brie
1 egg, beaten

Mushroom Filling (instructions below)
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup sweet onion, like Mayan, chopped fine
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound mushrooms, brushed clean and chopped fine
3 tablespoons port
1/4 teaspoon each of the following dry herb leaves:

For pastry package, roll thawed pastry out on a lightly floured board to 1/8 inch thickness. Trim to an 11-inch diameter round. Save scraps.

Cut the brie in half horizontally and place one piece, rind down in the middle of the pastry round. Place 1/2 of the mushroom filling on top of this and spread out to the edges. Place the second half of the brie on top of the bottom half, rind side up. Top with the remaining mushroom filling.

Brush the pastry rim with beaten egg. Lay the rim over the brie to completely enclose it, making pleats in the pastry to ensure a tidy package around the brie and brushing with the egg to seal. Trim the pastry where necessary and pinch the trimmed edges together, using beaten egg to seal. Again, save the scraps. Turn the brie package over so the sealed edges are on the bottom.

Roll the pastry scraps to about 1/8-inch thick and cut into holiday shapes. I used star and christmas tree cutters, but have done free-form holly leaves and berries on occasion. Brush the top and sides of the packet with the beaten egg. Place the cut out pieces decoratively on the top and sides of the brie. Brush the pieces with the beaten egg.

Place the the packet on a piece of foil on a cookie sheet and then place in the freezer, uncovered, for about 1/2 hour or until it feels firm. If you are making this ahead of time, you can then wrap the entire package and store in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

Bake the packet, on the foil and the cookie sheet, in a 425 degree oven for about 35 minutes or until golden brown and a bit of the cheese and mushroom filling begins to ooze out. Transfer from the foil to a platter and allow to cool 10 to 15 minutes.

To serve, let people cut their own wedges from the packet. Provide plates and small forks for your guests, but also have your favorite crackers along side to aid in scooping up the melted brie.

Mushroom Filling Preparation
To make the mushroom filling, melt the butter over medium heat in a 10-inch skillet, add the onion and the garlic and cook until limp. Add the mushroooms, port and herbs and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and set aside to allow to cool.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Pork & Butternut Squash Stew

Winter is not settling down for a long nap here on the north coast. It's cold, rainy, foggy and definitely winter-y. What better comfort on such a day than to walk into the house and be greeted by the smells of a stew simmering away on the stove? Well, maybe curling up with a good book, a hot cup of tea, and a blanket tucked around you while those heady aromas waft around your head, huh? Better than visions of sugar plums.

This recipe doesn't have exact measurements, though I'll try to approximate. I just started with the pork and the butternut squash and went from there, adding this and that until I felt it was done.

2 pounds boneless pork loin or 2 pounds boneless pork loin chops, about 1 inch thick, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 large, sweet onion, chopped into 1/2 inch dice
7 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine
1 medium to large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch cubes
2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 cans of your favorite white beans, drained
2 cups or so of chicken stock or a combination of liquids (in addition to the chicken stock, I used some Six Rivers Brewery Autumn Ale that was left over and topped it off with some apple cider)
2 bay leaves
4 fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
ground cloves (especially if you use apple cider as part of your liquid)
salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet over med-high heat, brown the meat all over in batches in a little olive oil. As each batch is browned, transfer it to a stew pot (I used a crock pot this time as I was going to leave the house as soon as the stew was assembled and wanted it to cook unattended).
Adding a little more olive oil and lowering the heat to medium, cook the onions until tender and golden. Add to the stew pot. Cook the garlic 2-3 minutes, taking care not to burn it and add it to the pot.
Deglaze the skillet with a bit of liquid, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Pour all of it into the pot.
To the pot add:
cubed squash
diced apple
1/4 to 1/2 tsp ground cloves
coarsly chopped sage leaves
bay leaves
the white beans

Mix all this together gently, adding enough liquid that will allow the meat to braise and all the ingredients to fall together into a stew. Add salt and pepper to taste, bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover pot and simmer for about 2 hours or until pork is fall apart tender.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Meyer Lemon Curd

My sister brought Meyer lemons from her tree when she and hubby Mark came over for Thanksgiving this year. They have since been sitting prettily in a white bowl waiting for me to be inspired. This morning, there it was - a hankering for lemon curd.

I feel pressed to preface the publishing of this recipe with telling you about my predeliction for desserts. I love them. Not candy, mind you. But cakes, pies, cookies, puddings, creams, ganache, cheesecakes, curds, the list goes on. The rub here is that I don't do well with sugar, to say nothing of fat. Well, who does? Maybe marathon runners. Or those especially tedious people who can take just one bite and be satisfied.

When low-carbing became the "in" diet, I'd finally found a way to control my intake of sugar, lower my intake of fat, and severely curtail my consumption of "bad carbs", which, in a nutshell amounts to anything white, while still satisfying my craving for tasty desserts. It works for me. Now the low carb craze has gone the way of so many diets (most likely due to tremendous amounts of money thrown into advertising campaigns to denounce it) and it has become passe to even use the phrase.

So, I won't. I'll just tell you that I try to cut down on sugar, fat, flour, dairy and processed foods (especially those nasty trans-fats) in my diet. It's not rocket science; too much of any of those things is not good for you.

Herewith is my version of lemon curd. Made with the Meyers my sister brought me. Thank you Cynthia!

Low Sugar, Low(er) Fat Meyer Lemon Curd
5 tablespoons of butter (I said "lower" fat, not "no" fat)
zest of 2 Meyer lemons
juice of same lemons (mine yielded 1/2 cup of juice)
1 cup egg substitute
1/2 cup Splenda/Sugar Blend

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over very low heat until all solids are gone. Immediately remove from heat. Turn burner to simmer. Off the heat, whisk in the egg substitute, blending quickly and thoroughly. Add the Splenda/sugar blend and whisk until combined. Slowly add the lemon juice and zest, whisking to fully incorporate.

Return pan to burner and over lowest possible heat cook, whisking constantly until the consistency of soft pudding, about 10 minutes. Now listen up. When I say whisking constantly, I mean it. You cannot take your eyes off this nor stop your whisking for even one nano-second. Your mixture will curdle or worse, burn. This is, of course, because you are cooking the curd right on the heat source, not in the double boiler that most recipes will tell you to use. I don't happen to have a double boiler (Santa, are you reading this?), and so use the direct heat source method, which is why I have to be so very attentive.

When the curd is done, remove the pan from the heat, give the curd a final stir and let it cool a bit in the pan. Pour it into your favorite tartlet shells, spread it between layers of your favorite cake recipe, use it to butter your toast, or give it away in pretty jars as gifts. Just keep it refrigerated. It will keep about 3 weeks in the fridge if you can control yourself. The above recipe makes a scant 2 cups of curd.

Don't mind sugar and more fat? Use 3 eggs instead of the egg substitute and a scant cup of sugar instead of the Splenda blend. For me, I'm going to try using Smart Balance butter substitute in my next batch.

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Eggies and Toast - EoMEoTE #13

This is my contribution to the End of the Month Egg on Toast Extravaganza #13, hosted by Cook Sister.

My three boys are grown up now, but ever since each of them has been able to hold a spoon, the most comforting comfort food that they remember has been what they dubbed "Eggies and Toast". Simple, basic, homely, comforting. It's what they would ask for if sick, upset, sad or just hungry. This is my first offering to EoMEoTE and I'm happy to share this humble dish exactly the way I've made it for the past thirty years. No embellishments. To this day, they love it.

Butter well 2 slices of hot toast and tear up into a bowl. Crack 2 soft-cooked eggs with a spoon around the middle, break in half and, using the spoon, scoop the insides onto the pieces of toast. Sprinkle all over with Spike seasoning and mix together until the toast pieces are coated with egg yolk. Serve immediately while reciting my rather horrible rendition of a rhyme called "A Seasonable Song" from The Real Mother Goose:

Eggies and Toast piping hot.
What I've got
You have not.
Hot, hot Eggies and Toast;
M-m-m so good, hot, hot, hot!

Friday, December 2, 2005

A Thanksgiving Offering

These were part of the Thanksgiving spread at our house this year. We so enjoyed the company of family and friends who came to share this most precious of holidays with us. We are thankful for all of you!

Roasted Red & Yellow Beets in Sherry Vinaigrette with Blue Cheese & Toasted Walnuts
Roast equal amounts of scrubbed baby red and yellow beets in a 375 degree oven, wrapped in separate foil packages (red, yellow), until tender when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes.
Open foil packages and allow to cool to room temp.
When cool, peel the skins off with a sharp knife and cut off the tops and tail ends.
Place decoratively in a dish with 1-inch high sides.
Drizzle with your favorite vinaigrette (my recipe is below) and crumble Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese over the top, followed by coarsely chopped toasted walnuts.

Sherry Vinaigrette

  • 2 tablespoons Jerez Sherry vinegar
  • pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon good Dijon mustard
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Place first 4 ingredients in a glass container and whisk until blended.
Slowly pour olive oil into container, whisking constantly, until emulsified and well blended.
Store at room temperature.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Quince-Raisin Tarte Tatin

A few days before Thanksgiving, while walking down the produce section of our local Murphy's Market, I spied a dozen golden yellow, medium sized quince nestled in a basket of white netting . Instantly, visions of ruby slices cooked down to a tender, mouth-watering dish of citrusy-melony sweetness almost made me dizzy. I bought a bunch of them, their lovely scent filling my shopping basket with a gentle perfume.

At home, while poring through my legion of cookbooks, I happened upon Georgeann Brennan's Potager. This is a lovely book that I return to again and again for rustic but elegant French-inspired dishes. Here, then, is an adaptation of her recipe of Quince Tarte Tatin, which was served the evening before Thanksgiving to early arrivals.

