Thursday, December 29, 2011

Of Truffleheads, Escarole and Crazy Mugs

When you work in retail, the holiday season is a busy time. Our bookshop gets flooded with gift-giving inquiries about various out-of-print titles, last-minute shoppers and daily trips to the post office to mail gift packages. Our eldest daughter was busy with her part-time jobs too, so all we wanted to do was collapse into a heap on Christmas Eve night, enjoy a lovely supper (cooked by the younger daughter elf as her present to us all) and then veg out with books, movies and Scrabble.

Watching my girls open their presents after we finally got THEM awakened (what a reversal from when they were tots!) and then cooking up some special treats has always been my special pleasure on Christmas Day, but since last year, I must admit I am finding another highlight to be the Crazy Mug contest that Dan and I engage in. This Second Annual Crazy Mug contest featured the two ugliest/craziest/weirdest mugs that we could find during the course of a year's bookhunting. We scoured the wilds of upstate New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and environs all throughout 2011 and I thought for sure that my entry on the left, "This Spud's For You!", a strange souvenir of Idaho with vaguely R. Crumb-esque grinning potato people, would claim the prize.

But alas, my better half once again took the top honors with his cutesy, pipe-chomping fisherman tankard, judged by all present to garner the coveted Crazy Mug Contest. Last year's winner, "Smashed Again", however, still remains the Craziest Mug of all time, and has a place of honor in my kitchen holding my collection of measuring spoons. I will perhaps extend my mug hunting throughout 2012 to more regions so as to try to capture the Crazy Mug crown next Christmas morning.

Enough tomfoolery. Let's talk about some great food here at The Crispy Cook.

I am honored to note that I am the featured poster on this week with my observations about a terrific recipe for Escarole with Garlic and Hot Pepper. Trufflehead is an Iphone and Ipad app that was started by Deborah Chud, a medical doctor and excellent cook, who is on a mission to get us all to cook healthier, delicious meals. You can download a free e-book with five Trufflehead recipes to explore yourself at the site. It was with pleasure that I test drove her escarole recipe (and another for a wonderful citrus-infused Sesame Slaw), because we love escarole in our house. 

Escarole is a wonderful, slightly bitter green, that most people may be familiar with eating raw in salads, but which becomes meltingly tender when cooked. Italians have many recipes for braised and sauteed escarole and it is a traditional ingredient in Greens and Beans and Italian Wedding Soup. We love escarole so much that it is a regular part of our home garden. It's easy to grow, but it is the one vegetable that invites slugs into our usually very dry, sandy soil, garden environment. Escarole grows thickly at the base, so between the slug issue and the many grains of sand that hide in its crevasses, this vegetable requires thorough rinsing and several soaks before it's ready for the cooking pot.

If I had a greenhouse windowsill I would grow some escarole alongside some basil, parsley and chives for my winter meals, but instead, I buy escarole at the supermarket (overpriced and of much sadder quality than my home supplies!) to give us a little green tonic in the winter.

**Don't forget that there are still a few days left in my Red Pack Tomatoes giveaway (a cool tin filled with tomatoes and kitchen gadgets) so feel free to enter that by leaving a comment back on this previous post by Jan. 2nd at midnight.

Enjoy the rest of the year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sharing Some Simple Gifts and a Red Pack Giveaway

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
So goes the first stanza of the beautiful Shaker song "Simple Gifts", a tune I find myself humming and singing often during the holiday season. (I also sing "Let it Snow" quite often, but really prefer to shovel rain myself). 

I have a few simple gifts to share with you all and hope you will enjoy them:

1)  A Tomato Lovers Giveaway

The Redpack Tomato company has generously offered to send a nice gift pack to one of my Crispy Cook readers which includes a huge Redpack tin filled with all kinds of goodies, including a pasta fork, pizza cutter, can opener, refrigerator magnets, cans of Redpack tomatoes, and recipe cards. When I am out of homemade tomato sauce in my pantry or freezer, or want a chunkier tomato product for a different recipe, I turn to a can of Redpack tomatoes. I reviewed the Redpack tomatoes previously on my blog, They are 100% natural, taste fresh (not tasting  tinny like the can like some other canned tomatoes I know) and are available at most local supermarkets and stores here in upstate New York. They are a product I use often and can recommend to you wholeheartedly.

To enter this giveaway to receive this cool Redpack tin full of goodies (I use my tin to hold my bird seed stash), leave a comment below by January 2, 2012, midnight Eastern Standard Time and I'll pick a randomly generated winner.

Note: I received a tin full of the items pictured above from the Redpack company, but I was not obligated to review their product here at the Crispy Cook, favorably or not. As always, my choice to blog about this product (I love it!) and my comments herein are entirely my own.

2) Potent Potables for $200, Alex

I've recently discovered a couple of new beverages these past weeks which have made things decidedly more festive. First, there's a knock-your-socks-off Christmas drink recipe from my friend Annemarie. She was born in Bavaria and her aunt makes this powerful mulled wine recipe each Christmas. It is called Gluhwein in German and was also made to celebrate my friend's December nuptials many years ago.

Annemarie shared a cup with me at a recent holiday party and it was both good and a little scary. I hadn't realized rum was also involved until I asked for her recipe, so be sure to make this when you are going to stay at home or when you have a designated driver if you are out reveling. One sip of this Gluhwein and I felt the heat rise in my cheeks, so I'm sure this will be an excellent restorative after a hard morning of shoveling snow and bringing in wood.

Aunt Gretel's Gluhwein

1.5 bottles dry red wine
1/2 bottle dry white wine
6 cups black tea (hot)
3 oranges juiced plus one orange sliced
2 lemons, juiced
1 stick of cinnamon
4-5 whole cloves
1 ladle full of sugar (about 3/4 cup)
Shot of high proof rum (optional)

Heat wines in a large saucepan, but don't let come to a boil (wouldn't want to burn off the alcohol, I guess).  Add hot tea, orange juice, lemon juice, cinnamon stick and cloves. Heat, but don't let boil. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add rum and then Annemarie says to light the punch on fire. Her rum wasn't high enough proof to flambe, and I'm always worried about the risk of self-immolation, so I would skip this step myself. Add orange slices to float on top.

Whoa! Makes about 15 servings.

And here's a great link to a recipe for a fantastic non-alcoholic beverage, Homemade Ginger Ale, that we recently brewed up and enjoyed. It's a little more like a strong and aromatic ginger beer than store-bought ginger ale, but we relished it.

3) The Christmas Orange

One holiday tradition that I enjoy is our annual fireside reading of the following story about giving and the spirit of Christmas. My daughter came home from her wonderful pre-school teacher with this story over a decade ago and we have enjoyed reading it and doling out sections of orange-flavored and -shaped chocolate ever since.

The story's a little schmaltzy, but I don't mind being overly sentimental when it comes to the holidays. It's decorating, family and friend visits, special treats and trimmings that make Christmastime special to me, not the frenzy of gift-giving and shopping. That actually makes me kind of Grinchy.

Miss Shirley's Christmas Orange Story
"James lived in an orphanage with nine other young boys.  In the winter, any extra money went for coal to heat the old building.  At Christmas, though, the buildings always seemed a little warmer, and the food a little more plentiful.

But more than this—Christmas meant an orange.  It was the only time of the year such a rare treat was provided, and it was coveted by all the boys like no other thing they ever possessed.

Each boy would save his orange for several days—admiring it, feeling it, loving it, and contemplating the moment he would eat it.  Some would even save it until New Year’s Day or later, much like many of us relish saving our Christmas trees and decorations until the New Year, just to remind us of the joy of Christmas.

This particular Christmas Day, James had broken the orphanage rules by starting a fight.  The orphanage mother took James’ orange away as punishment.  James spent Christmas Day empty and alone.  Nighttime came, and James could not sleep.  He sobbed silently.  This year he would not have his orange to savor with the other boys.

A soft hand placed on James’ shoulder startled him and an object was quickly shoved into his hands.  A child then disappeared into the darkness to leave James alone to discover a strange-looking orange: an orange made from the segments of nine other oranges, nine highly prized oranges that had to be eaten that Christmas night, instead of being saved and cherished until a later date.

May the orange remind us all of the unselfishness and love for others that abounds at this special time of year."

Wishing everyone a lovely holiday season filled with peace, love, joy and a few simple gifts.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cookbook Review: The Cookiepedia by Stacy Adimando

For me life's simple pleasures are the best: petting my dog and cats, strolling through the garden (or as in this time of year, a seed catalogue), chatting with friends, sipping an aromatic cup of tea before the fire. And there's the quiet pleasure of flipping through a new cookbook, with the promise of so many new recipes and ideas for future edibles waltzing through my head. And when the new cookbook is about baking, there's always the alchemical magic of having simple ingredients puff up into cakes, pastries, biscuits or other treats.

So it was with pleasure that I have been reading through and baking from Stacy Adimando's new cookbook: The Cookiepedia: Mixing, Baking and Reinventing the Classics (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2011, $18.95).  I have my favorite cookies to bake up at holiday time, but there's always the excitement of trying out something new for my cookie tray and I'm happy to report that the Dried Fruit Cookies I made from her recipe (p. 87 - subbing in a blend of sorghum, tapioca starch, white rice flour and a 1/2 tsp. of xanthan gum for the wheat flour to make them gluten-free) made a wonderful batch of cookies that disappeared in no time. The cookies were chewy and studded with nuggets of dried cranberries, with a hint of cinnamon. Perfect!

The Cookiepedia is a great example of graphic design. The durable covers and wire spiral binding lay out flat so that a baker can use this workhouse of a cookbook over and over without banging it up. There are many color photos of what the final product should look like and Adimando adds in tips about handling dough, baking times and ways to alter the recipe to make even novice cooks feel comfortable in the kitchen. There is even space for owner notes in each recipe and the author actively encourages readers to experiment with variations on each cookie recipe.

The book is interestingly organized. There are chapters on Buttery Cookies, Chocolaty Cookies, Fancy Cookies, Fruity Cookies, Spicy Cookies and Nutty and Seedy  Cookies. Readers will find many traditional recipes for Snickerdoodles, Thumbprints, Shortbread and Brownies, but there are many other unusual cookie species to explore as well. I am looking forward to making some delicate Green Tea Cookies and Alfajores (buttery sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche) in the New Year, for sure!

I enjoyed reading through the introductory chapter on the ABCs of Cookie Baking and picked up some new information to incorporate in my baking routines. Unlike many baking projects, cookies are fun and uncomplicated and the author certainly relays this playfulness in her directions for each recipe. It's easy to relax and just tinker around with her recipes, and this spirited combination of prose, photos and other illustrations really sets this cookie cookbook apart from the many other baking cookbooks I've seen.

My only quibble with this cookbook is its title. With just over 50 recipes and 160 pages, I would hardly refer to this cookbook as being encyclopedic. Sure, there are many variations suggested for each recipe, but it does not encompass the universe of cookie recipes. Still, aside from this overly ambitious title, I have really enjoyed poring over this stylish, fun new cookbook and it has earned a (floury) place in my cookbook library.

Note: I received a review copy of this cookbook from the publisher, but I was under no obligation to write a review, favorable or no. My comments are, as always, completely my own.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Presto Pasta Nights #244 Roundup

I had the distinct pleasure of serving as this week's guest host for Presto Pasta Nights, the weekly noodle celebration founded by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast way back in 2007!

It's the last PPN roundup of the year, but I am looking at one of the tastiest spreads a noodle lover could hope for.  We've got pasta in various shapes and flavors, made of various flours and cooked in all kinds of culinary traditions. Come into my virtual dining room, grab a glass of wine or some hot spiced cider and then pass your pasta bowl for a sampling of these wonderful eats:

Shaheen blogs at Allotment 2 Kitchen in western Scotland and loves to garden, forage and cook seasonally. She brings a plate of Garlic-Chilli-Spiked Cauliflower Pasta, which sounds so fragrant. Shaheen even uses the steamed core of the cauliflower in this dish, which is something this frugal cook will be trying next time out when I'm cooking cauliflower.

Tandy of Lavender and Lime has just taken the lid off her steaming platter of Creamy Pasta with Beef, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mushrooms. Everybody dig in!

Alisha of Cook. Craft. Enjoy. is doling out some spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta. A little spice, a little cream, a little onion and peppers and that's some awesomeness on a plate.

My blogger pal Deb of Kahakai Kitchen in Honolulu was kind enough to drop by with some Rotini with Red Pepper and Anchovy Sauce. Deb is one of the cofounders of Cook the Books, a bimonthly foodie book club, where we are currently reading and cooking from John Thorne's Outlaw Cook.

Here at the Crispy Cook, I made a stir-fry of garlic, carrots, tofu, and Korean rice cakes, or dduk noodles, that remind me of little white tongue depressors. They require pre-soaking, but are a great textural addition to the wok.

Anne's Kitchen brings us a savory casserole to share: Wholemeal Penne, Pancetta and Cauliflower Bake. She advises that we can all have seconds without fear of being "gannet-esque" because the pancetta is less fatty than regular bacon and because wholemeal penne is in there too for extra nutrition.

One of my Capital District neighbors, Shelby, of The Life and Loves of Grumpy's Honeybunch, made a real crowd pleaser for her husband's office party and she made a double batch to share with us: Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese. Aren't they cute in their little individual ramekins?

Blogging from lovely Melbourne, Australia is Johanna of the Green Gourmet Giraffe. She came to our virtual feast to share her delicious recipe for Panfried Gnocchi with Cauliflower and Peas.

I know you must all be full from this wonderful pasta sampler, so before I head off for a nap to work off my carbo coma, I will just let you know that Presto Pasta Nights will be on holiday hiatus but then back in full force in the New Year, when our PPN founder, Ruth herself, will be ushering in our weekly helping of pasta love. From now until January 5th, you can send your PPN submissions to ruth (at) 4everykitchen (dot) com.

Here's to a holiday season full of peace, love and pasta!

Those Gluten-Free Bloggers Are Taking over the Universe!

Time for my semi-annual peek at what some of my gluten free blogger buddies are doing out there.

When I first started this list several years ago, I had fifty or so bloggers listed and then the list ballooned on over 150. I've trimmed it back since then so I can update it more easily and now the list reflects the blogs that I think most effectively cover a certain point-of-view or lifestyle.

