Wednesday, September 22, 2010

101 Best Gluten Free Recipes by Carol Fenster: An Enthusiastic Book Review

A new book from gluten-free guru Carol Fenster is always welcome on my shelf, and when the publishers of her newest cookbook, "100 Best Gluten-Free Recipes" (NY: Wiley, 2010) offered me a chance to review a copy, I say yes. Absolutely.

I use Fenster's massive opus "1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes" on a regular basis, particularly for her recipes for baked goods, and this volume of her "greatest hits" from the bigger cookbook is much easier to work with on the kitchen counter. It is also packaged with color photos for about a third of the recipes, which always makes things easier for the home cook when trying out a new recipe or cooking technique.

The proof of a good cookbook comes when giving it a test drive, so I asked the Old Man to pick out some recipes for us to cook together in the Crispy Kitchen. He selected two baking recipes to challenge me and one savory fish dish. First requested was a batch of Soft Pretzels. Her recipe has been previously published over at the Bob's Red Mill site, so you can give it a spin yourself.

I had a little trouble squeezing out the pretzel dough from my freezer baggie (my cheapo baggie split at the seams), which Fenster suggests using as a pastry bag to shape the dough. Instead, I floured up my hands with white rice flour and make little pretzel snakes, which worked out fine. The pretzels were a hit with some spicy brown mustard on the side.

Next up I tried the recipe for Decadent Chocolate Cookies, and these came out a bit dry, though even so we managed to scarf them all down rather quickly. They are studded with nuts and dried cranberries and were quite tasty.

Finally, we dined on Mediterranean Fish Fillets Baked in Parcels, trying out the technique of nestling one's dinner ingredients into little packages of parchment paper and then steaming them in the oven. The combination of fish, artichoke hearts, tomatoes and herbs was really scrumptious and we will be making these again soon.

Overall, another wonderful effort for the gluten-free community and a cookbook that will be particularly helpful for novice cooks and those new to the gluten-free lifestyle. I would recommend this cookbook to anyone in search of some stylish new recipe ideas and certainly, any public library would find this a popular book on its cookbook shelves. Bravo Ms. Fenster!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Celebrating the End of Tomato Season with David Gentilcore's "Pomodoro!"

What a sweet tomato season it has been here in upstate New York. All of our garden tomato plants, from plums to supersteaks to golden heirloom varieties, have been heavy with fruit, unlike last year's blighted crop. Dan and I have thoroughly enjoyed our morning tomato sandwiches, our tomato salads, and we've sung as we've cooked down pots of tomato sauce and slow-roasted Romas overnight to pop into jars with olive oil and basil for the fridge.

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes, we can't love them enough. And to celebrate the season, I was able to share some review copies of a great new tomato history book with some blogger buddies. Columbia University Press graciously offered me the opportunity to review Professor David Gentilcore's new book "Pomodoro! The History of the Tomato in Italy". Some of my blogger friends from around the world joined me in reviewing the book and cooking up some glorious tomatocentric recipes which I am summarizing below:

On the island of Crete, Maria of Organically Cooked relates how important the tomato is to Greek cuisine and to her household in particular. She shared a common incredulity with the other bloggers about how recently tomatoes were integrated into Mediterranean cooking and notes that the Cretan tomato growing season lasts six months. Lucky Maria! Tomatoes are the "background note" in many of her meals and she gives us a taste with her recipe for a rustic and garlicky grated tomato sauce for dipping bread slices into or topping on toast or rusks.

Veering north to Athens, where Jo of Foodjunkie, Not Junk Food lives, blogs and cooks, oven-roasted tomatoes were on the menu. Jo relished the book and decided to spend the time slow-roasting plum tomatoes with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. She enjoys these tomato gems with bread and cheese and also uses them to liven up sauces for meats and pasta.

Off to Ontario, Canada for our next Pomodoro blog post... Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies enoyed the book's history lessons about the Great Depresssion, art, Fascism, colonialism, and other topics and decided to make some Stuffed Roma Tomatoes to wrap up her book review.

Over in England, Foodycat also enjoyed the way the author wove in various historical themes with the food history and recipes, and was inspired to make a whole range of delights using her garden tomatoes, including roasted cherry tomato and basil sauce, pomodorini pelati, and a sexy tomato and goats cheese tart.

The Pomodoro Party includes the classic tomato-basil-mozzarella combo of Caprese Salad which emanated from Kahakai Kitchen in Hawai'i. Deb really enjoyed the sprinkling of historical Italian tomato recipes and has bookmarked some to enjoy later.

To round things off here in upstate New York at The Crispy Cook, I thoroughly enjoyed my ride through tomato history with Pomodoro! and enjoyed doing a little side research on the commedia dell'arte and Neapolitan street foods. I tried out a new canning recipe for Tomato Barbecue Sauce to cap off my post.

One more blogger buddy, Simona of Briciole, will be posting a review about Pomodoro! in the near future, and it will be interesting to see what this Italian-born kitchen master will think of the book!

Thank you to Columbia University Press for sending us all copies of Pomodoro! to review and thank you to all my foodie buddies for sharing their thoughts and tomato recipes with us all!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Anise Hyssop Simple Syrup & An Announcement

Back in mid-summer I was planning a post on using the scented herb anise hyssop in a simple sugar syrup for my Cook the Books post about Erica Bauermeister's novel "The School of Essential Ingredients" when my poor computer had a hard drive meltdown. There went my photos and draft blog post, so I turned to another cooking project, a lovely fried eggplant salad, to do justice to the book.

However, I have since used my anise hyssop syrup several more times and am delighted with its wonderful bouquet (I think it is reminiscent of lavender), so I did want to share my findings with you all. I like to try a couple of new plants in our home garden every year, and two years ago I planted seeds for anise hyssop. This perennial herb was slow to grow and flower so I didn't harvest any cuttings that first garden season. However, it grew nice and bushy this summer and sported some deep violet-blue flowers that tantalized our local bee population, so I was able to cut some of the branches to use in the kitchen.

Anise hyssop is a member of the mint family, so it has a lovely perfume and is suitable for steeping into tea. According to my copy of "Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs" a tea from anise hyssop can be used as a mild expectorant and has been recommended for bronchitis and sore throats. I find that the taste is heavily dependent on the aroma of the herb, so I thought I would preserve both aspects of this delightful herb for later by steeping the leaves in a simple sugar syrup.

To make Anise Hyssop Simple Syrup:

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup anise hyssop leaves (and flowers)

The anise hyssop is a woody little plant so I stripped the leaves from the branches and then chopped them up with a few of the deep blue flowers.

Bring water and sugar to a boil in a small pot, stirring to dissolve sugar. When it is at a rolling boil add in anise hyssop and turn off heat. Cover pot and let steep 1 hour. Cool and refrigerate in a clean glass jar with a cover.

Makes 1 cup simple syrup.

I used this syrup to poach fresh fruit this summer, including a mixture of white nectarines and fresh peaches that had gone a little too soft in my fruit bowl. Delicious! The scent of the anise hyssop perfumes the fruit so well.

I am sending this post over to Anna's Cool Finds, who is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging #251. This weekly blog event not only showcases blog posts about herbs, but veggies, fruits and edible flowers as well. Weekend Herb Blogging is headquartered over at Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once.

And now for the announcement. Earlier this month I noted that Katz Gluten Free had sent me a sampler of their gluten-free baked goods and was good enough to allow me to offer two prizes to share with my blog readers. I randomly selected the first prize winner Chris, who left comment number 9, to receive $25 in goods from the Katz Gluten Free website. The second prize winner is Stephanie, who will receive a free sample pack of Katz GF goodies. Congratulations ladies! Please send me an email (oldsAratoga books AT gmaildot com) with your shipping address so that I can forward it to the Katz folks.