Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Roasted Whole Chicken With Rosemary, Oranges, Garlic And Vegetables

How could this have happened? You're a food blogger. You prepare food all the time and post it to your blog. You own a cute little camera that never leaves your side, with which you photograph your creations, ad nauseum, pasting them along side the food that you've so lovingly prepared for your blog, er, um, family.
So, how could this have happened? Yesterday you took a whole chicken out of the freezer with the intention of sticking a beer can up its thawed cavity and grilling it al la the recipe your niece recently sent you. The day goes on, it gets late, then it gets cold outside. Does the Master Griller really want to stand out in the cold to grill a chicken with a beer can up its ass? Thought not.
Quickly you go to Plan B, which is forming in bits and bites as you rush around the kitchen. You crank the oven up to 400, rub the chicken inside and out with olive oil, sprinkle it with kosher salt and freshly minced rosemary. You go to the fridge for a lemon. No lemon. Ah! There's an orange. Use that. You cut the orange into eighths, squeezing juice over the bird and tossing the spent pieces into its cavity, muttering "God, will this really work?"
No time to think about it now as you shove in two large rosemary sprigs. You take a head of garlic, separate the cloves leaving the skins intact, and throw a handful inside the chicken, scattering the rest in the roasting pan in which the chicken is resting.
Looking in the fridge's veggie bins, you take out some potatoes that your neighbor recently dug from her garden, some carrots, some parsnips (euwww! Mushy. Into the compost bucket), and a beautiful fennel bulb (good save!). You cut those veggies into chunks and scatter them around the chicken, dropping another handful of unpeeled garlic cloves hither and thither. You chop more rosemary, sprinkle it over the veggies then you drizzle just a bit more olive oil over everything along with a few more squeezes of orange juice, dropping the spent wedges into the pan.
Standing back to view your work, you sprinkle a bit more kosher salt plus generous grindings of the peppercorn medley that your friend Erika turned you on to, all over everything. Then, oh, yeah, truss the bird! Then you pour 1/2 cup or so of white wine over it all, cover the pan with foil and stick it in the oven, immediately lowering the temperature to 350. Whew! You pour yourself a glass of the white wine and breath deeply, thinking that you might catch a bit of tonight's episode of Iron Chef America. You feel a bit Iron Chef-like yourself.
The phone rings. Happily, it's one of your sons calling. You talk for about 45 minutes. You ache to check the oven but are loathe to cut into this precious mother-son conversation, so you don't. Conversation finished, finally you are able to remove the foil from the roasting pan; a very white chicken looks up at you. Thinking fast, you pour about 2/3 cup of good chicken stock over the bird and around the veggies, loosening them from the pan and, leaving the foil off, shove the whole thing back into the oven, this time at 375, for another 25 minutes, catching the last 5 minutes of Iron Chef America. At least you got to see that the newby ousted Bobby Flay.
You peek into the oven again and see that everything is done to perfection: the bird is golden brown, crisp on the outside, juicy and steaming with flavor; the veggies tenderly roasted in a broth redolent of orange, rosemary and garlic; the deeply caramelized garlic cloves fairly bursting from their skins.
Dinner is served and your family swoons in delight with each bite. You bask in their praise, internally shaking your head in disbelief that you pulled this off.
The next morning, still rosey with the afterglow of your culinary prowess, you turn on your computer and begin to write to your blog. A nagging feeling starts to creep down your neck and lodge itself between your shoulder blades. No photos. You: proud cook, food blogger, and food photographer, you did not take ONE DAMNED PHOTO!
So there you sit, finger poised above the "Publish Post" button.
Do you dare...........?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Pork Chops With Rosemary, Port & Lingonberry Sauce Plus Roasted Asparagus

If I had a sub-heading on my blog called Quick & Easy Dinners, this dish would go there. I don't have such a heading however, so I'd advise you to make a note that It takes just 1/2 hour to prepare and plate this meal, including roasting the asparagus. That is, of course, if you can get your significant other to make the salad, which he happily did.
I suggest preparing the asparagus for roasting before beginning the chops. When you begin searing the chops, put the asparagus in the oven. Both dishes should be ready at about the same time.

Pork Chops with Rosemary, Port & Lingonberry Sauce
Serves two people. May be doubled.
2 1-inch thick center cut pork chops, fat trimmed
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced fine
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup chicken broth (I use low-sodium, no-fat)
1/2 cup ruby Port
2/3 cup lingonberry preserves

Sprinkle both sides of chops with kosher salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon minced rosemary.
Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet over medium high heat.
When the pan is hot and butter is melted, add the chops and cook about 3 minutes on each side, until browned and just cooked through.
Remove chops to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
Add the chicken broth, Port and remaining rosemary to the pan and stir to deglaze, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
With heat on high, boil the liquid until it has reduced by 1/2, about 4 minutes.
Add the lingonberry preserves, stir, bring to a boil then reduce the heat to medium and let the sauce simmer until it has thickened slightly.
Season the sauce with salt and pepper if needed.
Return the chops to the sauce along with any juices that may have accumulated on the plate, turning chops to coat. Immediately plate chops, spooning sauce over the top.

Oven Roasted Asparagus
2 pounds asparagus, organic if available
kosher salt
good olive oil

Heat oven to 450 degrees.
Wash asparagus. Holding a spear with your hands at each end, bend the stem and snap it where it wants to break. Discard the tough bottom ends or save for making soup at a later time.
Drizzle a cookie sheet pan with a small amount of good olive oil.
Place the asparagus spears in the pan, lined up side by side, not crossing over each other.
Sprinkle the spears with kosher salt and another small drizzle of olive oil.
Place the asparagus pan in the hot oven and roast for 8-10 minutes, shaking the pan to roll the spears over halfway through the roasting time.
Serve hot with the pork chops.

Note: I bought my lingonberry preserves at the Nugget Market in Davis a few weeks ago. I only find it on the grocery shelves in the fall leading up to the holidays, which is why I've given you several links for on-line purchase.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Poached Halibut

The large piece of halibut that Kalyn grilled the other day reminded my that I had a similar sized piece in the freezer. In fact, the use of cilantro in her recipe of Grilled Halibut with Garlic-Cilantro Sauce probably sub-consciously inspired the way I prepared this dish. Let's face it, good cooks often "channel" each other, so it should come as no surprise that many of us will come up with variations on a theme from time to time.

I've been poaching fish in this manner ever since I saw a recipe in Sunset Magazine more than 12 years ago. So long ago that I could not tell you the specific issue to save my life. Over the years I've changed it, using different ingredients that will enhance not only the poaching object, but will compliment the side dishes. This method is perfect for a fish like halibut that tends to dry out in the cooking process. The trick is to remove the pan from the heat and let it sit to "finish".

Poached Halibut
Inspired by Sunset Magazine with cilantro channeling from Kalyn Denny
1 large halibut filet cut into 4 serving-sized pieces
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup chardonnay
juice from 2 oranges
juice from 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon chipotle pepper flakes
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons cold butter, separated

In a skillet large enough to hold the halibut steaks, combine all of the ingredients, except the halibut and the butter, and bring to a boil.
When the liquid is boiling, carefully add the halibut steaks, lowering the heat to maintain a very low boil. Cover and let cook until the fish is just opaque inside but still springy to the touch, 4-5 minutes. You may have to gently turn the steaks if your poaching liquid does not cover the fish.
Immediately remove pan from the heat and let sit an additional 2 minutes or until the fish is cooked through but not dry. Remove the fish with a slotted spatula and keep warm.
Bring the poaching liquid to a high, rolling boil and reduce by 1/2 or more, 5 or so minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in 3 tablespoons butter, one piece at a time, until fully incorporated and the sauce has thickened.
Spoon some of the sauce over each piece of fish and serve.

I acompanied the fish with a spoonful of my recipe for Best Black Beans. The similarity of flavors used to prepare both these dishes are a great compliment to each other. So good and so good for you!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Best Black Beans

When I and my put-upon children were vegetarians several lifetimes ago, I bought Molly Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook, followed by the Enchanted Broccoli Forest and for a time, cooked from them almost exclusively. Although now I'm quite omnivorous (as are 2 out of 3 of my children), I still return to Molly's original books on occasion, her skillet cornbread (a future post, for sure) being one of my favorite recipes from that long ago era.
This black bean dish is one of Molly's that I've continued to make, especially when the days grow shorter and the nights cooler. I used to follow it to the letter but over the years I've tweaked it, shortened it, made it simpler. It's still delicious, nutritious, high in fiber and wholly satisfying. Pairing it with tender, poached halibut was an epiphany.

Best Black Beans
Inspired by Moosewood Cookbook by Molly Katzen

1 pound (about 2 1/2 cups) small black beans
water to cover
6-7 cups good chicken broth (I use no-fat, low-sodium*. You can also use vegetable broth or water or a combination of both)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 celery ribs, cut into small dice

3 carrots, peeled, cut into small dice
1 medium onion, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
2 heaping teaspoons cumin
1 heaping teaspoon corriander
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4-1/2 teaspoon chipotle pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1 whole orange
juice of 1 whole lime
1/4 cup chicken broth or sherry or ruby port
kosher salt (to taste)


Pick over the dried beans, removing rocks, other foreign objects and discolored beans.
Wash beans thoroughly in a colander under running water.
Using a large soup pot, cover the beans with several inches of fresh water and let sit, covered, overnight.
Drain the beans, rinse again in a colander and return to the empty, rinsed pot.
Pour the broth over the beans and place over high heat to bring to a boil.
When the broth begins to boil, reduce the heat to keep beans at a low boil and cook until tender.
Do not cover, allowing much of the liquid to evaporate.
Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables:
Slice the ribs of celery lengthwise in half or thirds and chop into small dice (1/4-inch pieces) crosswise.
Slice the carrots lengthwise into fourths and chop crosswise like the celery.
Peel and chop the onion and garlic as stated above.
Melt the oil and butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat and add the onions and carrots. Saute slowly until both are soft, covering with a lid if necessary.
Add the celery and garlic and saute a bit more taking care to not let the veggies burn.
When the veggies are done, add the cumin, corriander, cinnamon, pepper flakes and black pepper and stir, cooking until the spicy aromas come up, about 1 minute.
Deglaze the pan with the citrus juices and the chicken broth or wine and remove from heat.
When the beans are done, you should have less than half the broth you started out with. This isn't supposed to be soup or stew. If it's too brothy, boil it a bit more to reduce the liquid.
Add the vegetable-spice saute to the beans and mix thoroughly.
Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt now if needed.
This makes a lot of beans (6 cups or more) and is a great potluck dish. Leftovers may be frozen for a later use.

*Do not add salt to the liquid used to cook the beans as this will keep the beans from fully cooking and make them hard.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Quince In Merlot With Vanilla Cream

Although I've made a quince tarte tatin before, and a simple quince sauce for spooning over ice cream (when I didn't have a clue what to do with this beautiful, rare fruit), stewing or poaching quince in sweetened merlot enhanced with a vanilla bean is my favorite way to prepare it. Serve it over a soft vanilla cream pudding and you've got an elegant dessert that takes almost no time to prepare.

Well, there's quite a bit of time involved in the peeling, coring and cutting of the fruit, but once you've got that job done, the rest goes easily.

Quinces, in their natural state, are rock-hard fruits with a skin that does not easily separate from the body. The flesh of the raw fruit is very tart and acerbic, much like chewing on a non-chewable vitamin C tablet. Cook these fruits down in a sweetened liquid, however, and you've got something to blog about. And to delight your dinner guests with.

Quince Stewed in Merlot
4-5 quince fruits, peeled, cored and sliced, about 3 cups
juice of 1 lemon
enough water to submerge the quince pieces
2 cups good merlot
3/4 cup Splenda-Sugar Blend or 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 whole vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Start this early in the day, or even the night before. The quince needs to soak in the merlot for a number of hours before cooking.
Make acidulated water by combining the water and lemon juice in a bowl.
As you peel and slice the fruits, place the slices in the water to prevent them from browning.
When all the fruit is ready, pour into a colander and rinse under running water.
Pour the merlot into a glass dish large enough to hold the fruit.
Add the Splenda-sugar blend or regular sugar and stir to dissolve.
Add the split vanilla bean and the quince pieces, stir, cover and refrigerate for 8-10 hours or overnight, stirring occasionally.
When ready to cook, place the quince and the merlot liquid into a sauce pan over medium heat.
Bring to a slow boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce heat so the mixture simmers.
Simmer in this manner until the fruits have just softened to an edible consistency, about 20 minutes.
You must now check for sweetness by tasting a piece of the fruit. Tasting the liquid will not help you to determine if the fruit is of an edible sweetness. At this point you can add more sugar, if necessary, and continue cooking until the fruit is soft enough to serve. I like my stewed quince to maintain some tartness as the vanilla cream will mellow it out a bit.
When the fruit is cooked through, remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, do not drain. If not serving within a few hours, it can be refrigerated but I would let it sit at room temp for a bit before serving to take the chill out.

Vanilla Cream
This is a recipe I've been making for many, many years. It's adapted from my first cookbook, Betty Crocker's Cook Book.
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup Splenda-Sugar Blend
2 cups fat-free 1/2 & 1/2
1/2 cup egg substitute such as Lucerne's Best of the Egg
2 teaspoons good vanilla
2 tablespoons Smart Balance Buttery Spread (not "light") or unsalted butter


In a medium saucepan, stir together the cornstarch, sugar blend and salt until well blended. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the 1/2 & 1/2 and the egg substitute. Slowly whisk the liquid into the dry ingredients in the saucepan, until they are full incorporated. Over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and just comes to a boil. Stir for about 1 minute, allowing the mixture to cook at a low boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Cool to room temperature with a piece of plastic wrap laid right on top of the cream. This will keep a rubbery skin from forming.

To serve: Spoon vanilla cream into bowls. With a slotted spoon, place some of the stewed quince on top of each serving.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Butternut Squash Bisque With Maple Syrup And Sage

I know I'm a bit late in jumping on the butternut/winter squash bandwagon. So many great food bloggers have already been making and posting variations of this wonderful ode to Fall. Me? I've been under the weather, as they say. Whacked by a flu bug that attached itself to me somewhere between the east and west coasts as we returned from our recent vacation. Well, I'm getting back to my old self now, feeling better, and had to catch up with my blogger friends and get some soup on the table.

I received maple syrup inspiration for this soup from a delicious bowl of pumpkin-maple syrup soup that I had at the Simon Pearce restaurant in Quechee (prounounced Kwee-chee), Vermont recently. And while the restaurant's version was thicker, sweeter and more pumpkin pie filling-like, I've made mine on the savory side, showcasing the sage and squash with just a hint of sweetness from the maple syrup. Try it. I think you'll like it.

Christine's Butternut Squash Bisque
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 tablespoon butter or Smart Balance Buttery Spread (not "light")
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage (4-5 leaves)
1/4 cup 100% maple syrup
1 large butternut squash, seeded, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 gala or braeburn apple, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
32 ounces good vegetable stock or broth
heavy cream or fat free 1/2 & 1/2 to drizzle over the top (optional)
toasted, slivered almonds as garnish (optional)

In a large pot over medium heat, saute the onions in the oil and butter until the onions have softened but not browned.
Add the garlic, apples, salt, pepper, cinnamon and maple syrup, continuing to saute until the garlic and apples soften. Take care to adjust the heat so nothing burns or over-browns. You don't want to have browned veggies changing the color of the dish.
Add the squash and sage, rubbing the sage between your fingers as you drop it into the pot, releasing more of its essential oils. Sautee a bit longer until the squash begins to soften.
Add the vegetable stock, stir, cover the pot and let simmer until the squash is cooked through.
Now is the time to taste and adjust your seasonings if necessary. I added a pinch more salt at this point to bring up the flavors.
Off the heat, I used my immersion blender to turn the soup into a smooth, velvety puree. You can also achieve this by pureeing in batches in a food processor. Be careful not to puree too much at one time as the hot liquid can expand quickly and escape from the food processor, causing severe burns.

That's it! So easy. Ladle soup into bowls and drizzle a bit of cream or fat free 1/2 & 1/2 on top for a beautiful, easy presentation. Creme Fraiche would be good here, topped with a few toasted, slivered almonds. Fried sage leaves would be awesome and I plan to try them soon.

I'm so happy to be "back in the saddle", so to speak, cooking and blogging again. The sage, fresh from my garden, makes this recipe a good contribution to this week's Weekend Herb Blogging, an event begun by my friend Kalyn over at Kalyn's Kitchen. Now over a year old, WHB is hosted each week by different food bloggers from around the world. The guest host for this week's event is Fiber of 28 Cooks. Be sure to visit her beautiful site for great recipes and to see the WHB round-up next Monday. Click here to read about WHB. If you'd like to join in the fun, email your link to CLBritto AT LancasterGeneral DOT org by Sunday, 3 PM Mountain Time.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Mac N Cheese

Two things will precipitate a fall from my low-carb wagon faster than my little dog Jack can wag his stumpy tail: good artisan bread and macaroni & cheese. Like the kind I made last night to take to a potluck. This is no ordinary mac 'n cheese. Certainly not the blue box kind. Inspired by Ina Garten's recipe, Mac and Cheese, in the Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook, the cheeses used in this dish are a fabulous combination of French Madrigal (which I found at the Nugget Market in Davis), our locally produced Cypress Grove Midnight Moon, and a Wisconsin extra-sharp cheddar.

Topping the dish with slices of last-of-the-season heirloom tomatoes sprinkled with butter soaked Brio breadcrumbs was perfection itself. I could have used a higher fiber, healthier pasta, such as Dreamfields, but I wanted this dish to look like the blue box kind, with surprising and delightful differences. Plain elbow macaroni was the only way to go. Judging from the comments I received last night, I was right. Luckily for me, most of it was readily consumed, leaving just a bit for leftovers today. First thing tomorrow I'll climb back on that low carb wagon...

Macaroni and Cheese
Inspired by Ina Garten's Mac and Cheese, from The Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook
1 pound elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 quart fat free 1/2 & 1/2, or 2 cups milk and 2 cups regular 1/2 & 1/2
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
8 oz. French Madrigal (baby Swiss) cheese, grated
8 oz. Wisconsin extra-sharp cheddar, grated
1 tablespoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 medium heirloom tomatoes, sliced
1 cup ground Brio croutons
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Set oven at 375 degrees.
Fill a large pot with water, add salt and olive oil and bring to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until just tender. Drain in a colander and set aside. Reserve pot.
In a saucepan, heat the 1/2 & 1/2 just to a simmer (small bubbles will form around the sides of the pot). Set aside, off heat.
In the pot used to cook the macaroni, melt 6 tablespoons of butter. Add the flour, whisking constantly and cook for about 2 minutes, incorporating all the flour into the butter, creating a smooth paste (this is called a roux).
Add the warm milk to the roux, again whisking constantly, until a thick, smooth white sauce has formed. Add the marjoram and cook for 2 minutes more.
Remove the sauce from the heat and add the cheeses, salt, pepper and nutmeg, stirring with a wooden spoon until the cheeses are melted.
Stir the cooked macaroni into the cheese sauce and pour into an oblong, 3 quart glass baking dish, smoothing the surface.
Arrange the sliced tomatoes atop the mac & cheese and sprinkle with the buttered breadcrumbs (recipe below).
Bake in the oven, uncovered, for about 40 minutes. When done, the cheese sauce will be bubbly, the top will be a golden brown and your first bite will transport you to mac n cheese heaven.
To make the breadcrumbs for this dish, place about 2 cups of your favorite seasoned croutons (mine are from Brio Breadworks in Arcata) in a food processor and pulse until you've made fine crumbs. Measure 1 cup of crumbs and place in a bowl. Drizzle the 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the crumbs and mix with your fingers until the butter is fully incorporated. Leftover crumbs can be place in a freezer bag and stored in your freezer for a future use.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

New England, Part One

10/19/06 - Below is my one attempt at blogging while on our recent New England trip. What with slow and sporadic Internet connections, I soon gave up any thoughts of trying to post. Plus, there was just so much to see and do that I found myself in a constant state of visual overwhelm. I'll be sharing our adventures in future posts. Much as I loved our trip, the most exciting thing right now is that I'M HOME!!

October 4th
As I type this, I'm gazing out the living room window of my friend Erika's family vacation home in the middle of the New Hampshire woods with the glory of fall colors casting hues of gold, flaming red, orange, yellow and rust on the varied hardwoods, punctuated by deep greens from Hemlock and Spruce. It's breathtaking. And from what I'm told, it's just beginning. I can't imagine it being more spectacular than right now, but I'm assured that more is yet to come.

Trees are not the only things showing off vibrant colors now. Fungi, in multiple forms, shapes and colors are pushing up through the blanket of leaves that cover the ground as we walk through the woods. Bright pink, orange, yellow, and the more common shades of brown and gray are everywhere one looks, creating a delightful obstacle course in our paths, as one has to stop to marvel at everything.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

I'm Still Here...!

Well, actually I'm there - travelling the backroads of New Hampshire. I wish that darn RV wasn't in the photo, but I can't have everything. And no, the RV is not ours. Some interloper. Blogging has proved to be a challenge on this trip. We're often working with a 56K Internet connection or none at all. Thankfully for the moment we've got a fast wireless connection, enabling me to post this.

We arrived on the Atlantic seacoast yesterday and are in a little bed and breakfast in Portsmouth, NH called The Inn at Strawberry Banke. A very old house full of narrow stairs, sagging floors and charm. (I'll have photos to show and stories to tell when I return home.) Today we'll explore Portsmouth and then head off for Ipswich, Mass, makng our way out to the coast to Rockport and then on to Salem, where I swear my witchy roots are. I'll find out.

I just had to let you know that I'm still here, or rather there...