Friday, July 31, 2009

Grilled Oysters with Garlic Butter Oil and Basil

One of our very favorite spring through fall dinner starters is grilled oysters. We prepare them very simply so as not to muddy their fresh-out-of-the-water salty-sea taste.

That's right.Harvested on Wednesday afternoon and delivered to our door on Thursday morning. These oysters are as fresh as fresh can be.

We usually order Kumamotos and small Pacifics. Mr CC likes his kumos raw with a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice and a small grind of black peppercorns. He says they're superb. I myself will never know. A terribly traumatic run-in with a raw oyster when Mr CC was courting me left me with - dare I say it - a bad taste in my mouth.

I really don't think I'm missing out on much. Swimming in their own little teaspoon of butter and olive oil with minced fresh garlic, grilled just enough to heat them through, then topped with a few drops of hot sauce - could there be anything more sublime?

Grilled Oysters with Garlic Butter Oil, Basil and Cholula
fresh oysters in their shells
olive oil
garlic, peeled a minced
fresh basil, chopped
Cholula hot sauce
This is more technique than a recipe and the foremost thing you need is to have an accomplished oyster shucker in your midst. One who doesn't fear the knife. More to the point, one who is quite handy with an oyster knife.
That would not be me.
That would be the intrepid Mr CC who does a damn fine job of shucking oysters.
So, you open the oyster's shell (I'll try to get Mr CC to do a video to show you how) and discard the top shell, reserving the oyster in its bottom shell with the liquor.
Place each oyster on this very cool rack and when filled, put on the grill over high heat.
Meanwhile you will have placed several tablespoons of good olive oil, along with a few teaspoons of unsalted butter, in a small saucepan over low heat.
Add about 4 cloves worth of minced garlic and heat until it's simmering gently.
Spoon a small amount of this delectable elixir over each oyster as they are cooking.
The oysters are ready when their edges begin to curl slightly.
Remove them from the grill, sprinkle with a bit of chopped basil and serve immediately, in the half-shell, not forgetting to pass the oh-so-important bottle of Cholula.
Pure heaven.

Copyright © 2005-2009, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Cooling Summer Apéritif: Chilled Cucumber Yogurt Soup Shots

Icy-cold cucumber yogurt soup spiked with bits of fresh mint and fennel fronds, served in shot glasses on the back deck. What better way to spend the apéro hour, waiting for the evening to cool down before lighting the grill?

Well, you could be up here on the north coast of California where, as evening falls, we change from shorts and t-shirts to long pants and sweatshirts, or, like last night, down vests. Yes, really. One of California's best kept secrets, our summer weather. It's even foggier and colder than a summer in San Francisco.

However, once in a while we get stunningly sunny, warm afternoons. One warm enough a few days ago to prompt me to pull out a recipe that I made often during the hot summers of the Sacramento Valley where I used to live.

I adapted this recipe years ago from Molly Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook. The recipe lends itself well to adaptation and as I happen to have both fennel and mint growing in my garden, I thought they might be a good pairing. I was right. I used the fennel fronds, chopped fine, but I think that a peeled, chopped small fennel bulb would also be perfect.

With seedless cucumbers and a good, organic, plain yogurt, full-fat, low, or non, as your base, think up your own herbal combinations and go for it.

Chilled Cucumber Yogurt Soup with Mint and Fennel
Adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook

4 heaping cups peeled and chopped seedless cucumbers
3 cups non-fat plain yogurt
2 cups spring water
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons agave
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons (packed) finely chopped mint leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fennel fronds

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and buzz until finely emulsified.
Refrigerate until very, very cold.

How simple was that?

Cook's Notes:
Owing to the cucumber pulp, this soup can have a grainy texture. If you wish to present a more refined, smoother concoction, strain it before serving.

Had I reserved any, which I did not, I would have served these shots with a spear of cucumber as a stirring stick.

Copyright © 2005-2009, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Friday, July 24, 2009

Lavender Flower and Honey Ice Cream

Lavender is in full bloom in my garden. Not a dried flower anywhere. A work colleague gave me some incredible honey from her biodynamically raised bees. As I went into the garden and saw all the honey bees on my lavender, two and two came together pretty quickly.

This ice cream is insanely delicious on a grilled peach, drizzled with extra honey. There's not much more to say.

Dig in.

Lavender Flower and Honey Ice Cream
Christine's original recipe
6 heads fresh lavender flowers, flowers removed from stems
2 1/2 cups 2% milk
3 white peppercorns, whole
3 egg yolks
3 ounces honey
1 cup cream
1/4 teaspoon crushed white peppercorns (optional)
Heat the milk, lavender flowers, and the whole white peppercorns in a large saucepan on medium-low until it reaches a simmer.
Remove from the heat, cover, and allow to steep for at least 20 minutes.
With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with the honey until the yolks are pale yellow, thickened, and fall from the beaters in ribbons. Set aside.
Strain the milk, discarding the peppercorns and lavender flowers, and slowly pour into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Return the mixture to the rinsed saucepan and heat gently, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. You will be able to leave a path with your finger when it reaches this stage.
Immediately remove from the heat, pour into a glass container (I have an 8-cup measuring container with a pouring lip for just this purpose), and refrigerate until very cold; overnight is best.
When ready to make ice cream, add the 1 cup of cream to the custard, whisk gently to combine, pour into your ice cream maker and process according to its directions.
When the ice cream is beginning to shape up, sprinkle the crushed peppercorns, if using, into the mixture and process until the ice cream is done.

Cook's Notes:
> The first night I made this, I served it beside sliced white peaches that had been drizzled with honey and sprinkled with a few crushed white peppercorns.
> The second time, I grilled some very ripe yellow peach halves until they were slightly softened, had grill marks and were very warm. I placed one peach half in each bowl, cut side up, and put a scoop of the ice cream into the well, and topped it all with a drizzle of honey. No peppercorns.
> This ice cream is not overly sweet, which is the way I prefer it. If you want a sweeter ice cream, add about 1/4 cup of sugar to the honey-egg yolk mixture.

Copyright © 2005-2009, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fresh Roasted Chickpeas

"The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat . . . "

Looking at these cute little boat-shaped pods, it's clear to me that their boat had to have been made from a chickpea pod.

Before purchasing these at last Saturday's farmers market, I'd never seen chickpeas in their natural green state before. Now I can't wait for spring to plant my own.

More commonly known in their dried state as garbanzo beans, these green beauties can be placed on a baking sheet and roasted for about 12 minutes at 375-degrees. After letting them cool for just a few minutes, you pinch the flower end of the pod and it pops open, ready to be sprinkled with the tiniest bit of sea salt and popped into your mouth.

Fresh roasted chickpeas are nutty, chewy, delicious little green morsels reminiscent of fava bean flavor, just right for the appetizer hour on the back deck. And, of course, they're good for you! Click on these links to read the raves about their health properties.

If you happen upon a basket or two at your farmers market, snatch 'em up. Eat them roasted as a snack, add them to soups and stews, or throw them into a pasta like Alanna does here.

You can bet I'll be looking for them again at the farmers market this Saturday.

Copyright © 2005-2009, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lillet Summer Cooler

I've been pondering just how I will do this.

Go into great detail?

Jump right in, ignoring the obvious?

Fix us all a light summer cocktail and celebrate?

I think option number three is going to win out.

So why am I celebrating? My return to blogging. It's been disconcerting to be away for so long. Like a part of me has been missing.

Enough. I'm here. Let's raise our glasses to friends, family, dear bloggers near and far, good food to come, and a great summer cocktail.

First, a little back story:

Our youngest son attends art school in Portland where he and his lovely wife make their home. He is also a licensed bartender. When Mr CC and I visited them recently (during an intense heatwave), Miles first made us a wonderfully refreshing non-alcoholic drink from South Africa, recipe courtesy of Evangelina, called a Rock Shandy. This drink incorporates equal parts organic sparkling lemonade and ginger ale, a few dashes of Angostura bitters, and is served in a tall glass with lots of ice.

Mmmm, bitters. Angostura is the most popular brand. Peychaud's Bitters is traditionally used in a Sazerac, which, should you find yourself in Portland, can be made for your imbibing enjoyment at Hoyt 23 in the historic Alphabet District.

That was my first taste of bitters. Since then I've purchased my very own bottle and have put bitters in my orange juice, on my scrambled eggs, on grilled fish, fresh sliced tomatoes; it seems there is no end to how you can use them. I find the Peychaud's has the best flavor for food and for this little cooler.

Which brings us back to the subject of my celebratory post - that which you see in the photo above: the Lillet Summer Cooler. Named by yours truly and inspired by bitters, I had an epiphany and asked the bartender at Hoyt 23 make one for me. I must confess to needing to come down a few notches from having had a Sazerac the night before. (Not for the timid, I can tell you.)

Lillet (pronounced lee-lay) is a delightful apéritif from the Bordeaux region of France. A combination of wine, orange liqueurs, fruit and herbs, it is supremely wonderful on a hot summer evening, served very cold, with light appetizers. I think my version makes sipping doubly delightful.

Lillet Summer Cooler
Christine's original recipe (so far as I know)

Fill a tall glass (8-ounces or more) with ice. Pour in 3-ounces of Lillet (white) and several dashes of Peychaud's Bitters (I think I did 4-5 dashes, but I really like it.) Give it a stir then fill the glass with a low to no sodium seltzer. Peel a 1/8-inch wide by 2-inch long strip from a Meyer lemon, leaving the white pith off. Twist the lemon strip over the drink to release the essential oils and drop it into the glass.

Sip slowly and enjoy.

Cook's Notes:
> Yes I know, 3 ounces is a lot of alcohol but, in my defense, it does get diluted by the ice and seltzer.
> Lots of links. When I get excited about something, I want to share.

Copyright © 2005-2009, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved