Monday, December 28, 2009

Eggs, Cardamom and a Recipe for Sugar Free Cardamom Custard Cups

My chickens just won't stop laying eggs.
I'm not complaining. I love our eggs and I love our sweet hens. There's not a crabby one in the bunch.
I'm rather astounded, actually. Out of 12 laying hens, I regularly get 6 to 10 eggs a day - in the coldest and darkest days of winter!

I consider myself one very lucky cook.

Still, this is far too many eggs for 2 people to consume. I sell them to friends. This Christmas I gave some away as gifts. And I've still ended up with too many eggs.

Now, Mr CC luvvvs custard - which he gets fairly often in the form of home made ice cream. But when I was moaning about what to do with so many eggs, he asked would I make cooked custard - you know, in cups? Right there I was off and running . . . mentally using up as many eggs as I could manage.
Not content to make just any custard, my nose went hunting through the spice closet and came up with - cardamom.
Cardamom is such a regal spice. Kind of citrus-y, minty, licorice-y . . . no, that doesn't really describe. It has a flavor all its own: deep and warmly aromatic when crushed; a bit ethereal thereafter, leaving you wondering just what was that perfume?

Traditionally used in sweet breads and cakes, cardamom is also an ingredient in many types of chai. It's also used medicinally as a digestive aid in many parts of the world.

In my humble opinion, one should only buy cardamom from an organic source and in its cute little green pod. The flavor and freshness will last longer. For me, ground cardamom is for garnish only.

Christine's Recipe for Sugar-Free Baked Cardamom Custard Cups
(print recipe)
Recipe may be cut in half
10 egg yolks (see Cook's Notes)
4 cups 2% milk
7 packets of Splenda (or more to your liking) (equals approx. 4 1/2 tablespoons sugar)
16 cardamom pods, split, seeds removed (yields 1 scant teaspoon seeds)
Ground cardamom for dusting
Place cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle and lightly pound until pods open.
Remove the seeds and discard the pods. Set the seeds aside in the mortar.
Lightly whisk the egg yolks then add the milk and the Splenda, whisking to blend.
Crush the cardamom seeds until they are broken up and their aroma is released then whisk into the milk mixture.
Allow the mixture to steep for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 275-degrees.
Lightly spray 6 to 8 4-ounce custard cups with non-stick spray. Wipe each cup with a paper towel to take up the excess and evenly distribute the spray.
Gently whisk the milk-egg mixture then pour through a fine mesh strainer into each custard cup to within 1/2-inch of the rim.
Transfer cups to a large baking pan and pour hot water into pan to come halfway up the custard cups.
Dust the tops of each custard with ground cardamom, if desired. (See Cook's Notes)
Bake in the oven for 60 minutes or more, or until a knife slipped into the center of a custard comes out clean.
Remove from the cups from the water bath (bain marie) and place on racks to cool completely.
Refrigerate for up to two days.

Cook's Notes:
Ten egg yolks to 4 cups of milk will make a very soft, creamy custard. If you prefer yours firmer, use 8 egg yolks instead.

To dust the custards with the ground cardamom, place a teaspoon or so of the ground spice in a small, fine mesh sieve. Prior to baking, hold the sieve over a custard and lightly tap the side of the sieve. The spice will fall to the top of the custard. Repeat for all the cups then bake.

The ultimate comfort food, my mother would make us kids baked custard when we were recovering from colds, flu, measels, and mumps. I can still smell the aromas of the cinnamon and nutmeg that she sprinkled over the top of each cup and that permeated the kitchen as the custards were baking.

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

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Walnuts Plus a Recipe for Home Made Walnut Oil Mayonnaise

A walnut pâté is slowly making its way through several experimental iterations to a state of what I hope to be blogworthiness; part of its problem being the amount of oil exuded by finely grinding walnuts in a food processor and then adding this mayonnaise as a binding agent in the correct increments. It's turning out to be quite a process.

The mayonnaise, however, turned out darn-near perfect on my first try.

In fact, I'm roasting a turkey today just so I can make turkey salad and lettuce roll-ups using this mayonnaise. Maybe that will turn into a better recipe than the finicky pâté.

I do have to give my friend Erika, who recently sent me fresh English walnuts from her backyard trees, all the credit: Long ago she shared with me her recipe for almond-herb pâté which I made just once, the recipe lounging in my old yellow recipe box for lo these ensuing years, only to be brought out recently and made to morph into a walnut version.

Well, why not?
I had a plethora of beautiful walnuts and thought the pâté would be a great homage to her generosity and life long friendship.

The pâté recipe calls for a mayonnaise binder. So why not make my own mayonnaise and use roasted walnut oil ?

Why not, indeed. Here you go.

Assembling your ingredients prior to beginning is key to the success of this recipe. Have your oils separated into measuring cups in the order and amounts that you will use them. This is more lucidly explained in the preparation instructions. Also very important is to have all your ingredients at room temperature.

Patience is another key to making your own mayonnaise: Even though I used a blender, it still took about 10 minutes and a steady hand to achieve perfection. Well, perfection is aggrandizing it a bit, but you know what I mean.

Home Made Walnut Oil MayonnaiseAdapted from Joy of Cooking
(print recipe)
1 whole egg (room temperature)
1 teaspoon fine kosher salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/16 teaspoon Splenda (from a packet) or 1/2 teaspoon sugar if you don't like Splenda
small pinch cayenne pepper (optional) (I do mean small; a few grains really.)
3 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
1/2 cup good extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 cup toasted walnut oil

Place the first 5 ingredients in a blender along with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and blend on high until fully combined.
With the blender running on high, slowly add 1/2 cup of the walnut oil. The oil should be drizzled into the blender in a thin stream that slows down to droplets at times. Never pour the oil in faster than a very thin stream or it may break down and become more liquid. (If that happens, please consult the Joy of Cooking cookbook; that's what I did.) I know, I'm not very helpful sometimes.
Stopping the blender occasionally to scrape down the sides is perfectly fine.
With the blender still on high speed, slowly add the lemon juice, then the rest of the walnut oil (1/4 cup), then the last 1/4 cup olive oil, maintaining a thin stream of oil all the while.
Your result should be a light and somewhat fluffy mayonnaise.
Store in a covered glass container in your refrigerator. Stir it occasionally for the first hour or so, allowing the mixture to chill thoroughly and evenly.

Cook's Notes:I can just imagine this mayonnaise slathered on two pieces of really great bread that have been piled high with roasted turkey and topped with a few leaves of arugula. Sadly, I haven't mastered the art of wheat-free breads just yet but I am trying.

I did some research, in the form of visiting my local markets, about the ingredients in store bought mayonnaise. I checked the lables on Best Foods and Spectrum organic and found both of them to have added sugars. Since I am trying my darndest to eat added sugar-free, that's when I decided to make my own. Ten minutes out of your day isn't much to have a product that you know is the best it can be in terms of what goes into it.

Ed Note (10-5-10): Haven't made the pâté yet, but seeing and correcting typos on this post has brought it back to the fore of my brain. Let's see what I can come up with.  Thanks to Janet for leaving a comment and bringing this to my attention.

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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas And Dungeness Crab - They Just Go Together

Those points of light out on the horizon are our beloved crab fisherfolk who have been bringing in the catch of beautiful Dungeness crab since December 1st. Click here and here and here for more information about crab and a few recipes that need updating badly. Something I will remedy in the new year.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Recipe For Sugar Free, Wheat Free Cocoa Dusted Coconut Macaroons

That mouthful of a title can't hold a candle to what this mouthful of a morsel will do to your tastebuds. Moist, dense but delicate is how I would describe these seasonal, coconut-filled treats. And very satisfying to one who is eschewing all added sugars and sometimes feeling the pain of it all.

After sampling a macaroon recently that had been made with sweetened condensed milk, I (and my now sugar-free sweet tooth) were determined to develop a no-sugar version. Searching through a few recipes and discovering that flour is added to many iterations of coconut macaroons, I (and my newly wheat-free shadow) just winged it and came up with this very simple, surprisingly moist rendition.

Made mostly from unsweetened, shredded coconut, this will nonetheless delight any sweet lover's tooth. If you aren't a Splenda user, you could use sugar instead - about 2 tablespoons, or to your taste.

Sift a little unsweetened cocoa powder over half of the finished cookies to dress them up a bit and satisfy the chocolate lover within.

Sugar Free Coconut Macaroons (Cocoa dusting optional)
Christine's original recipe
(print recipe)
2 cups finely shreded, organic unsweetened coconut
2 tablespoons organic tapioca starch
5 packets Splenda (or 2 tablespoons sugar)
few grains of kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon (scant) baking powder, aluminum and gluten free
2 ounces fresh evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed)
Combine all the dry ingredients and, using your clean fingers and a whisk, stir to thoroughly combine.
Using a fork, stir the dry mixture while adding the evaporated milk, one teaspoon at a time, until the mixture holds its shape when squeezed between your fingers.
Scoop 1 tablespoon into the palm of your hand and compact into a ball, shaping it with your fingers.
Place the balls 1-inch apart on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake in a 300-degree oven for 18 to 20 minutes, or until they just begin to show color. Don't overbake.
Remove the macaroons with the parchment paper to a rack and allow them to cool completely.
When cooled, dust some or all of them with cocoa powder by placing a tablespoon or so of good organic dark cocoa powder into a fine sieve and gently tapping the edge of the sieve to release the cocoa.
Store the sweets in an airtight container. They will retain their moisture and structure for at least 4 days. They are, however, 4 days old as I write this and still holding their own so I will venture to guess that those 4 days could stretch into a week. Ed. note - after 4 days they began drying out a bit, so I would say they will save in an airtight container for up to 4 days.


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

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pay It Forward: Sweets and Treats From Brussels!

Oh my goodness! Chocolate, marzipan, caramels, more chocolate, intensely fruity gummi bears, violettes candies, coconut enrobed truffles, and more chocolate. . . !

All of this came in a package sent from Sophie of Sophies Foodiefiles, in Brussels, Belgium. Sophie had received her Pay it Forward package from Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella , then asked her readers if they would like to take part in this event. Goodies from Brussels? That's pretty much a no-brainer. I signed up right away.

Soon Sophie sent 3 lucky foodbloggers a Pay it Forward package of food and non-food items that were specific to her region.

Her package to me was a very generous assortment of sweets and treats that I have shared with friends and family. Click on the photo to see more detail; to return to the post, click on your back button. Mr CC was especially taken with the small chocolate espresso wafers (little green and red squares in photo above) in both milk and dark chocolates. I sampled the gummi bears, which I adore, and they were delicious.

Here is a sampling of what I received:
From Corné Royal, caramel sel de Guerande truffles, sugared marrons (chestnuts), and dark chocolate ganache spread.
From Sirop de Liege, a delicious fruit spread that is perfect for toast, pancakes, waffles. . .
From Café Tasse Chocolatiers in Belgium were several selections that included these incredible bars (Mr CC told me so), flavored cocoa powders for hot chocolate making, and mini-chocolates as mentioned above.
Sophie also sent me chocolate bars from Galler Chocolates. We're saving those for another time.
From Roodthooft in Antwerp came Mokatine caramels.
The delicious and fruity gummi bears are from Joris (I couldn't find a web site).
I couldn't find a European web site for the very lovely violet hard candies, which according to Sophie have been made in Europe for centuries, but the link will take you to a French version that is sold on Amazon.

So there you have it. Sophie is a very kind and generous person, as well as a prolific food blogger, and I am lucky to call her my friend.

Now it's my turn to Pay It Forward: Three food bloggers will receive a package from me within the next 365 days. The only caveat is that if you are chosen to receive a package, you must send a package to three more bloggers within a year from receiving yours. To enter, leave a comment on this post. Please be sure to leave me an email address so I can contact you.

I can't promise to send a package as sweet as the one Sophie sent me, but I do promise that it will have locally produced foods and non-food items from the beautiful northern California coast and I'm pretty sure you will enjoy it!

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

Friday, December 4, 2009

Air Popped Organic Popcorn With Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, Olive Oil And Nutritional Yeast

Let's see a show of hands, here. How many of you can walk into a movie theater and NOT succumb to the tantalizing smell of popcorn? Even at the outrageous prices they charge these days.

If you're anything like me, temptation usually wins out. That's when you would find me scrunched down in my seat hoarding my popcorn, eating it one kernel at a time so it would last for the whole movie.

It wasn't until Mr CC (back in the day when we were dating) showed me just how good home-popped popcorn could be, that I changed my movie popcorn-eating ways and became a popcorn connoisseur, leaving the over-salted, high fat and heaven-knows-what-else stuff you get at the movies alone.

Don't tell anyone, but we've been known to sneak our homemade air-popped popcorn into the theater; smugly snacking on our sumptuous treat with no one around us the wiser.

More often than not these days we're happy popping up a batch of Mr CC's gourmet popcorn, then snuggling down in the comfort of our own living room and putting on a Net Flix movie.

Which is just what we did the other night when friends brought a movie over to share: Made popcorn.

Air-Popped Organic Popcorn with Butter, Olive Oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese and Nutritional Yeast
Mr CC's original recipe
(print recipe)
Serves 2 generously
1 and 1/2 cups organic popping corn
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted or lightly salted butter
1/3 cup finely grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
Hot air popcorn maker
kosher salt or Spike to taste
Melt the butter in the olive oil over low heat. Keep warm.
Have the rest of the ingredients measured and ready to use.
Place a large bowl under the shoot of the popper, pour the popping corn into the machine and turn it on.
As the corn begins to pop and land in the bowl, turn to distribute the kernels evenly.
Once one third of the corn has popped, begin drizzling the olive oil-butter mixture on the hot kernels until all the corn is popped and all the oil has been distributed.
Turn off the machine and quickly toss the popcorn with the yeast and parmesan cheese.
Sprinkle with kosher salt to taste.
Spread a tablecloth on the floor in front of the tv screen, provide pillows for sitting, plenty of paper towels for buttery, cheesey finger wiping, place the bowl of popcorn in the middle of the tablecloth, put on the dvd, and begin munching.
I think you just might smile.

Cook's Notes:
I buy our organic popcorn in bulk at my local co-op. Here is a source if you don't have access to organic bulk foods.
The amount of olive oil and butter that goes into the popcorn is entirely up to you. Sometimes we use more, sometimes less.
Soy sauce and Cholula hot sauce have been known to find their way into Mr CC's gourmet popcorn with great success. Although not at the same time.

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