Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cook the Books: Garden Spells and Bachelors Buttons

With the fruits of our garden labors taking up an increasing amount of real estate on my kitchen counters, it is the perfect time to let you know about an evocative novel, Garden Spells, the debut offering by bestselling author Sarah Addison Allen (NY: Bantam Books, 2007). This is the current book selection for the bimonthly foodie book club, Cook the Books.

Cook the Books features books from all kinds of genres, from chef memoirs to fiction featuring cooking or foodcentric themes, and participants offer up posts that discuss our current selection and their culinary creations inspired by their reading. I will be coordinating the roundup of submissions at the Cook the Books blog after tomorrow's deadline and then our guest judge, Jenna of the wonderfully entertaining blog, Literature and a Lens, will pick a winner.

Garden Spells
is a lyrical blend of Southern Gothic and magical realism set in a small North Carolina town, where the Waverley clan has always had a certain reputation for odd powers. Elderly cousin Evanelle is driven to give people gifts which they later find out that they need and want, from Strawberry Pop-Tarts to bed linens, condoms and mango cutters. Caterer and night gardener Claire cooks up magical foods that have various properties, like the snapdragon casserole used to ward off the unwanted admiration of her hunky new neighbor. It would be a plot spoiler to let y'all know about the power that her wayward sister Sydney discovers that she possesses late in the book, but suffice it to say that all of the Waverley women have unusual talents. Even the family apple tree in the backyard has an ominous power: the ability to fling apples around, which, if eaten, will give the bearer a vision of the biggest event in his or her life. And bigger is not always better.

There were so many delicate and intriguing things that Claire cooks up in this book: lavender bread, crystallized pansies, violet white cake, lemon-verbena sorbet, and honeysuckle wine. Herbs and garden vegetables feature prominently in her sensual descriptions and it was a treat to read the excerpts from the Waverley kitchen journal at the rear of this book. Chive Blossoms will ensure you will win an argument and are an antidote for hurt feelings, and Nasturtiums are noted as promoting appetite in men (for sex or food, or both?) and for making women secretive. Very entertaining.

With a swath of long-blooming Bachelors Buttons in my vegetable patch, grown just for attracting pollinating insects (and because they're so easy to grow and are self-sowing), I was delighted to learn from this book that the petals are edible and, according to this book,
"Bachelor's buttons make people see sharper, helpful for finding thing like misplaced keys and hidden agendas"

Well, sez I, I could certainly use help in both these departments, so I plucked a handful of petals, and used them to garnish a salad gleaned right out of the Crispy summer garden: mixed lettuces, radishes soaked in rice vinegar and some sliced asparagus stalks. They really looked lovely as a garnish and I am making a note to remind myself to use them on top of my next Fourth of July dessert. They are so deeply blue.

I'll be posting the roundup of all the Garden Spells submissions over at the Cook the Books blog after tomorrow's deadline and encourage you to drop by and see all the different, creative interpretations of this dreamy novel that we've all cooked up.

Our August/September Cook the Books selection is A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg, a collection of essays and recipes, compiled from her popular blog Orangette. Anyone is welcome to join in the fun for this and all future rounds of CTB by reading the selected book, and then blogging up your book commentary and a dish inspired from its pages.

Off to deliver some garden produce to my friends. Now, where'd I put those keys?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Weekend Herb Blogging #292 Roundup

The pleasures of the garden, farmers markets, and produce shelves are all spectacularly showcased in the following roundup of posts for Weekend Herb Blogging #292. I was given the pleasure of hosting this week by the Queen of WHB, Haalo of Cook Almost Anything, and once again, I have learned a lot about growing and cooking some new plant ingredients as well as some old favorites.

This week there were WHB participants from around the globe, where different vegetables and fruits are in season, and I thought about organizing the roundup geographically.  However, while tidying up the children's section at our used bookshop the other day I got inspired and thought it would be fun to announce the WHB submissions in the format of an alphabet book, so here goes.

B is for BISCOTTI DI MAIONESE, or Mayonnaise Cookies, an intriguing entry from Cindystar on the shores of Lake Garda in Italy. Cindystar provides the recipe for this sweet treat in both English and Italian, and they look tempting in (and around) any tongue.

C is for CHERRY PLUMS, which Shaheen foraged from her inlaws' backyard. She brought them back to her Allotment 2 Kitchen, somewhere west of Scotland, and baked up an impressive Cinnamon Cherry Plum Torte.

D is for DANDELION AND YAM PIE, straight from Graziana's Italian oven at Erbe in Cucina. This recipe was inspired by an out-of-control dandelion plant fighting for control over its herb and chili pepper neighbors in a container pot. Graziana yanked it out, cooked it up with some yams, and baked up these little pies in parchment.

F is for FRENCH BREAKFAST RADISH. Vietnamese-born, Australian transplant Anh of A Food Lover's Journey is a novice gardener, and relays her adventures in horticulture in her blog post. She has lots of great advice about using recycled containers for garden plants and grew these sumptuous looking French Breakfast Radishes.

G is for GARLICKY STIR-FRIED PEA SHOOTS.  Earlier this week at the Crispy Cook, I had a bag of pea shoots and tendrils from Albany, New York's Asian markets to experiment with. I stir-fried them with garlic, oil and soy sauce and they were a new taste treat for my family.

H is for HEALTHY EATING FOR ORDINARY PEOPLE,  Rivki's New Jersey-based blog. She cooked up some Creamy Baby Collards with spring onions and chives.

K is for KIRSTEN who assembled this refreshing Shaved Fennel Salad with Dill and Feta at her blog From Kirsten's Kitchen to Yours.  This recipe also incorporates thinly sliced zucchini, which many northern hermisphere gardeners are starting to harvest in their summer gardens.

M is for MEXICAN CABBAGE STIR-FRY.  Torontonian Janet of The Taste Space takes the humble cabbage and zips it up with some spices and beans for a new twist on the old stir-fry.

P is for PACKHAM PEARS, which WHB Hostess with the Mostess, Haalo of Cook Almost Anything, baked into a luscious Pear Crumble Pie.  Packham Pears were first bred in Haalo's native Australia and are just coming into season.

R is for ROASTED STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM. With a splash of balsamic vinegar, no less. What a glorious gelato this must be with such colors and flavors, alchemized by Simona of Briciole in her northern California kitchen.

S is for SAGE, which Elly of Nutmegs, seven in Oxford, England uses to perfection in her recipe for Sage-Crusted Veal with Summer Vegetables. Elly's prose and photography are so wonderful and she explores lots of cooking traditions on her beautiful blog.

Thank you to Haalo for the chance to host this terrific food blog event this week and to all the participants for sharing their interesting posts. Next week Weekend Herb Blogging will be hosted by Almond Corner, who already has her announcement post up with a cool recipe for Sour Cherry Cake, so be sure to drop by.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Tour of the Crispy Garden and a Product Review: The Rachael Ray Garbage Bowl

The summer garden is now in full harvest mode, with lots of lovely vegetables and herbs to eat. I start the day with an early morning harvest walk with my colander and by next week, I'm sure I'll need a much larger vessel or perhaps several smaller harvest walks to rake in the veggie bounty.

The spring vegetables are nearly done: lettuces, garden peas, spinach and asparagus all devoured. The radishes are still hanging on strong, though. I planted a new-to-me variety from Jung Seeds, the German Giant Radish and the radishes are a beautiful deep red and have a medium heat. Best of all, they have remained free of that fibrousness that afflicts so many other radish varieties once the summer heat kicks in.

My garlic crop is almost ready to harvest. The plants loved all the spring rain we had so they grew vigorously. Now that I've lopped off and cooked up all the garlic scapes, they are starting to get yellowed leaves and tilt over, so they should be ready to pull up for curing soon.

The kitchen prep area near the sink contains my two gallon-sized compost bucket (an old joint compound container). I usually clean and cut up my garden edibles at the sink and toss the trimmings into the sink basin with all the dirty dishes to be fished out later for the compost bucket, but that's not only kind of unsightly, but it's a drag having to keep pulling vegetable matter off my plates and unscrewing the compost bucket lid when doing the dishwashing.

Lately, however, I've been using my new Rachael Ray Garbage Bowl to hold the vegetable scraps until I'm done with the cooking. I received a free Garbage Bowl from and am delighted to offer my praise. It's a snazzy speckled melamine receptacle that adds a little style to my 1920s porcelain sink drainboard and it's certainly been capacious enough for all the radish beards, pepper tops, asparagus bottoms and pea pods (those that my kitchen hound Martha doesn't scarf down) I've had to process on my daily harvest walkabouts. I'm also partial to Ms. Ray, despite the fact that she adds that extra A to her first name, because she is an upstate New York native and used to delight us on the Channel 6 news with upbeat cooking segments before she became a foodie celebrity.

I actually think I may want to use my Garbage Bowl as a pretty serving bowl the next time I'm toting a salad to my next party. Just be aware that this bowl is not intended for oven or microwave use. You can find your own Garbage Bowl at major retail outlets like Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond or online at the web link above for $19.95.

Now, if I could only get some more counter space in the Crispy Kitchen, I'd be all set for the onslaught of the summer harvest. Off to the garden again to harvest some more broccoli...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic for Weekend Herb Blogging #292

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (Hamlet, by William Shakespeare)

And so it seems the Bard's words ring true with each trip I take to the ethnic markets in Albany.

Finding a new vegetable to cook up is so much fun. While at the vast arboretum that is the produce section at Albany's Asian Supermarket, I found a bag of bright green pea shoots to play with. They looked just like the tips of my own garden peas with their curly tendrils and fleshy stems and leaves, but since clipping the tips of peas would mean diminishing the precious harvest of fresh peas from the pod, I have never wanted to harvest my own.

I washed through this bag and picked out a few yellowed pea shoots and then rinsed them off. My cookbook collection advised me to simply prepare this tender vegetable with some garlic, oil and a splash of soy sauce, so that is what I did. I threw 5 cloves of finely chopped garlic in some heated peanut oil; stirred them around for a minute or so, then threw in my pea shoots. They wilted down, though not as much as spinach or other fresh greens would, and after 3-4 minutes of stir-frying, I splashed in a tablespoon of soy sauce and hied them over to the table.

Curiously, these pea shoots did not so much taste of peas as spinach. They have a springy texture from the stems and a soft, melting greens taste in their leaves. They are full of all kinds of wonderful nutrients and they will be sproinging their way onto my table again soon. I may even have to consider harvesting my own, much as I love my sweet little petit pois; that's how tasty they are.

I found a great list of pea shoot recipes on this website and will be sure to try out some of these methods soon.

This sojourn into the possibilities of pea shoots is my contribution to the 292nd edition of Weekend Herb Blogging, which I am hosting here at The Crispy Cook. Weekend Herb Blogging, now in its fifth year, is headquartered Down Under by Haalo at Cook Almost Anything, and if you are new to WHB you can find out all the details about this popular and longstanding food blog event here.

In a nutshell, (or pea pod), Weekend Herb Blogging is a weekly celebration of posts from great cooks all around the globe which spotlight an edible member of the Vegetable Kingdom, be it herb, fruit, flower, veggie or some other plant part. Posts for WHB must be written exclusively for this event and not cross-posted elsewhere. They may contain information about growing, harvesting or cooking a plant ingredient. The deadline for submitting a WHB #292 submission is Sunday, July 17, 5 pm, Eastern Standard Time.

To participate, send your posts to me at oldsaratogabooks AT gmail DOT com
with WHB #292 in the subject line and the following details:
  • Your name
  • Your Blog/URL
  • Your Post URL
  • Your Location
  • Attach a Photo: 250px wide
Looking forward to your tasty posts!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Smoked Paprika Noodles with Butter, Cheese and Garlic Scape and Herb Drizzle

A wonderful bunch of gluten-free bloggers posted a collection of recipes and posts for making fresh pasta a couple of days ago. I was unable to get my own post up in time for the Gluten Free Ratio Rally, a monthly food blog challenge that encourages experimentation in the kitchen with gluten-free flours. Last month, we all played with pate a choux (I made cream puffs filled with coffee cream) and next month we will be trying out cake recipes.

I did make an awesomely good set of gluten-free noodles, gently flavored and colored with smoked paprika, and wanted to share my experiment with you. I started with the Fresh Gluten-Free Pasta recipe from the showcase cookbook, Gluten Free Girl and the Chef by Shauna and Daniel Ahern. I had made their recipe for fresh pasta once before and wanted to switch up some of the flours. Shauna and Daniel's recipe in their cookbook called for corn flour and quinoa flour, which added a nice nubby texture to the fresh pasta, but I was out of quinoa flour, so I subbed in brown rice flour and added in 3 generous tablespoons of smoked paprika. The Aherns have since done some other experimenting with fresh pasta, so you can check out their recipe at the link above and try it for yourself to find out how adding in a boost of extra egg yolks makes the dough more easy to work with.

My dough came out beautifully; just needed a touch more water to make it more pliable. I covered it and let it rest for a while, giving me time to head out to the herb patch to pick some Italian parsley, basil, oregano and garlic scapes. I whizzed them up with some olive oil and kosher salt in my blender to make a garlicky herb drizzle that I scattered over the noodles later on.

I then rolled out my pasta dough between sheets of parchment paper and was able to get it to about 1/4 inch thickness. I would have liked it to be thinner, but I just couldn't seem to get it to stretch as much as I wanted, so my noodles came out on the hearty and thick side. I therefore cut them into short fettuccine lengths.

After a short bath in some salted boiling water, I tossed my noodles with some butter and grated Parmesan, seasoned with salt and pepper and then drizzled on my garlic scape and herb puree. What a toothsome dish! It was a satisfying, yet light supper and we all licked our plates.

I'm sending a batch of these gluten free noodles over to Presto Pasta Nights, a weekly celebration of the world of pasta started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. This week's guest host is Lavender and Lime, who will be posting her roundup of carbs next Friday.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Pasta with Broccoli Rabe, Garlic Scapes and Anchovies

It's taken years, but I finally made an anchovy aficionado out of the old husband. Oh, I've tried before, with stealthy insertions of the salty fish into Caesar Salads, minced onto pizza pies and tucked into pastas, but I was always discovered. Not until I melted a tin of anchovies into a luscious and decidedly unsalty base for a supper pasta with Broccoli Rabe and some of our bountiful supply of homegrown garlic scapes did I succeed in winning over my Dan to the anchovy side.

When anchovies are cooked down over a low flame, they lose their super salinity and gain a mellow, earthy flavor that was the perfect foil to the bitter Broccoli Rabe greens. This dish was so successful, I've made it twice since, and Dan has even cleaned out the cupboard of my tinned anchovy stash, so I believe I have an anchovy convert on my hands now.

It's a quick and simple pasta dish and one that I will pass on to you should you covet a hearty pasta dish with once-sharp flavors that are delightfully mellowed after cooking.

Pasta with Broccoli Rabe, Garlic Scapes and Anchovies

1/2 bunch broccoli rabe, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch slices

1 lb. fettuccine

1 tin anchovies

10 garlic scapes, chopped

Olive oil

Pinch of hot pepper flakes

Grated Romano cheese

Salt and Pepper to taste (taste first; you made not need to add any salt with the saltiness of the anchovies)

Cook fettuccine until al dente. Drain and rinse with warm water. Set aside.

Heat a teaspoon or so of olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add chopped garlic scapes and stir over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring. Add anchovies and their oil and break up with a wooden spoon, stirring until they melt and coat the scapes. Add chopped broccoli rabe and stir all around. Cook until leaves are wilted and broccoli rabe is crisp-tender, about 7-8 minutes. Add a little water and cover pan to steam for another minute or two.

Add hot pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Mix with your cooked pasta and toss to coat. Garnish with grated cheese.

Serve hot to 6-8 persons.

I am sending a plate of this toothsome pasta over to Helen of Fuss Free Flavours, who is this week's host for Presto Pasta Nights. This weekly event was started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast and is a great showcase for noodly dishes. Helen will have the roundup for Presto Pasta Nights #221 posted after the July 7 deadline.