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 - http://www.heirloom-organics.com/guide/va/guidetogrowingfennel.html
For lemon balm - http://www.heirloom-organics.com/guide/va/guidetogrowinglemonbalm.html

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