Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dona Nobis Pacem: Blogblast for Peace

Bloggers from over 152 countries are flying their peace globes today, November 4, 2012.

See them all here.  Join in.

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Copyright 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Old Wedgewood Ain't What She Used to Be; The New Thermador Cooktop Is All That and More!

Although the installation is not quite finished, my sister Cynthia asked for photos of my new cooktop so I am obliging her wishes.  As you may notice, the cabinetry around the oven is not finished, but will be soon.

This 5-burner cooktop by Thermador has a btu range of 400 to 18,000. It totally rocks. And I am totally smitten.

See the brown scorch on the wall behind the cooktop?  That was made over the years by my beloved old Wedgewood stove, which went from zero to 500-degrees in 60 seconds flat, and which, even with its idiosyncrasies, I had a hard time parting with.

But time it was; either the house would burn down or we would get a new stove.  We opted for the stove.

A brushed stainless steel plate will cover the wall behind the cooktop, making it all pretty and professional looking.

And yes, I am cooking but haven't been up and running, or at home, long enough to post a recipe.

This will be remedied.

Copyright 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pause to Remember September 11, 2001

Join Mimi Lenox and thousands of others on this day to pause and remember.

Copyright 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Satsuma Plum Tart

 Beautiful Satsuma plums went into the making of this simple plum tart.

A little sugar and a touch of fortified wine to deepen the flavors is all I added.

The plums wanted to shine.

Farmers market plums from Neukom Family Farm:  Local.  Organic.  Meaty.  Plump.  Juicy.  Deeply red inside and out.  Aren't they sweethearts?  They're even shaped like hearts.  And they taste every bit as delicious as they look, whether eaten out of hand or in this tart.  I used all ten of these in the filling.

As you will see in the recipe, I made this tart with a flour-based crust and regular white sugar.  But since I more often than not espouse using gluten free flours and little to no sugar, I've included measurements for those as well.

Not much more to say.  I'll let the plums do the talking.

Satsuma Plum Tart
Christine's original recipe
Makes one 10-inch tart

For the dough:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (or 140 grams gluten free flour)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (or 1 packet Splenda)
  • 1/3 cup salted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon cold water

For the filling:

  • 10 or so Satsuma plums, sliced 1/4-inch thick (should make 3-4 cups sliced)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (or 1 tablespoon Splenda-Sugar Blend)
  • 2 tablespoons Dubonnet Rouge (optional)
  • Tapioca starch if needed

To make the crust, pulse the flour and sugar together in a food processor.
Add the butter and pulse until the butter is the size of peas and incorporated into the flour.
Using the feed tube, add the cream while pulsing.
Add the water a small amount at a time while pulsing until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Gather up the dough in plastic wrap and make a ball to bring it all together.
Roll the dough out on a floured cloth to a 12-inch diameter.
Gently roll the dough onto your rolling pin and unroll over the tart dish.
Gently push the dough into the dish; you should have a 2-inch overhand all around.  Trim this to 1-inch then tuck under so the edge is now just inside the tart dish and about a quarter-inch higher.  Gently push the edges into the scallops of the dish.
Place into the fridge to chill for at least one-half hour.

To make the filling, toss the sliced plums, sugar and Dubonnet Rouge together and allow to sit at room temperature for at least one-half hour.
If your plums make a lot of juice in the bowl, toss them with a teaspoon or so of tapioca starch.  The starch will become clear upon baking and will not discolor the finished tart.

Bake at 375 for 50-60 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the plums are cooked through and bubbly.  I had to lower the heat to 350 after 50 minutes to finish baking the tart without over-browning the crust.

When the tart is done, place it on a wire rack and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Slice and serve simply, as is, or adorn with whipped cream, creme Anglaise (vanilla custard sauce), or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.


Copyright 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Garlic: Garden Grown

Those photos, top and bottom?  They are why I grow garlic.  That, and . . .    I can.  I didn't know that before last year.  That I can grow garlic.  That it would be so easy and so satisfying.

How can I explain what it's like to walk out to the garden, dig up a huge head of garlic, wash it, peel it, roast, saute, grate raw, do whatever with it,  fresh from the earth?

The cloves are pure, pure white.  Moist.  Mild yet unmistakably garlicky.  No bitter germ here.

As they dry and cure their pungent odor wafts about the kitchen; not overbearing, but a gentle reminder that cloves are at hand when you need them and that you will need fewer in each dish with the ageing.

If you're a garlic lover, as in more is always better, - better yet, if you grow your own - you know of what I speak.

I've just pulled the last of this year's crop. The braid you see below is a small example of my hoard and I hope  I will have enough to last through the winter.

Already I'm turning and feeding the garden beds for an early spring planting when I plan to double the crop.

I also plan to document the process and will bring it to these pages as the months progress.  I'm even going to experiment with planting a few in pots, just to see how they do.  I'll let you know.

Copyright 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Monday, August 20, 2012

Labneh with Olive Oil and Sumac

Plain, whole fat yogurt drained of its whey for 24 hours.

Pooled in a really, really good olive oil.

Sumac sprinkled on top.

You must make this.


Nisrine of Dinners and Dreams has the process and the beautiful photos.


Copyright 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Friday, August 17, 2012

San Marzano Tomatoes

While the rest of the U.S. is awash in ripe, red, juicy, delicious tomatoes, we gardeners (at least this gardener) here on the northern California coast are still waiting, watching and coaxing our tomatoes to grow (please) and become edible before the chill of fall sets in.

This does not mean that we are tomato deprived.  On the contrary, our inland farmers bring plenty of heirloom tomatoes to the farmers markets in our area and I buy lots of them.

Stubborn gardener that I am, I started these guys in the greenhouse hoping the warmer temperature within would give me ripe tomatoes sometime this summer.

Then came the white flies.  Clouds of them.

I do not use pesticides, even so-called organic ones.

So I moved the tomatoes to the outside garden.  Where they now sit in their warm black pots.  Pampered.  Not growing.  Sigh.

We have just learned that this July on the North Coast has been one of the foggiest on record since the late 1800s.

One would think that after 18 years of living here I would just get over trying to grow tomatoes.  I guess the part of my life before moving here, the part where I grew up and lived in the hot Sacramento Valley, the part where tomatoes were ripe, red, juicy and delicious by the end of June, that part simply will not give up.

Suggestions welcome.

Copyright 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Garden Fresh Recipe for Gremolata with Meyer Lemon and Capers

Gremolata with Meyer Lemon and Capers

Everything but the capers came from my back yard.  This is the way I love to cook (well, alright ... chop):  go outside, pick a lemon, pull a head of garlic, grab some parsley  ...   put it together and you have a bursting-with-flavors condiment that can be sprinkled on grilled salmon, a slow-cooker stew, roasted vegetables.

Please don't skip making this because you don't have a Meyer lemon tree, or parsley, or garlic growing in your garden.

Please.  Make it anyway.  It's so good.

Gremolata is a an Italian condiment traditionally made with garlic, lemon zest, and parsley.  The capers are my addition to a fairly standard recipe. Leave them out if you wish.

Garden Fresh Gremolata with Capers

  • Flat leaf parsley
  • 1 Meyer lemon, or regular lemon if you prefer
  • several cloves garlic, fresh if possible
  • 2 teaspoons capers, drained
  • sea salt to taste, optional

Coarsely chop enough parsley to measure 1-2 tablespoons.
Zest the lemon and chop to measure about 2 teaspoons
Peel and coarsely chop a few cloves garlic to measure 1 tablespoon (less if you find fresh garlic overpowering).
Finely chop the capers. Set aside.
Put the prepared parsley, garlic and lemon zest together on a cutting board and chop together until finely minced.  Don't mince so much that the ingredients become wet; you want this to be on the dry side.
Add the capers and mix well.  Adjust with sea salt if desired.
That's it!

Keep leftover gremolata in a plastic wrap-covered dish in the fridge.  Use it within a few days so it doesn't get sad. :-(

Copyright 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Purple Potato Salad with Kalamata Olives and Smoked Paprika Dressing

This is the time of year when an onslaught of recipes featuring an overload of garden-grown zucchini hits the Internet as bloggers, gardeners, and cooks frantically try to use up their crop.

I don't have that problem.

Nope.  My two zucchini plants produce (slowly) just the right amount of fruits for the two of us, sometimes a bit more but nothing alarming.  Nothing I can't deal with.

Freshly dug garden potatoes

My problem is a plethora of purple potatoes.

Purple Majestic potatoes

Of the white, red and purple potatoes that I planted last spring, the purples are the most prolific yielding  more than 20 pounds to date, from 'creamer' size to fist size, with more still in the ground.

I have no idea how I'm going to use them all.

The thing about these purple potatoes?  The variety I planted, Purple Majesty which are purple all the way through to their hearts, are loaded with antioxidants.  Look it up.  In the potato world that means healthy.

Thank heavens.

(Of course, healthy only goes so far:  If you slather your potatoes with oodles of butter and sour cream all bets are off.  Just sayin'.)

One way to use up a quantity of potatoes is to make potato salad.  So when the call went out last week for a pot luck dinner, with the host craving potato salad, three of us complied.  All were delicious.  Mine was purple.

I wanted to play with flavors that would be as unusual as a purple potato salad is unusual so I tossed them with ingredients that are in my standard vinaigrette dressing, using mayonnaise instead of olive oil, and added smoked paprika because the smoked pepper spread that I made from Lydia's post , and which is slathered on the avocado and tomato sandwich that you see in the top photo, was so good (I've made it twice already) that I've had smoked paprika on the brain.

This was good.  Rather adult.  The kalamatas added to the Mediterranean bent and I was quite pleased with the results.

Purple Potato Salad with Kalamata Olives and Smoked Paprika Dressing
Christine's original recipe
serves 6

  • 1 pound (or so) purple potatoes, skins on or off to your liking, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon golden balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (I used Pimenton de la Vera dulce)
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt for the pot
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste to finish the dish

Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Add the kosher salt. Bring to a low boil over medium high heat. Cook until you can pierce the potatoes with a knife. If you overcook these they will begin to fall apart which, as you can see from the photos, they tend to do anyway.
When done, immediately pour the potatoes into a colander and allow them to drain for several minutes.  Cool for 15 minutes.
Whisk together the mayonnaise, golden balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, lemon juice and smoked paprika until well  blended.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl, add the chopped kalamatas and one half of the dressing and toss gently.  Add more dressing if needed until the salad is the consistency you like and tastes well dressed.  (I say this because tastes vary and it's better to start off on the conservative side with the dressing.)
Adjust seasonings with the sea salt and pepper if desired.
Can be served immediately or chilled if not using right away.


Copyright 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Spicy Chocolate Ice Cream With or Without Bourbon

Spicy chocolate.  I love it.

In my kitchen it usually finds its way into a cafe mocha which I share with Mr CC.  But not this time.

This time I wanted to share the zingy chili-enhanced chocolaty taste of this stuff with you all, and it had to be ice cream.  It doesn't disappoint.

Chocolate ice cream base

Now I'm entirely aware that I have a penchant for putting booze in my ice cream.  I like the process of figuring out which small amount of alcohol might enhance a frozen dessert.  Makes me feel like a bit of a scientist.

But if alcohol in ice cream doesn't float your boat, please feel free to omit it.  It won't make the end result be any less delicious.  And, of course, do not add it if you're going to be serving this to children.

That said, if you've no aversion to booze in your ice cream, let me tell you that using a tablespoon or two of really good bourbon here deepens the chocolate flavor, rendering a mysterious smokiness to the spice notes.

This recipe, adapted from an ice cream I made here (and can one adapt their own recipes?), comes together very quickly.  It needs an overnight chill in the fridge so plan ahead.

Spicy Chocolate Ice Cream

Christine's Recipe for Spicy Chocolate Ice Cream
makes enough to densely pack a 32-ounce container

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I used 1/3 cup Splenda-sugar blend)
  • 1/2 cup sweetened cocoa powder (I used Dagoba's Xocolatl drinking chocolate)
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 2 cups 2% milk
  • 1 teaspoon good vanilla such as Bourbon-Madagascar
  • 1 cup heavy cream (whipping cream)
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon (optional), I used Maker's Mark)

Using a hand held mixer or stand mixer, blend together the egg yolks, sugar, cocoa powder and salt until it is uniformly smooth and thickened.
Using a 2-quart saucepan, bring the milk to just under a simmer over medium-low heat. It will be hot enough when small bubbles form around the sides of the pan.
With the mixer running on low, slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, blending thoroughly. Pour this back into the saucepan and heat gently on low, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
Remove from the heat and strain into a clean glass container.  Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before stirring in the cream, vanilla and bourbon (if using).
Refrigerate overnight or for at least 6-8 hours until well chilled.
Stir thoroughly to re-mix before adding the chilled custard to your ice cream maker.
Process according to the manufacturer's directions.  It will be soft set in about 25 minutes.
Pack into a 32-ounce container (large yogurt containers are perfect for this), cover with a piece of plastic wrap before snapping the lid on, and freeze for one to two hours before serving.

The links within this post go to my Amazon Store (which I plug every now and then) where I list kitchen tools, gadgets, small appliances, herbs, spices and food products (as well as bourbon), cookbooks and my cameras, all of which you will find me using in my kitchen.  I do not list products that I haven't used or do not own.  Buying products from my Amazon store returns pennies to me so I can buy more kitchen stuff.

Also, Dagoba did not approach me to feature them here and I have not sought nor have I received remuneration for doing so.  I sometimes feature products that I use because I like them and feel them worthy of sharing.  That's all.

Copyright © 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

From the Garden: Recipe for Oven Roasted Potato Gratin with Bacon and Cream

New russet potato
These days, my cooking style leans heavily toward whimsy.  Rarely do I plan a recipe or meal ahead of time other than ethereal thoughts.  (Which is why you will seldom see a holiday recipe on this blog that is posted before the actual holiday in any given year.)

And while it's true that I wake up most mornings thinking about what I'll cook for dinner, they are wispy thoughts, changing often during the day, usually inspired by what's directly in front of me - say, a freshly dug potato the proportions of which could easily feed two people.

Garden-fresh China rose garlic and sweet onions

So when I pulled said potato from the ground the other day, not so much visions of a meal appeared as floating bubbles containing words, tastes and smells and all I knew was that that particular very large potato would be combined with also-just-pulled onions and garlic.  Simple, straightforward food.

Bacon came into play when dicing changed to slicing which conjured up layers; cream, as onions and garlic were sizzling in bacon fat.

I know.  Bacon fat.  Cream.  Forgive me.    This is whimsy at its delicious worst.

Oven roasted garden potatoes with bacon and cream

Eat too much of this and it will expand your waistline.  [Suggestion: serve it to a crowd, guaranteeing no leftovers.]

Just dug, first-of-the-season russet potatoes have a thin skin (at least in my garden), are drier than the more waxy, less absorbent Yukon golds, and combine beautifully with any liquid that you want the potato to absorb, giving back creamy goodness on your plate. I recommend them in a dish like this.
The potatoes are growing just behind those wild onion stalks
Am I terrible to post a hot, oven-centric recipe like this in July?  Not in my kitchen.  The "summer" months of coastal far-northern California are foggy and cool - sometimes darn cold.  My zucchini struggle. The potatoes love it.

