Thursday, March 27, 2008

Simona's Room With A View

This is the view that my friend Simona sees while seated at her desk in her cozy office space warmed by a cheery woodstove. I took this photo this morning, a beautiful North Coast day if ever there was one, and if I didn't also have a west-facing view, albeit one of redwoods not ocean, I would be so jealous. I have food-related items to share, just no time to share them. Soon though. Very soon.

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New Profile Photo: The Yellow Recipe Box

Changes, changes...

I'd grown tired of the photo in my sidebar and tried for a long time to get a photo of me that I could live with day in and day out. Well, as I grow older, those photos get far-er and fewer between and, being decidedly un-photogenic IMHO, I'm just vain enough to be selective with what I will let the public view.
So it seems that I have turned into my old yellow recipe box. The one crammed full of recipes from my mother, my sisters, old family friends, dear current friends, and me. Much like me when I'm in my kitchen, this venerable and well-used recipe box is usually covered with the smears and smudges of a lifetime of cooking. It was given a good washing for this photo but rest assured, the smudges and smears are back. I'm quite comfortable with this as a profile photo; it holds a lot of the essence of me as a cook.
Now if I could just figure out how to separate my garden blog from this one. A yellow recipe box on a garden blog somehow doesn't fit... Anyone got any clues?

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Monday, March 24, 2008

No Name Pan Sautéed Potatoes

I'm still working on a name for this dish. I'm sure it has a name (in that I'm sure it's been done before), I just don't know what it is yet and a Google search was of little help. I served this to Simona and her husband last night and got such rave reviews that I decided that even without good photos (yet), I had to get it on the blog.

Potatoes have received a bad rap from the low carb/low glycemic police. Packed with nutrients, potatoes can and should be part of healthy eating as long as the high-fat toppings and deep-fat, high heat frying are avoided. (This coming from a once avowed low carber who wouldn't have eaten a potato to save her life until recently. More coming on this subject in another post.) That is not to say that would I serve potatoes daily or even weekly as they are a high-starch food that can seriously mess with blood sugar levels, but I no longer fear them as I once did. And it has been found that purple and red potatoes especially are packed with antioxidents. So I say go ahead and enjoy a potato now and then - in its simple humble skin - the way nature intended. This is an easy and very tasty way to serve potatoes with simplicity and minimal fat. I would have sprinkled fresh chopped parsley on the finished dish but am having issues with my greenhouse parsley at the moment. If you make this dish, please have some fresh flat-leaf parsley on hand.

With apologies for the especially bad photo below (what can I say? My settings were off), here's the recipe:
(Nice photo coming soon)
No-Name Pan Sautéed Potatoes
Christine's original recipe
3 medium sized unpeeled Yukon Gold potatoes (red or purple varieties may be used instead)
5 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped (for finishing)
1 tablespoon kosher salt (more or less depending on your taste)
freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
If you have two cast iron pans or other heavy skillets of the same size, prep them both over medium heat with a teaspoon each of olive oil and butter. Set one pan aside for flipping the potatoes. If you don't, be prepared to flip the potatoes onto a plate and then back into the pan.
Using a mandoline, or if you are very adept and have very, very sharp knives, slice the potatoes paper thin. I know that Yukon Golds are mostly round, but try to slice along the largest side.
If you have a handy little gadget like this, slice your garlic cloves paper thin also. If you must use a knife, slice them as thinly as you can.
After you have melted the butter and olive oil in one pan, remove it from the heat and begin layering the potato slices, beginning at the outer edge of the pan, overlapping the potatoes slightly, going around the pan and spiraling inward until your potatoes reach the center. The entire bottom of the pan should be covered with potatoes. Repeat this process two more times then sprinkle one-third of the garlic over the potatoes along with several generous pinches of kosher salt.
Continue this process until all the potatoes, garlic and salt have been used. You may also grind black pepper over these layers if desired. I chose to grind my black pepper over the whole thing when I'd finished with the layering.
Place the pan over medium heat and cook until the bottom layer of potatoes are well browned and crispy. Adjust the heat, if necessary, to avoid burning the potatoes.
Here's the fun part: Place the other skillet over the one holding the potatoes and, using oven mitts please, hold the two pans together and flip so the potatoes drop into the second prepared pan. Easy, huh?
Now put the potato-filled pan over the heat and cook until the bottoms are crispy-brown, just like the first side.
When all this is done you should have a beautiful and thin pancake-like potato dish that is crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

To serve, cover the pan with a plate that will hold the shape of the potatoes intact and again, using oven mitts, flip the pan over the plate, dropping the potatoes in one glorious piece onto your plate.
Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley, cut into wedges and serve immediately.

Having been very lax at blogging lately and sorely missing some of my favorite food events, this is my entry for this week's Weekend Herb Blogging. The ever-popular WHB was established by my friend Kalyn over two years ago and is being hosted this week by Ramona of The Houndstooth Gourmet. Click here to read about the humble beginnings of WHB and here for how to join in the fun.

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Garlic And Herb Aioli

In my neck of the woods the organic garlic available at our local Co-op right now is the kind that stores over the winter. The new spring garlic won't be available for several months yet and the beautiful dried heads a month or more after that. Being a garlic lover, I make do with this older, very pungent garlic that gets a bit funky this time of year. Just such a head was in my garlic basket yesterday, needing attention of some kind; either cook it right then or heave it into the compost bin within the week. Ugh. So far this isn't a very appetizing post is it?

Hang on, I'm getting to the good part. I separated the head into cloves, cut off the tops and put them into my little garlic roaster with some balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Roasting them, covered, in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes yielded a different beast entirely - beautifully carmelized, sweet, nutty, delicious, soft garlic cloves. A sublime transformation if ever there was one.

Garlic, of course, is one of the world's healthiest foods. Packed with nutrients, when eaten regularly garlic is a proven cholesterol buster, antioxident, anti-inflamation, heart healthy food. There's a little blurb in the current issue of Gourmet Magazine that says if you crush garlic and allow it to sit for 15 minutes prior to cooking, compounds form that help relax blood vessels. What a great tip. And there's always the vampire thing...

After roasting, peel those puppies and mash them with fresh herbs and a little Kosher salt.

To the mash, add Vegenaise, Meyer lemon juice, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and mix well to blend it all into an aioli. There you are, the healthful values of garlic and fresh herbs, a no cholesterol mayonnaise, and the delights of Meyer lemon juice.

For a very healthy low carb lunch, take a home grown lettuce leaf or two (I used romaine, lolla rossa and arugula from my garden), lay down some shredded lean pork tenderloin, place a dollop of your aioli on top, roll everything up in the lettuce and eat. Swoon. Repeat.

This is my offering to Weekend Herb Blogging, an event begun by my friend Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen. WHB is being hosted this week by Anna of Morsels and Musings. Click here to read about this long-running, very popular event and then check out the roundup at Anna's blog in the next few days.

Garlic and Herb Aioli
Christine's original recipe
1 head garlic, separated into cloves, tips cut off
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
3 tablespoon Vegenaise
2 teaspoons Meyer lemon juice
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place the garlic cloves with the balsamic vinegar and the olive oil into a small oven proof container that has a lid (aluminum foil will do also). Roast the garlic in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes or until the garlic is a very soft golden brown with bits of carmelization. Remove from the oven and allow to cool with the lid off.
Peel the garlic cloves and place on a plate.
Chop the herbs very finely and put over the garlic.
Sprinkle on a pinch of coarse Kosher salt. This will help with the mashing.
Using a fork, mash the garlic and herbs together until they form a paste. Don't worry about bits of carmelized garlic that won't mash. This is rustic aioli.
Put the mash into a bowl, add the Vegenaise and lemon juice and stir to blend.
Season to taste with fine Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

Cooks' Notes:
This makes about 1/3 cup of aioli. Use it on fish, chicken, pork or as a vegetable dip. It should keep in the fridge for 1 week.
Follow Your Heart Vegenaise can be found in many health food or organically inclined stores in the refrigerator section, usually by the tofu. It can also be ordered online.

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Saving Meyer Lemons

Early this February, I received yet another box of Meyer lemons from my very generous and dear friends Erika and Bill. There were many more than you see in the photo. Well, I used some of them but then the flu struck (this is positively the last time I mention the flu - this year) and those golden beauties sat around for quite some time. Meyer lemons do not have good staying power once picked. It's a good thing it's so cool where I live because on slicing one open this morning I saw that, while they had gotten a little soft, they were still delicious. So, what to do with all those lemons that would make me cry if they went to waste?
Juice 'em

Then freeze 'em in ice cube trays

Then double bag them, mark them with MLJ and put them in the freezer

Each cube is 5 teaspoons of juice when thawed making it trés simple to measure when cooking. Sometimes I'm so clever I can't stand myself.

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Friday, March 7, 2008

Whole Wheat Pasta With Chicken Sausage And Portobello Tomato Sauce

Here's another recipe that was prepared and enjoyed just prior to the flu making its dastardly visit to chez moi. Top billing is shared by two ingredients in this dish:
the fabulous organic whole durum wheat pasta "snails" produced in Italy by Bionaturae, and the delicious nitrite free California Chicken Sausage made with basil and sun-dried tomatoes by California's own Premiere Meats. Located in Mt. Shasta, this company actually started out here in Humboldt county about 10 miles from my kitchen.
Just look at these cool whole wheat pasta pouches - their little mouths eagerly agape, awaiting the saucy morsels that will tumble in. The ridges on the outside enable the sauce to adhere there as well. Called chiocciole, this organic Italian import may be purchased on line here, but I got mine at our local Co-op and am fairly sure you should be able to find it at most good organic food stores.

Portobello mushrooms, sea salt-packed capers and the usual suspects of garlic, onion, organic fire roasted tomatoes, along with white wine and a goodly portion of parmigiano reggiano give their all to this tasty sauce. You want to dice everything so that it matches or is slightly smaller than your pasta shape. This way, the sauce won't overwhelm the pasta.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Chicken Sausage and Portobello Tomato Sauce
Christine's original recipe
16 ounces Chiocciole pasta or other whole grain pasta
4 Premier Meats California Chicken sausages, diced
2 portobello mushrooms, gills removed and diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 14-ounce can Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted diced tomatoes (simply the best!)
1 1/2 tablespoons salt packed capers, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups parmesan, grated
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
olive oil for the pan
Put on a large pot of water for the pasta over high heat. Add about 1 tablespoon kosher salt to the water and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, place a small amount of olive oil in a heavy skillet and put over medium high heat.
Add the portobellos and mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms are soft, stirring frequently.
Add the garlic, give a stir and cook 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, capers and white wine. Stir again and simmer about 5 minutes or until the juices thicken slightly and everything is piping hot.
When the pasta is cooked, drain it in a colander, put it back into the cooking pot and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil. Give it a quick stir.
Just before serving, stir the parmesan into the sauce.
Serve on warmed plates, sprinkling each serving with the chopped parsley.

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Miles' Time

Son Miles is traveling about Europe for a month. As a mom, of course I think about him all day - where he is, what he's doing, the great sights he's seeing, etc, ad nauseum. And because I'm constantly counting on my fingers the time difference between where I am and where he is, I found this cool web site called Time and Date DOT com, where I can put a digital clock on my sidebar (see? it's just there to the left) for just about any country in the world. And now I don't have to count on my fingers - I can just click on my blog. When he moves from country to country (of course I have his itinerary), I can will change the clock to reflect his movement. This gives a mom comfort. Especially this mom. Grown up young man that he is, he is, after all, my baby.

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sunday Night Whole Roasted Chicken

I don't know why a roasted chicken makes me think of Sunday night dinners. Maybe Norman Rockwell covers from the Life magazines of my childhood are imprinted deeply in my mind. Maybe I heard the phrase "A chicken in every pot..." too many times as I was growing up. Maybe it's because when I was very, very little my mother raised chickens and we ate a lot of chicken. At any rate, when I get a craving for roasted chicken, it's usually on a Sunday.

I wrote a roasted chicken post way back here and forgot to take a photo. Being a smarter blogger now than I was back then, this time I had my camera ready.

This is about as easy as cooking gets. Everything goes into the pot and into the oven. The herb and smoked paprika coating on this bird lifts an ordinary roasted chicken to new heights. The cooking process results in luscious pan juices and very juicy breast meat. Don't forget to baste toward the end of the cooking time.

Sunday Night Whole Roasted Chicken
Christine's original recipe
1 whole fryer chicken, 3-4 pounds
1 large Meyer lemon
1 heaping tablespoon Italian herb seasoning
1 tablespoon smoked paprika, I used sweet but if you like it spicy, go for it
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 large sweet onion, sliced
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves, peeled and left whole
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Olive oil
Remove the giblets from the cavity of the chicken. (Reserve the giblets for another use or cook them with the chicken. Or fry 'em up, chop 'em and give 'em to your kitties.)
Wash the chicken thoroughly with cold water then pat dry both inside and out.
Rub olive oil over the entire chicken then rub the Italian herbs and the paprika all over the outside.
Slice the lemon in half and squeeze over the chicken. Put the lemons halves inside the cavity.
Sprinkle the chicken body with kosher salt and black pepper.

Truss the chicken by cutting a slit in each side of the vent, then bring a leg across and push the end through the opposite slit. Repeat with the other leg.
Place the sliced onions in the bottom of a cast iron pot or dutch oven and put the chicken on top of the onions.
Scatter the garlic cloves and the mushrooms around the chicken. Drizzle a little more olive oil over the top of the vegetables, cover with a tight fitting lid and place in a 375-degree oven for 45 minutes.
Remove the lid from the pot and continue roasting the chicken another 15 minutes or so, until done. Baste the chicken with the pan juices several times during these last 15 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the pan and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

To serve, slice the chicken and place on warmed plates. Be generous with the garlic and onions, as well as the delicious pan juices. A medley of roasted winter vegetables makes a well rounded meal.

Cook's Notes:
No potatoes, polenta or pasta accompanied our meal but if I were to serve this to company, oven roasted potatoes, creamy polenta or pappardelle pasta would be a nice touch.

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Monday, March 3, 2008

Braised Lamb Shanks

At one point during my recent bout with the flu, I was so hungry after not being able to eat for far too many days that I pulled myself out of bed and pulled some lamb shanks out of the freezer.

A day or so later, after recovering from the above output of energy, I put this dish together using what was available in the pantry. No way was I going to the market.

Now I'm not saying that braised lamb shanks are good for what ails you. Certainly it's a rather heavy dish when one is trying to recover from illness. But I'd lost 6 pounds while not being able to eat and I was ravenous so I made them anyway. Plus the leftovers could see us through another few days. Thinking ahead.

Braised Lamb Shanks
Christine's original recipe
4 medium lamb shanks, trimmed of fat

1 large sweet onion, peeled, halved and sliced thin
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced in about 1/4-inch pieces
14 cloves fresh garlic, peeled, left whole
3 long sprigs fresh rosemary, stripped and coarsely chopped
1 28-ounce can Muir Glen Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes
14-ounces each, chicken broth and beef broth
1 bottle red wine (I used a Domaine de Fontsainte, Corbière 2003, but either a
Malbec or a Syrah would go nicely)
Olive oil for the pan
Salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 350-degrees.
Heat a large cast iron pan over high heat then add about a tablespoon of olive oil.
Turn the heat to medium high and brown the shanks on all sides, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. Remove the browned shanks to a plate and keep warm.
Sauté the onions and carrots until the onions are softened.
Add the peeled garlic cloves and the chopped rosemary and sauté 1 minute more.
Add the tomatoes, stocks and wine to the skillet and give it a stir. Put the lamb shanks back in the skillet with whatever juices accumulated on the plate. Turn the shanks over in the sauce until they are coated on all sides.
Cover the skillet and put it in the oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the lamb is falling-off-the-bone tender.
Remove the lid during the last 1/2 hour of braising so the liquid can thicken.
Sop up the wonderful liquid with a crusty, chewy artisan bread that you've slathered with the braised garlic cloves. Then go back to bed.

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved