Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sautéed Chard Stalks With Sweet Peppers And Yacón

Ever heard of Yacón? Neither had I until a few weeks ago. Farmers market supplier, Jacques Neukom had a display of what looked like potatoes, or maybe a new strain of Jerusalem artichoke, it was hard to tell. As it turns out, they were tubers that grow high in the Andes Mountains of Peru and are distantly related to sunflowers.
Botanically named Smallanthus sonchifolius, Yacón has a taste that's a bit like a crunchy sunchoke or a water chestnut, with a wonderfully juicy sweetness. It can be eaten raw, sautéed in stir fries, or roasted with other root vegetables. Because this Yacón is grown organically and locally, we're going to use it as a substitute for water chestnuts in this year's Thanksgiving stuffing. A colorful dish like the one offered here wouldn't be a bad idea either.

The sugars in Yacón seem to have a low impact on diabetics and studies are currently underway to determine just what the long term health benefits may be and how the food industry might capitalize on these low glycemic sugars.
For now, I'm happy to put them into stir fries, such as this offering of rainbow chard stalks, a mix of homegrown peppers, farmers market onion and garlic. A little kosher salt, a small amount of freshly ground black pepper, and a sprinkle or two of golden balsamic vinegar finishes this dish. No further embellishments needed.

Remember when I admonished you to not toss out your chard stalks? With good reason. First, what a great waste! Second, chard is listed as one of the world's healthiest foods and its stalks are very, very good for you as well, and they are in season right now. So, c'mon, put a little green, yellow, pink, red and orange in your life and on your plate.

Christine's Stir Fried Chard Stalks with Peppers and Yacón
Christine's original recipe
22 rainbow chard stalks, ends trimmed, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
4-5 garden peppers of any sweet kind, chopped (You can throw in a jalapeno if that suits you)
2 medium Yacón tubers, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, medium dice
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
Olive oil for the pan
Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium high. Add the minced garlic and onions and saute until softened.
Add the peppers and chard stalks and saute for about 3 minutes more.
Add the Yacón, stirring it into the rest of the vegetables, reduce the heat to medium low and allow to cook until everything is nicely tender, about 10 minutes more.
Don't overcook or you will loose the beautiful colors.
Season to taste with kosher salt and a few grindings of black pepper and serve.

Fast, simple, local, organic, healthy. What more could you ask for?

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

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Blueberry Sauce With Balsamic Vinegar And Thyme

And oh yeah, a chicken breast. But as my friend Susan says, The chicken is just the vehicle. Actually, she says that about the slice of salami that brings the spicy mustard to the lips, but it all means the same thing. The reason for the chicken breast at all is to bring this simple, delicious, oh-so-good-for-you herby purple sauce to your tongue.
These deep blue beauties were organically grown within a figurative stone's throw of my kitchen. Simona called me up the other day and asked if I wanted to buy a share in 30-pounds of blueberries. Well, that was a no-brainer and now 10-pounds of antioxident-rich blueberries are living in my freezer.

We have five blueberry bushes on our property. The berries ripen toward mid-July and finish at about mid-October. There are never enough to freeze for the winter because we go out to the bushes and graze until they're all gone. So having this surplus of blueberries on hand is like winning the lottery. (Hmmm. That may be an overstatement.)

I'm beginning with a simple savory sauce enhanced with balsamic vinegar and thyme which is a delightful embellishment for a sautéed chicken breast but would not be shabby at all atop a perfectly grilled salmon. You should know that already there's a fast-disappearing quart of blueberry ice cream in the freezer, subject for another post.

Christine's Blueberry Sauce with Balsamic Vinegar and Thyme
Christine's original recipe
Makes about 1 cup
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 heaping cup ripe blueberries (can be frozen)
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1 tablespoon cold butter
Pinch kosher salt
You can see how I prepare chicken breasts here. Follow the directions, if you wish, through removing the sautéed breasts from the pan . . .
With the skillet in which you sautéed the chicken breasts still over medium-high heat, pour in the chicken stock and stir the pan to get up all the browned bits.
Add the blueberries, balsamic vinegar and thyme and stir well.
When the berries begin to bubble, mash some of them lightly using a flat spatula. Don't mash all of them.
Turn the heat to medium-low and stir for 1 minute.
Stir in the cold butter until it is incorporated and the sauce has thickened slightly.
Remove from the heat and add a pinch of salt it needed.
Serve immediately over grilled or sautéed chicken or fish.

Weekend Herb Blogging, now under the management of Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything, is being hosted this week by Heather of Diary of a Fanatic Foodie. Blueberries, being one of the world's healthiest foods, fit right in to this event. Check out Heather's blog late Sunday for the round-up.

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Barley, Chard And Ricotta Cheese Casserole

Locally grown barley and chard from the farmers market (only 2 weekends left!) and a vision of stuffed manicotti were the inspiration for this dish. Really. I had all the ingredients with which to stuff manicotti shells, but I didn't have the shells and was not going to drive to the market for just one item. So, take a breath, step back 10 yards, and punt . . . Put barley on the inside and leave the pasta off of the outside. Goal!
This is organically grown rainbow chard; isn't it beautiful? And big!
The most time consuming task in making this healthy and delicious dish is cutting the chard stems away from the leaves. (And please!, don't toss those stems away. Wrap them in plastic and put them in the fridge - I've got another recipe up my sleeve.)
Christine's Barley, Chard And Ricotta Cheese Casserole
Christine's original recipe
20-22 large chard leaves on stalks
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups cooked barley, cooled
15-ounces ricotta cheese
2 extra-large eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup coarsely grated parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut the leaves from the chard stems by chosing a point up in the leaf where the stem is thin then cutting the stem away from both sides of the leaf. You will be left with a chard leaf that has a deep V at the bottom.
Set the leaves one on top of the other as you finish stemming them.
Roll the leaves up lengthwise like a fat cigar then slice crosswise into 1-inch wide strips.
When that's done, with your knife at a right angle to the first cut, cut into 1-inch wide pieces. This doesn't have to be perfect, just make them a rather uniform size that will be easy to cut with a fork and eat.
Put a teaspoon olive oil into a warm, large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the minced garlic and allow it to soften, about 1 minute.
Add the chard and stir to incorporate the garlic pieces into the leaves. Saute until tender, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, nutmeg, thyme and salt and mix well. Stir in the barley and some freshly ground black pepper.
When the chard is cooked, stir it in to the ricotta mixture until it is fully incorporated.
Stir in the grated parmesan, season with salt and pepper if desired.
Spoon the mixture into a rectangular glass baking dish that has been lightly coated with olive oil or cooking spray. Smooth the top and bake in a 375-degree oven for about 25 minutes. A knife inserted into the middle of the casserole will come out clean when done.
Allow the casserole to cool for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

Celeriac Soup With Fresh Green Peas, Shiitake And Chanterelle Mushrooms

The farmers market is packed with late fall produce right now: Chard, cipollini onions, the sweetest carrots on earth, celeriac, a surprise showing of a delicious little-known Peruvian tuber called Yacón (which will be featured in another post), winter squash, exotic mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, leeks, Brussels sprouts, and the end of the late summer peppers, to name but a few. Speaking of mushrooms, just across the street from the market, two young men were selling huge chanterelle mushrooms that they'd hand gathered further north, for $8.00 per pound - 1/3 to 1/2 the price in local markets.
Needless to say, we came home with lots of vegetables and with 5 glorious days off from work, I am looking forward to cooking them all. First up, this easy and delicious soup that is packed with so many healthful foods you could drink it all winter and quite possibly avoid another cold or flu bug*.
Christine's Celeriac Soup with Fresh Green Peas, Shiitake and Chanterelle Mushrooms
Christine's original recipe
1 heaping cup peeled and cubed celeriac, cut 1-inch dice
1 large cipollini onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 heaping teaspoon dried thyme
5 cups good chicken stock

10-12 medium to large shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced
4 large chanterelles, cleaned, stems chopped, caps gently torn lengthwise
1 cup shelled fresh green peas
1/3 cup tawny port
1 tablespoon each olive oil and unsalted butter
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Warm the chicken stock in a large stock pot on the back of the stove.
In a large, heavy skillet, sauté the cipollini and celeriac in the butter and olive oil until both are tender and golden brown.
Crush the thyme and add it to the sauté, stirring to blend.

Scrape the vegetables from the skillet into the stock pot and heat to a simmer.
Remove the pot from the heat and puree the vegetables and stock with an immersion blender until smooth. Alternatively, let the stock cool for a few minutes then puree in batches in a food processor.
Return the pureed soup to the stock pot and bring to a simmer.
Taste and adjust for seasonings.
Add the mushrooms, peas and port to the soup and cook until they are tender but the peas are still bright green.
Remove the soup from the heat and season to taste with the kosher salt and black pepper.

Cook's Notes:
> For best presentation, serve immediately; the mushrooms can get a bit waterlogged and start sinking, as is evidenced in the top photo.Click here to see how to peel and chop the celeriac.
> To make this vegan, one could use water or vegetable stock and substitute Earth Balance for the butter.
* This is not a medical statement. Shiitake mushrooms are said to boost the immune system and especially ward off viruses.

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

Friday, November 7, 2008

Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas

If you love food, family and Paris, as I do, I'm sure you will enjoy reading this delightful memoir, perfect for the approaching holiday season, by author John Baxter: Immoveable Feast, A Paris Christmas.

An Australian, now entirely at home in France, Mr. Baxter describes his first encounter with his soon-to-be wife's formidable and numerous French family at a Christmas gathering just outside Paris. Having arrived in Paris two weeks prior to the event with a limited grasp on the language, and heretofore unknown to most of the family, the evening was to be the first of many rites-of-passage over the next 18 years, during which time he falls in love with his adopted French family, French food, Paris and, ultimately, all of France.

Eventually Mr. Baxter takes on the preparation, which continues to this day, of the steeped-in-tradition French Family Christmas Dinner, and turns the family's culinary customs on their ear as he seeks to make his own artistic statement.

Sprinkled with charming and humorous anecdotal side stories, the book is mostly about the mishap laden planning and preparation leading up to that premier event, culminating in the often hilarious reactions of his wife, Marie-Dominique's, staid and sometimes zany French family.

Mr. Baxter has a delightful way with the pen and I was completely enthralled with his story from beginning to end. This book would be a perfect holiday gift for anyone who enjoys seeking out the best that they can offer for their loved ones and lovingly preparing it for a holiday table.

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

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Peach-Quince Ice Cream

The best of summer and fall

In mid-October, Jacques Neukom's stall at the Arcata Farmers Market was selling organic late summer peaches, appropriately named Sweet September. Not as juicy as summer peaches, but a sweet, delicious free-stone fruit nonetheless and a wonderful surprise just when you thought peach season was over. At about the same time, wonder of wonders, my fickle quince bush produced a massive amount (for it) of quinces that fairly begged to be included in this ice cream. Some of them, anyway. The rest are languishing in the fridge waiting for me to become inspired to make a tarte Tatin, or something stewish. . .

Christine's Peach-Quince Ice Cream
Ingredients:1/2 cup (heaping) quince cubes, peeled, cored and cubed in 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons fine sugar
2 tablespoons water
4 large Sweet September peaches, pitted and sliced into eighths
3 medium eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups 2% milk
1 cup cream or half n half

To prepare the quince, heat the diced fruit with 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until a low boil is reached. Cook over low heat until the quince becomes fall-apart soft and the liquid has reduced, about 6 minutes. Watch the pan carefully so the ingredients don't scorch or it will begin to jel right in front of your eyes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
To continue with the ice cream, buzz the sliced peaches with the quince in a food processor until smoothly puréed. Set aside.
Beat the eggs with the 1/3 cup sugar until pale yellow and thickened.
Heat the milk to a simmer, slowly pour 1/3 of it into the egg mixture, whisking constantly, then return to the remaining milk in the pan and heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon and has thickened slightly. Watch carefully that the custard doesn't curdle.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir the fruit purée into the custard, blending completely.
Pour into a glass container and chill until very cold, at least 6 hours or overnight.*
Stir the custard before freezing in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Serve soft from the ice cream maker or freeze, tightly covered, for several hours to firm.

Cook's Notes:
> Whole, 2%, 1%, or skim milk may be used to make this ice cream, as can cream or half & half. Whatever you use will determine the creaminess, or not, of the finished product. The less fat you use, the more ice crystals in the ice cream.
> * Some folks might want to strain the custard before pouring it into the glass container for chilling. I don't usually do this because I like the texture of tiny peach skin and quince pieces in the ice cream. By all means, go ahead and strain if it suits you.

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