Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Roll-Cutting and Dry-Frying some Chinese Eggplants

Second Daughter and I took a shopping trip down to Albany to stock up on pantry provisions and went to the Asian Supermarket at 1245 Central Avenue. This stop proved to be yet another fabulous ethnic market to add to our list of great places to find interesting, exotic and naturally gluten-free foods.

Asian Supermarket had an extensive produce department, where we found everything from banana blossoms to huge piles of durian to dragon fruit.  I didn't buy those three intriguing edibles, but I did buy a huge bag of baby bok choy, packets of chrysanthemum tea, a 20 lb. bag of basmati rice and a wonderful Chinese vegetable from the mustard family, yu choy, which was meltingly soft when braised with garlic and soy sauce.

Some other new items fell into our cart. I fell in love with Thai packages of Crispy Fried Seaweed in regular and Tomato Ketchup flavors (gotta try the Kimchi and Squid flavors next time!), while the young 'un enjoyed scoring a huge bag of Happy (rice) Crackers and some delicious to-go foods from the take-out bar.

Some sensuously-curved, light purple Chinese eggplants called to me and I brought them home to play around with. I have never cooked with any eggplant other than the glossy purple-black aubergines of the Mediterranean variety, but I had read that the slender Chinese and Japanese varieties are less bitter and more tender, which I found to be slightly true. Certainly more experimentation with these gorgeous members of the nightshade family are in order here at Crispy Cook Central.

My first step was to pore through my well-loved copy of the late Barbara Tropp's "China Moon Cookbook" (NY: Workman Press, 1992).  Tropp's blend of traditional Chinese cooking techniques and ingredients, Yiddish-spiced instructions and California pizzazz always wows me, and I love her clear instructions that break down restaurant cooking results into components that a home cook can understand. 

Tropp offered a few recipes for wonderful eggplant-centric dishes (I've made her Strange Flavor Eggplant several times to rave reviews), but her siren song description of "Dry-Fried Chinese Eggplant Nuggets" as her favorite Chinese eggplant dish, bar none, made my decision for me. 

The dish involves a roll-cutting technique which I had never tried.  It's easy to do but hard to describe.  Basically, you make one 45 degree slice at one end of your vegetable and then roll it 180 degrees and make another 45 degree slice at your desired thickness. You end up with chunky, somewhat triangular segments of eggplant, which have a lot of surface area to absorb cooking heat and sauciness, not to mention a whole bunch of visual style. Ming Tsai has a short video segment on roll-cutting carrots and zucchini here which I found helpful before I attempted hacking away at my beautiful lavender-colored eggplants.

Aren't those eggplant slices beautiful?

They lose their gorgeous purple color when they are cooked up, but the resulting mixture of spicy and sweet flavors surrounding these soft hunks of eggplant tantalize the other senses quite nicely.

Sweet and Salty Braised Chinese Eggplant

adapted from Barbara Tropp's "Dry-Fried Chinese Eggplant Nuggets" in her China Moon Cookbook.

1-1/2 lbs. Chinese eggplants (4 slender eggplants)

3 scallions, thinly sliced (reserve some for garnish)
1 Tbsp. finely minced ginger
1 Tbsp. finely minced garlic

2 Tbsp. chili paste with garlic
2 Tbsp. soy sauce (check to make sure it's gluten free)
2 Tbsp. palm sugar (or brown sugar)
1 Tbsp. black rice vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
2 Tbsp. hot water

3-4 Tbsp. peanut oil

Slice top and tail off your eggplants and then roll cut them into one inch pieces. 

Mix together chili paste, soy sauce, palm sugar, black rice vinegar and hot water and stir until sugar dissolves.

Heat 3 Tbsp. peanut oil in hot wok or large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat. Add minced ginger, garlic and most of the sliced scallions (reserving some to garnish the dish). Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Add eggplant chunks and cook, stirring frequently, until browned on all sides. Add another Tbsp. of peanut oil if the pan gets dry, but no more, because eggplant is like a big sponge when it comes to absorbing cooking oil.

Stir in chili paste sauce mixture and let mixture come to a boil. Lower heat, cover and braise until liquid has mostly been absorbed and eggplant is soft, about 3-5 minutes. Garnish with reserved sliced scallions.

Makes 4 main dish servings. We enjoyed it over hot steamed basmati rice. Delectable!

I am sending this dish using my new found favorite vegetable, the Chinese Eggplant, to Weekend Herb Blogging which is hosted this week by Honest Vanilla. Weekend Herb Blogging is housed over at Cook Almost Anything by awesome food blogger and photographer, Haalo, and you'll find four years of weekly recaps, rules for WHB, and other great recipes and blog posts at this wonderful site.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Festive Spring Feasting

Wishing everyone a lovely Easter Day and a welcome to Spring (we're still waiting here in upstate New York for seasonal, sunny weather: a light dusting of snow when I woke up. Sigh).

If you still need some inspiration for your Spring feasting, here are some light and lovely menu ideas for your table:

Herbed Cream Cheese
Radish Dip
Cosmic Shrimp
Pea Salad in Endive Cups
Creamy Spinach and Artichoke Pasta
Asparagus-Rice Salad with Lemongrass Gremolata
Salad with Asian Sesame-Ginger Dressing
Spring Vegetable Navarin
Mojito Cupcakes

These adorable rabbit photos come from a sweet 1930s children's book that we recently acquired in the bookshop, Harry Whittier Frees' "Four Little Bunnies".

I also have two announcements:

The winner of the Crunchmaster cracker coupon giveaway is Marshowl. Congratulations Marshowl! Please send me an email with your mailing address and I'll get these coupons out to you.

I also wanted to let people know about the Unbelievably Good recipe contest which Rudi's Gluten-Free Bakery is sponsoring from now until May 20, 2011. Participants are invited to submit their gluten-free story and a completely gluten-free recipe that includes one of Rudi's gluten-free products: Original, Multigrain and Cinnamon Raisin Breads, Multigrain Hamburger Buns and Hot Dog Rolls, and Original Pizza Crusts. For more details, check out the Rudi's GF Facebook page. There are some pretty fun prizes, including Williams-Sonoma gift cards, Rudi's products, and a trip to Boulder, Colorado for the three contest finalist.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Roundup of Gluten Free Product Reviews: Three Thumbs Up, One Thumb Down

Recently I have received a spate of gluten-free products to sample and potentially review here at The Crispy Cook. My blog review policy is to only feature products that I would buy for my own family and so you don't see product reviews for eats that just aren't tasty or otherwise considered wonderful by me and the other members of the Crispy Test Kitchen and Eatery. I am making an exception in writing about a product that I do not recommend at the very end of this post below because of an egregious labeling error that I feel members of the gluten-free community should be aware of.

First, let me introduce you to the wonderful gluten-free products that I received from various companies to sample and potentially review.

In celebration of April as National Pecan Month, Larabars sent me some of their Pecan Pie energy bars. I don't need extra energy or snacks between meals, so I had my resident teen athlete and annoyingly skinny husband do the taste testing on this product and they both pronounced an excellent verdict: great taste, nice nuts to crunch on, and moist, soft texture. We also received some Carrot Cake Larabars to sample and these were also well received.

I like the Larabar brand because they contain simple ingredients, are readily available in most supermarkets around here and are affordably priced. I've purchased them before for my family and will do so again and again. They are a nice after-school-before-sports treat and are nice to have on hand for a gluten-free source of energy for my celiac husband when he's busy at the bookstore without a chance to heat up a lunch in between customers.

The Crispy consensus is that the Peanut Butter and Jelly flavor is the best, followed closely by the Pecan Pie and Carrot Cake flavors. Interestingly, these bars are not baked or cooked, but ground together with the various ingredients, so they are described as suitable for folks seeking raw and minimally processed foods. You can find other dietary information (about vegan, kosher, allergy and other dietary issues) on the Larabar website here.

Verdict: Thumbs UP!

Next up, we have a review of Udi's hamburger buns (whole grain and classic) and hot dog buns. I received a package of each from the Udi's company and Dan let out a whoop when he saw them in the freezer. He is not so much into sandwiches on sliced bread, being more a bun sandwich devotee. Since I am a very desultory bun baker, he was out of homemade buns, and immediately went off the store to buy some tofu pups to stuff into the Udi's hot dog buns.

The Udi's hot dog buns were great. They need to be thawed at room temperature or in the microwave (1 minute in the microwave, wrapped tightly in waxed paper did the trick for us) and then they have a great springy texture. They don't crumble and rip easily like other gluten-free breads and buns we've tried (and made). His tofu pups topped with sauteed onions and some newly gluten-free Nance's sharp and creamy mustard and Dan was in hot dog heaven.

The Udi's hamburger buns were also given high marks for both flavor and texture. The whole grain buns were particularly toothsome and made a great housing for a batch of Dan's barbecued tempeh. Right now you can get a $1.00 coupon for Udi's breads on their website so you can give these buns a test drive of your own. Locally, you can Udi's products in the freezer case at Pure and Simple in Glens Falls, Four Seasons in Saratoga Springs, and Wild Thyme in Ballston Spa.

Verdict: Thumbs way UP!

Glenny's Foods sent me a box full of various kinds of snacks. Most were gluten-free, but they also popped in a bunch of brownies and blondies that were chock full of wheat, though they were not labeled as being gluten-free. Therein lies the reminder that even when one expects that a product is gluten-free and safe to eat, one should still examine the ingredients and labeling to make sure.

Of the gluten-free Glenny's products that were sent for review, my family generally gravitates toward the salty over the sweet, so the American Fries were the first to be snacked upon. These baked french fry-shaped potato snacks were deemed winners by the Crispy Crew for flavor and novelty shape. Second to be devoured were the Soy Crisps, with the Feta Cheese, Garlic and Olive Oil flavor the clear favorite.

We also had sweet treats to sample in this generous Glenny's package: four flavors of Brown Rice Marshmallow Treats and some Fruit and Nut Bars. I am chagrined to note that the Glenny's Marshmallow Treats are much better, both flavorfully and nutritionally to my homemade GF krispie treats (made with store-bought mini-marshmallows and either Cocoa Krispies or puffed rice). The Glenny's marshmallow treats are made from organic ingredients, including vegan marshmallows, and sweetened with brown rice syrup and organic evaporated cane juice and we especially enjoyed their CRISPY, crunchy texture.

I brought the Fruit and Nut Bars in the car for my daughter to share with some of her softball team members for a pre-workout snack and we didn't note that they were gluten-free. This informal tasting panel gave the Fruit and Nut Bars a solid B for taste and texture. They were judged a little too sticky by some of the gals.

Overall, an impressive selection of really high quality gluten-free snacks that everyone in our family thoroughly enjoyed. I would suggest to the Glenny's company that they offer a Gluten Free Deluxe Snack Sampler Package on their website (the Deluxe Snack Package offered now contains those glutenous brownies and blondies), because this might prove popular in the gluten-free community. I could foresee a marketing opportunity for the company to offer this to newly diagnosed celiac and gluten-intolerant folks, as well as being an attractive option for college care packages for gluten-free students.

Verdict: Thumbs UP!

And now for a disappointing product review. I was delighted when Tasty Bites contacted me about sampling some of their gluten-free Indian and Asian foods. I was already familiar with their products and had purchased their simmer sauces on several occasions to whip up quick meals. I was aghast to receive a package of Barley Medley which was not just mistakenly popped into my Gluten-Free box of sampler products but was labeled as being gluten-free. Barley is, of course, one of the grains that must be avoided on a gluten-diet. Some people confuse wheat-free with the term gluten-free, and this is an important distinction.

Here's a photo of the Tasty Bites Barley Medley package on the rear where it is clearly labeled as being "gluten free", when of course it is not. When I contacted Tasty Bites to let them know about this labeling error and to inquire as to whether the other ostensibly gluten-free foods that they sent me that were in fact safe for my GF husband to eat, I got no response.

Verdict: Thumbs WAY down.

I appreciate the companies that are making strides to make more gluten-free foods available to us and appreciate when they reformulate their existing products to eliminate gluten ingredients. I am going to continue my blog policy of limiting my product reviews to foods that I can recommend without reservation and give my critical feedback back to the companies directly. However, I feel that Tasty Bites needs to improve their labeling and understanding of what gluten free means and so I included them in this product review roundup.

What do you think? Have you noticed any other great gluten-free products out there? Have you noticed other food products which have been incorrectly labeled "gluten-free"?

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Great Cabbage at the Crispy Casa

Until I found out that Alaskan gardeners were the champs in growing gigantic brassicas, I was quite proud of this rather large cabbage that I grew last summer.

It was bigger than my cat Simon.

It was bigger than Lulu.

It was bigger than Martha's big, bony head.

It was a great cabbage. But Alaskan gardeners, though they have a short growing season, have the perfect cool, wet growing conditions to coddle their cabbages into great big mammoths, so this honking big ball of cabbage was just a champion in my own record book.  As I recall, I did get two batches of coleslaw, a stir fry and a lovely side dish of cabbage sauteed with caraway out of that one cabbage.

Cabbage was on my mind again last week when I purchased a small head to mix into a dish that I wanted to refashion into a gluten-free version. Many years ago, I sampled a great cabbagey salad at an office potluck and got the recipe from my co-worker.  It involved some sliced cabbage, its Chinese cabbage cousin, and crushed up ramen noodles in a sesame-drenched dressing.  Tasty.

I dug out my recipe and changed it up to use rice noodles (mai fun) to make it gluten-free. I also used less butter and oil than the original recipe called for and the results turned out rather spiffy. Here then is:

A.C.'s Chinese Cabbage Noodle Salad

3 cups green cabbage, sliced thin (about 1/2 small head)
5 cups Chinese or Napa cabbage, sliced thin (1 small head)
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 (8 oz.) pkg. rice stick noodles (mai fun)

4 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup sesame seeds (the black ones stand out nicely)

1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. soy sauce.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in mai fun and let soak 10-15 minutes or until they are springy but soft. Drain and chop up a bit. Mix in large bowl with cabbages and scallions.

Melt butter in frying pan and add almonds and sesame seeds. Saute until light brown and fragrant, stirring all the while so they don't burn. Add to cabbage salad.

Mix oil, sugar, rice vinegar and soy sauce until sugar dissolves. Pour over salad and toss well. Let sit at room temperature at least 30 minutes before serving to let flavors meld.

Serves 8-10.

I really loved noshing on this sweet-salty-tangy salad and will be making it for company during the warmer weather.

I am sending over this cabbagey post to this week's edition of Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being guest hosted by Anh of A Food Lover's Journey. Weekend Herb Blogging is headquartered at Cook Almost Anything and you can find out all about this veg-centric weekly blog event and the rules for posting on that terribly tasty site.

Monday, April 11, 2011

From Bougainvillea Flowers to Broccoli: The Weekend Herb Blogging #278 Roundup

Weekend Herb Blogging #278 was hosted here at The Crispy Cook this week, and once again it was an edifying pleasure.  This popular blog event was started by Kalyn's Kitchen five years ago and it has been headquartered at Cook Almost Anything for the last two years.

The focus of WHB is not just on herbs, but on posts that feature other edible plants, and the weekly roundups are always full of interesting ingredients cooked up beautifully by great cooks around the world.  This week we had entries from bloggers from Indonesia, Canada, England, Germany, Singapore, Australia, the United States, Italy, and Mexico and they covered some intriguing new (to me, anyway) ingredients as well as some new presentations of old standbys.

First, lucky Simona of Briciole is already able to harvest some tender young chard from her California garden and she put it to good use. Check out her Frittata with Baby Chard and Homemade Ricotta.

Over at La Cucina di Cristina, a bilingual food blog in English and Italian, we get a bowl of Pasta with Fava Beans and Pecorino. Che bello!

Indonesian blogger GrowinKitchen offers up a plate of Tumis Oncum dan Leaunca, a traditional Sundanese or Western Javanese dish, which she translates into English as Fermented Soybean Waste with Black Nightshade. While this might be a literal translation, I think "Sundanese Tempeh with Nightshade Berries" might be a more appetizing way to introduce this tempting entree to Western readers.

Imagine getting your summer fix (in raggedy early spring no less) with maple roasted tomatoes, arugula, and eggplant topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt and pomegranate molasses sauce. Yum. You can find your reveries turned into reality at the German blog run by expat Italian, Caffetteria al Rosa.

British Columbian blogger Val of More Than Burnt Toast offers up a plate of Shaved Lemon Fennel Salad to accompany a delectable Chicken Saltimbocca.

It's off to Oxford, England, to Elly's Shakespearean-named blog, Nutmegs, seven, for a real harbinger of spring: Bottled Rhubarb. Doesn't this beautiful preserve remind you of jewels?

Winging over to Singapore to visit Asan Khana, we get a peek at a refreshing Cottage Cheese Salad with Purple Basil Leaves.

Imagine quaffing a beautifully purple-tinged, cooling drink infused with bougainvillea flowers. Now, add a cooking school based in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and you've got Flavors of the Sun's Bugambilia Limeade.

Hawai'ian blogger Claudia of Honey from Rock sends over a plate of lemony Zucchini Crudo, perfumed with fresh garden dill. Be sure to stop by and check out Claudia's full post for the photos of two of the cutest chicks you'll ever "lay" eyes on.

A five-star bakery could not produce a more perfect tray of Blueberry Cheesecake Macarons than Melbourne, Australia-based blogger Sue of Youcandoitathome. She offers detailed instructions with lots of photos to help us reproduce these purple beauties. (And I love that macarons are naturally gluten-free!)

Let's all stop over to Briiblog in English to wish our friend a Happy Birthday this coming week and revel in her Spelt, Buckwheat and Carrot Muffins.  Brii leads hiking tours around beautiful Lake Garda in Italy and always shares some gorgeous landscape photos with her tasty posts.

Our Weekend Herb Blogging Goddess, Haalo of Cook Almost Anything, made a fantastic looking Schiacciata di Cavolo Nero.  This stuffed Italian bread has a luscious filling made with cavolo nero, a brassica also known as Black Cabbage, Tuscan Cabbage or Curly Kale.

Janet from Tastespace sent in an exotic Moroccan Cinnamon Orange Salad in fond remembrance of her travels in North Africa.

Finally, there's my contribution to the wonderfully colorful WHB #278 bounty: Broccoli and Pasta Timbale.  I was pleasantly surprised by how easy this rather elegant vegetarian casserole was to make.  And eat. ; )

Thanks again to Haalo of Cook Almost Anything for allowing me the pleasure of hosting Weekend Herb Blogging this week. Be sure to check out Anh's Vietnamese food-infused blog, A Food Lover's Journey next week when she hosts WHB #279.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Crunchmaster Crackers: A Gluten Free Product Review & Giveaway

The folks at Crunchmaster recently sent me two boxes of their gluten-free crackers to try: Multi-Grain Crisps and Sea-Salt Flavor Multi-Grain Crackers.

The Crisps were the clear favorite among the Crispy Snacker Test Panel members. They have a pronounced sesame flavor and they were also judged to be the best-looking cracker with their small hexagon shape. I like that they contain a good bit of whole grains (amaranth, quinoa seeds and brown rice flour), flax seeds for a fiber boost (2 grams per 30 cracker serving, which sounds like a lot of crackers, but they are little and easy to scarf down).

The Multi-Grain Crackers were also good, though they were judged by my girls as not being as tasty as the Crunchmaster Crisps. This is probably due to the fact that they are a healthier chip: 0% saturated fat free, they have fewer calories than a serving of the Crisps and more dietary fiber (3 grams per 16 cracker serving).

Locally, Crunchmaster Chips are available at Wal-Mart Supercenter stores and at Dollar Rite in Queensbury (in the shopping plaza behind Toys R Us).  You can download a $1 coupon at the Crunchmaster website and go try them out yourself, OR

Leave a comment below to win 2 coupons for a free 3.5-4.5 oz. box of Crunchmasters crackers. Offer limited to U.S. residents. Leave comments by April 15, midnight (another deadline for us all) Eastern Standard Time, and I'll randomly pick a winner.

I also wanted to announce the winner of the Love Grown Foods granola giveaway, which is Katie Kathleen. Congratulations Katie Kathleen! Send me an email with your shipping address at info [at] oldsaratoGabooks [dot] com and I'll get your Love Grown Granola out to you soon.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Broccoli and Pasta Timbale for Weekend Herb Blogging

Weekend Herb Blogging #278 is happening here this week. I am delighted to once again be the guest host for this weekly roundup of blog posts about plant-centric dishes. To celebrate my hosting duties I made a cake. A pasta and broccoli cake. Of sorts.

At least I felt like sticking a birthday candle into my new creation, which looked remarkably like a yellow cake with a broccoli filling. In reality my pasta and broccoli cake was a timbale, a not too tricky new cooking technique, though its presentation makes it look like a hard thing to accomplish. Basically you make a layered pasta dish in a buttered baking dish and then unmold it after a short cooling period.

My husband kept kidding me about trying to make the Timpano from the great foodie movie "Big Night", in which Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub are Italian brothers fighting over the right way to run their Italian restaurant in 1950s Maryland. Their restaurant features authentic fare, but is no match for the spaghetti and meatballs drowned in red sauce type menu at the much more popular Italianesque restaurant down the block. They try to make one fantastic meal at a party they throw in honor of jazz singer Louis Prima, whom they think is going to drop by and thus make their reputation soar.

A huge Timpano is the star of the menu, a washtub sized layered pasta dish baked inside a pastry crust, but my creation was but a baby sibling to that pasta edifice. (Joelen of What's Cooking Chicago has pictures of the real deal over at her tasty blog).

The inspiration for this deal come from Bert Greene's excellent paean to vegetables, Greene on Greens (NY: Workman Publishing, 1984). Of course, I adapted Bert's recipe to make it gluten-free and lightened the original up a bit by substituting Greek yogurt for ricotta. I twiddled with the seasonings, and By Gum, this timbale turned out terrific! Dan's Timpano mockery soon faded into snorfling sounds as he sliced himself a second helping. And let me tell you that he brought some delicious and rather beautiful leftovers of Broccoli and Pasta Cake, I mean, Timbale, into work today. Snorfle, snorfle.

Here's my adapted recipe for Broccoli and Pasta Timbale, an impressive looking and tasty gluten-free, vegetarian casserole that would be a great dish for entertaining:

Broccoli and Pasta Timbale

1-1/2 lbs. broccoli (about four crowns)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

5 Tbsp. butter (plus a couple more Tbsps. for buttering baking dish)
4 Tbsp. white or brown rice flour
1/2 cup shredded smoked gouda
1 cup hot vegetable stock
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (freshly grated nutmeg really perfumes this dish)

1 lb. gluten-free pasta (I used Pasta d'oro corn pasta in the cute lasagna corte shape, but any small elbow, fusilli or penne will do)

1 cup Greek yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste

Butter a 2 quart souffle or baking dish with high sides that can be easily upturned and unmolded. Set aside.

Cut up broccoli by trimming off florets and then dicing stems to 1/2 inch dice.

Heat olive oil in large saucepan. Add garlic when sizzling and stir 1 minute. Add in broccoli and cook, stirring often, until broccoli is crisp-tender and still a bit bright green. Remove from heat.

Cook pasta in salted water until al dente and drain.

Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add flour and whisk constantly for 2 minutes. Beat in hot vegetable stock and whisk until smooth. Add shredded smoked Gouda and stir until melted. Add in heavy cream and nutmeg and heat just to boiling point. Remove from heat and seat with salt and pepper.

Toss pasta with cheese sauce, Greek yogurt and mix thoroughly.

Put half of pasta in buttered baking dish. Press down firmly. Layer in broccoli. Press again and then add remaining pasta layer, pressing down firmly into dish.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 25 minutes or until top is lightly browned.

Remove your timbale from the oven and let cool for 8-10 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges to loosen it and then cover top with a plate. Slowly invert and let gravity draw the timbale out of the baking dish onto the plate.

Makes 6-8 servings. I liked it plain, but Dan enjoyed his timbale with a bit of marinara "ganache".

This is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging this week. If you are not familiar with this popular blog event run by Haalo of Cook Almost Anything, please check out the rules below. If you have a delicious post that you would like to share this week, send me your entry by
this Sunday, April 10, 4 pm Eastern Standard Time. I'll have the roundup posted the next day.

1. Entries to Weekend Herb Blogging must be posts written specifically for Weekend Herb Blogging. This means they cannot be cross-posted in other events. Photos used in the posts however can be submitted to photo events like DMBLGIT.

2. Weekend Herb Blogging entries should have the goal of helping people learn about cooking with herbs or plant ingredients.

Only two types of entries will be accepted:
* Recipe posts where a herb or plant ingredient is one of the primary ingredients in the recipe
* Informative posts that spotlight one herb or plant ingredient, particularly including information about how they are used in cooking.
Naturally, posts can be a combination of both these criteria.

3. Posts must contain the phrase Weekend Herb Blogging with a link to The Crispy Cook and to this site.

4. In your email please include the following information:

Your Name
Your Blog Name/URL
Your Post URL
Your Location
Attach a photo (250 pix wide or less)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Book Review: Nicole Hunn's Gluten-Free on a Shoestring

There's a new gluten-free cookbook that has joined the ranks in my kitchen bookshelf and it's a real winner. Nicole Hunn is the newly published author of "Gluten-Free on a Shoestring: 125 Easy Recipes for Eating Well on the Cheap" (NY: Da Capo, 2011) and has been writing at her blog for the last couple of years as well, since finding out that her son had celiac disease.

The publishers were kind enough to send me a review copy of Nicole's new book to review and I enjoyed reading through and learning some new methods for shopping and baking. I like her witty prose and her practical, economical cooking style in equal measure and wrote down a ton of notes and menu ideas. She emphasizes once-a-week and once-a-month cooking days to make up vats of broths, sauces, extra portions of casseroles, etc. to tide busy home cooks over on weeknights and her tips about piggy-backing meals and making creative use of leftovers, bulk and seasonal/sale items are full of great advice. Another delightful note at the end of many recipes is a cost comparison of the homemade item versus a store-bought item.

I'm always eager to try out other people's recipes for baked goods, so I made two items from the Shoestring Cookbook. Nicole advocates using Better Better Flour mix, but since I didn't have any in the pantry, I used a mixture of white and brown rice flour, buckwheat flour, and potato starch for the all-purpose flour called for in these recipes.

The first cookbook test-drive involved a terribly tasty Focaccia (pp. 94-95 of the book or you can find it here at her blog). Mine was was topped with sliced scallions, dried herbs and sea salt for a variation of the basic recipe. We enjoyed it as is the first night and then I cut it up into Focaccia fingers the next day for dipping into marinara sauce. A crowd pleasing recipe at our house, for sure.

Husband Dan was most keen to try out her flour tortilla recipe, since we hadn't yet found a great gluten-free version. The Shoestring Tortillas (pp.120-121 of the cookbook, no recipe posted on Nicole's blog) came out wonderfully pliable and moist, I suppose because there is some vegetable oil in the batter.  They were easily rolled around various fillings without crumbling like other GF recipes we've tried and Dan was over the moon.  He's made them twice since and enjoyed them filled with eggs and cheese for breakfast burritos and filled with beans and fish for heartier main dish burritos.  This recipe alone makes the book a real keeper in our estimation.  Look at that tortilla curl!

Nicole has wonderful posts about money-saving ideas and tons of gluten-free recipes (I counted 94 of them) on her blog, so you can give her recipes a spin in your own kitchen before deciding whether or not to buy her new cookbook. I think it would make a great introductory cookbook for anyone who is newly diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, though there are also enough uncommon recipes to keep someone who's been cooking gluten free for awhile interested. I'm tempted by Brioche Bread, Lo Mein, Arepas, and Apple-Cinnamon Toaster Pastries myself.

This wonderful cookbook arrived just in time for me to participate in the Book of Yum's Adopt a Gluten Free Blogger event, so of course Nicole is my adoptee this month.  Book of Yum will have the roundup posted sometime after the April 5 deadline.