There is probably a gluten-free blogger that shares your cooking style, whether you are an adventurous cook who likes to dip into a variety of international cuisines; a mom in need of kid-friendly recipes; a budget-conscious gourmand; someone who loves to bake and is in need of retooling for the gluten-free kitchen or someone who is all of the above! I hope this list and summary helps ease you into the GF lifestyle. I know I am grateful for all the camaraderie, recipes and information I have gleaned from the fantastic and supportive Gluten-Free blogging community.

A Baking Life - There's lots of gorgeous photography and plenty of gluten-free baking going on at Tara's blog about GF living in Maine.

ATX Gluten-Free - ATX stands for Austin, Texas, and Jessica is the amazing cook and GF personal chef who offers news and stylish GF recipes for such cool eats as Caprese Salad Skewers, Spicy Roasted Okra and Red Quinoa with Artichokes, Cranberry and Mushrooms.

The Baking Beauties - Jeannine is a Manitoba Mom who knows her way around the kitchen and is navigating a new gluten-free lifestyle just, well, beautifully! Great baking recipes and photos.

Book of Yum - Vegetarian with some fish and seafood recipes added, this blog features a lot of Asian recipes and recipes that are not only gluten-free, but dairy and egg free. Book of Yum also has a lot of raw food and vegan recipes to try and is the home of the monthly Adopt a Gluten Free Blogger Event.

Cannelle et Vanille - Just the most gorgeous food and photography blog you'd ever want to spend hours perusing. The hostess is Aran, a Basque ex-pat living in the U.S. and all the sumptuous recipes are gluten-free.

Celiac Chicks - These New York City gals know where all the good gluten-free restaurants, delis, pizzerias and foodie havens are and also dish out good gluten-free advice about travel. If you sign up for their email newsletter you can also enter contests for free gluten-free products.

Celiacs in the House - A thrifty mom of two teenagers (now that sounds familiar!) in Columbus, Ohio reports on her gluten-free home cooking experiments and thrifty meal ideas.

Celiac Teen - Lauren's a Canadian teenager interested in good food and fashion and she is one fabulous baker!

Cinnamon Quill
- The Cinnamon Quill is a wonderfully talented baker (not to mention an awesome food photographer). All her recipes are vegetarian or vegan, in addition to being gluten free of course.

The Crispy Cook - Hey, that's my blog! Gluten-free and mostly vegetarian recipes, with the occasional fish and seafood recipe. Some product reviews, gardening posts and other fun stuff.

The Culinary Life -  Culinary Wordsmith Stephanie Stiavetti blogs about gluten-free food, photography, organic cooking, and health issues from her computer in San Francisco.

Diet, Dessert and Dogs - Ricki's the author of "Sweet Freedom: Desserts You’ll Love without Wheat, Eggs, Dairy or Refined Sugar" and has a great vegan and gluten-free blog with lots of baking and healthy recipes. And the occasional canine photo op.

Eat This - Whole grains, natural ingredients, and sugar-free recipes are the focus of this Michigan blogger. You'll find plenty of vegetables and plenty of flavor and some gorgeous food photography to boot!

Elana's Pantry - Elana's a Little League baseball coach and Boulder, Colorado businesswoman whose elegant site promotes gluten-free cooking, healthy homemaking and environmentally-friendly information.

Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen - While not a gluten-free blog per se, there is a wonderful archive of gluten-free recipes on this popular food blog.

Fire and Salt - Brian's a Portland, Oregon fire-fighter, so we know he's already a great cook and he cooks gluten-free for his celiac wife. Terrific recipes.

Flour Arrangements - Sophie's got a sweet tooth, and you'll find plenty of gorgeous photographs of her gluten-free baked goods with mouthwatering recipes.

For the Love of Food - Noosh is the host of this gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free and soy-free blog with excellent recipes, including Persian culinary delights.

The GFCF Experience - Blog host Thomas is a Montana father of four who feeds his family a gluten-free, casein-free diet. You'll find lots of great recipes, information about Autism Spectrum Disorder and parenting anecdotes.

Ginger Lemon Girl - Carrie is from North Carolina and has a particular penchant for gluten-free baking. She also hosts a Gluten-Free Girl interview feature which showcases other gluten-free bloggers and a Kid-Friendly Fridays event for gluten-free goodness that kids will lap up.

Gluten Free A-Z - Judee's got some great vegetarian and gluten-free recipes on her blog, as well as health tips, information and resources.

Gluten Free Easily
- Shirley is a dynamo who leads a celiac support group in her native Virginia and is a wealth of information about how to cook with naturally gluten-free and unprocessed foods.

Gluten Free Philly - Get the scoop on new GF products, events and restaurants in the Philadelphia area.

Gluten-Free Cat - This self-described fitness fanatic, health nut, wife, teacher and GF foodie has lots to say about navigating the GF life and offers many awesome recipes too.

A Gluten-Free Day - Wonderful gluten-free recipes and ethereal photography from Finland.

Gluten Free Diva - Ellen is a musician and excellent cook, judging from the delectable range of gluten-free recipes on her popular blog.

Gluten Free Frenzy! - This Utah gal has plenty of recipes, giveaways and health tips for the GF community and some great photos to boot!

Gluten Free for Good - Melissa is a nutritional therapist who blogs about the healthiest gluten-free recipes. Wonderful advice and information with the added bonus of lovely food photography.

Gluten-Free Fun - Erin is a New York City resident who has lived gluten-free with gusto for 25 years! You can find product and restaurant reviews, recipes, and other information.

Gluten-Free Girl - Shauna James Ahern married the Chef, published a book and had a perfect baby girl, all in one year. Her blog is more essay than recipe heavy, but when the recipes come, they are perfect and seasonally fresh. Make sure to buy her book, "Gluten-Free Girl" and make your local library buy it.

Gluten Free Gobsmacked - This girl Cheekalina can cook! Lots of great recipes for everyday comfort foods to the wildly exotic to all kinds of baking.

Gluten Free Goodness - Cheryl is an Alexandria, Virginia dietician whose blog features her tasty experiments in gluten-free and other allergen-free cooking.

Gluten-Free Gourmand - Get the skinny on gluten-free options in Portland, Oregon and lots of other great posts with recipes and good advice.

Gluten-Free Guide - A stylish blog about life as a celiac with lots of recipes, travel tips, essential posts about Thanksgiving and cupcakes, and product/restaurant reviews.

Gluten-Free Guidebook - Hilary Davidson is a professional travel writer who was diagnosed with celiac disease five years ago. Her blog has information about celiac-safe dining in cities across North America, as well as Spain, Turkey, Peru and other countries.

Gluten Free in Georgia (and Florida)- I guess I can't say it any better than Ginger in describing her blog, "Adventures in Gluten Freedom with a Crazy Southern Blogger Chick". Decadently good gluten-free and sugar-free recipes, witty writing and lots of fun and useful GF information.

Gluten Free on a Shoestring - This lawyer-turned-stay-at-home-mom-of-three really knows how to write. Plus she's funny. Plus she's a creative and frugal cook. Don't miss a chance to visit this blog.

Gluten Free Portland - Dave provides the dish on gluten-free products, eateries and news in the Portland, Oregon area.

Gluten Free Saratoga - Suzanne in Saratoga Springs, New York, dishes out great recipes, tips on gluten-free eateries and groceries in Saratoga County and other interesting tips.

Gluten Free Spinner - Mary is passionate about entertaining friends and family with good food that's gluten-free and kissed with her well-stocked spice shelf.

