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!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Fresh Local Crab & Oysters

My sister-in-law, Jennifer, is visiting this weekend. Yesterday we went for a long walk into town and along the beach. We stopped at the market on the way home and picked up some fresh-boiled crab, local Humboldt Bay oysters, Brio sour dough bread, and Desserts on Us Baklava.

Over Gin Martinis, the oysters were shucked, butter was melted with lots of garlic and a few drops tabasco sauce. Sour dough bread, brushed with butter and garlic, was heated in the oven. The crab was washed, cracked and placed in a large bowl. A bunch of organic California asparagus was roasted in the oven (see previous recipes).

Clay sauteed the oysters in a bit of the butter sauce. To the table went the crab, oysters, steaming hot sour dough, roasted asparagus, extra butter sauce and a bottle of really good Syrah.

We spent the next several hours talking, eating, sipping wine, butter dripping from our fingers, candles flickering in the night.

Small, sweet bites of baklava finished off this simple, fabulous, cozy meal.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Simply Catfish

Last night's dinner was more in keeping with the new spring season.
I went out to the garden (in the rain) and picked a very large armful of red chard. Catfish filets were defrosting on the counter.

Clay and I had been munching on small slices of Arcata's Brio Olive Bread, McKinleyville's Cypress Grove Chive Chevre (sitting in a pool of Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufactory - extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar), Blue Lake's Fish Bros. smoked, wild caught king salmon, and kalamata olives. I mention these products by name to honor the culinary and entrepenurial spirit that is so alive and successful right here in our back yard.

After enjoying the above, which was a meal in itself, we wanted a very light dinner so I prepared the following:

Catfish Filets on a Bed of Chard

Wash the dirt off the chard and tear the leaves from the stem, tearing the leaves into medium size pieces. Put in a colander so water can drain, but don't dry the leaves.

Drizzle a tiny amount of olive oil into a large roasting pan. Place the chard (leaving some of the water that gets caught in the leaves) in the pan - I stuffed the pan to the top with the amount of chard that I had. Don't worry, it will cook down.

Place the catfish filets on top of the chard, not overlapping. I used about 6 catfish filets so we would have leftovers for Clay's tacos.

Drizzle another bit of olive oil over all of this. Sprinkle with generous amounts of salt and freshly ground tellicherry pepper and then squeeze the juice of a whole lemon over the whole thing.

Place in a 350 oven for about 1/2 hour, more or less, depending on the amount and size of the fish.

When the fish was cooked through, I sprinkled toasted sesame seeds over each filet. I cut through the chard that was between each filet, and with a spatula, scooped up a filet along with the chard underneath. Put it on a plate and Voila! Nothing but fresh goodness!

On a wine note, we opened a bottle of Fetzer Barrel Select Syrah, Mendocino County 2000. It's very, very good. AND, I believe it can be purchased from right now for around $7.50 a bottle.

Thanks to Dianna and Mike for the wine!

Monday, March 21, 2005

I Know it's Not November, but ...

Yesterday was the first day of Spring and one would think that I'd have whipped up something light and spring-like for dinner. But I didn't. The weather has been stormy and windy and my newly blooming flowers are in a state of shock. The temperature has plummeted and it feels like the middle of winter. To "celebrate", Clay and I went out to dinner and a movie. Wanting to write something, I offer you the following.

A number of Thanksgivings ago, faced with some left-over smoked turkey and not wanting to make soup (how un-american of me!), I came up with this spur-of-the-moment dinner, definitely influenced by the season.

Smoked Turkey Croquettes with Cranberry, Pear & Ginger Sauce

  • 1/3 cup pistacios
  • Peel from 1 lemon, no white pith
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme
  • A large plateful of leftover turkey pieces
  • Bread crumbs (no specific amount, just use your judgement)
  • 2-4 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, grind the pistacios finely and set aside.
Next pulse the lemon peel, garlic and thyme until combined and in small bits and set that aside.
Grind the plateful of turkey pieces until it looks like, well, ground turkey.