Oven Roasted Potato Gratin with Onions, Garlic, Bacon and Cream
Recipe by Christine Hills
Serves 8-12 small slices
  • 1 or 2 large new russet potatoes, scrubbed and sliced crosswise in 1/8" to 1/4" thickness
  • 1 medium sweet onion such as Vidalia or Walla Walla, peeled, cut in half from stalk to roots, then thinly sliced into half moons
  • 6 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 6 slices bacon, cooked to well done, save the bacon fat!
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup cream
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black peppercorns to taste
Set the oven to 350-degrees.
Prep the potatoes, onions and garlic per the descriptions above and set aside.
Start a large cast iron skillet or other heavy 12-inch skillet over high heat and add the bacon. When the bacon fat starts to melt turn the heat to medium-high and cook, turning over halfway through, until just crispy.  Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain.  Pour all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat from the skillet, reserving the bacon fat, and return the skillet to the heat.
Add the sliced onions and garlic to the pan and sauté over medium heat until soft and just beginning to get golden.  Remove them to a plate and set aside.
Add a bit more bacon fat to the skillet and warm it, if necessary, until fully liquid then remove the pan from the heat.
Place a layer of sliced potatoes in the bottom of the skillet.  I usually lay them down in overlapping rings beginning at the outside edge of the skillet and working to the center. Salt and pepper liberally then put down a second layer of potatoes. 
Spread the onion mixture evenly over the potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Do another layer of potatoes over the onions and yet another layer if you have enough potatoes.  Again, salt and pepper liberally but to your own taste.  Potatoes love salt.
Pour the cream around the edge of the skillet all the way around and then over the top of the potatoes.
Cut or crumble the bacon into small pieces and sprinkle these over the top.
Cover the skillet with a lid or foil and roast for 40-60 minutes or until all the cream is absorbed and the potatoes come apart when nudged with a fork.
Remove the lid and roast 7-10 minutes more to brown the top.
Slice into wedges to serve.

[That whimsy part I was talking about? - where I change my mind mid-chop/slice/or dice and, whoops!, go off in another direction? - that can be a bit disconcerting to friends or family members helping out in the kitchen .  (Which, I suppose, is why I prefer to cook by myself.)  Although Mr CC, who is quite used to my culinary antics after almost 30 years of wedded bliss, has become quite the sous chef, able to deftly change directions at my whim - and he doesn't give me grief about it.]

Copyright © 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fennel Blossom and Lemon Balm Ice Cream with Absinthe

Tucked into a corner of my vegetable garden you will find fennel and lemon balm growing in perfect harmony.

See them back there at the far end of the greenhouse?  Nice, huh?
Not long ago I was out picking the peas that reside next to this duo when the combined perfumes of the blooming fennel and sun-warmed lemon balm gave me a notion; I plucked a fennel blossom and chewed on it while holding a crushed lemon balm leaf to my nose.  Okay!  That works.

Tanna, this is for you!
Biting into tiny buds of fennel is like tasting sweetly floral licorice, one with which the lemon astringency of the balm plays nicely.  Ice cream was already a no brainer, I just had to find something to give it a little boost - you know, out of the garden so to speak.

Absinthe or, in its absence, Pernod (which you can buy in tiny bottles for just this occasion), - but really I don't want you to run out and buy absinthe for all of the several teaspoons you will use in this recipe, unless you really need to replenish your absinthe and if so, then go right ahead - was the kicker-upper I needed.

Ahhh, icy cold herbal perfume with a touch of hooch (thank you, Miles!).

Herewith is my notion:
Fennel Blossom and Lemon Balm Ice Cream with Absinthe

Using sharp kitchen scissors, snip the flower buds from their tiny stems.
Do this over a bowl as the buds tend to fly around when released.

Gently bruise the lemon balm leaves just before steeping them in the milk.

While the buds and balm are steeping, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and salt.

Strain the milk through a double-mesh sieve,
push on the herbs with the back of a spoon to extract all the flavors.

Mmmmm. Absinthe. But just a touch. (Thank you, Miles!!)

Eggs from my sweet hens have deep orange yolks.

Fennel Blossom, Lemon Balm Ice Cream with Absinthe
Christine's original recipe
2 tablespoons fresh fennel flower blossoms, snipped from about 3 large umbels
1 cup tightly packed fresh lemon balm leaves, lightly bruised in a mortar and pestle
2 cups milk (can be whole or 2%)
1 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1/2 - 2/3 cup sugar (I used 1/2 cup, you might like it sweeter)
pinch sea salt
1/2 to 1 tablespoon absinthe or Pernod (depending on your taste; optional)

  • Place fennel blossoms, bruised lemon balm leaves and milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Heat until milk forms small bubbles around the edge of the pan and steam begins to lift from the surface.
  • Remove the pan from the heat source, cover and let sit for at least 20 minutes to steep the herbs and extract their flavors.
  • While the herbs are steeping in the hot milk, whisk the eggs with the sugar and salt until well blended and the sugar begins to dissolve.  Set aside.
  • Strain the milk through a double-mesh sieve to remove all remnants of the herbs, pushing on the herbs to extract all of the milk and good flavors.
  • Rinse the saucepan and add the strained milk back into it.  Heat gently on low.
  • Whisking constantly, pour about 1/4 of the milk into the eggs.  Now pour the tempered eggs back into the milk and heat gently, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon and you can leave a track through it with your finger.  Do not let the mixture boil or it will curdle.
  • Pour the mixture into a glass or ceramic bowl and let sit for about 10 minutes to cool slightly.
  • Stir the absinthe and cream into the milk-egg custard, mix well.
  • Cover the bowl and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours, overnight is best, or until the mixture is very cold.
  • Process in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.

This ice cream may be soft served straight from the machine but will be better if placed in a lidded container (put a piece or wax paper or plastic wrap over the ice cream before placing the lid on) and frozen for at least an hour.

Fennel and lemon balm grow fast and tall in my coastal northern California garden once temperatures warm and days get longer. My garden soil is amended with a mixture of well-composted, organic horse and chicken manure and composted vegetable matter.  It drains well which is a must for these herbs.

Want to grow fennel and lemon balm in your garden? Try these links for growing tips and seed information:
For fennel -
For lemon balm -

Copyright © 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Monday, July 9, 2012

Slow Cooker Braised Pork Belly

 Ok. I've never cooked pork belly before.  Mr CC has had it in restaurants and has pretty much swooned over it.  Me? Way too much fat to ingest.  It was never on the list of foods I simply must prepare.

Until I saw a large slab of it at my most favorite local co-op.  Look at that meat to fat ratio, people!  The clincher was it's local, organic, pasture-raised pork and I wasn't going to take a pass on that.

All I know about pork belly is this:  It usually has a very high fat to meat ratio; has become de rigueur in many fine restaurants; bacon resides therein.

That's it.

Here's what I observe about pork belly:  The fat is mostly around the meat, not really in the meat.

Deduction:  Braising must happen.

So I went merrily on my way, winging this recipe.  I must tell you now that today I actually looked up the methods used to braise pork belly and almost all of them instruct to cover the meat in a liquid. Hmmm...

Didn't do that.  I thought with so much fat around the meat the slow cooker would render it into liquid and the liquid fat, along with the aromatics, would make the pork tender.

I got most of that right, but you know what they say about horseshoes...  Turns out that after 4 hours the pork was actually cooked through but really tough, the liquid covering only about half of it.

That's when I punted, set the slow cooker on Low for 8 more hours (12 total) and every few hours turned the belly over and occasionally basted the top with the juices.  After 12 hours it was pull-apart tender yet still slice-able, and very, very tasty.

Now let me tell you about the liquid:  It's good. It's Really good.  A combination of rendered fat, juices from the meat, the spice berries, bay leaves and gin.  I have no idea what inspired me to use that combination of  aromatics, they just sounded good. When I got to the juniper berries is when I jumped to gin; seemed like a good idea and I'm happy with it.  Mr CC is too.  Use a good gin for this: not too dry, not too floral.

The fat?  As I said, the meat to fat ratio in this particular belly was high on the meaty side.  Also, I'm not so worried about a moderate amount of animal fat when I know the source and this comes from an organic, sustainable farm about 60 miles from my kitchen, Alexandre Farm.  If you're going to eat meat, you should know whence it hails.

Slow Cooker Braised Pork Belly
Christine's original recipe
3 pounds lean pork belly
8 allspice berries
8 juniper berries
3 fresh bay leaves, crushed
Generous amounts of kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 cup good gin (could use more)


  • If silver skin is present, remove as much as you have the patience for, using a sharp boning knife.
  • Season the meat all over with the kosher salt and cracked black pepper then place in the bottom of a slow cooker large enough to hold the meat without touching the sides too much.  I put the fattier side down first then turned it over later.
  • Sprinkle the spice berries over the meat and put the crushed bay leaves around the edges.
  • Pour the gin around the sides of the meat so it gets underneath.
  • Turn the slow cooker on low for 10 - 12 hours and walk away, returning occasionally to turn the meat and baste it.
  • When the meat is fall-apart tender, remove from the crock pot and allow it to rest for a bit before serving.

Serving suggestions:
Thinly sliced over a salad of garden greens.  Use some of the juices to make a vinaigrette.
Dice small, sear briefly in a hot pan, sprinkle on scrambled eggs.
Warm, thick slices over green lentils (leave out the duck). (You may want to prepare this when most of the US is not experiencing the heat of this particular summer.)
Place warm slices with juices on a sturdy grilled bun, top with favorite condiments, garden lettuce, sliced tomato.

More notes:
Store the pork belly in its juices in a covered container. Refrigerate.

Copyright © 2005-2012, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Monday, June 18, 2012

California Walnut Wine

Walnut Wine version one
 On June 7th my green walnuts arrived.  Fresh, cool, with a slight sheen of moisture, smelling like an entire walnut orchard in a box: acrid, pungent. If you've ever walked amid an orchard of walnut trees on a warm late spring day, you'll know what I mean.

On June 9th, I made walnut wine.  Three slightly different ways, but basically following this recipe on Lucy's blog.

I've been wanting to make walnut wine, or vin de noix as it's known in France, for about 4 years but the timing was never right.  Green walnuts are picked and shipped around the first week in June here in California, sometimes mid-June in the foothills if the weather is cool, and they cannot sit around waiting until one can "get to them".

Green walnuts do not wait.  They age and get wrinkles.  They get dark blemishes.  The green husk can turn mushy, the center changes from embryonic to, well, more like a nut.

You don't want any of these things to happen.

No, your green walnuts should be so young and nubile that you can stick a pin through them and these babies passed the pin test with flying colors.

Well, this year the harmonic convergence of time, ingredients and nuts came together and my first attempt at making walnut wine is now in process.  And after making up the first jar, I took some liberties, made a few tweaks.  You will too once you get the hang of this.  I thought of so many more possibilities after cutting that last walnut and placing it in its jar that I've already made notes for next year's bottling.

Walnut Wine, Jars #1 and 2

The two jars above hold 3 liters each so I doubled Lucy's ingredients list and more than doubled the amount of walnuts per jar because I had a total of 56 walnuts and wanted to use them all in this endeavor.

Jar #3 in the middle of this photo holds 2 liters

For the 3-liter jars I made the following adjustments (follow the basic recipe here):

Jar #1:  20 quartered green walnuts,  1 liter vodka, 1 bottle white Bordeaux wine to top off the jar,  3 cloves, 2 star anise and 4 Sichuan peppercorns, 3 thick slices Cara Cara orange.

Jar #2:  Same amount of nuts, California Rare White, which is a blend of Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Marsanne and Semillion, 5 cloves, 1 star anise, 4 Sichuan peppercorns, 1/2 cup maple syrup plus 1/3 cup vanilla sugar (home made), 4 orange slices, and only 1/3 of a vanilla bean.

Jar #3 (the 2-liter one):  15 nuts (yeah, it should be 16 but one had some damage so I tossed it), 700 ml vodka, 3/4 cup coconut palm sugar, 1 star anise, 4 clove, 1/2 of a vanilla bean, 2 slices of orange and topped it off with the white Bordeaux.

These lovelies are sitting in our cool wine vault.  I visit them often, cooing sweet nothings to their impervious glass walls.

I'll be bottling them around the 9th of August.  Check back for an update.

This year's walnuts came from Haag Farms in Esparto, California, a few miles up the road from where Mr CC and I lived almost 20 years ago.

And for comparison, another source I hope to try next year is Clary Ridge Ranch, where the green walnut harvest is shipped about 2 weeks later than valley nuts.

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