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