Gluten Free Taste of Home
- A blog packed with GF product reviews and giveaways, restaurant reviews, recipes and more from Cinde in Washington State.

Gluten Freeway - Navigating a gluten free life in Los Angeles is the focus of Stephen's new blog, with lots of product and restaurant reviews.

Gluten Hates Me, But I'm Surviving -Marlow is a Southern gal who's having way to much fun in the kitchen cooking great gluten free foods and inventing cool new kinds of martinis.

The Good Eatah - Life with this Massachusetts native involves gluten-free, dairy-free cooking, in between skydiving and biking trips.

Hey, That Tastes Good!- Jill lives in Connecticut and blogs about local gluten-free eateries and has some excellent recipes, as well as the occasional gluten-free travel report from Slovakia.

Hold the Gluten - Maureen is a New Jersey mom with lots of witty information and mouthwatering recipes about life on planet celiac. She even does podcasts...whoa!

Jeena's Kitchen - Jeena is a U.K. food blogger with a ton of gluten-free recipes in her index. Her focus is healthy and fresh food, with an emphasis on Indian recipes. My family is hooked on her Onion Bhajis recipe and all the variations with other vegetables that we cook up.

Jenn Cuisine - Jenn is a chemist living in Switzerland with a GF husband and an arsenal of awesome photography and culinary skills. Just a breathtakingly delicious site.

Karina's Kitchen - Karina is the Gluten-Free Goddess, whose blog reflects her background as an artist and writer, with lots of gorgeous food photography. Karina's gluten-free and other allergy-friendly recipes have a Southwestern flavor and a focus on fresh and natural ingredients.

Kat's GF Kitchen - Albany, New Yorker Kat has a husband who has recently gone gluten-free and this blog chronicles her cooking adaptations and experiments.

Life Gluten Free - A gluten-free blogger mom with an emphasis on sugar-free and healthy cooking and eco-friendly lifestyle tips. Plus cool crafts!

Lynn's Kitchen Adventures - After suffering from undiagnosed gluten-intolerance for most of her life, Oklahoman Lynn is reveling in retooling her family favorite recipes into delicious foods that are free of gluten, tree nuts, peanuts and sesame.

The Mommy Bowl - Deanna is a Wisconsin mom who blogs gluten-free and dairy-free recipes and information on her blog. Wonderful photographer, too!

No Gluten Required - Kristina has a Master's Degree in Gastronomy, a custom set of Gluten-Free wooden utensils and a whole lot of great recipes, product and restaurant reviews and good advice.

No Gluten, No Problem
- Kelli and Peter Bronski blog about recipes and gf living and are the authors of "Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking."

No One Likes Crumbley Cookies - Terence Crumbley gives out some great GF recipes as well as the occasional post about health and fitness and Nintendo games.

Only Sometimes Clever - An Arizona homeschooling mom who very thoughtfully blogs about the gluten-free lifestyle, books, GF products and hiking.

Pig in the Kitchen - This U.K. pig is one of the funniest food writers out there and her recipes for her family of many allergies are great to boot. Throw in some great food photos and it's a blog party!

Please Don't Pass the Nuts - This New York City psychotherapist and social worker shares recipes and lifestyle advice for gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, sugar-free, lactose-free and other -free diets.

Rachel's Recipe Box - This New England homeschooling mommy's blog contains a wealth of gluten-free, dairy-free recipes and advice about healthy living.

Real Sustenance
- Brittany is a gluten- and dairy-free cook with lots of Skills (that's a capital S there) in the kitchen. Gotta try that won ton dough recipe and soon!

Savvy Celiac - Amy offers a wealth of information for parents of celiac kids and their families, as well as news and Minneapolis/St. Paul GF recommendations.

The Sensitive Pantry - If you are looking for recipes and kitchen advice about eating gluten- and egg-free , check out this stylish blog. There are also many recipes that are tagged as vegan and casein/dairy-free.

She Let Them Eat Cake - Maggie is the baking diva that provides a ton of tasty recipes for GF and often dairy-free meals, with an emphasis on REAL foods.

Simply Sugar & Gluten Free
- Amy's maintained a healthy weight loss by eliminating refined sugars and gluten from her diet, but that doesn't stop this blogger from creating spectacular recipes for the things that make life sweet. Amy hosts Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays to highlight fabulous foods made a little bit healthier.

Sorry I Can't Eat That - Allie in Western Massachusetts gives out advice on gluten-free groceries, restaurants and other places.

The Spunky Coconut - A Colorado mom and food coach/personal cook that specializes in gluten-free, casein-free and sugar-free cooking dishes out some great, healthy recipes. She is also the author of the new "Spunky Coconut Cookbook".

Straight into Bed Cakefree and Dried - Naomi over in England is a homeopath and her recipes for lovely, healthy and kid-friendly treats are spectacular. She also started the blogging event, Go Ahead, Honey, It's Gluten-Free, to inspire theme-based gluten-free recipe roundups.

Strawberries are Gluten Free - A Canadian mom of three young kids and a celiac husband who shares her family-friendly recipes and menus.

Sugar and Spice - A Boston girl who likes to cook, read nonfiction, kick box and watch the Red Sox.

Sure Foods Living - Alison, a California mom, maintain a excellent informational blog about living gluten-free and avoiding other food allergens.

Tasty Eats at Home
- This Texas mom knows how to put a great meal on the table quickly, even when it's gluten-free and from scratch.

La Tartine Gourmande - French ex-pat Bea (accent aigue in there over the e) is a food and travel writer/photographer, whose blog is achingly beautiful. Find over 100 gluten-free recipes in her recipe index.

Trav's Gone Gluten-Free - Philadelphian Travis explores the gluten-free world, with many recipes and reviews of gluten-free beers and other products.

Triumph Dining - The publishers of the "Essential Gluten-Free Restaurant Guide" and Grocery Guide have a blog packed with tips about finding gluten-free food throughout the U.S.

Wheat Free Meat Free - Kalinda cooks for her vegetarian celiac husband in Chicago and this blog features her great recipes and wonderful food photos.

Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen - Husband and wife nutritionists and cookbook authors Ali and Tom have a wonderful blog about healthy, gluten-free eating coming to us from Bellingham, Washington.

A Year of Crockpotting - Stephanie is the hilarious, gluten-free chef who has a strong attraction to her herd of crock pots--but she's OK with that. A funny and tasty food blog which started on January 1, 2008 with a new crock pot recipe each day.

This list is just an appetizer, there are so many other great gluten-free food bloggers out there that I haven't had time to taste and more sprout each day. Let me know if you see any other great GF bloggers out there that you would recommend.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gluten Free Food Find of the Week: Korean Rice Cakes or Dduk Noodles

One of our recent food finds at the Asian markets in Albany has been bags of dried rice cakes. No, not those tasteless puffed rice cracker-y things that come dusted with cheese or cinnamon, but a variety of Korean rice noodle, called dduk and spelled about thirty different ways in English.

These gluten-free noodles look like mini tongue-depressors to me, being somewhat elongated ovoids, and are a nice, chewy addition to stir-fries. One can buy fresh or frozen dduk, but so far I have just experimented with the bags of dried dduk. These noodles are made of pounded, steamed and dried sweet rice flour and must be pre-soaked in cold or boiling water to make them ready for cooking. They have a great texture that really stands up to extended cooking, so they are a good choice for any noodle soup or juicy stir-fry dishes in which a more tender noodle would give up and implode into mush.

Korean cooks make many varieties of dduk dishes, both sweet and savory, and a bowl of steaming Dduk Gook soup is a traditional way to ring in the New Year.  I enjoyed reading this blog post from a Korean doctor who relates the many sayings that involve their much beloved rice cakes, like "give your enemy another piece of dduk" (i.e., "turn the other cheek").

I haven't followed any traditional Korean recipes for using this noodle, (but I intend to!) so much as incorporating them in my weekly stir-fries when I have needed something starchy. They do tend to suck up a lot of sauce and flavor, so plan on adding more liquid to your wok when you are adding in your dduk noodles. Above you can see a stir-fry of julienned carrot, cabbage, zucchini and garlic bathed in a sesame-soy-garlic sauce and zapped with a little chili-garlic paste. The dduk noodles add such a nice heft in there!

I have the privilege of hosting Presto Pasta Nights #244 this week. PPN is a popular weekly blog event chronicling the many incarnations of the world's noodles and was started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast  in 2007. I thought relaying my adventures with this new-dle would fit the bill quite nicely.

I have already received some great pasta recipes from other bloggers and look forward to other pasta creations in my emailbox until the deadline of Thursday, December 15. You can send them to me (with a photo attachment of your creation) at oldsaratogabooks (at) gmail (dot) com and please also cc ruth (at) 4everykitchen (dot) com.  I will post the roundup for this last Presto Pasta Nights of 2011 the day after. Hope you can squeeze in some pasta fun with us during this busy holiday week!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Melomakarona Cookies

With Christmas packages needing a little sweet treat from the home ovens, it's been cookie baking time here at Chez Crispy, and so I was glad that this month's host for the Gluten Free Ratio Rally, Caroline of The G-Spot Revolution, picked COOKIES. Our dedicated band of gluten-free bakers tackles a new baking adventure each month (together we've made pasta, pate a choux, pie, doughnuts, cake and other goodies) using major ingredients by weight and ratios in our experimentation. For cookies, we were trying out a ratio of 3 parts gluten-free flours, 2 parts fat, and 1 part sugar.

Cookies are familiar territory to most home cooks and thankfully, the architecture that gluten provides to other other baking endeavors is not crucial to most cookies that are not made of wheat flour. I wanted to try something unusual for this month's cookie challenge, so I turned to the boatload of baking cookbooks that had recently come into our used bookstore, Old Saratoga Books. One of them, A Baker's Odyssey: Celebrating Time-Honored Recipes from America's Rich Immigrant Heritage, by Greg Patent (NY: John Wiley and Sons, 2007), has entranced me with its intriguing heirloom recipes from bakers from all corners of the world. From Wales to Mexico to Nigeria, the book is stuffed with baking lore and instructions to make the most interesting baked goods.

Patent's description of  Melomakarona Cookies, an ancient holiday cookie from Greece, reeled me in with its siren song. Melomakarona are made with flour, nuts and semolina, perfumed with orange, olive oil and spices and then soaked in a honey-nut syrup. It just seems like something Penelope would have served to Odysseus on his return home, so that he could take in the tastes and scents of his native land and they could lick the honey from each other's fingers. A sensual cookie indeed.

When I produced a batch of this wonderful cookie for my family, however, the kids kept referring to them as maccarena cookies, or worse, melanomas, and only the adults really dug into them. I don't think they were chocolatey or sickly sweet enough for them, but we grownups savored them all week long. They are lovely with a cup of fragrant herb tea and it's a nice contrast between a not-too-sweet, nutty cookie drenched in honey syrup with a nice crust from the potato starch to keep things interesting in one's mouth. Melomakarona also keep well at room temperature and just keep soaking up their honey syrup.

I used a blend of potato starch (for crisp cookie texture), corn flour (not to be confused with corn starch or corn meal. It's a flour that I got from the health food store and I thought it would substitute well for the semolina, adding some nutty flavor and stretchiness to the dough), and buckwheat (for more nuttiness) and this seemed to work well in adapting The Baker's Odyssey recipe to a gluten-free version. Next time I think I would reduce the baking time by 5 or 10 minutes because my cookies did not seem to absorb as much of the syrup as I think they should have because the outsides were fairly crisp. Or maybe I would use half as much potato starch and add in cornstarch or white rice flour to make up the difference. When serving the cookies, I made sure to dole out some extra syrup and chopped nuts after tipping the cookie plate so they could be dunked anew after each bite. They also soften up a little bit if you heat them for a minute in the microwave.

Here then is my contribution to the GF Ratio Rally's cookie extravaganza:

Greek Melomakarona Cookies
(adapted from Greg Patent's A Baker's Odyssey)

6 oz. corn flour
6 oz. potato starch
6 oz. buckwheat flour
1 tsp. xanthan gum
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Extra flour for shaping the cookies (I used white rice flour)

6 oz. olive oil
3 oz. sugar
6 oz. orange juice
Grated zest of one orange

1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

4 oz. honey
4 oz. sugar
6 oz. water

1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

Whisk together corn flour, potato starch, buckwheat flour, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt.

In a larger bowl, whisk together olive oil and 3 oz. sugar to dissolve sugar. Add in orange juice and zest. Gradually mix in flour mixture above until well combined. Slowly add in spices and 3/4 cup walnuts until blended. Let dough rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes. This seems to let the oil suck into the flour and the dough thickens up a bit. It's a very soft dough, but not difficult to work with if you have extra flour to coat your hands.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment. With floured hands, take about 2 Tbsp. of dough and shape into ovals, fitting fifteen cookies onto each prepared cookie sheet.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until cookies are browned and spring back when pressed. Midway through baking time, rotate cookie sheets from top rack to bottom so that they brown evenly.

While cookies are baking, make the syrup by adding honey, 4 oz. sugar and water in a small pot. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to make sure sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes.

Immediately upon taking the cookies out of the oven, slip them onto another cookie sheet or glass baking dish and then drench them in your hot syrup. Let stand for 15 minutes, then flip cookies and let them sit in their hot syrup bath for another 15 minutes. Turn them right side up again and sprinkle with 1/4 cup walnuts. Patent says to let the melomakarona sit overnight before tasting, but this is impossible. The warm cookies are very good right away, though they do improve after soaking in more syrup after a long nap.

Makes 30 cookies.

Be sure to check back with The G-Spot Revolution, where Caroline has links to a wealth of gluten-free cookie posts from the other Ratio Rally bakers. And if you are looking for other gluten-free cookie recipes to try out for your holiday table or Christmas care packages, here are some from the Crispy Cook archives. I like a cookie that is long on spice and not overly sweet, as you can see below.

Swiss Basler Brunsli
Almond Cloud Cookies
Mexican Cinnamon Cookies
Apricot-Ginger Shortbread
Elegant Sesame-Ginger Cookies (vegan)
Peanut Butter Kisses
Elizabeth Barbone's Lemon Bars
Ginger-Nut Lace Cookies
Mocha-Pepper Sandwich Cookies
Fig Newtons
Rudolph's Noses (no bake chocolate-cherry cookies)

Happy baking!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Time to Cook the Books a la Grecque

The latest book pick for Cook the Books, the Internet foodie book club that my friends Johanna of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food and Deb of Kahakai Kitchen started three years ago, is Patricia Volonakis Davis'  Harlot's Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece (NY: Harper Davis Publishers 2008).  With Cook the Books, we have read many kinds of foodie non-fiction, novels, children's literature and biographies, and traveled the world reading about different culinary traditions, but we have never examined the wonderful food culture of Greece, so I was excited when Johanna picked this book for our current CTB selection.

Davis tells the story of her courtship and marriage to a Greek immigrant and the cultural clashes between her first generation Italian-American family and his. Eventually, she and Gregori and their son Nick move to Greece and her descriptions of her new life there were the most interesting part of the book for me. I enjoyed the translations of various Greek words and expressions ("She can make a donkey die!" means someone is stubborn beyond words) and loved her prose about about Greek Orthodox rituals, the complex dance of the biscotti and coffee at Greek funerals, and comparisons of American and Greek attitudes towards children, stray dogs, and education.

Though the word "Food" is given preeminence in the title of this book, there is not so much discussion of Greek cuisine as there are descriptions of how Davis' marriage weakens and ultimately unravels. And this is not what I thought the book would be about, so unfortunately, I would find my thoughts drifting away through yet another recitation of a marital argument or fight with a passive-aggressive in-law. I flipped ahead through many pages seeking out the nuggets about Greek culture seen through an American's eyes or about the love-hate relationship that first generation immigrant families have with US pop culture and societal freedoms.

My favorite character in the book is Patricia's mother, a chain-smoking philosopher, whom she unfortunately becomes estranged from after too many Gregori incidents.  I absolutely loved Mama Nancy's theory of comparative religion. When young Patricia came home from Catholic school one day and asked how one knows that their religion is "the right one", Mom replies:

 "All religions are the "right" religion, if they're right for the person following them. They all teach basically the same things: to love one another, be the best people we can be, to never deliberately harm someone else."

When her daughter asks why there are different religions, Mom's educational metaphor comes back: "The best way I can describe it is that it's like decorating a house. Some have furniture that might seem strange to you, but the people who live there are happy with it." (p. 81)

After my reading, I was inspired to filch a Greek cookbook from our bookstore shelves, Perfect Greek (London: Parragon, 2006) and perused many a delicious recipe for various mezze, sweets and salads, but ultimately I settled on a recipe for a tomatoey Greek Fisherman's Soup which I adapted to be much more stew-like and which made for a wonderfully fragrant meal served over rice. I'm glad I made a big pot of rice, because this concoction had terrific juices and we sopped up every bit at dinner.

Here's a Fish Stew fit for a Harlot or Fisherman or whomever shows up at your table:

Greek Fisherman's Stew (adapted from Perfect Greek)

2 frozen fillets of tilapia, thawed and cut into chunks (they will flake off in the cooking)
1 lb. frozen shrimp, thawed and shelled

1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes and their juice
Peel of one orange
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
3 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Hot cooked rice

Heat olive oil in large soup pot. Add onion, celery and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, about five minutes. Add fish and shrimp and cook, stirring often, another 5-7 minutes, until shrimp are pink

Add white wine and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add orange peel (I used a tangerine and squeezed in the juice too), thyme, parsley and bay leaves. Cook another 15 minutes at a simmer until seafood is thoroughly cooked and the fish has flaked up and into your wonderful stew juices.  Season with salt and pepper and serve over hot cooked rice. The citrus in the sauce really picks up the sweetness of the fish and shrimp.

Makes 4 dinner servings.

Johanna, our resident Athenian Cook the Book hostess, will be posting a roundup of all the blog entries about Harlot's Sauce after tomorrow's deadline, so hop on over to Cook the Books later this week to see all the posts. Our featured author, Patricia Volonakis Davis, will also be serving as our guest judge to select a winner from the blog entries so that should be entertaining reading as well.

**Next up on the Cook the Books reading list is John and Matt Lewis Thorne's collection of food essays "Outlaw Cook".  It's a fantastic book and I invite you all to join us in reading the book and then blogging up your thoughts and any Outlaw-inspired recipes.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Vegetable Sputnik Sends us into Orbit: Cooking with Kohlrabi

Chipmunk-ravaged kohlrabi plants from our garden

A wonderful little vegetable sputnik is the kohlrabi, a newcomer in the Crispy home garden, which I grew from a packet of seeds. Gardening with kohlrabi so easy. They grow rapidly, like radishes, and should be picked before they get too large and woody, or a swell up too quickly after a bout of rainy days.

They have the most interesting, sculptural form, looking all the world like a small, pale green satellite with stemlets jutting out from all points on its circumference.One can eat leaves too if a chipmunk is not present in one's garden shed and keeps nipping out to mine them.

I would describe the taste of this brassica as having a mild turnip or cabbage flavor. When chopped, the pale green flesh is more reminiscent of celeriac or a fat broccoli stem in texture, though it is somewhat more juicy.

You can eat kohlrabi raw, sliced into sticks or rounds to dip into your favorite spread or eat sprinkled with salt. We also tried grating the kohlrabis on my box grater and dressing them with mayonnaise, celery seed and salt and that was an okay sort of salad.

Kohlrabi in a Remoulade Dressing
On the advice of my friend Erika of Hungarian descent, the best way to cook kohlrabi is to hollow out and then parboil smallish specimens and then stuff them with a rice and meat mixture, as one would stuff a green bell pepper. We haven't yet tried that method, but I tried Erika's other suggestion, which was to slice some kohlrabis, fry them in butter and then add vegetable stock and herb. A little simmering time later and they were a nice side dish on a brisk autumn night.

You can also find a lot of information about kohlrabi and how to cook it from one of my favorite vegetable cookbooks, Bert Greene's Greene on Greens (NY: Workman Publishers, 1984). He shows his particular fondness for this brassica with no less than eleven recipes, some of them quite elaborate.

However, the best dish hands down that we have tried with our kohlrabi bounty has been Kohlrabi Cakes. They are similar to potato or zucchini pancakes and we found that we can use up the bags of grated kohlrabi in our freezer. Dan the Breakfast King came up with this recipe during one creative morning and we've been really enjoying them.

Getting the specifics of the recipe from my brilliant, breakfast-making husband is a little difficult since it's kind of an improvisational recipe. He makes it a little bit differently each time, but he also notes that it is a very flexible and forgiving recipe. If you have a  carrot or onion scrap in your fridge, you can add it or not. You can season it differently each time. The amount of flour depends upon how moist your kohlrabi mixture is. So, with some less-than-wide-awake-note-taking on my part (I need my second mug of coffee in the a.m. before I am fully cognizant), I offer the following tasty recipe for:

Kohlrabi Cakes

2-3 apple-sized kohlrabis
1/2 green pepper, coarsely chopped
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 egg, beaten
2-3 Tbsp. white rice flour
Your choice of herbs and seasonings (we like to use coarsely ground black pepper, smoked paprika and salt)
Butter and olive oil for frying

Whack off the ends of the kohlrabi and peel them. Grate them on the big hole side of your box grater. You will end up with about 2 to 2-1/2 cups of grated kohlrabi. Squeeze to remove excess moisture. You can also use frozen grated kohlrabi, thawed and drained.

Mix in pepper, onion, carrot and garlic. Beat in egg, seasonins and add enough flour to bind it all together. If your batter is too moist, add another Tbsp. of flour. It should just hold together when you shape it into patties.

Heat a Tbsp. each of butter and olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add two or three patties to your pan and fry slowly, flipping two or three times, for about 10 minutes, or until kohlrabi cakes are brown and CRISPY on the outside.

Makes 4 kohlrabi cakes.

I am sending this kohlrabi post and recipe to that most venerable food blog event (it's reached venerability as it's in its sixth year!), Weekend Herb Blogging was started by Kalyn's Kitchen and is now headquartered by Haalo at Cook Almost Anything and guest hosted this week in Italian and English by Brii at BriggisHome.

Brii will have a roundup of all the Weekend Herb Blogging #311 posts after this Sunday's deadline, so stay tuned for that.

**And if you would like to enter in my giveaway to receive a copy of Laura Russell's new "Gluten Free Asian Kitchen" cookbook, be sure to leave a comment at the previous post here at The Crispy Cook. I'll have another giveaway this week after I announce the winner of this great new cookbook.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cinnamon Basil Cupcakes with Fresh Tomato Soup for Novel Food

If you are a gardener, cook or voracious reader of mystery novels, (or all three like me) you will love diving into Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayles series. Set in the Texas hill country, China is a former high-powered defense attorney who shifts gears mid-career to open up an herb shop surrounded by gardens in a small town. Her main side kick is a red-haired Amazon, Ruby, who wears flamboyant clothes and shares commercial space with our heroine to run her New Age shop full of crystals, tarot cards and incense.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable time this summer reading through the cozy series, which now numbers 19 books in all.  Albert has a different herbal theme for each book and its title and one can learn a lot about gardening, folklore, the medicinal use of herbs and even try out some delicious recipes from the back of many of the books. I was particularly taken by a scene in Book 2, Witches' Bane, in which China and her mom dine at former nun Maggie's Restaurant and have a lunch of Cinnamon Basil Cupcakes, thick Tomato Soup and Greek Style Broccoli Salad. That sounded like a fantastic combination, so much so, that I ordered cinnamon basil seeds from a catalogue just to try out those cupcakes (which are more like savory muffins).

That's where I was stymied. I had a nice little bunch of Cinnamon Basil plants sprouting up in a clump in the garden when the overzealous weeder, husband Dan, yanked them out by mistake. It was a long interval between reading about this mouthwatering literary feast and actually seeing this project to completion, but it was a worthwhile wait.

A bunch of Cinnamon Basil with gorgeous purple stems

Back to the garden patch I went to plant some more, this time carefully marked with a special stake, and they duly grew into the handsome plants you see above. This basil variety really does have a spicy cinnamon fragrance and taste and are a striking plant with dark purple stems and light purple blossoms. In addition to using them in the following Cinnamon Basil Cupcake recipe, I used the chiffonaded leaves liberally in my tomato and noodle salads all through August.

The Cinnamon Basil Cupcakes come out a pale shade of green, which is not the usual color for a muffin or cupcake, but they are so delectable and they certainly make for a colorful meal paired alongside deep red tomato soup. I will reduce the amount of sugar in this recipe when I make them again, as I felt they were a little too sweet, but they really were a wonderful accompaniment when served warm from the oven and dunked into my soup.

Gluten Free Cinnamon Basil Muffins (or you can call them Cupcakes like China)

1/4 cup cinnamon basil leaves, stripped from stems
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp baking powder

1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Puree cinnamon basil leaves in a blender with the oil until it is a fine puree. Add sugar and egg and mix well.

Sift together dry ingredients. Add to basil-oil mixture and combine. Add in sour cream, milk and walnuts and mix well.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, or until muffins feel springy.

While muffins are baking, you can whip up a quick tomato soup by sauteeing some onions and garlic in olive oil until golden, adding in a bunch of fresh or canned peeled, pureed tomatoes and then cooking over low heat, stirring often, until desired thickness. Season with a little more fresh cinnamon basil and salt and pepper and you have an awesome, literary-inspired light meal.

I hope this whets your appetite for this excellent herbal mystery series and to plant a patch of cinnamon basil yourself. You'll want to read the China Bayles series in order, as China, Ruby and various family members go through a lot of changes in life. I saved up this tasty post just for the 14th edition of Novel Food, which is hosted quarterly by Briciole. Novel Food invites participants to cook up recipes inspired by a literary work which has been particularly captivating.

If you haven't already discovered this fun blog event, you can check back through the archives to discover novels, plays, short stories and poems which have inspired bloggers to whip up wonderful creations in their kitchens. This round of Novel Food ends this Sunday, so you still have time to join in the fun or wait until after the deadline to see what others have been reading and then eating.

**And now for a bit of Crispy Cook housekeeping. I am pleased to announce the winners of my Lundberg Family Farms and Stonehouse 27 giveaways. The five winners are: Lindsey, John, the Swedenese Family, Simona and Kathleen. Congratulations to all and I will be contacting you to get your mailing address so that you can receive your Lundberg Brown Rice Bowl and Stonehouse 27 Cooking Sauce sent to you.

Stay tuned for another Giveaway post this week to learn how to get a copy of a great new GF cookbook: Laura B. Russell's "The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen". I've made several recipes from this cookbook and all have been terrific.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Eat Your Roses. And Your Squash Blossoms

It was during the steamy days of summer that I gave a thorough test drive to a review copy of Eat Your Roses: Pansies, Lavender and 49 Other Delicious Edible Flowers by Denise Schreiber (St. Lynn's Press, 2011). This great kitchen and garden reference is handily bound with a sturdy wire spiral binding so that it lays flat to each page enabling the reader to tote it about during the harvest, cooking or even the selection of one's garden seedlings.

I learned so much from this book and was pleasantly surprised to learn that many of the vegetables and herbs that I let flower on after the main harvest are still able to provide food and garnish for my table. Those radishes that inevitably get past me with their growth spurts are still able to provide snappy salad toppings with their pale pink and purple blossoms. Those deep blue and purple bachelors buttons that I let reseed themselves in bits of my vegetable garden because they arere just so darn pretty and feed the pollinating insects also fed my family for the first time, strewn over our summer salads.  And who knew lilac blooms were edible? I grow a stand just for its heavenly scent and color, but next Spring some lilacs will migrate into my cream cheese to be spread on a cracker for a pre-prandial snack.

Schreiber's book is loaded with color photos and each page is devoted to a different edible flower. Organized alphabetically, the book gives descriptions of how to grow, harvest and prepare each plant and also gives cautionary advice about some of their health impacts (i.e., don't consume chamomile if you are taking blood thinners).  A recipe section at the back lists many scrumptious and unusual dishes that will appeal to all five senses, including Fresh Salsa with Pineapple and Nasturtiums, Watermelon and Feta Salad and Lemon Verbena Salmon.

My tastiest use of this informative book was in experimenting with squash blossoms. I had a healthy zucchini crop this summer (only three plants) with plenty of blossoms available during the really hot spells. Schreiber's book notes that "squash flowers can be stuffed with cheeses and other fillings, battered and deep fried or sauteed and added to pasta". The trick with the squash flowers is to get the male flowers (the ones without a bulbous base that indicates that a baby zucchini is on the way) when they have just started to open, as they are rather fragile and get raggedy even after a day in the sunshine. The other trick is to avoid getting stung by a bee while picking them, as they are also very attractive to the Insect Kingdom. I found that early morning, when the cold-blooded bees are still drowsy and slow, was the best time to swoop in and steal them.

I don't often have great frying success, so rather than battering and frying my blossoms, I gently rinsed and patted them dry, then laid them on a parchment-lined baking tray. I mixed up a little softened goat cheese with salt, pepper and some chopped fresh summer savory and gently stuffed my squash blossoms. I then gave my flowers a good spritz of olive oil.  I popped them in the toaster oven and broiled them for a few minutes on each side, until the tops browned and the cheese started to melt.

They were decadently good and we indulged in this little snack several times over the next few weeks, subbing in cream cheese and basil and rosemary, when the goat cheese ran out and we wanted a different herb flavor. They are also terrific with a little fresh marinara on the side.

If you enjoy cooking from the garden, foraging your own grub or interesting kitchen experiments, you will want to buy your own copy of  Eat Your Roses. You can purchase one at the St. Lynn's Press website ($16.95) or your favorite bookstore.

Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, but was under no obligation to post a review. My comments, as always, are my own.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Look Back at the 2011 Garden and some Braised Celery

Despite lashings of rain and wind from Hurricane Irene and a sodden Spring and Fall, the garden season here at Chez Crispy was productive indeed. Our garlic crop was tremendous and I have given away lots of fat-cloved batches to friends and family and will be sticking some in the ground this week for next year's crop.

We also had a bodacious broccoli and hot pepper crop. I thought I had bought one variety of hot pepper seedlings and one of mild peppers, but both turned out on the fiery side, so our freezer is stuffed with sliced capascins, we dehydrated some and I made a batch of hot pepper sauce. We ate tons of broccoli over the summer and I put lots in the freezer as well, though we also enjoyed trying it grilled over a piece of foil on the barbecue. We drizzled it with olive oil and seasoned it with salt, pepper and fresh basil, and it was very tasty.

Broccoli in situ and roasted on the barbie

The lettuces, escarole, tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs were also abundant. I pickled. I sauced. I froze. I dried lots of comestibles during the harvest season. My canning sessions were limited to tried and true favorites like tomato sauce, spicy salsa, dilly beans and zucchini relish.

A typical August daily harvest
Lots of garden garlic mid-season

I was given some interesting new plants by my buddy Andrea, who works at an organic farm. She gave me some lemongrass, epazote, chervil, some smudging herbs which I can't remember the name of, and some dragonhead, which was a very cool, spiky purple flowering herb which makes a lovely tea.  The epazote was an interesting looking plant, and though I love to smell the odor of turpentine, I am less inclined to ingest it. This Mexican native herb spells very pungently like the turps, so I just let it grow on. It made lots of seeds and some have already sprouted up next to the mother plants so I will no doubt get a second chance to inspect it next Spring. Let me know if you have played around with epazote in the kitchen and have some ideas for me.


The chervil was a gorgeous plant that I would consider growing among my flowerbeds, with lacy dark green leaves and a licorice flavor. A few chervil leaves in the salad bowl make a nice accent.


The lemongrass was also a great surprise. I had never considered growing this tropical plant because I thought it would be too tender, but it grew quickly and thickly in my garden and I still have a luxuriant stand of lemongrass even at this late date and after two frosts. The leaves are fragrant additions to curries and soups and I have a few bundles drying in the garden shed for winter teas. I've yet to scoop out the remainder of my lemongrass stalks and chop them up for the freezer but will need to do that and pronto, since snow is forecast for tomorrow.

Lemongrass in my October garden!?!

I swapped a bunch of garden items with Andrea throughout the season and when given a dark green and very fragrant bunch of celery from her raised beds, I thought I would try out a recipe that would highlight this vegetable. I had recently gotten in a Depression-era cookbook at our bookshop, Alice Foote MacDougall's Cook Book (1935), and enjoyed browsing through her recipes and prose. A recipe for a simple Braised Celery  caught my eye, so I made it up and it was a herbal, delicately-flavored side dish that we dined on for one meal and then reused into a tasty celery soup the next day by adding some leftover mashed potatoes and milk.

Braised Celery

Here's Alice Foote MacDougall's recipe for:

Braised Celery

"Remove the outside coarse stalks from a bunch of celery and save for seasoning. Wash the remainder and cut into pieces one inch long. The large stalks should be cut down the middle.

Place 2 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan and, when melted, put in the celery. Saute slowly until tender. Season with salt and pepper. This is a pleasant addition to one's dinner."

Just so! A simple but luscious and certainly more-than-pleasant recipe, which I will be sharing this week at Weekend Herb Blogging, an event hosted by Haalo at Cook Almost Anything and guest hosted this time round by Cafe Lynnylu.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cook up a Homemade Life and Some Cabbage with Molly Wizenberg

There are times when you are in the mood for a light read to let you escape into another world; there are times for a chunky doorstop of a novel to distract you from the miseries of a stubborn cold; and then there are those occasions when a great book of essays or short stories is just the thing to see you through bouts of stop-and-start appointments and other life interrupters. Molly Wizenberg's "A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table" (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2009) was the perfect book to tuck into during a busy last few weeks and I thoroughly enjoyed reading and dog-earing the pages of this lovely book of food essays.

The author has chronicled her journey from anthropology grad student to popular food blogger and author on her blog Orangette and expands upon these writings in "A Homemade Life". The pivotal moment that changed her life focus came after the death of her gusto-laden dad, known affectionately as Burg. Burg smacked his lips when cooking and eating; he sometimes laughed so hard that he gagged; he showed his family how to live "wholly, hungrily, loudly" and to appreciate the whole process of cooking and gathering together around the table. The pages of "A Homemade Life" are packed with the author's memories of various members of her family and friends, but Burg is the one that cartwheels out of the pages with his effusiveness and charisma.

I was also tickled by Molly's memories of a first date with a health food aficionado who served her a salad made of seven kinds of sprouts--plus three cherry tomatoes!-- and then serenaded her with some sort of Chinese lute. She lurched home to her peanut butter jar to muffle the roar in her stomach. It reminded me all too vividly of some one and only dates in my past, including one strange encounter on Halloween night (I should have known better) with a cute but twitchy reporter who played opera music at Def Leppard volume while we poked at our bowls of not-quite-defrosted lentil soup with blocks of frozen legumes in the middle.

The book is stuffed with recipes for desserts and sweets, but I was lured in by her recipes for savory delights. Someday I will try her intriguing recipe for Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper and those Tuna Buchons, but for a recent dinner, I made up a batch of her homey Cream-Braised Green Cabbage. The cabbage sections come out caramelized, yet sweet and this simple, luscious recipe has won a place in my brassica recipe rotation.

Molly's great book is the present selection of the online foodie book club, Cook the Books, that a couple of food blogger colleagues and I started back in 2008. We take turns hosting the bimonthly rounds of Cook the Books and this time round it was my Hawai'ian blogger buddy Deb of Kahakai Kitchens who picked this gem for us to delve into. Today is the deadline to submit a blog post for the roundup that Deb will put up with all the blogger contributions, so be sure to check back in later to see what others thought about the book and what they cooked up. Molly herself will be taking some time out of honing her next book to serve as the guest judge for the CTB submissions.