Friday, September 21, 2007

Peach Blackberry Crumble - At The Heart Of The Matter

Joanna and Ilva at Heart of the Matter are focusing on fruits and berries this month and do I have a dish for them.

Berries, peaches, pecans, almonds, white whole wheat flour , a touch of sugar (or, in my case, Splenda), cinnamon, and Earth Balance instead of butter - all organic, all so good for you, all combined in one glorious little crumble.

Have it for breakfast with Greek yogurt. Have it for dessert with... Greek yogurt. Or have it with afternoon tea just as it is. It's delicious, it's healthy, and it's soooo satisfying.

Peach Blackberry Crumble
Christine's Original Recipe
For the fruit filling,
3 organic yellow peaches, cut into chunks
3 to 4 cup blackberries - organic and wild-picked, if you can get them
1/4 cup Splenda (or sugar, if you prefer)
2 tablespoons white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon lemon juice, if the fruit is overly sweet

For the topping,
2/3 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
3 tablespoons white whole wheat flour (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup Splenda-Brown Sugar Blend (or regular brown sugar if you prefer)
small pinch kosher salt
1/3 cup (or less) Earth Balance Buttery Stick (EB), cut into small pieces (see Cook's Notes)

Spray a 6"x9" ceramic dish with Pam or other cooking spray. Set aside.
Have your oven at 350 degrees.
For the fruit filling, combine the flour, sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
Prepare the fruit and combine in a large bowl, adding the lemon juice if desired.
Sprinkle the flour-sugar mixture over the fruit and gently toss to combine. Set aside.
For the topping, chop the nuts then add the rest of the dry ingredients and blend well.
Add the EB pieces to the crumble mixture. Using your fingers and working quickly, blend the EB into the dry mixture by pinching between your fingers until the EB is fully incorporated into the crumble and about the size of small peas.
Pour the fruit into the prepared dish then sprinkle the topping over the fruit, covering it entirely.
Bake in the oven for about 1 hour or until the fruit bubbles to the top.
When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.

Cook's Notes:
I'm a lucky cook in that there are two kinds of blackberries that grow wild on our property (a mixed blessing to be sure) and they're all coming ripe as I write this. According to the web site World's Healthiest Foods, Blackberries are highest in phytonutrients and antioxidants that promote heart health.

Earth Balance Buttery Sticks are a trans-fat free, non-GMO, cholesterol-free butter substitute that uses expeller-pressed oils and no hydrogenation. A healthier choice than butter, I will often use this product, judiciously because it's still fat, especially in baked goods.

As I've been writing this I've received several phone calls, one of which was from a friend from long ago who is in our area and will be coming for dinner tomorrow. Excitedly talking to Mr CC (also on the phone) about tomorrow's surprise visitor and possible dinner offerings, I began idly leafing through the September issue of Food and Wine, turned a page and saw an almost identical recipe for blackberry and apple crumble with nut topping. Mr CC said, "See, you're cutting edge." Well, maybe. I think it's the season.

Be sure to visit The Heart of the Matter after Sept. 23rd to see the fruit and berry roundup of delicious dishes from food bloggers 'round the globe.

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

All Talk And No Show

Way back in March, my beautiful quince bush was laden with blossoms . . .

And after all that hullabaloo, this is what the bush produced . . .


There'll be no quince jam or chutney in this cook's kitchen this fall.

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

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fresh Green Pea And Shiitake Mushroom Risotto

She doesn't know it, but Simona taught me how to make risotto. It's true. Several weeks ago I was standing in her kitchen watching her make risotto, a dish I'd never tried to make, and there was my lesson. Having thought for years that this was a labor-intensive endeavor, I'd shied away from it. But the way Simona prepared it made the whole process look easy and fun. I think mine came out rather well for a first try.

Fresh shelling peas, shiitake mushrooms, cipollini onion and Claudia's garlic, all from the

Arcata farmers market (which is overflowing with vegetable goodness this time of year), plus basil from my garden, gave this dish a symphony of flavors. The arborio rice, I used Il Riso Beretta, absorbed the stock in just under 20 minutes and was perfectly al dente. What fun it was to stand at my stove and watch this come together.

Fresh Green Pea and Shiitake Mushroom Risotto
with inspiration from my friend Simona
6 cups chicken stock, heated
olive oil and butter for the pan
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 medium cipollini onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 small to medium shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup freshly shelled green peas, blanched
several pinches of kosher salt
several grindings of good black peppercorns
3 tablespoons parmigiano-reggiano, coarsely grated
1 tablespoon basil, thinly sliced

To blanch the peas, place them in a colander and set them into a large pot of boiling water for about 2 minutes.
Lift the colander from the pot and immediately place it, with the peas, in a bowl of ice water to cool and maintain their bright green color. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer. Cover and keep hot.
In a large skillet or wide-bottom pan, over medium heat, add several teaspoons good olive oil and a small spoonful of butter or Earth Balance, which is what I used.
When the butter has melted, add the minced onions and garlic and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté 3 minutes more. Adjust the heat, if necessary, so nothing browns.

Add the arborio rice and stir until every piece of rice is coated with oil then continue to sauté for about 5 minutes.

Turn the heat to medium-high and begin to add the chicken stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring until the liquid is absorbed before adding another cup. Keep doing this until the rice has become creamy and is just slightly resistant to your teeth.
Immediately remove the risotto from the heat. Check for seasonings, adding a pinch of salt and some freshly cracked pepper if desired.
Fold in the peas and the parmesan then sprinkle thinly sliced fresh basil over the top and serve.

This risotto is so full of good herby, veggie things that I can't help but to submit it to Weekend Herb Blogging. One of the most popular events among food bloggers, WHB is the brainchild of my friend Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen and is coming up on its second year anniversary. WHB is being hosted this week by Myriam of Once Upon a Tart. Myriam will be posting the round-up next Sunday, Sept. 23rd so if you want to join in, click here for the rules, and send your post link to Myriam by Sunday, 3 p.m. Utah time.

Cook's Notes:
Now how easy was that? And my, oh my, was it good.
Yes, the peas are underwater in the photo. And if you look carefully, you can see a small piece of ice cube.
And it was darned hard to photograph the risotto. It kept wanting to come out yellow, when it really was a lovely, just slightly off, white.
I almost forgot: I heated 6 cups of stock but only used 4 1/2 by the time the rice was al dente, so please take that into consideration if you use this recipe. However, having more stock on hand is preferable to not having enough to finish the dish.

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

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Molasses-Cereal Sandwich Bread

Many, many years ago I used to make bread. Simple, satisfying bread, but mostly with soft white flour. When the health benefits of whole wheat entered the main stream of American consciousness, I moved on to the Tassajara Bread Book where I learned how to make whole grain breads and to "proof" yeast. Then somewhere along the way my urge to knead bread dough left me.

Until recently.

In what I consider to be a massive movement towards a better understanding of what is in the food we eat, where it’s grown, and how it’s processed, I see more and more cooks opting to not only make their own breads, but to find local, organic sources for all of their foods and ingredients. This pleases me on several levels: I enjoy the challenge of the hunt, and I take great satisfaction in putting the best food on my table that I can find.

With the help of some beautiful bread books written by accomplished artisan bakers, artisan bread-making is being brought into home kitchens. And with so many delicious-looking breads popping up on blogs everywhere, I'm feeling the urge to knead again.

Having a professional stand mixer doesn't hurt either.

Even though ready to bake bread again, I was still not quite ready to tackle a dough starter and so began my journey with this recipe from my old Joy of Cooking, adapting it to my the-less-white-flour-and-the-more-whole-wheat-the-better standards.

And then I made a delightful mistake by adding a very large dollop of pomegranate molasses that I'd made last fall, instead of the black molasses that the recipe stipulated.

Well, they were both dark and they were both un-marked. And I really didn't think I had to stick my nose way into the container to see what I was using.

More to the point is it tastes really good in this bread. I do admit to adding the black molasses to the dough when I realized my mistake, but I just might make this particular mistake twice.

So here's my bread. This recipe makes two loaves. And in case you're wondering where my low-carb lifestyle has gone, bread made with whole wheat, nuts, seeds and whole grains is high in fiber and protein and is good for you. Just don't be a pig about it.

Molasses-Cereal Sandwich Bread

adapted from the Joy of Cooking

1 cup bulgar wheat
3 cups water
2 tablespoons butter or Earth Balance Buttery Stick
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar, honey or Splenda-Sugar Blend
1 tablespoon molasses
3/4 cup milk (I used 2%)
2 packages active dry yeast1/4 cup very warm water (105 - 115 degrees)
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
3 cups whole grain flour
Place the 3 cups water and the bulgar wheat (cracked wheat for making tabouli) in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, turn heat to medium-low and cook until the wheat is tender. There should still be some water in the pan.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter, salt, sugar, molasses and milk, stirring to blend. Pour mixture into the large bowl of your stand mixer and allow to cool.
In the 1/4 cup warm water, stir in the packets of active yeast and allow to dissolve for about 3 minutes.
Using the dough hook and with the stand mixer on low, stir the yeast into the cooked cereal mixture.
With the mixer running on medium-low, #2 on the dial, gradually add in the flours, allowing the dough hook to work its magic to incorporate it all together so quickly and easily. I do love this part.
Then when all the flour has been added, let the mixer do the kneading for about 5 more minutes, adjusting the speed as necessary.
Then dump the dough out onto a floured surface and knead some more, about 10 minutes, adding flour only if the dough sticks, until the dough is satiny smooth and no longer sticks to the surface.
Place the ball of dough into a large buttered bowl. Turn the dough once to butter all sides then cover with a towel and place in a warm spot in your kitchen to let rise until doubled in bulk. This may take as long as 2 hours.
Gently punch the dough down and knead a few times to re-gather it.
With a dough scraper or a sharp knife, cut the ball into 2 equal pieces and shape* them to fit into two 5x9-inch, buttered bread pans.
Cover the pans with the towel and let the dough rise again until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Pre-heat an oven to 350-degrees, place the bread pans in the middle of the oven and bake for about 40 minutes or until the bread has a golden top and has pulled away just slightly from the sides of the pans.
You can also tip the bread out of a pan to check the bottom for doneness. If it seems sticky at all, put it back in the pan and bake for 5 minutes more. I've done this successfully many times.

And there you have it: Chewy, healthy bread with no preservatives, no dough conditioners, no high-fructose corn syrup, just the goodness you put into it yourself. I like that. And what better vehicle for your heirloom tomato sandwiches?

Cook's Notes:
*To shape the loaves, using your hands, flatten each piece into a rectangle slightly longer than the length of the bread pan and 2 or 3 times the width. Beginning with a long side, roll the dough into a cylinder. Pinch the seam closed then tuck each end under and pinch those closed also. When you are finished it should fit nicely into the pan.

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

Monday, September 3, 2007

Nancy's Corn And Black Bean Salad

On a weekend this August, Mr CC and I met with friends, some of whom we'd just spent time with in Ashland, some of whom we hadn't seen in a number of years and some of whom we had met only once, ten years ago, at the laying to rest of the man whose memory we had come together again to honor these ten years later - to remember his laughter, his sparkling wit, his comitment to the Marine Mammal Center, his love of a good woman, good friends and good beer.

That evening, in the heart of San Francisco, deciding that staying "in" would be ever so much better than going out, we cooked, drank, laughed, talked and ate around N&N's most hospitable table. An evening well spent and fondly remembered.

The salad appearing here was inspired that day by many minds, all food lovers, but mostly by Nancy who had a craving for fresh, sweet corn in a raw salad with celery, cilantro and red onion. She may have stipulated more of the ingredients, but by then we were all riffing on what could go into it. And forgive me, friends, if I've left anything out - Normie was mixing the drinks, and he's not known for his light hand, nor am I known for a stellar memory after hoisting a few.

Corn and Black Bean Salad
Recipe by Nancy, Norm, Susan, Harvey, Christine and Clay
Ingredients: (all measurements are approximate)
6-8 ears fresh, sweet white corn
several green and yellow zucchini
1/2 of a red onion
red bell peppers
sugar snap peas
canned organic black beans
fresh basil
fresh cilantro
fresh japapeno pepper
I'm pretty sure there was fresh, diced garlic in there also

Cut the kernels from the corn cobs, reserving the cobs for corn chowder later in the week (subject of another post coming soon.)
Cut the rest of the vegetables in small dice, shucking, peeling and seeding as appropriate, so their size doesn't overpower the corn kernels.
Toss all of the veggies together in a large bowl.
Rinse the black beans and drain well. Toss with the veggies.
Finely chop the basil leaves and sprinkle them in.
Rather coarsely chop the cilantro leaves and toss them in also.

For the dressing, we wanted something light with southwest flavors, so began with a base of cider vinegar and raspberry vinegar then added about 2 tablespoons of

this fabulous chipotle chile powder from Tierra Vegetables in Healdsburg (at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays) and about 3 tablespoons of

this lively sauce from Trader Joe's. The usual suspects of kosher salt, freshly ground black peppercorns, minced garlic and I'm sure some olive oil was used to combine the concoction together. Whatever you use, keep spicy and southwest in mind.

Toss the dressing with the veggies and let it sit for at least 1/2 hour to allow the flavors to blend.

As she took her first bite, Nancy's eyes lit up.
"This is exactly what I wanted."
I felt that pretty much summed the day up for all of us.
Rest well, Sweetie.

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

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Truffle Tremor

"The classic flavor of truffle meets the velvety perfection of ripened goat milk cheese. Earthy, elegant, and sophisticated, it's sure to make even the most distinguished taste buds shake!"

That's the statement taken directly from award-winning Cypress Grove Chevre's website and dare I say it may be an understatement. This cheese brings so many superlatives to the tip of my tongue that just a single one has difficulty emerging on its own, they are such a glorious jumble. But I'll give it a try.

Truffle Tremor fills my senses with an almost barnyard-y perfume that dances on my tongue in a pas de deux with the creamy-then-crumbly-then-back-to-creamy, slightly tangy, black truffle-flecked chevre, all enrobed in a gently ripened exterior the texture of which is sublime in and of itself.

'Barnyard' is a good scent, people. Think dark, rich, moist compost-y soil under a blanket of autumn's fallen leaves. Add to that a whiff of a memory of chickens scratching in the dirt and the musky odor of the heat that emanates from the backs of horses lazily swishing their tails on a hot summer day. But that's me. Maybe earthy is a kinder more elegant descriptive, but so many foods and wines are given this moniker and, to be honest, it really doesn't come close in this case.

Humboldt Fog is the Cypress Grove multiple-award-winning cheese that I have always brought to out-of-my-area friends when I visit, but after tasting Truffle Tremor (and then tasting it again, and again) this has to be the one that will accompany me on my next round of visits.

Savored on the back deck on a late afternoon in this gloriously sunny, almost-fall weather and paired simply with a glass of chilled white wine, it's perfection.

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