Monday, February 21, 2011

Recipe for Sautéed Carrots and Mushrooms with Thyme and Champagne-Creme Fraiche Sauce

Show of hands, please:  Who doesn't like carrots?  I'll bet not many of you.

Carrots are such an integral part of my cooking repertoire - I use them as the base ingredient for so many dishes, from soups to stews, sautés to braises, salads, slaws and desserts - I rarely think about them as a star in their own right.
A delicious side, especially in winter, I started making this several months ago - playing with the enhancements - never once considering it for its own post.  Silly me.  I've fixed that now.

Such a simple recipe - the process takes just 20 minutes tops - but you will need some special ingredients before you begin:  fresh chopped thyme, creme fraiche and champagne.

And before you sigh and say why not just use dried herbs white wine and sour cream? you're gonna have to trust me.  I've been there, done that, and this, this is the recipe that wins - hands down.  So play around if you want, but don't say I didn't tell you.

It's so easy to make creme fraiche. The recipe is here.

Not just any champagne will do either.  I tried all sorts of dry white wines and a brut Champagne in previous interations of this dish, but the Korbel Sec that was brought as a gift to my belated birthday dinner, and didn't get finished that night (it's not to everyone's taste), is the perfect base for the sauce that lightly coats the vegetables.

Sautéed Carrots and Mushrooms with Thyme and Champagne-Creme Fraiche Sauce
Christine's original recipe
(print recipe)
8 medium carrots, peeled and cut thinly on the diagonal
10-12 medium cremini mushrooms, brushed and sliced
1 full teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon clarified butter or ghee
1/3 cup champagne - sec, not brut (see Cook's Notes)
1 tablespoon creme fraiche
kosher or sea salt (optional) and freshly ground pepper to taste
Place the ghee in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.
When the ghee has liquified, toss in the carrots and sauté for several minutes.
Add the chopped thyme and stir.
Toss in the mushrooms and gently stir to mix them into the carrots.  Sauté for 5 minutes or so until the carrots are almost done and the mushrooms have softened and released their liquid. Adjust the heat so the vegetables don't burn.
Add the champagne stirring constantly until most of it has evaporated. You may have to turn the heat to high to achieve this quickly.
Stir in the creme fraiche. Lower the heat to medium-high and keep stirring until the sauce thickens, a minute or so, and coats the vegetables.
Remove skillet from the heat and stir in a few grindings of black peppercorns.  (You can add salt if you wish, but I found the dish just fine without.)
Serve hot.

~ Confused about Brut, Extra-Dry, Sec and demi-SecClick here for definitions.
One needn't go out and buy a really expensive sec champagne, but make sure you like it before adding it to your food.

Other carrot recipes you might like from this blog:

Carrot recipes from other bloggers:

Copyright © 2005-2011, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Christine Cooks is Six years Old Today

 Today I begin my 7th year of writing this blog.

I greet this significant milestone with mixed emotions.

This morning I went on an interesting journey through my blog posts all the way back to February 2005, wincing at some of the writing and the early photography (or lack thereof), laughing at some of the recipes, smiling at others that I know are keepers.

Mostly what I see is a genuine yearning to eat well and be healthy in the process.

Sometimes that endeavor has taken me down some dubious paths:  egg substitute instead of whole eggs; trans fat free margarine instead of good butter.  Oy.

Grains or no grains?

Full, reduced or low fat?

Sugar or no sugar?

Splenda?  (Well, yeah, it's my weakness.)

Omnivore, vegetarian, vegan?

One could get whiplash reading some of my posts.

I have often thought to delete the more wince-producing ones but then the documenting of the journey wouldn't be complete.  And for me the journey is what makes the story interesting.

Life is an experiment.

We try things on, wear them for awhile to see how we like them, sometimes casting them off according to what is fashionable, sometimes making them a permanent part of our wardrobe.  Of course I'm speaking metaphorically about food.

What I have learned about food is not so much all things in moderation as eat what works for you in order for you to live a healthy life - "healthy" being key.

Some need to be vegan or vegetarian.  Some need to avoid fat, salt, and sugar.  Some need to avoid gluten, wheat in particular.  I've tried all of these things.  They are on the pages of this blog, sometimes written a bit pedantically.  I don't apologize.  It's all part of the journey.

And after giving it some thought, I've decided to continue this journey for a bit longer.  I still have things to say, food to cook and share.

As I move into year seven I know I'll mostly concentrate on recipes that will reflect my goal to eat food that works for me in order for me to live a healthy life.

I may quote Michael Pollan at times.

And I'll try not to pontificate.

Bear with me.

Oh - yes, there will be Splenda.

Some things I won't give up.

Copyright © 2005-2011, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Monday, February 14, 2011

Basics: Garlic Rubbed Crostini Recipe

 I know.  Crostini.  Big whoop.

Anyone can make it.

And you can hardly call it a recipe; a method is more apropo.

But this blog began in lieu of a family cookbook for my sons and this is the year that every so often I will find the basics that appear throughout this blog and give them their own post.


Crostini, as they are called in Italian, crouton or croûtes, as they are called in France, are simply small slices of bread that have been toasted in the oven.  They can be plain or brushed with olive oil as I have done here.  They are the building blocks of myriad small-bite toppings.

Begin with a long baguette of good artisan bread.  Cut the baguette on the diagonal into 1/4-inch slices, brush one side lightly with a good olive oil and toast in a 400-degree oven for 7-12 minutes or until golden brown.

 Like this.

Take a clove or two of garlic, peeled and cut in half, and when the crostini come out of the oven, quickly rub the cut half of the garlic clove over the olive oil-brushed side of each piece. Not a lot, just one or two gentle passes. You want the essence of garlic, not an overpowering crescendo.

Let the crostini cool a bit then add your favorite toppings, just like you would do with crackers.  Or grate a little cheese over the top, like I did in this post, maybe add a few grains of coarse sea salt, and pop them back in the oven until the cheese melts.

Float them in soups, serve them with stews.  Serve them topped with pâtés or your favorite tapenade.  They are hands down a giant leap over crackers from a box.
Christine's Garlic Rubbed Crostini
1 long artisan baguette, preferrably sourdough
good olive oil for brushing
1 or 2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half

Pre-heat oven to 400-degrees.
Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.
Slice the baguette on the diagonal into thin (no more than 1/4-inch) slices.
Pour the olive oil into a bowl and using a pastry brush (I keep one just for this purpose), brush a small amount of olive oil on one side of each slice of bread and line them up on the sheet pan.
Toast the slices in the oven for 7 to 12 minutes, watching them carefully so they don't burn, until they are golden brown.  They will be crisp.
Remove the pan from the oven and working quickly, rub the cut garlic over the olive oiled side of each crostini.  Be careful, they will be very hot.
When finished, the crostini may be served right away or allowed to cool completely and put into a ziptop freezer bag to store for several days on the counter or several months in the freezer.

So simple.  And so good.

~  Lest you think I'm losing my culinary mind, most folks know croutons as those small toasted cubes of bread that are tossed into salads.  A crouton is simply a small toasted piece of bread, it can be cubed or it can be sliced and comes from the French word croûte, which means crust. To make it easy, just call them crostini.
I keep a pastry brush separate from my baking brushes specifically for the purpose of brushing olive onto things.  The brush is easily cleaned by immersing it into a bowl of hot, soapy water and letting it sit for a few minutes then running hot water over it.  Remove as much of the water that you can with a dish towel and let the brush air dry before putting it away.  This is not a product plug, but Dawn dishwashing detergent is perfect for this task as it cuts through the oil quickly.

Related recipes you may want to try from Christine Cooks:
Simple Chicken Liver Pate
Chicken Liver Pate on Garlic Toasts
Sun-dried Tomato, Kalamata, Almond Tapenade

Crostini recipes from other food bloggers:
Best Crostini Recipe Ever from Bleeding Espresso
Olive Crostini from Simply Recipes
Olive Oil-Artichoke Crostini from Smitten Kitchen
Beet Greens on Crostini from White on Rice Couple

Copyright © 2005-2011, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Recipe for Simple Chicken Liver Pâté Using Crème Fraîche

Pâtés can be smooth as silk, coarse and a bit chunky, or anywhere in between. They can be seasoned with herbs, fortified wines, vegetables, capers, onions and shallots; even brined whole peppercorns - to name a few.

Or not.

What I give you here is the not version:  A simple, smooth and rich pâté that spreads like soft butter onto a cracker or crostini. A basic recipe with which to let your imagination take wing; master this and there will be no stopping you.

Christine's Simple Chicken Liver Pâté with Crème Fraîche
1 pound free-range chicken livers (I used Rocky brand)
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon Italian herbs (optional)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
generous grindings of black peppercorns - about 1/4 teaspoon
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 heaping tablespoons crème fraîche (See Cook's Notes)
If using the herbs, put them in a mortar and pestle with the salt and grind them a bit.
Gently wash the livers under cool water. Pat them dry then cut out all connective tissue and sinew.
Heat the unsalted butter over medium-high in a heavy skillet.
When the butter has melted, add the chicken livers and cook, turning once or twice, until nicely browned but still slightly pink in the center.  Stir in the herb salt, black pepper and white wine and stir, breaking up the livers, until the wine has almost evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes.
Turn the heat to medium-low and stir in the crème fraîche, stirring until it has liquified and then thickened, 2 to 3 minutes more.
Remove mixture from the heat, adjust to taste with salt and pepper, let cool for about 15 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, blend the livers until they are very smooth. You can achieve even more smoothness by pressing the mixture through a fine mesh sieve.
Spoon the mixture into a small bowl or mold, pressing down and smoothing the surface with the back of a spoon, cover with plastic wrap, seal tightly and refrigerate until cold.
To serve:  If you put the pâté into a decorative ceramic mold to chill, unmold onto a plate to serve with your favorite crackers. Or you can scoop only the amount you need into a small dish and keep the remainder cold.

Cook's Notes:
~ If you are bereft of an immersion blender (also called a stick blender), you can use a food processor or a regular blender. You can even use a fork and the muscles in your arm, but it takes longer.
~ Your pâté mixture will be the consistency of thick gravy before chilling.  Don't despair, it will thicken and compress while it chills.
~ I always have a jar of homemade crème fraîche in the fridge; it's easy to make and can keep for up to 3 weeks. If you need to buy some I recommend Bellwether Farms.
~ One more thing:  the surface of the pâté can turn a bit gray, even while in the fridge, if the plastic wrap is not placed directly onto the surface and sealed well. This is from oxidation and doesn't change the flavor, it just looks unsightly. You can skim the surface to remove the discolored pâté if it grosses you out. Something I would definitely do if serving to guests.

Other recipes that you may enjoy:
Chicken Liver Pate on Garlic Toasts
Traveling Food Lady's Got Company Coming

Copyright © 2005-2011, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Monday, February 7, 2011

Socca with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Anchovy Filets and Cheese

This is socca. A Mediterranean street food from the Nicoise region of France, it's made with four basic indgredients: chickpea (or garbanzo) flour, black pepper, water and olive oil, rendering it not only very simple to make, but agreeable to vegetarians, vegans and gluten free folks all.

The hit of black pepper and olive oil as you scrape this from the pan and pop it into your mouth is just short of revelatory.  I've already made it twice this week: first quite plain with dried herbs, then the version you see here with sun-dried tomatoes, chopped fresh thyme and rosemary, anchovy filets and a sheep's milk cheese called Lamb Chopper because I was out of chevre.  Topping possibilities seem quite endless.

You can make the batter in the morning or anytime during the day you wish to cook it, cover it and let it sit until you're ready for an appetizer and glass of wine before dinner.  Then just heat up your pan, pour in the batter, cook for 15 minutes, if that, and enjoy.  Be careful though, it's addictive. The first time I made it it became dinner, as we kept eating until the pan was empty.

I used a gluten free garbanzo/fava bean flour from Bob's Red Mill because that's what I had on hand. It worked very nicely.  Be sure to sift the bean flour as it can clump in storage especially if kept in the fridge -  which is where it should be to keep it fresh.

With nods to Mark Bittman and Martha Rose Shulman's Mediterranean Light, here is my first offering of socca. It won't be the last.

Socca with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Anchovies and Cheese
Christine's adaptation from Mediterranean Light
(Print recipe)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons chickpea flour (also known as garbanzo flour) or garbanzo/fava flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 full teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, half of it medium grind, the other half course grind
1 teaspoon each chopped fresh thyme and chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8-10 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, coarsely chopped (optional)
8 anchovy filets packed in oil, drained, left whole (optional)
1/2 cup coarsely grated sheep's milk cheese (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 400-degrees.
Sift the bean flour into a bowl then add the salt, pepper and herbs, if using, and whisk to blend.
Whisk in the warm water, carefully blending away all the lumps.
Stir in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and set aside.
Put the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch cast iron pan or other heavy skillet and put in the hot oven for 5 to 7 minutes.
When the oil is hot, remove the pan from the oven and pour in the batter, scraping the sides of the bowl to get it all into the hot pan.
Immediately put the pan back in the oven and bake for 5 minutes or until the batter is just set.  Bring the pan out of the oven, sprinkle with the cheese then arrange the anchovy filets and the sun-dried tomatoes over the surface of the batter and return it to the oven to cook another 10 minutes or so until the batter is cooked through. It should pull away from the sides of the pan slightly.
If you are not using toppings as I did, simply leave the unadorned batter and pan in the oven for a total of 12-15 minutes cooking time.  This will of course vary with the quirks of your oven. I encourage experimentation until you get it just the way you want it.
Upon removing the finished socca from the oven, allow it to cool for just a few minutes, cut it in to wedges and serve hot.

Cook's Notes:
I know 4 tablespoons seems like a lot of oil, and it is. But my research says that's pretty authentic. Experiment with using less if you wish, but it's really a big part of the flavor.
Again from my skimpy research, the original socca may have had herbs added to it, but other than that was pretty plain.  I suggest beginners start with the plain version so you know what the taste is like then take off from there.
I just saw that I'm not alone in writing about socca. Mary at One Perfect Bite posted hers today and Julie at A Mingling of Tastes put her version up a few days ago. I am constantly amazed at the collective consciousness of food bloggers.
My friend, Kalyn also posted a recipe for socca several years ago. You can see the post here.

Copyright © 2005-2011, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Sunday, February 6, 2011

So a Guy Walks into a Diner . . .

"F - U - N - E - M ?"

"S, V - F - M ."

"F - U - N - E - X ?"

"S, V - F - X ."

"O - K , M - N - X  !"

I couldn't have been more than 10 years old when my mother first recited that little scenario to me.

I seem to be channeling her this morning though I can't say why.

I had M . . .

I had X . . .

There you have it.


Copyright © 2005-2011, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Basics: Roasted Rich and Robust Chicken Stock

One of the things that has been missing from this blog from the very start are posts dedicated to the basics:  stocks and broths, salad dressings, sweet and savory sauces, gravies, the "how tos".  Sure, some of those things are embedded within a post about soups or stews, crab cakes, dinner salads, and desserts, but very few are the stars of their own page. So one of my goals this year is to remedy that omission.

Herewith is my first Basics:  A hearty, rich and robust chicken stock made by roasting chicken bones along with aromatics to a rich, golden, caramelized goodness, pan deglazed, then onto the stovetop to cook into a stock.  After that the reduction begins.  What you have at the end of the process is a deeply flavored dark stock to enhance soups, stews, braises, risottos, rice and pastas, sauces, or whatever floats your culinary boat.

I began this stock with the carcass (skin and cartilage included) from a previously roasted 5-pound chicken, but you can use backs and wings purchased from your butcher and begin the roasting with this recipe - no need to pre-roast.  I do suggest that you always save and freeze the bones, wingtips, etc from any bird that you cook so you always have some on hand to make a stock. 

The aromatics (onion, carrot, celery, garlic, spices) all get roasted at the same time with the chicken bones.
A touch of salt, a drizzle of olive oil and into the oven it all goes at 375-degrees for about an hour.  I tented the pan with foil for the first 25 minutes then let it go naked for the remainder of roasting time.

Instead of deglazing the roasting pan with wine at the end of the cooking time (which is what I normally do), about two-thirds of the way through I removed the pan from the oven, quartered a very ripe Meyer lemon (thanks Bill!) and drizzled the juice over the pan contents, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom with a spatula, dropping the spent lemon parts into the pan, and continued roasting until it was all done to a golden perfection.

Bones, veggies, lemon pieces, spices, browned bits and all went into a large stockpot along with bruised fresh bay leaves, sprigs of fresh thyme, a small hot red Padrón pepper from a plant that is struggling mightily in my greenhouse, some sea salt and 12 cups of fresh, cool water (preferrably non-chlorinated).

After simmering for an hour, the yield was 11 cups of delicious stock.  And really, you could stop right there and start making soup, but I wanted my stock to be richer, more concentrated and de-fatted, so I strained it through 2 layers of cheesecloth and put it in the fridge overnight to cool, allowing the fat to congeal on the surface.  The next day it was easy to skim the fat from the surface of each container.

Again using 2 layers of cheesecloth and a fine mesh strainer, I strained the stock back into a stockpot, brought it to just under a boil, lowered the heat to a simmer and let it reduce down to 6 cups - about 40 minutes total.  The flavors were fantastic, the stock the deep, rich brown that you see in the top photo.  Four cups of it are freezing in ice cube trays as I type this, the remaining 2 cups are in the freezer to be used as a soup base later in the week.  I think you're gonna like this.

Christine's Roasted Rich and Robust Chicken Stock
Carcass of one 5-pound or two 2 1/2-pound chickens, cut into pieces, preferrably previously roasted
1 large sweet yellow or cippolini onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
10 or so cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1/2 teaspoon each whole black peppercorns and whole allspice berries
1 Meyer lemon, washed, quartered, seeds removed
2 fresh bay leaves, bruised
4 long sprigs fresh thyme
1 small hot pepper, stem removed, jalapeno will do, I used Pimiento de Padrón, from my greenhouse
1 teaspoon fine kosher salt or sea salt
2 teaspoons olive oil, about
12 cups cool, fresh water
Preheat the oven to 375-degrees
Place the chicken parts, onions, carrots, celery, garlic cloves, peppercorns and allspice berries in a large roasting pan and drizzle with the olive oil.  Shake the pan to distribute the oil.
Tent the pan loosely with foil and put in the oven for 20-30 minutes.
Remove the foil and drizzle the pan contents with the juice of the Meyer lemon, dropping the lemon pieces into the pan.  Scrape the pan with a spatula to loosen the browned bits from the bottom and return pan to the oven for another 30 minutes or until the bones and vegetables are golden brown. Be sure to not let the garlic cloves burn. That would be a bad thing.
Scrape the contents of the roasting pan into a large stockpot and cover with 12 cups water.
Add the bay leaves, thyme sprigs, hot pepper and the salt and give it a stir.
Bring to just under a boil over medium-high heat.  If scum rises to the top, use a skimmer or fine mesh sieve to remove it then reduce the heat to a simmer and allow the stock to cook this way for 1 hour.  Check the heat periodically to maintain a simmer, not a boil.
Remove the stockpot from the heat and allow the stock to cool for 30 minutes.
Remove as much of the solids as you can with a slotted spoon then pour the stock through 2 layers of cheesecloth in a large sieve into glass containers.
Place the containers in the refrigerator for 8-10 hours or overnight so the fat can rise to the top and congeal.
Remove the stock from the fridge and skim any hard fat from the surface (your doggies and kitties will be waiting for this part; there's nothing like a little chicken fat to liven up a dish of kibble).
Using 2 layers of cheesecloth and a fine mesh strainer, strain the stock into a large stockpot over medium-high heat and bring to just under a boil.
Lower the heat to a simmer and reduce the stock to about 6 cups; about 30 minutes simmer time.
Allow the reduced stock to cool then strain it again, for the last time, through 2 layers of cheesecloth and a fine mesh strainer.  I know all that straining may seem like a lot, but I think you will be happier with a stock that doesn't end up with grit at the bottom.
When the stock has cooled, you can pour it into ice cube trays, freeze them hard then remove them from the trays into freezer-proof ziptop bags, label and date the bags, and put in the freezer.  Or, you can pour the stock into freezer-type storage containers in any volume you prefer and freeze.

The stock will keep well in the freezer for up to 6 months but, honestly, once you taste this you'll want to use it up sooner.  And that's good because you can always make more.


Copyright © 2005-2011, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved