Thursday, March 29, 2012

Super Cheap Eats: Rink Tum Tiddy for Supper

Rink Tum Tiddy, an alliterative name that sounds straight out of a Rudyard Kipling or A.A. Milne poem, is the subject of today's post. I've been curious about this eggy saute since I was the volunteer typist for a fundraiser cookbook "Country Cooking" (1990, Saratoga County Affordable Housing Coalition) and received this interesting sounding recipe from a Gretchen Z. at Legal Aid.

Also spelled Ring Tum Diddy, Rum Tum Tiddy, and variations in between, this dish is a kissing cousin of Welsh Rarebit and I found recipes in several vintage cookbooks. "Rum Tum Tiddy" is an entry in the 1965 edition of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, in which it is described as "especially good for the teen-age crowd", and consisted solely of tomato soup mixed with melted cheese and a little seasoning. A 1945 edition of the same cookbook has the same recipe, only a beaten egg is mixed in at the last minute.

In a 1973 edition of the Joy of Cooking I found a recipe for Tomato Rarebit, also known as Woodchuck (more silly names!), which called for a concoction of tomato soup, onions, cheese and separately beaten egg  yolks and whites served over toast or crackers. Older cookbooks I consulted did not have recipes for anything tomatoey, eggy and cheesy, so I suspect this may have been one of those Depression Era comfort foods that arose and fell during the mid to late 20th century.

I like the heartier version of Rink Tum Tiddy Gretchen provided as it's got a bit more texture and vegetable heft.  It's a quick recipe and a tasty, if slightly messy, one too. It certainly was an inexpensive brunch for us this past week, piled onto one of Dan's tender Buttermilk Biscuits. It reminded me of an inside-out Western Omelet, and could certainly be changed with different seasonings and vegetable ingredients to suit a variety of tastes.


Gretchen's recipe was a little vague on certain points (to stir up the eggs for the final cooking or let them steam cook a la a frittata?) and left out some measurements (or was that the fault of the typist? I'll take responsibility there) for ingredients later mentioned in the cooking instructions, so I've adjusted things a bit in the recipe below:

Rink Tum Tiddy

2 Tbsp. butter
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 cups tomatoes, chopped (I used most of a 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes, drained)
1 cup sharp Chedddar, cubed
2 eggs, beaten well

Melt butter in a heavy skillet. Add peppers and onions and cook until softened, about 7-10 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, another 5 minutes. Add in cheese and let melt. Pour eggs over all and cook over low heat, letting eggs set on top and gently prodding around the edges with a thin spatula to keep bottom from browning too much.

Serve hot over a toasted biscuit or bread. The juiciness of the Rink Tum Tiddy will soften the underlying bread quite nicely.

Makes two very hearty supper/brunch servings or 4 smaller breakfast portions. I imagine one could add more veggies, (celery, cooked potato cubes, more eggs and cheese) to feed an even larger crew.

I'm linking up this satisfying mess of cheap eats with:

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads
Any One Can Cook at Taste of Pearl City




Friday, March 23, 2012

Adventures in Lickable Wallpaper with Roald Dahl and Charlie Bucket

It is time to Cook the Books once again with the best darn tootin' online foodie book club, and this time round we are reading that childhood classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I have seen a couple of different illustrated versions of this book but I think Quentin Blake's artwork invokes the playful spirit of Dahl's words just right.

 I zipped through all of Dahl's juvenile novels as a youngster and freshly enjoying reading them aloud to my daughters when they were small. We all especially loved The Twits, his book about a thoroughly obnoxious, smelly man and wife who get their comeuppance from the children, monkeys and birds they torment.

It was a pleasure to dip in again with little Charlie Bucket and his sprightly Grandpa Joe as they explore the wonders of Willy Wonka's amazing Chocolate Factory with a bunch of rotten kids and their equally revolting parents. The kids represent several vices:  Augustus Gloop is a glutton, Mike Teavee embodies rudeness and lack of imagination (he watches TV all day long), Veruca Salt is the eptitome of the spoiled brat (and veruca means wart, I just found out, ha!) and Violet Beauregarde is pushy.  I would recommend this witty book to anyone looking for a wacky, slightly sardonic romp, old and young alike.


With Cook the Books, we read our selected book and then come up with some kind of dish inspired by our reading. The book is full of all kinds of fantastical sweets, but I was most taken with Wonka's description of his Lickable Wallpaper for Nurseries:
"Lovely stuff, lickable wallpaper!" cried Mr. Wonka, rushing past. "It has pictures of fruits on it - bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, pineapples, strawberries, and snozzberries..."
"Snozzberries?" said Mike Teavee.
 "Don't interrupt!" said Mr. Wonka. "The wallpaper has pictures of all these fruits printed on it, and when you lick the picture of a banana, it tastes of banana. When you lick a strawberry, it tastes of strawberry. And when you lick a snozzberry, it tastes just exactly like a snozzberry..."
"But what does a snozzberry taste like?"
"You're mumbling again," said Mr. Wonka. "Speak louder next time. On we go! Hurry up!" (pp.104-105 of my copy)
 I'm not sure what I think a snozzberry would taste like. I keep seeing an extra "h" in there and thinking "schnozz-berry" and that conjures up awful suggestions of nose boogers. So I wasn't going to go the snozzberry route.

However, I also possess another wonderful book, Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes (by Felicity Dahl and Josie Fison), which is a cookbook that brings to life many of the wild foods discussed in Dahl's oeuvre (with the bonus of featuring Quentin Blake as illustrator again). There is a beautiful rendition of lickable wallpaper there made with an apple-gelatin puree, which, after being rolled out and dried, is like a sticky sort of fruit leather that can be decorated with various fruits and edible garnishes.
 

Continuing on with my exploration of lickable wallpaper, I found a web link to a BBC show featuring chef Heston Blumenthal and his creation of a Chocolate Factory Feast in which celebrity guests got to lick up some tomato soup and prawn cocktail flavored wallpaper. That was getting more interesting to me, though I do have some hygienic concerns.

First, unless you tear off the sheets of this lickable wallpaper or have some sort of crazy conveyor belt to keep fresh spots of wallpaper available for new lickers, there will be sodden, bacteria-laden patches that someone else may inadvertently plant their lips on. I just keep thinking of petri dishes or flypaper.

Then I thought about licking wallpaper and then tearing off a strip to eat. I thought about those homemade flyers that have strips at the bottom with people's phone numbers to rip off, and then that got me thinking about making edible wallpaper using nori, those sheets of roasted seaweed that one uses to roll sushi. With some inspiration from these Internet recipes: here and here, I set off to experiment with some toasted nori as my lickable wallpaper base.

Nori is certainly handsome enough to hang as edible wallpaper on its own, but I thought about painting it with all sorts of condiments from the inexhaustible supply that festoons my larder and fridge and then toasting it to a crackling, CRISPY-edged goodness. I get these bags of Japanese seaweed snacks at Albany's Asian markets and they are so addictive. They come in Tom Yum, Tomato, Wasabi, Spicy Squid and Plain Salt flavors and I am hooked.

Surrounded by a counter full of sauces, seeds and spices, I set to work on my

Lickable Nori Wallpaper Snacks:

First, I preheated my oven to 250 degrees F. Then I painted, drizzled or sprinkled on my nori wallpaper adornments and baked each batch for ten minutes.

Experiment One: I mixed a little Thai green curry paste with soy sauce and painted that on two pieces of nori. One also got a sprinkle of sesame seeds.  Result: Too salty, though I was pleased to see that the sesame seeds adhered to the nori after baking.

Experiment Two: I beat up an egg white and brushed it on two pieces of nori. One was sprinkled with Five-Spice Powder and the other was dusted with Smoked Paprika. Verdict: Good adhesion of spices, both flavors good.





Experiment Three: Some leftover pesto spread on one sheet of nori. Some chili-garlic-black bean paste spread on the other. Verdict: Both tasted good, but they result in soggy nori centers.

Experiment Four: Drops of liquid smoke on one sheet of nori and splash of hot pepper sauce on another. Both spritzed with Dr. Bragg's Liquid Aminos (it's like soy sauce in a spray bottle, very handy). Verdict: Liquid Smoke nori is inedible. Hot pepper sauce version okay.



Experiment Five: Two sheets of nori brushed with egg white and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Quick shot of Dr. Bragg's to serve as fixative. Verdict: Best tasting and looking version. Not too salty, but pleasantly so.



