Monday, April 30, 2007

Radish Walnut Salad With Golden Balsamic Vinaigrette

I've had the best intentions of posting some back-logged recipes, but sadly have found myself so otherwise occupied that I'm barely keeping up with a photo a day on my garden blog.

Mr CC has been grilling veggies and I've been making salads and that's what's been on the table for dinner lately. Good, healthy food but not particularly blogworthy. Until last night's salad.

You might think those are apples in the photo, but you'd be wrong. No, the secret ingredient here is radishes; recently re-discovered (by me), sweet, crunchy, crisp radishes. I've been born again.

I'd not been a radish fan since, as an unknowing child, I bit into one that not only burned my mouth, but burned a memory forever in my brain - EAT RADISHES, SUFFER PAIN!

Then I discovered the round, red, sweetly delicious Red Globe Radishes and suddenly I can't get enough of them. All these years. Who knew?

This simple salad is superb with a vinaigrette made with a combination of walnut and olive oils.

Radish Walnut Salad with a Golden Balsamic Vinaigrette
Christine's original recipe
Organic spring mix of salad greens

4-6 sweet red globe radishes
1/2 cup walnut pieces
2 ounces golden balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon aged balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon good dijon mustard
2 ounces roasted walnut oil
2 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
pinch sea salt
several grinds good black peppercorns

Wash and trim the radishes and cut into quarters.
Assemble the salad by putting the greens in a large bowl followed by the radishes and walnut pieces.
For the dressing, whisk the vinegars, mustard, salt and pepper in a glass cup until blended.
Briskly whisk in the walnut oil then the olive oil until the mixture is emulsified (thickened and combined).
Pour some of the dressing over the salad, toss and serve.
This salad goes nicely with grilled zucchini and portobello mushrooms. If you'd like a bit more protein, add a filet of pan-seared tilapia.

As for my new love affair with radishes, French Breakfast is next on my list. Where will it end?

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

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Celebrating Humboldt Bay Oysters

Minutes from being pulled out of the bay, you can buy these beauties, harvest-fresh and tasting of briny salt water, from Humboldt North Bay Oyster Company (sorry, no web site) on Saturday mornings at the Arcata Farmers Market .

These are plump, sweet Kumamoto oysters, a specialty of Humboldt and Arcata Bays (actually one very large body of water stretching from Arcata in the north, past Eureka to the National Wildlife Preserve in the south.)

Interesting reading about how this strain of oyster came to be grown just 1/2 hour's drive from my kitchen may be found here.

And did you know that Arcata is host to the annual Arcata Bay Oyster Festival which attracts 10,000 to 15,000 oyster-loving revelers each year? Yes it is. And this year the event is being held on June 16th which also happens to be our 23rd wedding anniversary. You can bet we'll be there.

Mr CC likes to serve these babies hot off the grill, dribbled with melted butter and sauteed garlic slices. That's the way I like them best.

Not at all fussy when it comes to libation pairing, oysters go well with Champagne, a zingy white wine or a good microbrew.


4/28/07 - Cook's Notes:
Now here's a lesson in shoddy research. The oyster pictured above is not a Kumamoto, it's actually a Pacific oyster, also originally from Japan. We got Kumamotos at the Farmers Market this morning. Photos coming.

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

Friday, April 27, 2007

Mac N Cheese Southwestern Style...

... Or, how to get a prepared dish on the beach for hungry beach-nighters in just under 2 hours. That was my challenge for this week's dinner on the beach; make a lot and keep it hot my battle cry.

Christine's Somewhat Southwestern Mac N Cheese
Christine's original recipe
1 pound elbow macaroni (can be Dreamfield's)
1 pound Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 pound cheddar cheese, shredded
several tablespoons white whole wheat flour
1 cup pimiento stuffed green olives, buzzed in the food processor
1 4-ounce (or more) can diced green chiles, use jalapenos for more heat
4 cups frozen sweet petit corn kernels, such as S&W, thawed
1/4 to 1/2 chile in adobo sauce, minced (careful, these are hot!)
1 to 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
4 eggs
2 cups 1/2 & 1/2
4 ounces sliced black olives
Earth Balance or butter for the dish

Cook the elbow mac in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, stir and set aside in a warm place.
Shred the cheeses (I used my food processor), keeping them in separate bowls
Divide the flour between the two bowls and toss with the cheese.
Whisk the 4 eggs with the 1/2 & 1/2 until well blended.
Stir the diced green chiles, green olives, adobo chile and sauce, corn, salt, pepper and all but 1 cup of each cheese into the macaroni. Check for seasonings.
Pour the egg mixture over the macaroni mixture and mix well, I used my hands, they work very well for tasks such as this.
Butter a large oblong glass casserole dish and pour in the mac N cheese, spreading evenly the the edges.
Put the rest of the cheeses on top of the casserole along with the sliced black olives.
Bake in a 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until very hot and bubbly.

To pack to the beach, cover the casserole with foil and place in a cardboard box just large enough for the dish to fit snugly. Don't forget to take hot mitts with you. And a large serving spoon.

Watch the entire dish disappear, especially when the teenagers arrive.

Good night

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

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Brick Layer's Omelet

Recently, Mr CC's Aunt Kay sent an article that had been clipped from the March 10, 1963 Bonanza Magazine within the San Francisco Sunday Chronicle, Western Dining section. The article, part of which is shown above, was written by Jane Benet with a photo by early Bay Area photographer, Roy Flamm, and features a recipe from Ralph Johnson, my late father-in-law, painter, sculptor and art professor at UC Davis from 1957 to 1988. The recipe is a re-print from the Artists' & Writers' Cookbook published in 1961.

As I've said before, Ralph was a great cook and dear friend and I was fortunate to share many an evening with him; my kitchen or his.

The story goes that when he was a young man, Ralph had a job as a hod carrier, working for a Danish bricklayer. His boss gave him the recipe which he then dubbed the Brick Layer's Omelet.

Mr CC is the chef of note here, claiming proprietary descendancy. He shopped for the ingredients and made the dish. I took the photographs and ate what was put on my plate. This is an old fashioned dish using simple ingredients. It was tasty but, more to the point, it was truly poignant.

Before I go any further, I simply must tell you about these eggs. Oh my god, they are so beautiful, their yolks so orange, their whites so perky and clear. They must have come from very happy hens.

Well, yes, as it turns out, they are very happy hens from our very own, local Wild Chick Farm. Pasture-raised, organically fed, they live about 12 miles from my kitchen. These particular eggs are from Araucana hens and may be purchased on Saturday mornings at the Arcata Farmers Market.

Brick Layer's Omelet
As re-printed in the SF Sunday Chronicle, March 10, 1963

3 strips bacon
4 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup chopped olives (we used black)
1/3 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/3 cup monterey jack cheese cut into cubes

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Fry the bacon in a 9-inch skillet until tender-crisp.
Remove from skillet and drain on paper towels. Leave bacon fat in the skillet.
Place the rest of the ingredients into a large bowl and mix together with a fork until the eggs and flour are combined.
Pour contents into the skillet and crumble the bacon over the top.
Bake in the 350-degree oven until the omelet is golden and puffy, about 30 minutes.
Cool slightly and cut into wedges to serve.
As Ralph said, "A little jelly is sometimes good with it."

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

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Farmers Market Fresh Herbs And Lettuce

Baby lettuces, chard, green onions, bronze fennel fronds, stems of rosemary, sage and lavender, all tucked into a basket. Who could resist such sweetness and light?

This was part of our bounty from the Arcata Farmers Market yesterday and is my offering to Weekend Herb Blogging, being hosted this week by the fabulous Sher of What Did You Eat? who happens to live in my home town. Besides loving all the wonderful recipes that come from Sher's kitchen, I get vicarious thrills from reading about her gardening experiences - experiences that I miss so much living here in the foggy dampness of the north coast. Though I must admit to a twinge of jealousy when she writes about the tomatoes that she picks from her veggies boxes.

Organic food lovers know the healthy and aesthetic advantages of eating produce that comes directly from an organic farm to a farmers market and then into your basket to take home for dinner. Apart from growing your own (a popular phrase here in Humboldt County), there's nothing fresher or better for you.

This beautiful basket of greens and herbs will turn into tonight's salad and adorn the leg of lamb that's about to go on the rotisserie. I'll show you the finished product in another post. For now, enjoy this image of the incredible offering of earth's bounty on this Earth Day. And be sure to pop on over to Sher's kitchen to see this week's round-up!

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

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Strawberries In Raspberry Wine With Goat's Milk Yogurt

As I was wracking my brain for a stupendous dessert for Ilva and Joanna's blog The Heart of the Matter - Eating For Life, I kept discarding ideas, one after the other: too heavy, too sweet, nothing seemed right.

But when I walked into our local Co-Op today, the ol' two by four hit me smack 'twixt the eyes - strawberries! Organic, sweet, juicy, heart healthy strawberries . What could be a better dessert for springtime and your heart?

Strawberries are low in calories, packed with fiber, Vitamin C, folate, potassium and antioxidants such as ellagic acid. Research has shown that eating about 8 strawberries a day can significantly lower systolic blood pressure, which may reduce the risk of heart disease associated with high blood pressure.

Without further ado, here's what I came up with for HOTM 2.

Strawberries in Raspberry Wine with Goat's Milk Yogurt
Christine's original recipe
Ingredients (all measurements are arbitrary):
Fresh, organic strawberries
Raspberry wine
Vanilla extract, the best you can find, no added sugars or corn syrup (yuk!)
Coarsely cracked, tellicherry peppercorns
Miniscule grains of Fleur de Sel de Guerande (if allowed)
Small shavings of deep, dark chocolate such as Valrhona bittersweet
Goat's milk yogurt, the best you can get your hands on - I used Skyhill Farms from Napa Valley

Preparation per serving:
Cut several strawberries into very small dice, about 1/8-inch.
Mix 1 tablespoon raspberry wine with 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract and a grind of black pepper.
Pour into a serving glass and add the diced strawberries.
Spoon about 1/4 cup yogurt over the strawberries.
Shave the dark chocolate over the yogurt and top with a perfect red strawberry and a few grains of sel de guerande.
To eat, dip your spoon all the way to the bottom of the glass, bringing up the pepper infused wine and the strawberries to mix with the pure white yogurt. Swoon.

To your good health!

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

Friday, April 20, 2007

Mediterranean Red Pepper Coulis

People go nuts over this sauce whenever I make it. It's fast, fresh, delicious, versatile, vegan friendly and about as heart-healthy as it gets.

We put it over roasted veggies, stir it into soups, dollop it on steaming bowls of stew, use it as a dip for crisp, raw veggies. If he's lucky enough to find some left over in the fridge, Mr CC puts it into his lunch tacos.

Recently, I used it in several ways: As a sauce for the as-yet-to-be-posted Stuffed Mexican Hat Pasta, and then again as a topping for the soup that was made from the left over Mexican Hat Pasta stuffing. Posts are coming soon.

I call this Mediterranean because the ingredients taste and smell like that warm, sunny region to me. And coulis is simply a more exotic French term for a fresh sauce. See my notes below for a few variations.

Mediterranean Red Pepper Sauce
Christine's original recipe
2 large red bell peppers, charred, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon plus 1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
fresh Italian parsley (optional)
fresh basil (optional)

Set the whole red peppers over a gas flame set on high and char until the skin is blackened and blistered all over, using tongs to turn them. You will know when the blistering begins because the skin will give a popping sound.
When charred, place the peppers into a paper bag, fold down the top and let sit for about 15 minutes.
Remove peppers from the bag and, using your fingers, push and peel the skin from the fruits. Do not put under running water to do this as you will wash away much of the flavor. It's okay for bits of charred skin to remain on the peppers, I think it gives them character.
Cut off the tops of the peppers and remove the seeds and veins.
Chop peppers coarsely and set aside.
Saute the onions in the 1 tablespoon of olive over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes.
Add the chopped garlic and stir for about a minute more.
If using the fresh herbs as I did for this recipe, chop them coarsely now.
Place the chopped bell peppers in a food processor and pulse 3 or 4 times, just to break the peppers up.
Add the chopped herbs, the onion and garlic saute along with whatever oil has remained in the pan, and pulse until the mixture is finely chopped.
With the machine running, pour the 1/4 to 1/3 cup of olive oil through the feed tube in a small, steady stream, using enough oil to create a thick, smooth sauce.
Stop the machine and taste the sauce. Add salt if needed and pulse to incorporate. Add the lemon juice and process until incorporated.
Keep in a glass bowl or measuring cup. This can remain at room temperature for several hours but should be refrigerated if being kept longer.

Cook's Notes:

Here you can see another version of the sauce with no herbs. You would think character would be lost but it's not so. It's different and just as delicious.
Going south-of-the-border, you could make this sauce by substituting red onion for the sweet one and lime juice for the lemon.
Spice it up with charred, peeled jalapeno.
Leave out the garlic if you wish.
Don't saute anything. Just add it fresh to the food processor.
Add spices like cumin and corriander.
My preference is to keep it as simple as possible so the freshness of the ingredients shine.

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

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cabbage Garlic Tofu Soup With Roasted Garlic Gruyere Croutons

A number of days ago while reading posts from some of my favorite food bloggers, my mouse finger became very still as I spied a photo and recipe on Catherine's blog, Albion Cooks, that resonated deep in that place in the food section of the brain that says, "Oh, yeah! This would taste really good, right now!" And so I told Catherine, right then, that I HAD to make her soup and would she mind if I posted it. She kindly gave me permission to rif.

My pantry and fridge came up short in the green garlic department and none of the local markets had any either, so I went with what I had on hand, which was organic garlic cloves. And since I subscribe to the more-is-better-when-it-comes-to-garlic philosophy, I roasted a few heads to smear on the croutons. Makes me drool just writing this.

The soup was everything I thought it would be: warming, spicy, garlicky and light. You could eat a lot of this. I know I did.

Cabbage Garlic Tofu Soup With Roasted Garlic Gruyere Croutons
Adapted from Catherine's
Cabbage & Green Garlic Soup, with thanks
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 tablespoon
Earth Balance
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 head green cabbage, sliced thin
3 medium-size green onions (scallions), cut on the diagonal into 1/4-inch wide pieces
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon green olive paste
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (see Cook's Notes)
Kosher salt and freshly ground
black pepper

1 package firm tofu, cut into small cubes (no more than 1/2-inch square)
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1 seeded baguette (locally produced from the
North Coast Bakery)
2 heads roasted garlic
Olive oil and kosher salt
grated Gruyere cheese

About 1 hour before starting to prepare the soup, heat your oven to 350 degrees and generously oil a small covered baking dish.
Peel the papery outer layers of skin from two large heads of garlic, keeping the cloves intact.
Place one head on a cutting board on its side and using a sharp knife, cut off the tops of the garlic cloves just to where the lovely kernel inside is revealed. Repeat with the other head of garlic. Don't worry if some of the cloves become detached, just throw them into the dish with the rest.
Place the garlic heads in the baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with kosher salt.
Put the lid on the dish and roast in the oven for about 45 minutes or until the garlic is soft and golden brown.
Remove from the oven and let cool in the dish with the lid off.

Make your croutons:
Turn the oven up to 400 degrees.
Cut the baguette into 1/4-inch wide diagonal slices, place them on a large baking sheet and toast in the oven, turning each piece over halfway through toasting, until they are golden brown. This will take 7 to 10 minutes.
When they have toasted, remove them from the oven and set aside to cool in the baking pan. You will smear the garlic and melt the cheese later.

NOW we're ready to make soup:
Put the 1 tablespoon each olive oil and Earth Balance (or butter if you prefer) into a soup pot over medium heat.
Saute the onions until soft. You may have to lower the heat so they don't burn.
Add the finely sliced garlic and saute for about 1 minute more. The garlic aroma should just begin to hit your nose.
Add the cabbage and cook for about 5 minutes more.
Pour in the vegetable broth, green olive paste and red pepper flakes, if using and tofu cubes. Bring it just to a simmer then allow it to cook gently, covered, for about 10 minutes, adding the scallions after 5 minutes cooking time.
Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper (see Cook's Notes),add the vinegar, allow it to simmer for a few more minutes and it's done!

To finish off the croutons:
While the soup is in the 10-minute simmer stage, crank your oven up to 300 degrees.
Remove the cooked garlic cloves from their skins and smear one (or two) on each toasted crouton. Top each crouton with a bit of grated Gruyere cheese, place the baking sheet back in the oven and heat just until the cheese begins to melt.

To serve:
I ladled the soup into warm bowls and place a warm crouton on top. That wasn't particularly photogenic so the croutons went on the side for the photo shoot.

Cook's Notes:
I have very small, very hot, whole dried red chile peppers and when I want flakes I put a chile into my mortar with a pinch of coarse kosher salt and grind the heck out of it. One chile will usually yield 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pepper flakes, which is about right for my tastes.

The organic vegetable broth that I used for this soup was low in sodium. I found that I needed to add a teaspoon or more of kosher salt to bring out all the good flavors in the soup.

Vegetarian as is, this meal could easily become vegan by omitting the cheese from the croutons.

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

My Life At The Moment

Lest anyone thinks I've fallen off the face of the earth, I haven't.

As with many things in spring, gardens need tending, animals need surgeries (what?), taxes need doing, and a house needs putting in order after several months of painting and tile work. I'm still here. Eating simply and tending to the needs of things and critters around me.

I do have a few recipes waiting in the wings - I used the remainder of the Blue Squash to make a filling for Stuffed Mexican Hat Pasta and then used the remainder of that filling to make another delicious soup with roasted asparagus and crab. If that doesn't have you drooling, wait until you try the Mediterranean Red Pepper Sauce I whipped up recently.

As for the animal surgeries: my 17-year old calico cat was whisked (by me) to Sacramento this past Saturday where veterinarian son Josh operated on her lower eyelids which had turned in and were causing her a great deal of pain. She's recovering quite well and is warm and cozy here in my office.

Clown dog, Skip, presented me with an hugely swollen muzzle when I returned from the valley on Sunday which has been determined to be an abcess that will be lanced this week. He's currently on meds and even with a fever acts like everything in the world is so very groovy and "do you wanna play? Now?"

One last thing. I know I haven't been visiting my blogger friends lately (you know who you are) but I want you to know that all of you are in my rss reader and I see what you're cooking up daily. My life should return to somewhat normal soon and I look forward to "seeing" all of you in person.

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

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Easter Brunch: New And Improved Heart Healthy Pancakes

If it's worth doing once, then twice, isn't it worth doing a third time just to get it right?

Running with that premise, I offer the new, taste-improved, now even heart-healthier, delicious mini-pancake. The addition of cooked, cholesterol-busting steel-cut oats is what makes this a pancake worth crowing about. Health factors notwithstanding, the addition of the oats give this pancake a delicious nutty taste and a texture your tongue will enjoy. All that, and the fact that I'm so into heart-healthy foods right now, I keep tweaking an already good recipe to make it fabulous.

Have I succeeded? I think so. But don't believe me; try them for yourself. Go on, they're good for you. You'll thank me later.

Here, sip on a pomegranate-champagne cocktail while you read on.

Christine's New and Improved, Heart-Healthy Mini-Pancakes
A recipe inspired by Eating Stella Style
1/2 cup egg substitute (or you could use 2 whole eggs)
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons good vanilla extract (no sugar added)
1/3 cup almond meal (finely ground almonds)
1/4 cup organic flax seed meal
2 tablespoons Splenda granular (or you could use regular table sugar)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup cooked steel cut oats, cooled to room temperature
Combine the eggs, water and vanilla extract.
In a large, combine the almond meal, flax seed meal, sweetener, baking powder, baking soda, salt & cinnamon and combine well with a whisk.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir with the whisk until combined.
Add the cooked oats and stir to fully blend.
Allow to sit for 5 minutes to thicken.
Place a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium heat and spray with non-stick spray.
When the pan is hot, drop the batter in 1/4 cup measurements into the pan. Do not crowd.
Cook until the bottom is firm when lifted with a spatula then flip to finish the other side.
The pancake is done when it springs back when gently prodded with a finger.

