Monday, May 23, 2011

A Book Review: The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches with a Rachel and Reuben on the Side

What do you get when you slap a Blogga and a Biter between two slices of bread? Why, a fantastic foodie history and recipe book, chock full of gorgeous color photos and interesting sandwich lore: The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches: Recipes, History, and Trivia for Everything Between Sliced Bread, by Susan Russo (the Blogga, as in Food Blogga) and with photography by Matt Armendariz (the Biter, as in Matt Bites)(Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2011).

I received a review copy of this delightful, sandwich-shaped (crusts trimmed) book from the publisher and it has been road tested a few times in the last month. First, I had a most enjoyable time reading through the alphabetized descriptions of sandwiches. Russo writes with such verve and introduces the reader to so many obscure and regional varieties of sandwiches, that it is a pleasure to pore over. Whether you savor a Southern Fried Green Tomato BLT; a Walleye Sandwich from Minnesota; Buffalo, New York's Beef on Weck, or Kentucky's Hot Brown Sandwich (an open-faced turkey-bacon melt with Mornay cheese), there are plenty of great sandwich ideas in these pages.

Now, we've tried a few of these tantalizing, bready meals since the book arrived at Chez Crispy. Daughter No. 2 immediately requested a Croque Monsieur and I made some Falafel Pitas, but the big hit was making up a batch of Rachel and Reuben Sandwiches. How could I not try my name in a sandwich?

The Rachel sandwich is a twist on the traditional Reuben, that cardiologist's nightmare: grilled sliced corned beef and Swiss cheese, laced with sauerkraut and Russian dressing. The Rachel subs in pastrami and cole slaw, but is no less awesome. Served up with a garlicky dill pickle, and you're talking awesome eating!

Now, for a wheat-free, meat-free version of the classic Reuben for my gluten-free, vegetarian husband, I had to make some changes to Susan's traditional Reuben recipe (pp. 221-222 of the book).

Obviously, corned beef would have to be substituted. I saw a great recipe for a Tofu Reuben on Vegan Dad and used his recipe (sans the juniper berries, which I just don't have in my pantry). I used a very firm, almost rubbery tofu purchased from the Asian Supermarket in Albany, seen below. This tofu is ready to use in any recipe and it's firm texture allows one to slice it very thinly, without having the tofu disintegrate into soft pieces.


The spice and brine were perfect for this dish and gave the tofu a salty and complex corned flavor that was perfect for the sandwich. Next up was making up a batch of braised sauerkraut, since the Crispy Old Man likes a mellower kraut than is to be had straight out of the can or jar.

I've made this Braised Sauerkraut recipe many times before. Sometimes I add a little white wine or beer, or snipped fresh herbs for a little variation, but for this Tofu Reuben, I wanted a strong deli flavor, so I went heavy on the caraway and mushrooms:

Braised Sauerkraut

1 (14.5 oz.) can sauerkraut, rinsed and drained

2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 large onion, peeled and chopped fine
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1 cup sliced mushrooms

2 tsp. caraway seeds
1 cup vegetable broth

Melt butter in sauce pot. Add onion, carrot and mushrooms, and cook until softened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sauerkraut, caraway seeds and vegetable broth and raise heat to high. Bring to a boil, and then lower heat, and simmer, until liquid is reduced by half, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

To assemble your Tofu Reuben, generously spread some Russian Dressing on the inside of your bread (classic rye bread is out for celiacs, so we used one of Dan's chewy gluten-free rolls), top with a mound of Corned Tofu slices, a mound of braised sauerkraut and a couple of slices of Swiss Cheese. You can then grill or microwave up your Reuben to ensure that the cheese melts, and then hoist into your mouth for an amazing, messy taste treat.

I've got a pile more sandwiches to eat my way through in Russo's much dog-eared book, and I am eagerly awaiting the height of the summer garden season so as to consume mass quantities of the classic Tomato Sandwich. If you enjoy a juicy food history book, packed with recipes, and want to explore other more exotic sandwich species, this is the book for you (or is the perfect gift for your favorite Dagwood).

I'm sending on a Tofu Reuben to Souper Sundays, a weekly blog event that celebrates soup, salads and sandwiches, hosted by my Hawai'ian blogger buddy Deb of Kahakai Kitchen. You can also inspect Deb's great review of The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches and see her take on the Potato Chip and Toasted Chocolate Sandwiches.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Raspberry Financiers at my Lunch in Paris

Elizabeth Bard has written a book to make me sigh with happiness.  Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes (NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2010),  is a very snappily-written memoir of how this native New Yorker fell in love with her future husband, his family and his country. From the grace with which he dealt with a splat of pigeon poop while on a romantic stroll with our author, to his joie de vivre in cooking for his lady on a cramped apartment hot plate, attending tap dancing camp and film studies conferences, and tenderly caring for his ailing father, I have to say I fell in love with Gwendal too.

Bard writes with plenty of panache about her faux pas and discoveries about her new country. She learns not to use the word "plaisir" interchangeably with "pleasure", as the former has some sexual connotations. She learns how to correctly bargain while shopping in the Parisian food markets. And perhaps most importantly, she learns how to navigate French culture as an ex-pat American. I particularly loved her observations about the snits and spats that she and Gwendal went through in their wedding preparations:

"One of the great gifts of an intercultural relationship is that when you fight, you never quite know if you are mad at the person, or at their culture: Is he really too bum-ass lazy to call back the band at eight p.m. on a Monday evening (are they in the middle of dinner?), or is he just being French? Is she bombarding me with lists and timetables and questions about the color of the wax used to seal the invitations because she is a manic control freak (or General MacArthur's granddaughter), or is she just being American?" (p. 137)

This wonderful book is the current selection of The Cook the Books Club, which is being run this time round by my blogger buddy, Johanna, of Food Junkie, not Junk Food.  At Cook the Books, we read a different foodie novel or non-fiction book every two months and then post a roundup of participant's thoughts about the book and any recipes inspired by our reading. Anyone is welcome to join in the fun (deadline is May 27 to submit a post) and I am delighted to report that our esteemed author, Elizabeth Bard, will be serve as our guest judge to read through the submissions and announce the winner of the much-coveted Cook the Books Winner's badge for his or her blog.

I have a few dog-eared pages in Bard's book for delicious recipes that I will make when various edibles come into season: Goat Cheese Salad with Fresh Figs (p. 100), Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Mint (p. 160) and Melon with Port (p. 290), but I had to run out and splurge on a jewel box of red raspberries to make Raspberry Financiers (p. 87), rich little tea cakes stuffed with butter and ground almonds and topped with a perfect raspberry that melt into your mouth. This recipe was terribly easy to make gluten-free. I substituted brown rice flour for the regular wheat flour called for in Bard's recipe and my family was delighted with the sweet results.

I made one batch in my muffin tins (sprayed with vegetable oil first) and then one batch in my dollar store find of the decade, a madeleine pan. Unfortunately, I thought the madeleine pan was non-stick (it isn't) and didn't use the cooking spray, so I had to dig out these delicate little financiers with a butter knife so they are the crumbled up examples in the photos. (And check out my second example of "upcycling" some of my thrift shop china and glassware into this triple-tiered cake stand.)

I am love with these little French dainties and hope to make some other financiers soon. I may try these other gluten-free examples from some other wonderful bloggers:

Apricot and Lavender Brown Butter Tea Cakes
from Tartelette

Chocolate Financiers
from Gluten Free Girl and the Chef

Blackberry and Vanilla Bean Financiers
from Une-deux Senses

Hope to see you at the Cook the Books roundup after our May 27 deadline. Next up after "Lunch in Paris" is Sarah Addison Allen's magical debut novel "Garden Spells".

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Strawberry Cupcakes and a Review of the new Gluten-Free Cupcakes cookbook by Elana Amsterdam

Who can resist a cupcake? They are so darn cute and make delightful little hand held treats. Cupcakes are so prevalent these days throughout the foodie world and Colorado blogger Elana Amsterdam has presented the gluten-free community with a lovely Spring gift with her new cookbook "Gluten-Free Cupcakes: 50 Irresistible Recipes Made with Almond and Coconut Flour" (Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts, 2011).

The publisher sent me a review copy of this book and it had already been perused by my youngest before I got home from the bookshop. She requested that we go out the next day and get the ingredients for the Strawberry Cupcakes (p. 24 of the book, and there's also a recipe posted on Elana's Pantry here)

We picked up the ingredients and also decided to top these delicate cupcakes with Elana's Strawberry Meringue Frosting (p. 97).

These cupcakes were delectable and even better the next day after the chopped strawberries mixed into the cupcake batter had moistened up the cakes with their juices. Coconut flour provides the base for the cake mixture and has a nice fiber and nutrition boost as well. All of the recipes in Elana's book are chock full of healthy ingredients, so one can feel good about cooking up these sweet treats and serving them to your family. The author does a great job of describing the various ingredients that she uses in a beginning chapter that is really useful. Cooks that are unfamiliar with what they are, where to buy them and how they perform in the baking process (cooks like me!) will refer back to this section many times over.

The Strawberry Meringue Frosting got less favorable reviews. It certainly performed well and made some wonderful curlicues that held their shape well on top of my cupcakes, but half the Crispy Crew complained that the frosting taste and texture was not to their liking (it's a meringue made of whipped egg whites, boiled down agave syrup and chopped strawberries), so I would top these pink beauties with a cream cheese or buttercream frosting next time. And there will be a next time soon. ; )

I am glad that my kid picked the Strawberry Cupcake recipe, because not only was it scrumptious, but it was one of the recipes that didn't call for almond flour. The only almond flour I have found in my area for sale is at a local health food store for $13 for a one-pound bag, and that's just too expensive for me. I see that one can halve this price online, but I wasn't ready to plunk down double digits for a bag of flour.

The book contains a great selection of other interesting flavor combinations to try out (Pecan Pie Cupcakes, Pina Colada Cupcakes, White Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes) as well as some gluten-free recreations of some nostalgic delights, like the Cream-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes which are dead ringers for the Hostess chocolate cupcakes. There are also a few toothsome savory muffin recipes at the back of the book. Kudos also to Annabelle Breakey for the great color cupcake photographs throughout the book that make all of these recipes seem so irresistible.

I enjoyed perusing and test driving this sweet treat of a cookbook and recommend it to other home bakers.

Here are some other favorable reviews of Elana's new cookbook by fellow bloggers:

Gluten-Free at Mother Earth News

Book of Yum

Gluten-Free Easily

Gluten-Free Diva

***As an aside, this book review also gave me the perfect chance to make my own cupcake stand made from vintage plates and candlesticks. I certainly have more than a few orphaned pieces of china in my shelves and will now be keeping an eye out at garage sales and thrift shops for more perfect cupcake stand components.

With inspiration from my Greek blogger buddy Johanna, of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food, I whipped this up craft project up in a few short minutes on one of the few breaks in the Spring precipitation we've been enjoying this past month.  I used a clear all-purpose epoxy to join my pieces together and want to remind those of you who may want to try this cupcake stand project out yourselves to make sure to do so outside or in a very well-ventilated area. Solvent fumes are very hazardous to your health and I want you around to let me know how your cupcakes and cupcake stands turn out!