In a large bowl, combine the pistacios, herb mixture and turkey. Add bread crumbs and blend well. In a separate bowl, beat just until blended, 2-4 eggs, depending on how much turkey mixture you have. Add eggs to the turkey mixture, mixing well. (I use my hands for this. They're the best tools I have!) Shape mixture into patties and saute in olive oil with a bit of butter until browned and crisp. Serve with the cranberry, pear, ginger sauce below.

Cranberry, Pear, Ginger Sauce

  • 1 cup cranberries (may be frozen), coarsey chopped
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
  • 2 Tbsp candied ginger, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne (optional, but it really adds to the flavor)
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2-3 Tbsp orange juice or orange-pineapple juice

Combine first 5 ingredients in small saucepan over med-low heat, stirring until brown sugar starts to melt. Add juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the consistency of chutney, or to your liking. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool. Be careful, this syrupy mixture is very hot. Can be prepared several days ahead of time and stored in the fridge. Bring to room temp to serve.

I just thought of an addition to this sauce. If you can get your hands on a gloriously red jalapeno pepper, char it, peel it, seed and de-vein it, chop it finely and add it to the sauce along with or instead of the cayenne. This is, of course, if you like your sauce more on the spicy side.

Monday, March 14, 2005


During the late summer, we are very lucky to be able to buy line-caught albacore tuna directly off the boats. We loin them ourselves and put them in the freezer. They thaw very quickly so are a good thing to have around when it's mid-afternoon and I suddenly remember that I haven't taken anything out of the freezer to cook that evening. Such was the case last night. I went out to the garden and picked a huge armload of kale and two beautiful spring red onions and here's what we had for dinner.

Baked Albacore with Spring Red Onions

  • 4 small albacore loins
  • 2 spring red onions, tops and bulbs thinly sliced
  • Annie's Organic Papaya Poppy Seed Dressing
  • Olive oil

Set oven to 325.

Drizzle a small roasting pan with a bit of olive oil. Place the sliced onion bulbs in the pan and put the loins on top of them. Drizzle a generous amount of the dressing over the loins and then sprinkle with the sliced green tops of the onions. Bake in the oven for 15 - 17 minutes or until the meat is cooked through but not dry.

Meanwhile, cut the stem ends of the kale in smallish (1/2 inch) slices. Heat a large pot with about a tablespoon of olive oil over med-high heat. Saute the kale stems until they soften, adding a few minced garlic cloves when the kale releases its juices. Chop the remaining kale leaves and add to the pot. At this point, I needed something else to go in the pot. I had about 3 tablespoons left of the olive oil/black fig balsamic vinegar dipping sauce from the night before so I dumped it into the kale. Stir until all the leaves are coated and cook until everything is tender but retains its green-ish color. Remove from heat.

To plate, mound kale in center of plate with an albacore loin on top and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Eat and ENJOY!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Dinner for Five

After a long hiatus from dinner parties, during which time I was "low-carbing" so my doctor wouldn't put me on statin drugs (yeah I know, over sharing), friends were finally coming for dinner in a few days. I delved into my library of cookbooks, recipes, and the Internet for a menu to prepare that would satisfy starch lovers and keep my cholesterol in check.
When dieting, (I simply cannot call it an 'eating lifestyle'!) I tend to stick to simple foods and not get into complicated preparations. Mostly because I'm so ravenously hungry at mealtimes I'm liable to grab the first high-carb thing I can stuff into my mouth.
I found inspiration for the evening on the NapaStyle Web site, Michael Chiarello's mouth-watering recipes for Slow-Roasted Halibut with Salsa Genovese and a lovely spring salad with a Port Vinaigrette, brought images to mind of my guests savoring each bite, swooning over flavors and textures. This is the defining moment to which I aspire: the look of surprise, wonder, awe and delight on the faces of my friends and family as we dig in.
Appetizer board:
  • whole wheat-walnut sour dough bread
  • a dipping oil of balsamic & black fig vinegar in extra virgin olive oil with a few sprigs of rosemary
  • parmesan reggiano cubes & quince paste (membrillo) cubes on picks (Clay's idea!)
  • pitted kalamata olives
  • oil cured greek olives
  • cornichons
While company was enjoying a glass of wine, talking with Clay, & munching on appetizers, I had Yukon gold potatoes, cut into small wedges, and baby carrots roasting in an oven. These had been drizzled with olive oil, fresh minced garlic, fresh rosemary, sea salt and lots of freshly ground tellicherry pepper. When the root veggies had about 20 minutes to go, into another oven went fresh-caught halibut steaks, rubbed with a little olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and pepper. A bit of white wine, I think I used a Pinot Grigio, was drizzled around the steaks and then they were put into a 300 oven for about 20 minutes. Earlier in the day I had prepared the green olive pesto which was on the counter coming to room temperature.
As soon as the fish was done it was removed from the oven which was then cranked up to 500. Asparagus, trimmed and stem ends peeled (use a vegetable peeler), were placed on a large parchment lined cookie sheet, drizzled with a bit of olive oil & sea salt and popped into the oven for about 6 minutes. Meanwhile, juices from the fish pan were whisked into the olive pesto. Yum! The roasted asparagus was sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and some lemon zest.
Halibut steak with a generous dollop of olive pesto on top, root veggies and roasted asparagus went on each plate. A chardonnay was on the table ready to pour.
Next came a salad, served on individual small plates
  • mixed spring greens
  • sliced red pear
  • a sprinkle of spiced walnuts & pecans
  • a drizzle of port vinaigrette
  • a shaving of frozen blue cheese.

The port dressing was particularly spectacular and will become one of my often prepared dressings. You need to reduce a cup of port down to about 1/4, so I suggest that this be done when you have the time to reduce a lot of port, then bottle it and stick it in the fridge.

For dessert, no fat, no sugar vanilla bean custards were served, chilled, in their ramekins with a dollop of whipped cream & a few fresh raspberries. We served demitasse decaf espresso (it was getting late!) and tiny glasses of Italian Limoncello.
The next morning I realized that we hadn't served the almond cookies with dessert. All things considered, I think it would have been over the top.

No Fat/No Sugar Vanilla Bean Custards
4 1/4 cups Land O Lakes Fat Free 1/2 & 1/2
1 pint egg substitute such as Kirkland Egg Starts from Costco. (Egg Beaters has too much sodium.)
3/4 cup Splenda (From the large bag used for baking. The small packets are too sweet.)
1 whole vanilla bean

Set oven temp at 300 with rack placed in the middle.

Whisk the egg substitute with the Splenda in a glass or stainless steel bowl large enough to later hold the 1/2 & 1/2.
Scald the 1/2 & 1/2 with the vanilla bean over medium heat just until small bubbles form all around the edge of the saucepan. Do not let boil. Remove from heat. Remove the vanilla bean, score it length-wise with a sharp knife, open the bean and scrape the tiny seeds (looks like a very dark paste) into the cream mixture.
Slowly whisk the cream mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so as not to curdle the egg stuff.
Pour all of this through a strainer into a clean bowl and allow to cool slightly.
Place 8 - 3/4 cup ramekins in a large roasting pan. Pour the custard base into the ramekins, dividing equally.
Place pan in the oven then pour hot water into the pan to come about halfway up the ramekins. Bake for about 1 hour. I start checking after 1 hour of baking time. The custards should be rather firm except for a small spot in the middle (about the size of a quarter) which should move when jiggled. Remove from water bath and refrigerate until ready to use.

Note: I developed this recipe and have made it 3 or 4 times. One time I forgot and left the custards in the oven for over 2 hours. The tops had developed a skin that was really rubbery (which I actually like!), but after they were in the fridge overnight, the custard inside was smooth and creamy. Very forgiving of them.