Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Vegetarian Hoppin' John For A Prosperous New Year in 2015

Update 12-31-14: I re-made this today to take to a new year's potluck gathering, adding smokey ham and substituting rich chicken stock. I left out the red bell peppers and added 4 diced carrots to the saute. It's rich, earthy, and has a wonderful salty-smokey element from the ham.  Happy New Year!

Black-eyed peas, especially in the form of Hoppin' John, are traditionally served on New Year's Day as a symbol of prosperity and good luck during the coming year. Originally a southern dish, it has gained popularity and can be seen in many recipes this time of year across the country. What I've made here is a very loosely-based compilation of some of those recipes.

For my rendition of Hoppin' John, made for a crowd of 18, I started with tubs of Melissa's black-eyed peas, available in most supermarkets this time of year. Traditionally prepared with bits of inexpensive meat, I omitted the meat entirely, making it vegetarian/vegan friendly, and gave it a kick with a bit of cayenne and Meyer lemon juice.

This makes a great side dish any time that black-eyed peas are available so don't put it off just because New Year's Day is almost over.

Here's to your good health, good luck and prosperity in 2009!

Vegetarian Hoppin' John
Christine's original recipe
Serves a crowd of 10 or more as a side dish
4 11-ounce tubs of black-eyed peas, cooked
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4-5 stalks celery, tough strings removed, diced small
2 large red bell peppers, seeded, deveined and diced small
Juice of 2 Meyer lemons
1 to 1 1/2 cups water or vegetable broth
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you wish)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil (canola may be used instead)
2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro (optional, but it's mighty good)
For each tub of peas, put 2 1/2 cups of water in a large stock pot. I cooked all 4 tubs in 10 cups of unsalted water.
Bring the water to a boil then add the black-eyed peas and give a gentle stir. Allow the water to return to a boil then reduce the heat so the peas simmer for about 10 minutes or until tender.
Drain the peas well and return to the stockpot.
Meanwhile heat the oil in a large heavy skillet (I always use cast iron) over medium-high heat.
Add the chopped onions and celery and sauté for 3 minutes.
Add the garlic and red bell peppers and sauté until just tender. Don't overcook.
Add the sautéed vegetables to the hot peas and stir gently.
Add the Meyer lemon juice and the cayenne pepper, stir to blend.
Put the mixture over medium-low heat and add the water or broth a little at a time until it reaches a consistency you can live with. The peas will absorb most or all of the liquid.
Adjust the seasonings with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Serve as a side dish accompanied by steamed rice and greens for truly traditional southern fare.

Cook's Notes:
If you wish to prepare just 1 11-ounce tub of peas, adjust your sauté by about one quarter. That said, the ratio of veggies to peas could be as much or as little as you like.
Should you have leftovers, you can buzz them in a blender the next day to make a spectacular spread for crackers or crusty bread.
I just happen to have cilantro growing in my garden (still!) and even though I share it with my cilantro-loving chickens, I had enough to use here. Lucky me.
One more thing that I forgot to add: Hoppin' John may be made much more stew-like by adding more broth. You can serve it over steaming hot rice for a more traditional feast. Be sure to adjust the seasonings accordingly.

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Oven Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Two weekends, 40 pounds, eight baking sheets, one major f**k-up, and, finally, success!

Even as I read and read, and read some more, about slow roasting tomatoes, there are so many different versions out there (right?), so many disparate oven temperatures, ways to cut, sprinkle, or not, drizzle, or not, remove seeds, or not, roasting times: 8-10 hours, 5 hours, 3 hours, overnight, that I finally threw up my hands and went with what I knew in my brain and heart. 
And even with that I had a few bumps before getting it right.

The first bump was just silly: I went to a potluck party while my first batch of tomatoes was merrily roasting away, and roasting away (albeit at 260-degrees), and roasting away (while I forgot about them) to burnt crisps. That went into the compost and the oven fan had to be left on overnight to rid the house of the burned tomato smell.

The second (and, actually, third) bump resulted in so-so variations: in a 250-degree oven for nine hours to a 260-degree oven for seven hours, with the tomatoes swimming in to drizzled on olive oil* that both versions took forever to lose enough water to package. They are packed, and in the freezer, but they are definitely second rate.

A week went by while waiting for the Saturday farmers market to come around again so I could buy another lug (20 pounds) of tomatoes, and with this batch I finally reached roasted tomato nirvana (well, my roasted tomato nirvana) and this is the version that I share with you now.

Organic slicing tomatoes from Neukom Family Farms in Willow Creek.
You will notice that I have not used heirloom tomatoes for roasting.  Heirlooms, to my palate, must be savored fresh: in salads, out of hand, in a BLT; never in the oven nor in a sauce.
Organic slicing tomatoes from Green Fire Farm in Trinity County.
These beauties - just above - are what I roasted yesterday (see top photo). They were cooled, frozen in their trays, then packed into zip-top freezer bags, labeled and, finally, put back in the freezer.

Scoop out the stem ends with a melon baller
I found that the easiest way to get rid of deep-set stems is to make a small slit near the stem with a sharp knife, then insert a melon baller and scoop around the stem. Easy peasy.

Use a sharp knife to cut the tomatoes in half crosswise. My Wusthof boning knife was the perfect tool.

Lay tomatoes skin side down on parchment-lined baking sheets.
Had I written down the steps I used last weekend they would have read: sprinkle with herbs, sea salt, then drizzle with olive oil.  But I didn't like the texture of any of the tomatoes that had olive oil so this time I decided to omit it to see if I would get a firmer, drier tomato. That, for me, turned out to be a good decision. I am much happier with the results (see up close photo below for today's batch).

As you will see below, this is more of a step-by-step instruction than a recipe. I used dried Mediterranean herbs because that's what I had on hand but if you have rosemary and thyme growing in your garden that have not succumbed to the California drought, they would be even better. Note that I did not add garlic to the mix. In my humble opinion, garlic can (and will) be added to any of the dishes I make with these tomatoes in the months to come and do not need to be added in the roasting process.

Christine's Oven Roasted Tomatoes
1 20-pound lug of ripe, red, organic slicing tomatoes
Penzey's Tuscan Sunset herb blend, about 1 tablespoon per tray
Coarse sea salt, between 1-2 teaspoons per tray
Preheat oven to 285-degrees Fahrenheit (140.5 celsius/Mark 1).
Remove the stems from the tomatoes (see caption above).
Slice tomatoes in half crosswise then place on parchment-lined baking trays (mine are 18" x 13").  It's OK to crowd the tomatoes as they shrink in the oven.
Pinching between thumb and forefinger, sprinkle tomatoes with the dried herbs - about 1 heaping tablespoon per tray.
Again, pinching between thumb and forefinger, sprinkle tomatoes with the coarse sea salt. I used about 4 pinches for one tray.
Place the trays in the oven and slow roast for approximately four and one-half hours (4 1/2), alternating trays on the racks mid-way.
Remove trays from oven and allow tomatoes to cool entirely.
When cooled, place the trays of tomatoes in the freezer and allow to freeze for several hours or until each tomato can be picked up and not be sticky.
Pack the frozen tomatoes in single layers in zip-top freezer bags, carefully expelling as much air from the bag as possible.
Label each bag with the date and then bag again in another zip-top freezer bag, again expelling the air.
Put bags in the freezer and be prepared to relish their summery taste in soups, stews and braises over the winter months.

Cook's Notes:
It's not like I've never slow roasted tomatoes before, I have, back in 2009.  *It was the olive oil.  I couldn't get past using olive oil. And much as I love olive oil paired with tomatoes, roasting them together just didn't do it for me. The steps I've taken above result in intensely flavored, non-oily tomatoes that I know I will enjoy over the coming winter.

Copyright 2005-2014, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fresh Peach Ice Cream with Ginger Liqueur and Crystallized Ginger

Peaches ripen later on the north coast than in hotter-in-summer parts of the US, which makes July the start of the season for our truly local ones.  The peaches pictured below hail from Neukom Family Farm and may be found these days at local farmers markets; they're sweet, dribble-down-your-chin juicy, and they make a terrific ice cream.

Keeping an ice cream recipe simple is really not my style, and here, not being able to leave well-enough alone, I've added a French ginger liqueur and chopped crystallized ginger to mix things up a bit, making for a more, dare I say it, sophisticated dessert.  The liqueur also helps to keep the frozen ice cream from turning into a brick, making for easier scooping. That said, please feel free to leave out both of those extra ingredients if you prefer; their absence will not affect the finished product.

Fresh Peach Ice Cream with Ginger Liqueur and Crystallized Ginger

4 ripe yellow peaches, medium-large, pitted, skins left on
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons ginger liqueur (optional)
pinch salt
2/3 cup sugar, divided
4 egg yolks
1 cup 2% milk
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

Chop the peaches into chunks and put into a food processor along with the lemon juice, ginger liqueur (if using), 1/3 cup of the sugar, and the salt. Purée until all the peaches have liquefied and no chunks remain. Set aside.
Whisk (or use a hand mixer) the egg yolks with the remaining 1/3 cup sugar until the yolks are pale and thickened.
Bring the milk to a simmer in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, until small bubbles form around the edge of the pot. Do not let the milk boil.
Whisk about one-third of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, then whisk it all back into the hot milk pan on the stove. Heat on medium, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens slightly and coats the back of the spoon. Drawing your finger down the coated spoon should leave a track in the custard. Keep the heat on the conservative side of medium and take good care to not let the custard curdle.
Remove the pan from the heat and pour the custard (through a strainer, or not) into a glass bowl or 8-cup glass measure.
Allow the custard to cool for about 15 minutes then stir in the heavy cream.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold; overnight is best for thorough chilling.
Process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions, adding the chopped ginger when the ice cream is semi-frozen.
Pack into container that has a tight-fitting lid and place in the freezer for an hour before serving.


Cook's Notes:

My preference is to make fruit ice creams with their skins on.  I feel that the skins add to the texture and color of the finished product.  Please put your custard through a fine mesh strainer if you don't wish the tiny bits of skin to be present in your ice cream.

Copyright 2005-2014, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Gluten Free Pasta: Shrimp in Tomato Cream Sauce

This recipe is a variation on one that I hadn't thought about in years.  It appeared in the Sunset Recipe Annual 1988 Edition: Every Sunset Magazine Recipe and Food Article From 1987.

Now the other day, when I bought a pound of medium (21-30 per pound) shrimp, I had no idea I would make this dish. I was musing on lighter, spring-is-approaching food and thought I'd make a quick shrimp and vegetable stir fry.  It wasn't until I passed a display of this gluten free pasta that the kernel of a recipe took hold as I vaguely began remembering making a cream and vermouth-based pasta sauce so very many years ago.

Having recently spent several weeks sorting through my considerable library of cookbooks, donating some to our local library, taking some to a used bookstore, and shelving most in my new(er) office bookshelves, it was easy to look back through a few older cookbooks until I found the recipe: Pasta with Shrimp in Tomato Cream.  Having some but not all of the specified ingredients, I did my own riff and pretty much changed a Mediterranean-ish recipe into one with a Creole bent using my recently purchased Lucile's Creole Seasoning.  And how perfect is that for Mardi Gras month?
Here's the recipe.

Creole Seasoned Shrimp in Tomato Cream Sauce Over Gluten Free Pasta

Recipe loosely adapted from Sunset Recipe Annual 1988 Edition

2 tablespoons or less olive oil or (and this is really good) oil from the jar of sun dried tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 pound medium shrimp, shelled, deveined, cut into bite-size pieces
Lucile's Creole Seasoning to taste
1/2 cup oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch wide slices
1-2 tablespoons crushed Penzeys Bonnes Herbes (it's what I had on hand; you could use thyme and rosemary if you wish)
5-10 grinds green peppercorns
1 14-ounce can good diced tomatoes
1/2 cup low sodium chicken stock
2/3 cup very dry vermouth
1 cup whipping cream (see cook's notes)
1 8-ounce box gluten free rotelle pasta, or your favorite pasta

Fill a large pasta pot with water and bring to a boil. Hold at medium heat after boiling until adding the cream to the sauce (see below).

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet large enough to hold the shrimp and sauce.  When the oil is hot, add the cut shrimp, sprinkling with the Creole seasoning, and saute until pink all over. Remove to a plate and cover to keep warm.

In the same skillet in which you cooked the shrimp, add the diced tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, chicken stock, vermouth, dried herbs, and ground green peppercorns. Stir to loosen the bits that may be stuck to the pan and bring to a boil.  Boil until the sauce is reduced by one-half. Season to taste with the Creole seasoning (remember, the shrimp has already been seasoned with this) and add the cream, stirring to blend.  Boil again until reduced by one-half, or pasta sauce-thick.  Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked shrimp.

Begin cooking the pasta in the boiling water around the time you add the cream to the sauce. The gluten free pasta listed here will be al dente in about 6 minutes.  Immediately drain the pasta in a colander or fine-meshed sieve and then add to the thickened sauce, off heat.  Stir gently until all the pasta is coated with sauce.

Serve immediately with a green salad and crusty bread of your choice for mopping up the sauce.

Cook's Notes:
Creme Fraiche may be substituted for the heavy cream.
Try to purchase organic food items whenever possible; they just taste better.

Copyright 2005-2014, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved