Monday, November 30, 2009

Christine's Recipe for Potato Leek Soup with Uncured Ham, Marjoram and Thyme

When I stopped eating wheat, I lived mostly on vegetables, leafy greens, eggs and fruit, with the occasional piece of fish or shellfish thrown in for protein. A good four months went by before I ventured into trying wheat-free substitutions such as rice and potatoes.

I found that I can eat potatoes with no marked change in weight (leave out the butter and sour cream!). Nor did I experience that heavy, bloated feeling that comes with eating wheat.

And although I don't eat them regularly, I don't fear them like I used to - all that high-glycemic starch - and have found out that they are a nutritious, high antioxidant (red and purple ones especially) addition to a wheat-free diet.

So in celebration of the potato, I offer a hearty, warming soup that is so easy to make you practically can do it blindfolded, although I would not suggest you do so unless your knife skills are at Samurai level.

One hour, from start to finish, this soup was the perfect main course for a chilly night, watching a wonderful old movie with our friends Robert and Simona.

Popcorn was the first course, but that's for another post...

Potato Leek Soup with Uncured Ham, Marjoram and Thyme
Christine's original recipe
6 cups quartered small potatoes (a mix of red and yellow work well)
6 cups chopped leeks, white and pale green parts only
4-5 long stems fresh marjoram
3-4 stems fresh thyme
6 cups chicken stock, preferrably home made (use low sodium if store bought)
1 heaping cup cubed applewood smoked, fully cooked, Niman Ranch uncured ham (optional, but really good)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
small amount of olive oil for the pan
1/2 cup dry white wine
Add the chicken stock to a large soup pot and heat over medium flame.
Add the potatoes, bring to just under a boil then lower the heat to a simmer.
Toss the herbs, stems and all, into the soup pot and push them into the stock with a spoon.

Meanwhile, sauté the leeks in olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet (I use cast iron), tossing with tongs to keep them from burning, until they are softly cooked and slightly caramelized, about 8 minutes.
Scrape the leeks into the soup pot and return the skillet to the flame.
Deglaze the skillet with the white wine, scraping up any browned bits, then pour it all into the soup pot.
Simmer the soup, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender and the herby smells fill your kitchen, bringing hungry folks in to see what's cooking.
When the soup is done, remove the herbs with tongs and strip the leaves from the stems, tossing the leaves back into the pot. This is a rather messy job, but worth it in the end.
Remove the pot from the heat and, using a potato masher, mash the contents until they thicken the stock but still retain some shape.
Put the soup over low heat, toss in the ham cubes to warm.
Serve and enjoy.

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

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all my blogger friends, my dear family, and circle of close friends:

I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.

I truly am thankful for you all.

Because Mr CC and I will be having Thanksgiving around a different table than mine this year, I would like to point you to a post I wrote several years ago, filled with links to some Thanksgiving dishes I've made in the past.

The moldy salad is there, as well as side dishes, soups, and a not-to-be-missed cranberry chutney.

I'll be back on December 1st with a litany of winter recipes.

Take good care, travel safe, eat thankfully, and enjoy!

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

How to Peel and Purée Chestnuts Plus Christine's Recipe for Sugar-Free Fresh Chestnut Ice Cream with Armagnac

I eagerly await the arrival each fall at the farmers market of McIntosh Farms' Willow Creek grown chestnuts. Fresh-picked from trees just 25 miles (as the crow flies) from my kitchen, they are displayed in a line of deep cardboard boxes, the scent of roasting chestnuts wafting from the Weber kettle situated at one end, enticing customers to come take a look.

In previous years, I've snipped the ends of the nuts in an X, then roasted them in a chestnut pan. Sometimes the peeling was easy, sometimes not. The not part can be very frustrating so this year, in the interest of searching for an easier peeling process, I decided to try another method - boiling.

While this method is not nearly as romantic as chestnuts roasting on a open fire, boiling chestnuts makes them way easier to peel, in my experience. An added bonus being that the nut meat tastes sweeter.

And that sweetness fairly screams ice cream.
Certainly not the prettiest starlet in the lineup, with her rather beige coloring, nonetheless this ice cream imparts a mysteriously sweet-nutty taste and mouth feel, followed by a smokey Armagnac undertone; a perfect finish to an evening meal with friends and family on a fall-into-winter's night, and not at all a bad idea to compliment the end of a Thanksgiving dinner, if you'll excuse my pumpkin pie blasphemy.
The combination of chestnuts and Armagnac came to me as I was musing about how to prepare the purée for ice cream. Adding water or just cream seemed too blah.

Well, chestnuts remind me of the south-west of France and the south-west of France reminds me of Armagnac. So there you have it. Divine provenance.

Instructions for Peeling and Puréeing Chestnuts
I began with 13-ounces by weight of fresh chestnuts.
To prepare the chestnuts for peeling, snip an X into the flat base of each nut and put them into a saucepan. Fill with water to cover by one to two inches.
Bring to a boil and continuing boiling for 3 to 4 minutes. Turn off the heat, leaving the chestnuts in the hot water.
I used surgical gloves (available at Costco) for the next step.
Retrieving a nut from the saucepan with a pair of tongs, and using a sharp knife, peel the shells and skin from each chestnut, dropping the naked nut into a bowl. Repeat until all the chestnuts are peeled. If peeling becomes difficult, reheat the water briefly to warm up the skins and continue peeling.
When you are finished, you should have about 2 cups of peeled chestnuts.

Now comes the fun part:
Place the chestnuts in a food processor and pulse a few times to break up the nuts.
While continuing to pulse, add 3 tablespoons heavy cream and 2-3 tablespoons Armagnac through the feed tube puréeing until finely ground. The puree will be moist and hold together when pinched between your fingers. It should not be wet or gooey.
Yields about 2 and 1/2 cups of purée.
Use 1 and 1/2 cups for the ice cream and put the rest into a lidded glass jar and refrigerate until inspiration strikes you.
If it strikes me, I'll let you know.
I'm already thinking about stuffing dates.
And I like Simona's suggestion to make a wheatless pie crust.
All in good time, Grasshopper.

Sugar-Free Chestnut Ice Cream with Armagnac
Christine's original recipe
1 and 1/2 cups chestnut purée
6 medium egg yolks (4 if large)
8 packets Splenda, divided (see Cook's Notes)

2 cups 2% milk
1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream
Heat the milk and cream in a heavy saucepan just until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Remove from the heat, set aside.
Beat the egg yolks with 2 packets of Splenda until the yolks are thick and pale yellow. Set aside. (I will tell you here that my eggs come from my backyard chickens and the yolks are a deep orange. They never become pale yellow no matter how long I beat them.)
Pour the milk-cream mixture into a food processor, add the chestnut purée and 4 packets Splenda and process until creamy smooth. Place all but 1 cup of the milk-chestnut mixture into a medium saucepan and set over low heat
Whisk the remaining cup of milk-chestnut purée into the eggs then pour it into the saucepan, whisking constantly.
Heat gently until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. Do not allow to boil or it will curdle.
Taste and adjust for sweetness, keeping in mind that the freezing process diminishes sweet on the tongue. At this point I added 2 more packets of Splenda for a total of eight.
Remove from the heat and let cool for about 15 minutes.
Pour into a large glass measuring cup or pitcher and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
When ready to process, gently whisk the mixture (see Cook's Notes about straining), pour into the ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturer's instructions.
May be served directly from the ice cream maker, or packed into sealed containers and frozen for several hours.

Cook's Notes:
If you don't have access to fresh chestnuts, you could use jarred whole chestnuts and proceed from there.

I no longer add any kind of sugar to my recipes, relying mostly on the natural sweetness of fresh fruits and vegetables.When I want a sweeter dessert however, I use Splenda packets because they are sweeter than the granular Splenda, the product is not bulky nor does it impart a chemical taste, and I can control the amount of sweetness. One packet contains 1/4 teaspoon of Splenda and is equal to about 2 teaspoons of sugar in sweetness. So, 8 packets of Splenda will yield about 2 teaspoons which will equal approx 16 teaspoons or 5 and 1/3 tablespoons of sugar. If you want to use sugar in this recipe instead of Splenda, take notes because I doubt I'll repeat that again.

To strain or not to strain - that is the question. I didn't strain the mixture prior to pouring it into the ice cream machine because my tongue likes playing with its food. That said, Mr CC, who liked this ice cream very much, warned me that some people would like it and others would not and that it might depend entirely on the texture. If you have eaters who like their ice cream purely creamy and devoid of interesting content with which a curious tongue can play, by all means strain the mixture just before pouring it into the machine. It will still taste good, though not as interesting - in my humble opinion.

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

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christine's Recipe For Shaved Brussels Sprouts With Shaved Ham, Valencia Orange Juice and Chopped Walnuts

Brussels sprouts recipes abound among my food blogging friends this fall. And no wonder. These little Thanksgiving favorites are packed with goodness and cheerily allow themselves to be prepared in a plethora of ways, from roasting, old fashioned steaming, grilling, or sautéing.

Well I couldn't let myself be left out of the symphony of Brussels sprouts dishes now, could I?

So yesterday, as our local farmers market was celebrating its season finale and a wheelbarrow full of bright green sprouts was quickly disappearing into shoppers hands, I elbowed my way in, claimed my own, brought them home to my kitchen and came up with this recipe.

Wanting mine to be different from anyone else's recipe that I'd seen, I decided to shave my sprouts on a mandoline. Not stopping there, I added some shaved, uncured ham, and some shaved shallots. Lots of shaving went on in my kitchen, with nary a hair in sight.

After sautéing the shallots and ham, add the shaved sprouts and sauté, tossing with tongs, until they are wilted but still a bit crunchy. Add juice, toss some more, season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. You're done. It's that simple. You can even make this a day ahead, allowing the flavors to deepen. Reheat in a low (300) until warmed through. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts if desired and serve.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Shaved Ham, Fresh-Squeezed Valencia Orange Juice, and Chopped Walnuts
Christine's original recipe
2 dozen Brussels sprouts, cleaned and thinly shaved on a mandoline (yield approx 3-4 cups)
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 cup shaved ham (see Cook's Notes)
1/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice with pulp (Valencia is best for flavor)
olive oil and butter for the pan
Kosher salt and freshly ground black peppercorns to taste
Sauté shallots over medium heat in about 1 tablespoon each olive oil and unsalted butter. You can use more or less of the oils according to your taste.
When shallots are slightly golden, add the shaved ham and sauté until edges of the ham curl and become golden.
Add the shaved sprouts, toss to blend, and sauté until the sprouts are tender-crisp, about 4 minutes.
Add the orange juice and, using tongs, toss the sprouts well so the juice is evenly distributed throughout for another 2 minutes. The pan will be dry and all the juice absorbed.
Remove from the heat, adjust the seasoning with kosher salt and black pepper.
Sprinkle with fresh chopped walnuts and serve.

Cook's Notes:
The flavors of this dish deepen if made a day ahead. Leave out the walnuts, keep in the fridge then warm in a slow oven. Just before serving, sprinkle with the walnuts.
The orange juice not only compliments, but marries the ham and sprout flavors delightfully.
As I shaved the Brussels sprouts, using my very old mandoline, I made sure the stem end was facing up so I didn't shave it into the bowl. See photo.
Uncured applewood smoked ham steaks, my favorite, are made by Niman Ranch. No nitrites.

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Christine's Recipe For Brown Rice Medley Pilaf With Apples, Walnuts and Pomegranate Seeds

I love the Brown Rice Medley from Trader Joes; a combination of parboiled long grain brown rice, black barley and daikon radish seeds that give a nice pop when cooked.

Inspired by the shallots and apples at our local farmers market, I'd already made this pilaf several weeks ago and thought it pretty darned tasty. Then I received a gift from my friend Erika and took it a step further, adding walnuts and sweetly tart pomegranate seeds, not only imparting greater depth of flavor but also kicking up the nutrition factor - pomegranates being very high in antioxidants and walnuts giving up a walloping dose of Omega-3 fatty acids.

(Serving suggestion)

Because I avoid eating wheat, I won't be having traditional bread stuffing this Thanksgiving. But I won't feel at all deprived because this delicious, easy-to-make pilaf will be on the table.

Brown Rice Medley Pilaf with Apples, Walnuts & Pomegranate Seeds
Christine's original recipe

1 and 1/4 cups Brown Rice Medley, or your favorite rice
2 and 1/2 cups chicken stock, organic if store bought but your own home made is best
1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
2 tart green apples such as Granny Smith, cored, seeded and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 stalk celery, cut in half or quarters lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
olive oil and butter for the pan
kosher salt and freshly ground black peppercorns
2/3 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
Cook the rice in the chicken stock in a rice cooker until done according to the manufacturers directions. The rice will be somewhat moist. Keep warm.
Sauté the onions in about 1 teaspoon each olive oil and unsalted butter until they are golden and soft. Add the apple, celery, and chopped thyme and sauté until they are softly cooked, adding more olive oil and butter if needed to prevent sticking.
Toss the sauté mixture with the rice then season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Add the walnuts and pomegranate seeds. Toss until blended.
May be made a day or two ahead, refrigerated.
Reheat, covered, in a 300-degree oven for 30 minutes to serve.

Cook's Notes:
Fresh chopped herbs like sage, marjoram, parsley or celery leaves can be added to the onions, apples and celery as they are sautéing.
Trader Joes did not ask for my endorsement of their product (I just like it) nor have they offered me any promotional renumeration.

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pomegranates and Walnuts, Oh My!

Delivered to my door from the fabulous Sacramento Valley backyard of my bestest friend in the world, Erika. With a little help from her friend Bill, I'll bet.

My heartfelt thanks to you both!

Recipes to follow.....

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