Friday, December 28, 2007

Kitchen Gadgets I Could Live Without But ...

... why suffer needlessly when

this little gadget does such a fine job? It's a garlic slicer/shredder (think mini mandoline) and it's made in Italy by ACEA. I found it in a small kitchen shop in Inverness probably 10 years ago; it set me back all of $7.

This little workhorse not only slices garlic paper-thin (I like garlic in my soups cut this way), you can flip it over and use the grater side (those 3 bars with teeth in the photo) to pulverize your garlic in mere moments. It works nicely for ginger root also.

Besides being able to find this on e-bay occasionally, it can be purchased here and here for just a few dollars more than I paid. That is if you wish to own one. I'm not suggesting you do. But trust me, if you use this just once you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.

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

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

May the magic of the holiday season be with you now
and throughout the new year.

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

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Chicken Broth for the Flu

Never one to state the obvious (uh-huh), I'm going to go out on a limb here and say ...

It's definitely flu season.

Nasty, achey, stuffy head, sore throat, coughing, itching, sneezing, god-would-it-please-go-away! flu season. And it seems there are several types waiting to bring even the strongest person to his/her knees. You barely get over one and another one attacks while your defenses are down. Does this sound familiar, Buckaroo?

Soup is what I crave when the flu strikes. Hot, steamy, easy to fix, immune system-boosting soup. Mr. CC made a delicious one for me while I was down, full of garlic and fresh vegetables. It pulled me through the worst days. Today I made a simpler version and decreed it blogworthy - its health factor notwithstanding. I'm not saying this will cure you instantly but, with these ingredients, I'll bet it will get you on the road to recovery a bit more quickly.

Chicken Broth for the Flu
Christine's original recipe
2 cups chicken broth or stock (see Cook's Notes)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced paper thin (more is even better!)
juice of 1 Meyer lemon
1 large fresh egg
1 teaspoon or so fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine

Heat the chicken broth in a saucepan over medium high heat.
Add the garlic slices and allow to simmer for several minutes until the garlic is softened. You don't want the broth to boil at any time during this preparation so keep your heat adjusted accordingly.
Stir in the lemon juice and bring the liquid back up to a simmer.
Break the egg into a small bowl.
Stir the broth with a spoon until you get that vortex thingy going on in the center then gently drop the egg into that center. Keep stirring gently around the edge of the saucepan to keep the egg moving. Allow it to poach for a few minutes until it is gently cooked. Unfortunately mine broke, which doesn't alter the taste, just the presentation. And actually, you could break the egg up before adding it to the soup and just let it cook for a bit. Leaving all that vortex nonsense for another time.
Ladle the finished soup into a bowl and sprinkle with the parsley. Let the lemony-garlicky steam clear your sinuses as the hot broth soothes your throat. There, isn't that better?

Cook's Notes:
The chicken broth can be your own homemade stock or some good store-bought stuff. I have homemade stock in my freezer most of the time, but when you're sick, who wants to wait for frozen stock to thaw? In this recipe I used an organic, no fat, low sodium boxed broth and added a teaspoon of Organic Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base which made the broth taste richer.

If you don't have a Meyer lemon, I would use the juice from just one half of a regular lemon, otherwise you may end up with mouth-puckering broth.

Standing around peeling garlic when one is not feeling well can wear a bit thin, but if you can stand to do so, the more garlic in this broth the better.

That deep green, packed-with-vitamins parsley you see in the photo above is from a very happy plant that's growing in my greenhouse. Oh happy cook.

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

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Winter Solstice

Winter officially began at 10:08 this evening on the west coast. To celebrate, we went for a walk, took this photo, had a delicious dinner at Simona's, then came home and lit a small fire outside to celebrate the turning of the season.

Happy Winter Solstice!

It won't seem like it at first, but before we know it the days will get longer; the sun will get up a few minutes earlier, setting a wee bit later. Seed catalogs will become dog-eared then window sills and greenhouses will fill with seedlings awaiting the day they can go outside and stretch in the warming sun.

How can we not celebrate?

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

Monday, December 17, 2007

Make Your Own Saucisson de Porc

When Peter at Kalofagas cured a few pork tenderloins several months ago, I knew I had to do my own - for the experience if nothing else. Peter is quite an adventurous and prolific cook who made the whole curing process seem so easy that I felt confident in following his directions. And guess what? It worked! I have two lovely lean saucisson pork tenderloins in my fridge waiting for holiday guests to nibble and enjoy. Thanks so much for sharing your triumph Peter. Never say you can't teach an old cook new tricks: It's now my triumph too and I'll be doing more charcuterie in the months ahead.

Cook's Notes:
Update - I found this book on charcuterie at Amazon.

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

Monday, December 10, 2007

Lemon Blueberry Ginger Tea Cake

First, not one but two risottos and now cake? Is there no help for this low carb cook?

Fear not. What you see here is one light moist lemony delight that has been tampered with to lower its glycemic impact without compromising its taste one iota.

Meyer lemons lend their fresh citrusy-sweetness here and compliment the chewy crystallized ginger and tiny dried organic blueberries. Just a week ago, dear friends Erika and Bill sent me another box of the prized fruits and much of my cooking these days is being influenced by the heady scent of these beauties gracing my kitchen counter.

Okay, and sometimes I just need a little something to go with my afternoon tea. We all need a little something sometimes.
Lemon Blueberry Ginger Tea Cake
Inspired by a recipe found in Williams-Sonoma Holiday Favorites Cookbook
For the batter -
1 1/2 cups organic whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups regular unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon each baking soda and fine Kosher salt
3/4 cups Earth Balance Buttery Sticks (room temperature)
1 cup Splenda granular
3/4 cup fine sugar
grated zest from 2 Meyer lemons
3 large eggs (may use 3/4 cup egg substitute)
1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
3/4 cup buttermilk (low fat is fine)
1/2 cup (heaping) dried organic blueberries
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

For the glaze -
1/3 cup Splenda granular
juice from 1 Meyer lemon
2 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Stick

Batter -
Combine the first three ingredients with a whisk and set aside.
Cream the EB sticks on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
Beat in the Splenda and sugar then beat in the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated.
Beat in the lemon juice and zest.
With the mixer on medium, add 1/2 of the flour mixture and mix well.
Add the buttermilk and beat until smooth.
Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until smooth.
With the mixer turned off, stir in the dried berries and ginger pieces.
Pour the batter into a greased and floured bundt pan or other cake pan of your choice.
Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 50 minutes. Check for doneness by probing the cake with a toothpick. It should come out crumb free.
Allow cake to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes on a rack, then turn out onto the rack to finish cooling.
Glaze -
Over medium heat, mix the Meyer lemon juice and the Splenda together in a small saucepan until the Splenda has dissolved. Add the 2 tablespoons EB and whisk until melted. Continue to whisk, maintaining the heat, until the liquid thickens slightly, about 3 minutes more.
Place the tea cake on a large plate and carefully pour the hot glaze over the top; most of it will be absorbed but some of it will drip off.
Remove the cake to a fancy-schmancy cake plate and pour the drippings from the first plate over the cake again.

There. Cut a slice while it's warm. Take a bite. Mmmmmm. Oh, and don't forget to make yourself a cup of tea. That was the whole reason for this exercise, right?

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

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Vegetable Curry Stock Plus A Curried Pumpkin And Leek Risotto

Right now, as I'm typing this, I'm munching away on this particular plate of risotto because, as I said to Tanna earlier this morning as I was answering comments, visions of hot, creamy, veggie-filled risotto have been dancing through my dreams lately. And although it's finally a sunny day, as opposed to all the rain we've been getting, it's darned cold out with an icy north wind blasting; a perfect day for a stick-to-your-ribs (or in my case, hips, but, hey, a girl's gotta stay warm somehow!), hearty risotto.

The fact that I posted a risotto recipe yesterday doesn't bother me in the least, nor should it you. That dish was made earlier this month before the farmers market closed for the winter. Sometimes things just work out this way.

What I really want to tell you is how today's risotto came about. You see, the other day I made a veggie curry poaching liquid for catfish that was soooo delicious (both the catfish and the poaching liquid) that I had to save the stock for another day, me being on a definite curry kick just now and, really, could you, should you toss such a healthful, tasty elixir down the drain? I thought not. I remember saying to Mr CC that this would be fantastic in a risotto, to which he murmured, mmmmmm. Or something to that effect.

So in order to make this risotto, you first have to poach some catfish. Or at the very least, make this incredible stock.

Vegetable Curry Stock
Christine's original recipe
2 small yellow onions
3 celery ribs
3 small carrots
1 small parsnip
1 long stem fresh tarragon
4 stems fresh flat-leaf parsley
6 stems fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fine Kosher salt
6-8 whole black peppercorns
2 2-inch strips Meyer lemon peel
2 heaping teaspoons yellow curry powder
olive oil spray for the pan
1/3 cup dry vermouth
1 1/2 quarts water
Place the water in a stock pot over medium high heat.
Peel and coarsely chop the vegetables and sauté them until lightly browned in a heavy skillet that has been sprayed with a film of olive oil spray.
Deglaze the pan with the vermouth, scraping up any browned bits, then add the pan contents to the stock pot along with the herbs, salt, peppercorns, curry and lemon peel.
Bring the contents of the stock pot to just under a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 25 minutes.
Strain the liquid, adjusting the seasonings if necessary.

Should you go on to poach some fish in this, which I highly recommend, be sure to strain the used stock through a fine-mesh strainer when all is said and done. Then keep it tightly covered in the coldest part of the fridge and use it up within, say, 3 days. If you can't use it within that time, put it in the freezer.

Now on to the risotto, which is really the star of this post.

Curried Pumpkin and Leek Risotto
Here is where I usually either claim as my own the recipe that follows, or give credit to whomever inspired me. Well, risotto has been made for so long and in so many ways that I can't really lay any claim to it, nor do I wish to. So I'll just say that the ingredients that went into the risotto were inspired by what I thought would go well with the vegetable curry stock, which is my own, with grateful thanks to Italian cooks everywhere who make risotto, in all its iterations, without batting an eyelash.

6 cups vegetable curry stock
1 1/2 cups leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 small onion. peeled, cut cross-wise then into thins half-moons
1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
1 heaping cup cooked pumpkin (mine was a small French type called "rouge" that I found at the farmers market. You can see it in the photo above.)
1 1/3 cups arborio rice (I used a locally produced arborio from Lundberg Farms)
1 tablespoon olive oil for the pan, used in small increments as needed

Put the curry stock in a saucepan and heat on medium high until it begins to steam.
Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and keep warm.
Place a teaspoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Sauté the onions, leeks and garlic until softened and golden brown (that's the way I like it, anyway), adding a bit more oil to the pan to prevent sticking.
Add the sage and the arborio rice and stir until the rice is coated with the oil, then continue sautéeing until the rice has toasted just a little bit.
Pour in the Meyer lemon juice and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Ladle in 1 cup of the curry stock and stir until almost all the liquid has been absorbed.
Continue to add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently, until each addition has been absorbed and the rice is creamy and just a little bit firm to the bite. I used 5 cups of the stock.
Now add the pumpkin and stir until most of the lumps are incorporated.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow the risotto to rest for 5 minutes. You can add parmesan cheese now if you wish, but I liked it without.

That's it. It took all of 40 minutes to prepare the risotto, from cutting the veggies to dishing a heap of it onto a plate and eating it hungrily. It was creamy and savory with curry spice but the sweet acidity of the Meyer lemon came through beautifully and wasn't overpowered by the curry as I feared it might be. I think I just may be getting good at this risotto thing.

As for the top photo with what looks to be some kind of meat in the risotto? That was my doing: After staring at all the starchy carbs I was about to ingest, I opened a can of local albacore, heated it up and added some of it to my plate. If you strive to eat low-carb, at least go for balance when you fall off the wagon. Buon appetito!

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

Friday, December 7, 2007

Andouille Sausage And Broccoli Risotto

Since the evening I stood in Simona's kitchen and watched her make risotto, I've prepared it myself at least four times. Each time, I've been a bit more adventurous with the ingredients and a bit more relaxed with the process. My family loves it because they're getting something I rarely put on the table: white rice. Arborio, to be sure, but white nonetheless. For those of you who know my penchant for avoiding starchy carbs, in my defense, the freshness and goodness of the herbs and veggies in this recipe, not to mention the garlic for heaven's sake, far offset any negative impact from eating starchy rice. So the low carb police are just going to have to get over themselves.

This is such a good way to use up leftovers and farmers market-fresh veggies to either feed a crowd or have enough left over for several work-week lunches. Risotto really doesn't care much what you put into it once you have the process down.

In this particular dish I used up some leftover andouille sausage and added broccoli, red bell peppers, cipollini onions and fresh garlic from the (now closed for the winter) farmers market, as well as basil and parsley from my greenhouse. And, by the way, the photos are arranged in no particular order - I liked them all so I used them all.

Andouille Sausage and Broccoli Risotto
Not too original as risotto is risotto - I just winged the additions
Ingredients (my measurements are approximate):
1/2 cup finely chopped cipollini onion
4-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 long andouille sausage, cut into small cubes
1 head broccoli, cut into small florets, stalks peeled and diced
fresh parsley and basil, chopped
1 cup arborio rice
6 cups veggie stock, chicken stock or water
olive oil for the pan
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, optional

In a saucepan, heat the stock to a simmer and hold, covered.
In a skillet, saute the sausages over medium high heat until cooked through. Remove to a plate.
Turn the heat to medium and saute the onion and garlic in the fat rendered from the sausage (adding olive oil only if necessary) until softened. Alternatively, you can drain the sausage fat and use the healthier olive oil instead.
Add the broccoli and red peppers and saute until beginning to soften.
Add the rice to the skillet and stir until it is coated with the oil and just slightly toasted.
Turn the heat to simmer and add a cup of the warmed stock, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet.
Add stock by the 1/2-cupfuls, stirring occasionally and allowing the liquid to be absorbed between additions, until the rice has reached a creamy consistency and is just slightly firm to the bite. This will take 20 to 30 minutes and may not use up all the stock.
Stir in the freshly chopped herbs (and cheese if desired) and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from the heat to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Cook's Notes:
Katie over at Thyme for Cooking makes terrific risottos as does Simona, who also writes a food column for our local weekly publication on politics, people, and art, The North Coast Journal. Click here to read one of her articles about risotto.

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

It's Time to Celebrate!

Marking the start of the Holiday season, commercial crab fishing opened on December 1st here on the north coast. On December 2nd and 3rd we got hit by the southern edge of a storm that caused numerous power outages, Internet failure and very high seas. Thank heavens our intrepid crab fisherfolk who risk life and limb to bring their succulent, glorious catch to our tables were not harmed.

Mr CC and I traditionally celebrate the beginning of the crab season with a glass of champagne and a crab apiece, simply boiled, cracked and consumed using fingers and large bibs. It's a messy job but, hey, someone's gotta do it.

Here's to the crabbers! May your catch always be a sweet success.

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

Monday, December 3, 2007

Eat Your Curry - It's Good For You

Turmeric, that age-old, golden-yellow powder most often associated with yellow curry powders, has recently come under the scrutiny of western science as a possible combatant to Alzheimer's disease.

Closely related to the ginger plant, turmeric powder comes from the roots of a plant that thrives in southern Asia. Centuries ago, people there found that boiling, drying and grinding these roots produced a fragrant yellow powder with a nutty, acrid flavor which had strong healing properties.

Used in India for centuries as a healing medicine and a culinary spice, turmeric or, more specifically cucurmin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has become an item of interest and research in western medicine for its strong anti-inflammatory and anti-oxident properties.

According to the September 15, 2007 issue of Science News, Vol. 172, No. 11, "Alzheimer's... involves the steady deterioration of nerve cells in the brain ... (which can lead) to dementia." Science News goes on to say that Alzheimer's may be caused by a toxic buildup of placques in the brain which then triggers inflammation, "... a state of heightened immune system activity that can damage the body's own cells."

A number of years ago, American researchers began studying cucurmin and found it to beat out all other anti-inflammatory compounds in reducing the placque-forming proteins that can cause Alzheimer's. Later studies in Japan found that "... curcumin not only blocks placque formation but also weakens existing placques... and triggers their disintegration." (Science News)

Now understand that these studies are being conducted in research facilities using laboratory mice and researchers are quick to say that the studies are promising but non-conclusive. There is a study being conducted right now with 40 Alzheimer's patients at UCLA, the results of which are due to be published next year. Other studies have been conducted comparing the rate of Alzheimer's among curry-consuming populations and those populations that consume little to no curry and, while again not entirely conclusive, those studies do show strong evidence that regular, life-long consumption of yellow curry-containing turmeric may prevent the incidence of Alzheimer's.

An added benefit that has shown up during the testing of turmeric and its secret ingredient curcumin is that the ingestion of the powder raises good (hdl) cholesterol and significantly lowers a person's overall cholesterol levels. And that just can't be bad.

I wasn't brought up on curry dishes, more's the pity, but have been experimenting with yellow curry lately and, while I haven't made traditional curry dishes yet, I can tell you that it's wonderful when added to veggies which are then roasted in the oven, or added to root vegetable soups, or used in a spice rub for grilled chicken or fish.

Go on, experiment. It certainly can't hurt and it just may bring about surprisingly healthy results.

My good friend Simona is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging this week. WHB, one of the longest running events among food bloggers, is the brainchild of dear friend Kalyn who, after this week, will give WHB the vacation it, and she!, deserve. Click here to read about WHB and how to join in the fun. Check in with Simona at Briciole this coming Monday for the roundup.

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

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Pan Seared, Oven Roasted Freshwater Bass with Meyer Lemon Zest and Capers

As we were taking our leave from our hunter-gatherer son, Josh and his bride Kelly's first Thanksgiving, Josh gave us these bass fillets that he'd recently caught while on a fishing trip. He's on another trip right now, so I can't ask him if they were smallmouth or largemouth bass. My guess is smallmouth. This is wild, freshwater river and lake fish, not the sea-going bass that is so overfished in the ocean. I was mistaken about the species of fish: Josh tells me that "the bass ... are striped bass, an anadromous sea-run bass native to the east coast, transplanted out here (California) long ago. They come from the ocean up into the river systems in the fall and go back out to sea in the spring. They are not commercially fished here and sport fishing takes place when they are in fresh water ... ." (This is directly from the fisherman's mouth.) If you don't have access to this fish, halibut fillets may be successfully substituted.

Large, thick, tender white meat fillets with no bones, they were dipped in buttermilk then in seasoned breadcrumbs, seared on the stove top and finished in the oven. The only way they could have possibly been better, in my humble opinion, was if they'd been eaten just-caught from the river while sitting around a cozy campfire.

Pan-Seared, Roasted Freshwater Bass with Meyer Lemon Zest and Capers
Christine's original recipe
2 freshwater bass fillets, about 1-inch thick in center

1 cup buttermilk
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
zest and juice from 1 Meyer lemon, keep separate
1 tablespoon salt-packed capers, rinsed and drained
1 cipollini onion, peeled, cut crosswise then sliced into thin half-moons
olive oil for the pan
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Wash the fillets under cold water then pat dry with paper towels.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Trim the filets of any thin side flaps, as these will cook too quickly. Save them for another use.
Set up your mise thusly:
Zest the Meyer lemon into a small bowl.
Strain the juice into another small bowl.
Rinse the capers, drain and place in yet another small bowl.
Slice the cipollini and set aside.
Using two wide, shallow bowls, put the buttermilk in one and the seasoned breadcrumbs in the other. See my Cook's Notes about the breadcrumbs I use.
Heat a large, heavy skillet (I used cast iron) over a medium-high flame, add olive oil to coat the bottom.
Dip one fillet in the buttermilk, coating it completely, then dip it into the breadcrumbs, coating the fillet intirely.
Place the fillet in the hot skillet and, working quickly, repeat with the other fillet.
If necessary, add more olive oil to the skillet to prevent the fillets from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the fillets are in the pan, don't move them around, let them sear for about 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, sprinkle half the lemon zest over each fillet.
Flip the fillets and sear the other sides another 2 to 3 minutes, maintaining the flame at medium-high and taking care that the breadcrumbs don't burn.
Sprinkle on the rest of the lemon zest, then drizzle the lemon juice and the capers around and over the fish.
Remove the pan from the heat and nest the onion slices around the fillets.
Place the pan in the oven and roast the fish for 7 to 10 minutes but no more than that or it will be overcooked.
Test for doneness by putting a fork gently into the center of one fillet and pulling up some of the meat. The meat should be moist but flake easily.

Cook's Notes:
Sadly, I used the last of my cipollini onions, which I get seasonally from our farmers market. I know I can buy them at the grocers or online, but it's just not the same. *Sigh*.

I buy lightly salted croutons from
Brio, our local artisan bakery, and keep them in the freezer. When I want breadcrumbs, I take out a cupful of croutons and buzz them in the food processor. The croutons are a mix from the breads that have been baked that week and include lots of whole wheat cubes.

One of these bass fillets made 2 generous servings paired with a side dish of roasted broccoli, carrots and whole garlic cloves. The other fillet kept Mr CC in fish taco heaven for several days and me with a delicious lunch at work.

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Final Harvest From The Greenhouse

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

Gobble, gobble

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving Recipes - Times Past

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

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

I'm looking forward to this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low Carb Pumpkin Cheesecake
Let the dessert speak for itself.

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thanks and Giving

Timing is everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5:30 came. And went.



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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Home Made Potato Chips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

Eggplant Timbales with Quick and Easy Tomato-Basil Sauce

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

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

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

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

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

While the timbales are roasting...

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

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

Speaking of serving:

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

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

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