Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Fantastic Poblano Pepper for Home Gardens (and Kitchens): The Tiburon Pepper

Growing peppers in our Zone 4 garden zone is always dicey. If the tail end of our growing season has warm, sunny days and cooler nights, there will lots of fruit setting on our pepper plants. But if not, we will have lots of small fruit and definitely not an abundance of fruit.

With the Tiburon pepper, a dark green, glossy poblano variety, the rules were set on their ear. We got beautiful, sturdy plants with plenty of flowers and fruit, and they reached an unbelievable circumference of an inch or more at their stems. I had to put metal tomato cages around a couple of plants to hold them up when they started to tip over from their burden of fruit.

While the taste of these thin-walled peppers only had a mild kick, the oils from these peppers really made the skin on my hands burn so I used gloves after that experience and one time when I was chopping some up on a hot August night, I got a squirt of pepper juice on my forehead. I rubbed the offending juice off with a swipe of my hand and spread a burning ring of fire across my face that throbbed for the better part of an hour. So be forewarned! And use gloves. And maybe some eye protection if you don't wear eyeglasses like the Crispy Cook!

It's easy to preserve your Tiburon pepper harvest by dicing or slicing them up and slipping them into freezer bags. We also roasted some up and then froze them. They are too thin-skinned to peel, so I just roasted them whole in the oven, then pulled on the stem end to remove it and the seed core.

These gorgeous peppers were wonderful fried up with onions and garlic for omelettes and vegetable soups and stews and they kept on pumping out peppers through our abnormally long garden harvest season. They soldiered on through a light frost and didn't flag until we had a killing frost only a week and a half ago.

I'm sending this pepper post over to Weekend Herb Blogging, a weekly blog event started by Kalyn's Kitchen almost five years ago, and now headquartered by Haalo at Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once. This week's host of WHB #257 is Almond Corner. She'll be putting up the WHB roundup after Sunday's deadline, so head on over there to see what other fantastic blog posts and recipes there will be featuring the edible members of the Vegetable Kingdom.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Gluten-Free Girl, the Chef and Some Fresh GF Pasta

It is time to celebrate.

There's a new gluten-free cookbook just published and it is not antiseptic looking, or written by a dietician or full of revamped versions of traditional, wheat-laden baked goods. No, no, and no.

Instead, blogger diva Shauna James Ahern and her chef husband Daniel Ahern have given the gluten-free community a sophisticated, sensual and smoking hot new book: Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: a Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes (NY: Wiley, 2010) and the publishers were kind enough to provide me with a review copy to review here.

Fans of the Gluten Free Girl will enjoy the anecdotes that fill in the details of how she embraced her new GF lifestyle after being diagnosed with celiac disease that healed years of health problems. Shauna then found love and marriage with her husband and she shares the recipes for the fabulous dishes they feed to each other (he has years of classical chef training but revels in her comfort cooking). And then there are the fantastic, imaginative recipes: Shiso-Cranberry Sorbet, Blue Cheese Cheesecake with a Fig Crust, Rosemary-Apple Muffins, and Smoked Salmon Profiteroles.

The book is not geared for the novice cook, though there are plenty of tips on kitchen techniques, shopping for impeccable ingredients and advice on flavor combinations. Rather, this is a book for foodies, those food-obsessed individuals who revel in grocery shopping and think about dinner plans immediately upon finishing lunch. Foodies who have a good kitchen repertoire and love to seek out exotic ingredients or try new cooking techniques will really enjoy poring over this book and making notes about which recipes to try first.

There are gorgeous photographs throughout the book showing people laughing and cooking and plenty of food still life shots that made me want to pick up my sketchbook. But first, I had to try out the Ahern's Fresh Pasta recipe, which uses a blend of corn flour, quinoa flour, and potato starch. Corn flour, not to be confused with corn starch or masa harina, is a yellow, whole grain flour milled from dried corn that I found in my local health food store. The quinoa flour and potato starch can be found in some grocery stores with large gluten-free sections, but you might have to seek them out at the health food store too.

It's been a long while since I used my heavy pasta maker but it was with fond memories of the red and green fresh pasta that we used to make on Christmas Eve in our pre-celiac days that I dusted it off and attempted to clamp it down to our new kitchen counter. I think our counters got a lot thicker in the interim, because my clamp kept coming undone, and I definitely needed a third arm to keep the pasta make from jiggling while I passed the fragile pasta sheets through the rollers. I had my left elbow holding down the pasta maker, while I ambidextrously held the pasta aloft in and out of the machine, but as you can see from the above photo, things got a little raggedy, but I wanted to surprise the GF hubby with a fresh pasta supper, so I kept on.

The end result was stumpier than I would have liked, but my effort resembled the pasta photo in the Aherns' book, so I gave it all a little rest in a large bowl with a dusting of brown rice flour to keep them from sticking. When one's counters are skinnier and one has done this fresh GF pasta, I sure this whole procedure is much faster, but it took me a lot of wrangling and about an hour to get this far in the fresh pasta process and that was before boiling and saucing. I had to laugh when I saw the introduction to the recipe, which noted that the authors make this up when the want a quick meal, but again, things no doubt proceed much more smoothly when you've practised this a few times.

I brought a big pot of salted water to a boil, dropped in my pasta lovelies, and waited for them to rise to the surface. This part is important, as noted in the book. There seems to be only a short burst in between an al dente GF pasta and a mouth of mush, so taste the cooked pasta as soon as a bunch rises to the top. The pasta will cook a little bit longer in your colander, so err on the side of chewiness.

I was a Kitchen Hero that night as I served Dan a lovely, aromatic batch of fresh batch of pasta tossed with oven-roasted tomatoes, basil, garlic, sauteed peppers and olive oil. So what if my pasta looked more like spaetzle than fettuccine? This was a great recipe and I am already planning another round of this "quick dinner" when the high school soccer season is over. Not to mention getting around to all those bookmarked recipes in this gorgeous new cookbook. Congratulations to Shauna and Daniel for publishing this wonderful treasure of recipes that make gluten-free dining as stylish and seasonal as any other.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Giving Gluten Free Bisquick a Scrumptious Test Drive

More and more gluten-free products are appearing on the "mainstream" product shelves of local supermarkets and I know many of my fellow gluten-free bloggers were eagerly anticipating the arrival of a gluten-free version of Bisquick. I myself never had much experience with this all-purpose baking mix, but I am always game to try a new GF product out.

The gluten-free Bisquick was available at the Wilton Price Chopper for $4.49 for a 1 lb. box. I was pleased to see a list of all-natural ingredients and that it includes xanthan gum for a better texture for baked goods, which is pretty pricey ($11/lb. at the health food store). I like to make my own baking mix for biscuits and rolls (out of tapioca flour, white rice flour, potato flour, xanthan gum and baking powder) since Dan makes them so often for breakfast, but having an option with a box of GF Bisquick in the pantry for other kinds of baked goods would be great when I am out of one of these ingredients.

I had a recipe already picked out for my GF Bisquick test drive. I had taken in a fun cookbook at our used bookstore a while back with the zingy title of "Ring the Doorbell With Your Elbow: A Cookbook of Portables", by Wilma M. McCartney (Shelburne, VT: The New England Press, 1981) and a recipe for Onion Shortcake popped out at me. I gave it the old Crispy Cook makeover to ensure that it was gluten-free and kicked up the ingredient count and it proved to be a real keeper. It was hearty enough to be a great vegetarian main course and McCartney recommends it as an accompaniment to a steak dinner.

Here's what I did:


2 Tbsp. butter
2 large onions, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced thin

1 cup Gluten Free Bisquick
1/4 cup shortening
1/3 cup milk
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. ground thyme

2 cups sour cream
1 large egg
Smoked paprika

Lightly grease 8 x 8 baking pan and set aside.

Heat frying pan and melt butter. Add onions and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute another 5 minutes, until both are soft and golden brown.

Put Bisquick in medium mixing bowl. Cut in shortening until well blended. Add one beaten egg, thyme, and milk and mix well. Press dough into prepared baking pan and smooth over with wet spatula.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Layer sauteed mushrooms and onions over biscuit dough in pan.

Beat second egg and sour cream together and spread this mixture over the mushroom-onion layer. Sprinkle with smoked paprika.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until biscuit layer is browned at edges and fully cooked. It will be springy when done.

Serve hot. Makes 4 main dish servings or 6-8 side dish servings.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Eggplant and Zucchini Panini: Who Needs Bread in a Sandwich Anyway?

My kitchen counters and window sills are covered with bowls full of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplants from the Crispy garden. There are still some herbs, greens and cabbages that will last a while longer, but we finally had a killing frost last week, so I went out and did the last harvest of the tender vegetables.

The garden experiment of covering my eggplant seedlings with an old set of sheer window curtains (50 cents at my favorite local thrift shop) was just the trick for saving the leaves from being riddled with holes from flea beetles. The curtains let in the sun and rain but kept out the chompers so the plants were able to remain strong for the first month of their long growing season and we have been rewarded with several delicate-tasting, tender eggplants on each plant.

We've lately feasted on some eggplant parmigiana and this lemony cold salad with our beautiful black eggplants, but I wanted to try something new. I was poring through my all-too bountiful cookbook library and a recipe for Hot Eggplant Sandwiches (Panini Caldi di Melanzane) caught my eye in the toothsome cookbook "Sicilian Home Cooking" by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene. There's no bread in these sandwiches, but rather some thick slices of fried eggplant make up the outside with a oozing mozzarella middle inside. With a few adaptations to make the recipe gluten-free, this turned out to be a terrific hit with my handsome, hungry husband.

Here's the first batch served with a side of slow-roasted plum tomatoes with garlic and basil. The time was 1:30 pm Eastern Standard Time.

And here is Dan's plate at 1:35 pm. A winner!

We also heated up some eggplant panini for another meal over some corn pasta with another slather of our roasted tomato concoction. Delicioso!

The dish also worked well with thick slices of zucchini, although they were a little moister and you had to be careful when they were fresh out of the oven because the juices were boiling hot.

Hot Eggplant (or Zucchini) Panini
-adapted from "Sicilian Home Cooking" by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene, with Michele Evans, (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001)

2 medium eggplants (or 2 medium zucchini), unpeeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
(if using eggplants "of a certain age" from the market, you might want to lightly salt the eggplant slices and drain in a colander for a 1/2 hour to remove bitter juices. If using fresh market or garden eggplants, this step won't be necessary)

1/2 cup white rice flour

3 eggs, beaten lightly

Olive oil for frying

1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes

Dried oregano and kosher salt to taste

Coat eggplant slices with rice flour.

Heat large frying pan. Add olive to coat bottom by 1/4 inch. When hot, fry a batch of eggplant slices at a time. Dip the floured eggplant into the beaten egg and slip them right into the pan. You want them nice and eggy so the coating puffs up and gets a nice crunch from the rice flour at the edges. Fry about 2-3 minutes per side, until golden. Drain on paper towels and repeat with remaining eggplant slices.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place half of fried eggplant slices on a baking sheet. Top each with some mozzarella cubes, taking care to match eggplant slices of equal size. Secure each with a couple of toothpicks. Sprinkle with oregano and kosher salt to taste.

Bake 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and oozing out the sides.

Remove toothpicks and serve hot.

We enjoyed them separately with a little tangy roasted tomatoes on the side and over pasta too.

Makes 4-6 servings (hungry husbands skew the serving portions).

This has proven to be a real favorite with our family and I can't wait to share it with friends at our next party. I would use smaller eggplants for appetizer portions.

Even though this is not a traditional bready kind of sandwich, I am sending over these tasty panini to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for Souper Sundays, her weekly roundup of soup, sandwich and salad recipes.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Chapchae: A Cellophane Noodle Stir-Fry, Gluten-Free and Tasty!

Shopping for naturally gluten-free ingredients in Albany's Asian markets has proven to be a fun and inexpensive way to try new foods and recipes. We try to get down once a month to stock up on rice varieties, spices, gorgeous fresh Asian produce and all kinds of exotic sauces, snacks and canned vegetables to experiment with.

On our last shopping trip I picked up a bag of gray-colored sweet potato noodles to play around with. They cost under $2 and looked intriguing. After a little research on Korean cuisine, I found this recipe for Chapchae (also known as Jabchae or Japchae) which is a traditional stir-fry of these noodles with sesame oil, sliced veggies, all slathered in a sweetened soy sauce. That would work!

The cooking directions on the back of the package were a little confusing, but I got them softened up for the pot by bringing a big pot of water to a boil and then soaking them in it, with the stove burner turned off, while I was busy chopping up my other Chapchae ingredients (about 15 minutes).

The cooked noodles turn absolutely clear, which is why they are also referred to as cellophane noodles or glass noodles. They also had a springy, gelatinous texture, kind of like Jello jigglers and would make a perfect bowl of "guts" for anyone's Halloween Haunted House.

We feasted on a delicious batch of Chapchae the first night and then had lots left over for the next day, when the noodles got even fatter and softer and absorbed more of the luscious sauce. While our package of cellophane noodles was made of sweet potato (actually botanically a yam) starch, other varieties of cellophane noodles are made of mung bean starch, but both would be good substitutes for wheat-based noodles in a gluten-free diet.

Here's my upstate New York version of Chapchae, which turned out great and can be adapted to use any other varieties of veggies you might want to add:


1 (12 oz.) pkg. sweet potato noodles (also called cellophane or glass noodles)

2 Tbsp. peanut oil

1 large onion, peeled and sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
1 bunch chives, snipped

3 cups tatsoi or boy choy, stems sliced and leaves rough chopped
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
8 oz. firm tofu, drained and cubed

2 Tbsp. sesame oil
3 Tbsp. soy sauce (check ingredients to make sure it's gluten-free)
1 tsp. sugar

2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds (optional garnish)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles and turn off heat. Cover and let soak until softened, about 15 minutes.

Heat peanut oil in heated wok or large pot. Add onions, garlic and chives, and cook, stirring constantly, until onions are softened, 3-4 minutes. Add tatsoi and mushrooms and cook, stirring often, another 5 minutes.

Add tofu and stir in gently. Cook another 2-3 minutes to heat through.

Mix sesame oil, soy sauce and sugar together and stir to dissolve sugar. Add to wok and mix thoroughly. When heated through, remove from heat, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve while hot.

Makes 6-8 servings.

I will be seeking out these cellophane or sweet potato noodles again on my next Asian market trip. I liked them clear and jiggly, while husband Dan preferred them when they were softer the next day, but both ways were really tasty. I can't wait to try them in my Cold Sesame Noodle salad recipe, as I think their texture will really give this great party dish a nice bite.

Am sending a bowl of this tasty Chapchae over to Cook, Eat, Play, Repeat, who is this week's host of Presto Pasta Nights, a long-running blog event where great cooks from around the world share their delicious posts and recipes about the World of Noodles. Check back with Cook, Eat, Play, Repeat after October 8 for a great roundup.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Gluten Free Food Festival in Lake George, NY this week

Just a quick post to let members of the Capital District know that there is a Gluten-Free Food Festival planned for Tuesday, October 5th from 3 pm to 8 pm at the Great Escape Lodge on Route 9 in Lake George, NY. Admission costs $5 for adults, $2 for seniors and it is free to students 18 years and younger.

The GF Food Festival has been organized by the Glens Falls Regional Celiac Support Group and will feature food samples and information by various vendors, including my favorite local GF baker, Jeanne Daley of Saratoga Gluten-Free Goods (love those baguettes!).

There will also be a presentation by Amy Rota-Poulin, author of "Gluten-Free Cooking with Amy", so it should be a fun and informative time. Hope to see you there!