Fruit Preparation (start this the day before serving)
  • 6 medium quinces
  • 2 cups Merlot
  • 1/4 cup sugar/Splenda blend
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins
Peel and core the quinces and cut into 1/4 inch slices. In a bowl, mix sugar, wine, vanilla bean, raisins and quinces. Cover and let stand at room temperature 12 hours or overnight.
Butter Pastry Dough - adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2003
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar or Splenda
  • a pinch to 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 tablespoons, or more, ice water
Blend flour, sugar and salt in food processor. Add butter and pulse just until coarse meal forms. Add ice water by tablespoons, pulsing just until moist clumps form. Add water by the 1/2 tablespoon if dough is dry. Gather into a ball, press into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refridgerate for 1 hour or up to 3 days. Let soften slightly before rolling out. This recipe makes 1 nine-inch crust. Double the recipe for a double pie crust.
Putting it all together
Butter a glass pie dish, 9 to 10 inches in diameter, with 1 tablespoon of butter. Sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar over the bottom of the buttered dish.
With a slotted spoon, remove the quince and raisins from the merlot soaking liquid. Leaving the vanilla bean behind, place 1/2 of the quince-raisin mixture in the pie dish, covering the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with 1/8 cup of sugar and then add the rest of the quince-raisin mixture and sprinkle with another 1/8 cup of sugar. (By the way, I used Splenda-Sugar blend in my tarte, following the suggested measurement ratios, and it tasted wonderful.) Cut 1 tablespoon butter into small pieces and dot the top of the fruit mixture with it.
Roll the pastry out on a floured cloth to about 1/8 inch thickness. Wrap the pastry around your rolling pin and place it atop the pie dish. Trim the edge of the pastry, fold the edges under and tuck inside the pie dish. Pinch the dough to adhere to the sides of the dish then prick all over with a fork.
Bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven in the center of the middle rack for 45 minutes to 1 hour. When the tarte is done, the crust will be a golden brown and a thick, ruby colored syrup will have formed in the bottom of the dish. Better yet, some of the syrup will leak out of the top of the crust. A sure sign of doneness.
Remove the tarte from the oven, gently loosen the crust with a knife, place a platter over the tarte dish and, holding the tarte dish and the platter together, immediately invert the tarte onto the platter.
Bonus Sauce
Don't toss out the merlot-sugar-vanilla bean soaking liquid. Instead, remove the vanilla bean, place the liquid in a saucepan and bring to a boil, reducing it by 1/2. This may take 1/2 hour or more. Be careful not to let the liquid burn. When it has reduced and thickened somewhat, add 1/4 cup heavy cream, stirring madly all the while. Be careful here, adding the cream can make the liquid in the pan boil up. Keep stirring until the cream is incorporated and the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, allow to cool and serve drizzled over the tarte.

Friday, September 16, 2005

August is Such a Busy Month, Revisited

Today I'm Adding a photo to this post from August to show you one of the regions we visited while in France - the Dordogne River Valley. You can see why I was so excited! Watch for more photos soon.

I realize that I have not posted anything to my blog in quite a while. The reason being that August is the time when people visit us. And stay awhile! We have campfires, go for walks on the beach, go to brew pubs, listen to music and eat wonderful food; some home-cooked (by me, of course) and some at local restaurants.

I have 2 drafts written but not finished of some of the meals shared in August, along with some great photos. And many more posts that are in my head but not on paper, so to speak. But you will have to wait awhile to see them because, in just one week, we're going to Europe for 5 weeks. And I'm so excited that I can't concentrate on much except - Europe!

When I return, just in time for Thanksgiving, I'll sit myself down and do some writing, photographing and posting.

A bien tot!

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Butternut Squash Ravioli: Not just Pasta for Dinner

This has been sitting in my "Edits" box since last August. With all the wintery, rainy weather, I thought I'd bring it out, dust it off and show you some summer!

I picked up some beautiful butternut squash-filled rainbow pasta ravioli today at the Co-op. They were so pretty, with the multi-colored vegetable pastas looking like confetti pressed into the raviolis. In the produce isle, the organic shitake mushrooms were seeming to say, "Me! Me!", so into the basket they went. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts along with zukes and basil from my garden had been on my mind for dinner tonight and with the purchase of the ravioli and shitakes, my plan began to take shape.

The memory of the Ginger-Shitake sauce from our seared ahi dinner (see Ahi post) was still causing my tastebuds to make little leaps of joy, so I started out by re-creating it only this time I used thai basil from my garden instead of cilantro. I cut the amount of lime juice to a mere 2 teaspoons. The rest was pretty much the same procedure as before and the results were wonderful.

The ravioli was cooked just past al dente in boiling, salted water. Take them out before they start to fall apart - they will continue to cook a bit due to the heat inside. The chicken breasts were grilled to a juicy, just-done tenderness; the zucchini grilled quickly afterwards. The sauce, so perfectly paired with the grilled chicken, was just the right compliment to the raviolis, which were able to stand on their on with just the smallest amount of sauce spilling on to them hither and thither. M-m-m-m!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Seared Ahi With a Sauce to Die For

Yesterday I was shopping at Costco and came upon some beautiful, thick, fresh (yes, Costco!) ahi tuna steaks. Until last night I'd never seared, nor eaten ahi - at least not the way it should be eaten, which is seared on the outside and pretty much raw on the inside. Something about eating raw fish just doesn't appeal to me. Well, that's all changed. I brought my ahi home, went on-line to to find a recipe that sounded good and set myself to searing and saucing.

Reading the on-line reviews of this particular recipe took the better part of 1 hour, there were so many. Most of them had exclamations like "Oh My God...!", or "OMG...!". I take these seriously, as most of the people who review Epicurious' recipes are seriously good home cooks. After the first bite I had to add my own OMG! to the reviews. Make this recipe and you'll see why.

Pan-Seared Tuna with Ginger-Shitake Cream Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit's RSVP, February 1999
From Circa Restaurant, Philadelphia

2 8-ounce ahi tuna steaks, about 1 & 1/2 inches thick
Coarsely-ground Tellicherry pepper
2 tablespoons peanut oil

Sprinkle 1 side of tuna steaks with pepper and press in lightly so it adheres, set aside.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions (tops of scallions)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
4 tablespoons fresh, peeled ginger, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 pound fresh shitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps sliced
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (any other soy will be overpowering)
1 & 1/2 cups Land O' Lakes Fat Free 1/2 & 1/2 (or, as the original recipe calls for, 1 & 1/2 cups heavy cream, but they're your arteries!)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottom sauce pan. Add green onions, cilantro, ginger, and garlic and saute over medium-high heat until aromatic, about 30 - 45 seconds. Mix in mushrooms and soy sauce and simmer for about 30 seconds. Add 1/2 & 1/2 and simmer until sauce lightly coats the back of a spoon, about 3 minutes. Stir in lime juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, tasting as you go along. You may not need all of the juice. Remove sauce from heat and place pan at the back of the stove to keep warm.

In a large, heavy skillet (cast iron is perfect), heat the 2 tablespoons of peanut oil over high heat. Place tuna steaks, pepper side down, in hot oil and sear for 2-3 minutes. Turn the steaks over and continue searing until desired doneness is reached, about 2 minutes for very rare, 3 minutes for rare to medium-rare.

Immediately place warm sauce on plates and arrange tuna steaks on top (don't do what I did - see photo - and put the sauce on top. It ruins the presentation). Serve with wasabi mashed potatoes (recipe is on or jasmine rice with sugar snap peas or other fresh vegetable. One reviewer sauteed thinly sliced carrots and asparagus, which sounds good to me. I picked fresh zucchini out of the garden, grated it and sauteed it with a touch of chili-garlic-lime sauce that I had on hand.

Notes to my boys:
Use peanut oil for this, it has a high smoke point and is necessary for the high heat with which you have to sear the tuna.
When you turn the steaks over, take care not to get too badly spattered with the oil.
One steak was plenty for Clay and I to share. We've saved the other one for leftovers tonight.
The finished ahi is very, very rare on the inside. Even though I was squeemish about it at first, it was delicious and didn't have the raw, fishy taste I was fearing. See? Even your mom can learn a thing or two.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


Cynthia and Mark are here this weekend for the Blues by the Bay. Dinner Friday night was a joint and diverse effort: Cyn brought a dome-shaped turkey meatloaf that was devine and cooked up some sweet brown rice with ginger and a soft, sweet peach. I sauteed zucchs out of the garden with fresh basil, garlic and organic cherry tomatoes, and at the very last minute whipped up this cherry clafoutis with the biggest organic bing cherries I've ever seen! And, yeah, I low-carbed, but you can substitute the real things if you want.

About 4 cups pitted bing cherries
3/4 cup egg substitute or 3 eggs
1/3 cup Splenda or sugar (more to taste, but I like this less sweet)
1 cup fat-free 1/2 & 1/2 (Land O' Lakes) or 3/4 cup milk and 1/4 cream
1 cup unbleached flour
1 tablespoon vanilla
a pinch of salt

Butter a ceramic dish and pre-heat the oven to 350.
With a wire whisk, combine the eggs, sugar, 1/2 & 1/2, flour, vanilla and salt and beat until smooth.
Pour a small amount of batter into the dish and tilt to cover the bottom.
Place the cherries into the dish and spread out to cover bottom.
Pour the rest of the batter over the cherries, pushing the fruit into the batter if necessary.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of your dish and the depth of the batter. The top should be golden and a pick inserted in the middle should come out clean.

Let cool for a bit then spoon into bowls and serve with a bit of cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Friday, July 1, 2005

A Little Self-indulgence

As I've stated in an earlier post, I recently took a food writing course from the delightful David Leite that I both loved and found rather intimidating. Below is one of the essays that I wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote and on and on... and that is still a work in progress until I get so sick of it I throw it away. It may not move you, but I sweated mightily over it and found it to be a cathartic piece to write - given my tendency to overdo things, as perfectionists will.

Time ceases to exist for me when it comes to planning a special meal for friends. I pore over recipes, cookbooks, magazines and my own repertoire. Weeks are spent devising a menu, making sure each course will flow smoothly to the next, lists upon lists cluttering my desk, falling out of cookbooks. Each dish must pack the “wow” factor. As a home cook and hostess, my greatest joy in this endeavor is hearing the moans and groans of pleasure from my guests at the taking of their first bite, be it dinner, breakfast, a luncheon or afternoon tea.

On more than one occasion, however, my perfectionism has run amok as I tried too hard and in the wrong direction; the error of my ways discussed in the gossipy coffee klatches of those very people whom I tried to please and, admittedly, impress.

Years ago I served on a committee to build a playground in our city park. Committee members took turns holding the meetings in their homes and my turn was approaching. Having become a recent devotee and charter subscriber to Victoria magazine, at my meeting I decided to serve tea.

Out came the flower-encrusted silver tea service. China tea cups my mother had given me years before, delicate hand painted China plates, crystal and linens came next. I baked for a week, preparing tiny tarts, cakes and sweet tea breads. Ice cubes with tiny, star-shaped borage flowers imprisioned within, filled my freezer for the herbed iced tea I would serve. In a frenzy of last minute preparation, the table was laden with the fruits of my labor: plates piled high with cakes and tarts, homemade violet jelly glistening in an ornate white china bowl sitting next to a dish of whipped cream sprinkled with fresh lavender flowers.

The pots and pitchers of tea were just ready as my first team member arrived. In the door she came, large file folder in hand, mouth engaged in talk of the business at hand when, mid-sentence, she stopped dead as her eyes fell on my table. Unable to speak, mouth agape in what I can only describe as horror, she sat down frantically looking for a place to set her folder.

“This is supposed to be a meeting,” she sputtered.

As the rest of the committee arrived, my beautiful table was met with a mixture of giggles, rolling eyes, silence, and a few murmurings of “How nice - tea.” And in that moment, surrounded by this group of no nonsense, get-things-done women, the thought occurred to me that I may have gone too far…

Flash forward: New Year’s Eve 1999. To mark this momentous occasion, ten friends are invited to spend the evening with us, dressed to the nines, dining sumptuously and sharing our way into the new century. Appetizers and drinks will be served at nine. Dinner will begin around ten followed by dessert after shooting off fireworks at the stroke of midnight. My plan for a simple ‘small plates’ menu has morphed into seven courses and I’m sweating bullets.

The hour has come. The table is set: linen, crystal, silver, China, hoards of small vases filled with flowers, candles, and sparklers at each place setting. As guests arrive, dressed in all their finery, music plays softly in the background, appetizers and drinks are served and the evening is off to a smashing start.

Dinner begins, the wine is flowing and conversation is lively. My guests “oooh” and “aaah” then fall silent, eyes wide, as I serve black-eyed pea cakes with a red pepper mayonnaise followed by tomato-fennel soup topped with a dollop of crème fraiche; a skewer of prawns and red onion, grilled to juicy tenderness, carefully balanced on each bowl. Silence was never so golden. They fail to notice my hair beginning to come undone or the stain from the sauce that somehow missed my oversized apron, marring my black silk dress.

Like a Jack-in-the-box, up and down from the table, in and out of the kitchen, I put the finishing touches on the spicy linguine with sauteed calamari as I begin the herb-crusted beef tenderloin with a red wine reduction.

One guest, yet another no-nonsense, simpler-is-better woman who, by the way, did not dress for dinner, repeatedly remarks on my frenzied activity. “Sit down!” she commands. “Why are you knocking yourself out like this?” she demands to know.
Following me into the kitchen, mumbling something about “overkill”, she stands with arms crossed, one eyebrow raised high and observes the mess that is my domain: sauce-stained lists and recipes everywhere, sink and counters piled high with crusty pots and pans, then delivers the coup de grace that is my un-doing, “You don’t have to be perfect all the time, you know.”

Blowing hair from my eyes, a slight tic makes my right cheek quiver as I deliver the grapefruit-mint sorbet to my guests, its pale green, icy crystals glistening in tiny liqueur glasses. I slip into the kitchen to plate the salads of butter lettuce topped with fans of thinly sliced pear, shavings of frozen blue cheese, toasted spicy pecans, champagne vinaigrette, small bunches of red currants tucked here and there. As I begin to pull the flans with their raspberry sauce out of the fridge, I silently fume, “This from a woman whose garden begs to be featured on the cover of House and Garden magazine? Who has time to garden like that?”

In recent years I have scaled back the more dramatic aspects of entertaining, realizing that there are some on whom the effort will be forever lost. And while I still strive for perfection, I have narrowed the scope of my efforts, it dawning on me that spending time with my guests is an important element to giving a dinner party. And if I find myself veering too close to the edge of over-production, there is always my husband, my biggest, most ardent fan, who will gently steer me away from the precipice. He thinks I'm always perfect.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Clay Told Me to Post This...

I prepared a dish the other night that was so simple, so plebeian really, that I hardly consider it blog worthy. But Clay says, "Write it down, Sweetie!" What can I say? After 23 years he's still my biggest fan. This is definitely a week-night, put-something-on-the-table-cuz-we're-hungry-and-it's-getting-late kind of meal.

Fillet of Sole with White Beans and Tomatoes

8 - 10 sole fillets, or other thinly filleted white fish
1 can small white beans - can be seasoned lightly
1 can Cannelini (large white beans)
2 cans ready-cut tomatoes (if seasoned, use the Italian)
1 ear fresh corn - kernels sliced from cob
2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely sliced
white wine

Combine 1 can of ready-cut tomatoes, drained, with the can of small white beans, also drained, and the corn kernels. Gently toss with 1 tablespoon of basil.
Spread the other can of tomatoes and the cannelini on the bottom of a glass baking dish.
Place a large spoonful or two of the tomato-bean-basil mixture on one end of each fillet; roll up and secure with a toothpick.
Place the rolled up fish in the prepared baking dish.
Spoon any left over small bean mixture over the top of the fillets.
Drizzle with a small amount of white wine.
Sprinkle with the remaining basil and a few pinches of sea salt.

Bake in a 350 oven for about 15 minutes.

We served this with grilled zucchini.

The Vegetable Garden

The weeds are waist high in my vegetable garden. I can barely make out the greens and purples of my newly planted basil, so lost are they among the wild cacophony of flowering invaders: Native white daisies in full bloom, their yellow centers reflecting the bright yellow blossoms of the invasive dandelions; blue-eyed flax; spikey evening primrose; nastily prolific but handsome copper and yellow coreopsis; native blackberry runners running amok; soft yellow buttercups; and the occasional volunteer onion, its papery white flowers atop a tall, smooth green stalk. Scattered here and there like punctuation marks, gleaming orange nasturtiums that escaped from their border bed grow in the understory that is my forest of weeds.

All these and more, beautiful in their own right, threaten my vision of the orderly rows of green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and squashes that I have not yet been able to plant.

The late rains have drenched my garden's soil, the sloppy, muddy ground effectively keeping me from the task of weeding the usually easily contained maverick weed population which has grown so lush and abundant this year.

Today I stand on the deck overlooking my vegetable garden, leather gloves pulled on tight, hoe in hand, face raised to the gray and lowering sky, daring it to rain one more drop.

Sunday, May 29, 2005


Currently in the throes of a basic training food writers class, one thing has repeatedly been thwacked into my brain about what, among many things, makes a good writer. And that is RE-writing. That's right. You write, you think it's great, you find out there's room for improvement (sometimes a LOT of room), and you re-write. And re-write. And re-write.

Never have I been so mortified than when my writing instructor ever so gently told me that my article was, in effect, "navel gazing". Navel gazing is an introspective, self-absorbed style of writing that leaves readers bored out of their minds, saying to themselves, "Who gives a shit?"
This was a hard lesson to learn and an even harder excercise in discipline to get out of. (Eeeuuww, there's that preposition at the end of a sentence!) I have such a long way to go and so much more to learn.

Lest you're wondering, the purpose of this little blurb is two-fold: 1- sometimes I just need to share, and 2- if you read a post in this blog, then come back to it later (don't I wish!) and find it changed, NOW you know why.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Creme Fraiche

Creme fraiche is good. Creme fraiche is yummy. (Pronounce it "crehm fresh" and you'll impress the hell out of whomever, providing 1) -they've never heard of it and 2) -they're not French.)
Spread it on bread with jam, slather it over a hot scone, plop it onto a piece of fresh fruit pie, or a bowl of strawberries, or a baked potato, or into your mouth. Put a dollop on your hot green beans with a bit of lemon zest. Put some on your morning bowl of oatmeal. There isn't much that doesn't go well with creme fraiche although I'd stop short of putting it on my ice cream or sorbet. Not that it wouldn't be good, just a bit much.
If you're going to use it for sweets, place a split vanilla bean in with the ingredients. You can add a pinch of sugar after it has thickened.

Now comes the fun part. Creme fraiche is easy to make and that's what I'm going to tell you about today children. There's nothing like combining two ingredients that are beautiful unto themselves and from that union begetting the slightly tangy, silky, sweet fresh flavor of home made creme fraiche.

2 cups heavy cream (not ultra pasturized) - your search may take you to more than one market
2 tablespoons good buttermilk with at least 2% butterfat- for this recipe I used Knudson's reduced fat, cultured buttermilk, 2% butterfat.

Place the two ingredients (how simple is that?) together in a glass dish or measuring cup and stir well to combine.
Pour into a clean jar with a lid that fits tightly. Screw the lid on-- tightly.
Place in a warm spot like the back of your stove or on top of the fridge (if you live in the valley, any place is warm nine months out of the year) and leave it alone for 8-10 hours. That's the hardest part right there - leaving it alone.
After 8 hours, open the lid and give it a stir. If it's nicely thickened to the consistency of soft yogurt or thicker, it's done. If not, put the lid back on and let it sit another couple of hours.

THEN, put a spoonful in your mouth. Hold it there for a minute. Feel the creamy smooth texture, taste the tangy clean flavor. Then put the lid back on and stick it in the fridge. It'll thicken a bit more as it chills and will keep in the fridge for about 3 weeks. Some say it'll keep longer, but why risk it?

Now listen to your mother: if you just have to eat it by the spoonful, use a clean spoon and put some into a bowl. Eating from the jar will just put bacteria into that petrie dish and you don't want to experience the results.
Have fun!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Maldon Sea Salt

"Pure flaky crystals... the chef's natural choice" is what it says on my newly acquired box of Maldon Sea Salt.

Purchased at Williams Sonoma in New Orleans last week, I used it for the first time last night and I gotta say

that all the hype I've been reading about "the pyramid-shaped soft flaky crystals..." is undeniably spot-on.
Those flakes are ...well... flaky, crunchy, big, pure white and taste deliciously of the sea.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Simple Pork And Veggie Stir Fry

Simple Pork & Veggie Stir Fry
Christine's original recipe


2 thick cut, boneless sirloin pork chops
1 large sweet onion
2 bell peppers, red and yellow
3 small zucchini
3 small yellow crook neck squash
1 tablespoon NapaStyle Cocoa Spice Rub ( although I'm sure any seasoned salt will do, this struck me as going particularly well with the salsa below)
A splash of white wine
1/4 - 1/3 cup Jardine's Prairie Peach Salsa, or a salsa of your liking, but the peaches really shine here
Maldon Sea Salt
Tellicherry pepper
Olive oil for the pan

Cut pork chops into bite size pieces.
Chop onions medium dice.
Chop the rest of the veggies into medium dice or bite size pieces of your choosing.
Sprinkle the spice rub over the pork and mix it with your hands til the meat is coated.
In a hot skillet, in a few tablespoons of olive oil, brown the meat all over in small batches, remove to a plate and cover loosely to keep warm.
Turn the heat to medium, add a bit more olive oil to the pan and saute the onions until they soften and become golden.
Add the squashes and allow to cook, stirring often, until just softened.
Add the peppers and cook until all the veggies are just slightly more than al dente but not mushy.
Return the pork, with any juices that have accumulated, to the pan with the veggies.
Add the salsa and, if you wish, a splash of white wine. Don't go overboard on the wine as at this point the veggies will release some of their own liquid and you don't want this dish to be watery.
Stir just until the meat is re-warmed then remove from heat.
With glee, season to taste with your Maldon Sea Salt - fingers held high as you release the lovely white crystals into the pan. Add freshly ground Tellicherry pepper et voila! Dinner!