Serve with a dollop of the best plain yogurt you can find, some perfectly fresh, ripe fruit, and, of course, your champagne cocktail.

It's a lovely way to celebrate Spring.

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

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Prawn Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms With Crisp Comte Cheese Caps

My posts are few and far between these days as I re-think eating habits and the incorporating of foods that make for a healthier eating lifestyle.

For the past few weeks I've cut all meats and a goodly portion of dairy products from my (and, subsequently, Mr CC's) diet. Opting for fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains instead. And, interestingly enough, I've been quite happy, have not felt deprived, and have lost 5 of those extremely-hard-to-lose last 10 pounds that I've been packing since Thanksgiving.

I didn't set out to do this. When our vegan son Jeffrey was here, I cooked entirely vegan for all of us because it was just too much hassle to do otherwise. After he left I discovered that I really liked eating fruits, veggies and grains and didn't miss the meat and dairy that had started feeling heavier and harder for me to digest.

So, here I am, on the cusp of change, thinking, thinking, thinking of ways to be creative and inventive without using the meat and dairy I've spent a lifetime cooking with.

Then I saw these US wild-caught prawns and, for the moment, meatless went careening 'round the corner. Add to that a chunk of Comte cheese that had been sitting idly in the fridge and cheeseless, joining meatless, zoomed right over a cliff.

I'm still on my food re-assessment kick, don't get me wrong. Expect to see some changes coming out of my newly-tiled kitchen. But a little seafood and a smidge of cheese isn't what I consider to be unhealthy eating. Not by a long shot.

Prawn Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms With Crisp Comte Cheese Crisps
Christine's Original Recipe
2 large, deeply cupped portobello mushrooms, stems removed, caps brushed clean
olive oil spray for the baking sheet
1 1/2 cups hard, salty cheese, such as Comte or parmesan-reggiano, coarsely grated
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
10 large prawns (preferably wild-caught in the US), peeled and de-veined
juice of 1/2 of a large orange
1-2 tablespoons golden balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh basil, thinly sliced (chiffonade)
good olive oil for the saute skillet
Good coarse sea salt (I used Fleur de Sel de Guerande)
freshly ground black pepper (I use Tellicherry)

Spray a baking sheet with olive oil spray. Place the portobellos on the sheet, smooth side down, and roast in a 350-degree oven for about 25 minutes.
Turn the portobellos over in the last 10 minutes of roasting to allow them to drain of liquid. Keep warm.
Set a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Do not add oil.
When the pan is hot, place about 3 tablespoons each (very approximate) of cheese in small piles in the pan. Don't crowd.
Allow the cheese to melt and bubble and form circles about 2 inches in diameter (bigger if you wish). When you can lift the edge of a circle with a spatula, start working around the edges until the melted cheese can be lifted and turned over. Do that, and melt the other side of each round taking care to not let the cheese or the weeping oil burn.

IMPORTANT: As the Comte cheese melts, it will weep oil. Wipe the excess from the pan with each addition of cheese.
Be very careful to not allow the cheese fat to burn in the pan as this will impart a nasty flavor to the finished crisps.

Remove the cheese crisps to a paper towel to drain. Repeat until all the cheese is used. You should get about eight crisps from this amount of grated cheese.

This next series of steps is to be done very quickly so have the rest of the ingredients prepped and close at hand.
Heat a small amount of olive oil in another cast iron skillet over medium heat.
Reserving 4 of the prawns, chop the remaining 6 prawns into small pieces.
When the pan is ready, add the minced garlic and stir until soft and aromatic, about 1 minute.
Add the chopped prawns and saute, stirring, until they turn pink, about 1 minute.
Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Immediately remove the garlic and prawns to a plate and return the pan to the heat.
Place the 4 reserved prawns in the pan and quickly sear until pink and barely cooked through, about 1 minute.
Add the orange juice and golden balsamic vinegar to the pan and allow to boil for about 1 minute. The liquid will thicken and the large prawns will finish cooking. Turn them during this time so they become coated with the glaze.
Remove the prawns from the pan.
Sprinkle the basil into the pan and stir briefly. Remove the pan from the heat.

To assemble:
Place a portobello mushroom, round side down, on a plate.
Spoon 1/2 of the chopped prawns into the mushroom cup.
Place 2 of the large, sauteed prawns over the chopped ones and drizzle 1/2 of the glaze with basil over it all.
Top with a cheese crisp.

Cook's Notes:
I can't stress enough the importance of not allowing the cheese oil to burn. If it does, a very nasty flavor will imbue rest of the crisps and it's very off-putting.
If I were to make this again, I might spoon the chopped prawn saute into the mushroom caps, top them with a grated cheese such as gruyere, place them in the oven long enough for the cheese to melt then continue with the rest of the steps.
I liked the cheese crisps but, if I were to do this again, I probably would use parmesan-reggiano instead. Why? I just like it better.

It's time once again for Weekend Herb Blogging, an event where food bloggers around the world post recipes featuring herbs and plants. Hosted this week by Ahn at her lovely blog Food Lover's Journey, this event was begun almost 2 years ago by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen. If you're not familiar with WHB, click here to read how to join in the fun. Then check in with Ahn, from the land down under, on Monday for her international round-up.

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

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Blue Squash Soup

March left yesterday with a swish of her skirts, bringing a mix of fog, mist, rain and sun. Typical for our part of the world. In March, some days we're in T-shirts, the next jackets. Yesterday we wore jackets.

And Jeffrey painted the breakfast room in tones of the pink and peach seen in the beautiful Australian Blue Squash that my sister Cynthia brought over this past Thanksgiving.

The gray, misty (we call it "spitting") day called for something filling, warming and light, in keeping with the longer, only slightly warmer days.

As I gazed at the colors taking shape on the walls of the breakfast room, the two squashes that had been sitting on the counter lending color inspiration, began to morph into a smooth yet rustic, spicy vegan soup right before my eyes. It was time.

I'm only sorry I didn't get this to Kalyn today in time for Weekend Herb Blogging. Oh, well. There's always next week.

The measurements for this soup are a bit whimsical. I just put things together until the soup came together. See the Cook's Notes below for further elucidation.

Blue Squash Soup
Christine's original recipe
4 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, sliced thinly lengthwise, then sliced crosswise
1 tablespoon good olive oil
2 teaspoons Earth Balance
4 cups well cooked squash, mashed with a fork
1 tablespoon good curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon kosher salt (or to taste)
4 to 8 cups vegetable broth (depending on how thick or thin you like your soup)
2 cups organic, unsweetened soy milk
6 basil leaves, torn or cut chiffonade
freshly ground black pepper

Place the prepared squash and the vegetable broth in a stock pot and stir.
Place over medium low heat.
Saute the shallots, garlic and red bell pepper in the olive oil and Earth Balance until cooked through and slightly golden brown.
Add the curry powder and cinnamon and stir until the spices release their aromas and are incorporated into the veggie saute.
Add the saute to the squash mixture and stir.
Raise the heat under the stock pot to medium. When the soup simmers, add the soy milk, stir to blend and cook for about 10 minutes. Do not boil.
Add the salt and pepper and check for taste.
Add the basil and cook for about 5 minutes longer.
Remove from the heat and blend,using an immersion blender for a more rustic soup, or a regular blender for a smooth soup.
Serve, eat and enjoy.

Cook's Notes:
I cut and seeded the squash, cut it into quarters, placed in a large roasting pan with about 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of the pan, covered with foil and baked at 350 for about 1 1/2 hours. You will need to let the squash cool before scooping the pulp from the skins. One could use canned squash, but fresh is really best.
Any of the saute veggies could be cut finer. This is just the way I did them because I was working out the preparation method as I was cooking.
The liquids may be varied as your whimsey desires.
The soup was delicious before the soy milk was added. I used soy because it's vegan (Jeffrey's here) and I wanted to add a bit of healthy creaminess.
The basil could be chopped fine, if desired, and some of it sprinkled on top as garnish.
A swirl of creme fraiche just before serving would make an elegant presentation if you're not cooking vegan. I, myself, am trying to cook heart-healthy these days and am avoiding dairy fats.
And lastly, the soup may look like baby food but, trust me, your taste buds will wake up and dance.

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