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

Friday, May 6, 2005

Recipes for Josh

I love it when one of my sons calls me for a recipe. Despite all the years of odd food items appearing on their dinner plates while I was "creating" in the kitchen, that phone call means to me that my creativity, or at the very least experimentation, got through. I am an appreciated cook by my now adult children. Could higher praise be given?

Roasted Beet & Walnut Salad with Blue Cheese and Christine's Vinaigrette

3-4 medium size red beets, scrubbed clean, tails trimmed & leaves trimmed to 1/2 inch
1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted on a cookie sheet in a 350 oven for about 12 minutes. Allow to cool.
Mixed spring baby lettuce or washed and dried fresh spinach
2 oz. good, crumbly blue cheese

Wrap each beet in foil. Place them on a cookie sheet in a 350 oven and bake for about 1 hour. Check for doneness by pinching with your fingers. A nicely roasted beet will "give" like a ripe avocado. There should be beet juice at the bottom of the foil packet also.

When done, open foil packets and allow beets to cool. Peel with a small, sharp knife, cutting off the beet tops. Cut into small wedges or whatever shape you heart desires. Just be sure they are bite-sized for your guests.

When toasting walnuts, watch them carefully. Nuts will attain a golden color and smell "nutty" when they are done. Leave them in the oven too long and they'll burn very quickly.

To assemble:
Toss greens, beets and walnuts with vinaigrette. Top with crumbled blue cheese and toss again gently. For presentation, you don't want to turn the blue cheese beet red.

Christine's Vinaigrette

First, buy a jar of Bonne Maman jam or jelly. Use up the jelly, then thoroughly wash the jar and lid.
With a permanent black marker (a Sharpie works great) and a ruler in hand, place the jar on a flat surface and stand the ruler upright on the flat surface and against the jar.
Take your Sharpie and make a mark on the jar about 3/4 inch from the bottom. Make another mark at about 2 inches from the bottom, or at the bottom points of the arches.

Now you are ready to make vinaigrette.

Pour black raspberry vinegar, or your favorite vinegar, to the first line
Add one clove fresh garlic, finely diced
A pinch of sea salt and generous grindings of Tellicherry pepper
A teaspoon of sugar
A heaping tablespoon of Grey Poupon

Blend well and taste. Adjust to your liking and slowly whisk in
extra virgin olive oil to the second line until thick and creamy.
Alternatively, pour in the olive oil, place the lid on the jar and shake like crazy until blended and thick.

There you go! Easy huh?

PS - I've been using the same jar and lid for about 20 years and it's time to get a replacement. The jar is just fine. It's the lid that wears out. So just in case you find that you LIKE Bonne Maman jelly, buy a few jars and when you recycle, tuck the lids away in a drawer. You'll be glad you did.

On Coffee

Peet's! Peet's! the beautiful bean

The more I grind t
he more caffeine

Flows through my veins, uplifts my soul

And sadly

Fills the toilet bowl

-- Christine, 5/6/05

Sunday, May 1, 2005

Profile About Me

I was raised in Davis, California in the heart of the Sacramento Valley where the long, hot summers and deep, rich soil allowed for gardening in abundance and where cooking from and sharing the harvest of my garden was one of my greatest joys. Now I live on the north coast of California where growing tomatoes is a challenge and learning cool, short-season gardening has many rewards, albeit sometimes hard won.

My passion for cooking, gardening and feeding family and friends has never abated, so when I was encouraged by my sons to write a family cookbook, during that process I discovered the world of blogging and never looked back.

Then there's the photography! Who knew I would be so smitten by a tiny, sleek, silver, digital wonder that I would travel way down this fork in the road before I realized what was happening?

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Post-Birthday Thoughts and a Recipe

Clay's 50th birthday dinner was a success despite my cooking angst. Ten of us gathered around the table and Clay was the center of attention, as was his due. Many thanks to Larry & Donna, Dick & Marjie, Stephen & Becky, Bruce and Miles for your wonderful company on this momentous occasion.

The March 2005 issue of Bon Appetit was my saving grace. Check out the Dinner with Friends, by Rozanne Gold. Instead of braising the legs of lamb, I roasted them - the recipe follows. I did follow the recipes for the Shrimp, Cucumber and Mango Salad and the White Beans with Tomatoes and Spinach to the letter and they were perfect and delicious. Perfectly delicious! I especially liked the white bean dish. It complemented the lamb so well and was so fresh and lovely. I must admit that when I first read the recipe, because of my time constraints, I was tempted to substitute ready-cut tomatoes for the fresh grape tomatoes the recipe called for. Do not do this! The fresh, sweet and slightly acidic taste of the grape tomatoes made all the difference and was well worth the effort.

Roast Leg of Lamb

Lots of garlic, cut into slivers

Many sprigs of fresh rosemary

Olive oil

Sea salt

Fresh ground black pepper

Red wine

Have your oven at 475 degrees.

Remove most of the white fat from the surface of the leg of lamb. Make slits in the flesh on all sides. Tuck a sliver of garlic and some rosemary into each slit. Rub the leg all over with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and fresh ground tellicherry pepper. Drizzle a bit of olive oil into a roasting pan and lay some long sprigs of rosemary down. Place the leg of lamb on top of the rosemary.

Put in the 475 oven for 20 minutes. Pour about 1 cup of good red wine over the lamb and reduce heat to 350 degrees. I used a (local) Robert Goodman Pinot Noir because that is what we served with dinner. Roast the lamb until the internal temp is 135 to 140 degrees for medium rare.

You can make a pan sauce if you wish - I'll go into that at a later time - or just read the above mentioned article. Suffice it to say, I didn't. There just wasn't time and the lamb was so perfect on its own with the beans around it - the beautiful colors of pink lamb, white beans, green spinach and red tomatoes were wonderful! Some would say that it's a crime to go to all this trouble and not make a sauce. Well, they would be right. Also, they might be wrong. The lamb was succulent, tender and darn tasty unadorned.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Where's My Muse?

It's happening again...
I've hit the creative cooking wall and am dead in the water (to wildly mix metaphores).

This sad state of affairs has been going on for a week, and today is Clay's birthday and I have 10 people coming to dinner. I should be at the grocers or in the kitchen right now, but here I am pounding the keys looking for inspiration on my monitor instead of in a cookbook.

Speaking of which, I just bought Alfred Portale Simple Pleasures. On first scan through, I can see that I will be using this well written, nicely photographed book often. But not today it seems.

In my kitchen at the moment are two (count 'em, two!) legs of lamb. One is bone-in, the other boneless. This is "neighborhood lamb", folks. Comes from our neighbors just across the road. They are herbicide and pesticide- free, grass-fed animals and every year we buy one, cut and wrapped to specs and flash frozen. If you love lamb, as we do, this is nirvana.

And because he loves lamb, Clay wants it for his 50th birthday dinner. So there they sit, defrosting in the kitchen, not speaking to me. Not saying, "Oh, roast me!" "Braise me!" "Grill me!" Nada. I am bereft of inspiration. And not because I don't want to prepare a fantastic meal. I do! I really do. Where, oh where is my muse?

Check out the braised lamb dinner for 6 in the March 2005 issue of Bon Appetit. This is what I've been looking at for a week. It has all the elements of great comfort food, especially on a rainy day such as today. Plus it's elegant enough for a birthday party. I'll report back if I make all or part of the recipes.

Meanwhile, Happy 50th Birthday Clay! I love you. And I've got to get cooking...

Monday, March 28, 2005

When Life Gives You Lemons...

As my dearly departed friend George always said, "Life is short, eat dessert first!", so...

It's Saturday afternoon and I'm wanting to make a light dessert to go with dinner featuring grilled steak. The lemons sitting in the fridge's veggie drawer are getting rather old. Not wrinkled yet, but definitely old-ish. Lemon curd seems like a good idea.

There are a ga-jillion recipes out there for lemon curd, with slightly fewer techniques for making it. Since I try to cut carbs, I'm always tweaking desserts, using Splenda instead of sugar, ground nuts instead of so much flour and, to make desserts a little less fat, using an egg substitute instead of whole eggs. I give you the following:

Lemon Curd Becomes a (Sort of) Lemon Mousse

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. lemon zest (use a microplane)
2/3 cup Splenda (or sugar)
4 eggs or 1 cup egg substitute
6-7 tbsp. butter, cut into pieces

In a double boiler, whisk eggs and Splenda until combined. Whisk in lemon juice and zest. Stir over simmering water until mixture thickens and is quite hot. Do not bring to a boil, the eggs will curdle. This can take up to 10 minutes or more and you cannot leave this and go do something else. Trust me.

When the curd is thickened, remove from over the simmering water and whisk in the butter, a piece at a time, until completely incorporated. Allow the curd to cool then refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Having said all that - this curd did not turn out as expected. The Splenda didn't balance the astringency of the lemon juice and the whole thing didn't get quite as thickened as other curds I've made.

Well, what to do...
I took a cup of heavy cream (lo-fat just went out the window), whipped it with a bit of real sugar (ditto lo-carb), and folded it into the curd. Thus a mousse (kinda, sorta) was born and all was right with the world.

The rest of dinner went like this:

Grilled New York steaks - medium rare

A saute of mushrooms, shallots, garlic, thyme and port, reduced to a lovely sauce, went over the steaks.

Peeled and thinly sliced yams, roasted in the oven with the ubiquitous olive oil, sea salt and fresh ground tellicherry pepper, under a foil cover. After the yams were softly roasted, the foil was removed and the yams were allowed to get crispy at the edges.

A cauliflower mash with Fat Free 1/2 & 1/2 and a pat of butter. S&P to taste.

A salad of mixed spring greens, sliced red bells, hothouse cukes and baby fresh mozzarella, tossed with Roy's Italian Dressing, made in Eureka.

We poured a nice Sterling Vintner's Cab that Jennifer found at Trader Joe's in Santa Rosa. And for the second night in a row enjoyed the company of Clay's sister, sitting at the table late into the night, eating, sipping wine and talking, talking, talking.

By the way, Miles forgot that he had to work and didn't come to dinner!