Ultimately, this experiment with lickable, edible wallpaper proved that the simplest adornments proved the best. Just a simple spritz of Dr. Bragg's or a painting of beaten egg white and a sprinkling of sesame seeds made the CRISPIEST, tastiest toasted nori snacks, though for visual beauty, I must say I fancy the nori with chili, garlic, and black bean paste. And while I thought about making my family line up to the kitchen wall to chomp off a portion of these nori snacks, I ended up snipping them into strips with kitchen shears and offering them up a bit more elegantly.

Though I sped through a full ten-sheet pack of nori, this would be a splendid way to use up leftover nori sheets after a bout of sushi-making.

Our Cook the Books hostess for this round, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen, will be back after the March 26 deadline to post a roundup of all the great dishes. You still have time to join in the fun, or you could wait until the next round of Cook the Books when we will be reading "The United States of Arugula" by David Kamp.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chobani Greek Yogurt: A Gluten-Free Product Review in 12 Flavors

Yogurt used to be the province of health food devotees, something to break up the monotony of one's alfalfa sprouts and tofu loaves. It got marketed in the Seventies as a miracle food that kept spry Caucasus Mountain centenarians healthy and then in the Eighties and Nineties, we saw yogurt packaged as a weight loss food, packed with artificial sweeteners and thickeners to reduce calories in the flavored yogurts.

Nowadays, we are in the midst of a Greek yogurt craze, and I think this is the best incarnation yet. Greek yogurt is creamier and thicker than regular yogurt and I've been using plain Greek yogrt as a healthier substitute for sour cream in a lot of my recipes, from scalloped potatoes to pasta salads. The production of Greek yogurt takes 3 pounds of milk to make 1 pound of yogurt, so this has also been a boon to my dairy farmer neighbors, struggling to keep their family farms going in the midst of many economic challenges. This infusion of milk makes them very protein-rich as well.


The Chobani company, located in rural Chenango County, New York, recently sent me a case of their 6 oz. Greek yogurt for the Crispy Crew to sample and we have been really enjoying them. All the Chobani flavors are gluten-free, with all natural ingredients. They taste decadently rich and I love all the fruit chunks to mix in from the bottom. Though these yogurts are non-fat and low-fat, they taste rich on the tongue and are not overly sweet.

I am in love with the Blood Orange flavor and Dan and I both like the fact that the Passion Fruit and Pomegranate Chobanis include bits of their crunchy seeds to add a bit of texture. There are more traditional Chobani yogurt flavors to choose from, including, strawberry, pineapple, raspberry, black cherry, blueberry, lemon and apple cinnamon and I have noted the Chobanis now in the dairy aisle of both Hannaford and Price Chopper supermarkets locally.

If you would like to try the Chobani flavors yourself you can head over to their website and print out some coupons, and while you are there you can browse their recipes, look over their product line or even check out their blog.

Disclaimer: I received a case of Chobani Greek Yogurt from the manufacturer for possible review but I was under no obligation to do so and my comments and opinions are completely my own.

**Giveaway Winner Announcement:

Last week I offered a giveaway of Elizabeth Barbone's newest cookbook "How to Cook Gluten-Free" and the lucky winner is Tara. Congratulations Tara! I will be contacting you for shipping information so that I can get this book out to you.

I'll be offering another gluten-free cookbook giveaway later this week, so for all you other entrants, stay tuned for another opportunity to win.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mushroom Salad Hunting, Russian Language Tips and an Expedition to Dnipro Deli

One of life's simple truths is that it is a magical thing to memorize a few words in another language before venturing out into new territory. Knowing how to say hello, thank you, yes, no and please really seems to be a passport into people's hearts. That simple act of cramming a little foreign lingo (aided by some hammy pantomiming) brings a lot of smiles and assistance in my experience.

This truism worked its usual charm when I recently shopped at a wonderful Ukrainian deli and market in Albany, Dnipro. Armed with my meager yet potent arsenal of Russian stock phrases, and accompanied by my friend Lisa, we sallied forth for exotic provisions for a party that night.

Shopping at Dnipro was so much fun. There is a large selection of cookies, teas, canned goods, spices, and other foods from Croatia, Israel, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, and other Eastern European countries and just scanning the colorful packaging and Cyrillic lettering is a graphic design treat. Most all packages I saw had ingredients lists in English, which is essential when shopping gluten-free and overall, I thought the prices were quite modest.

There's a refrigerator case in the back of the shop where customers were purchasing slices of luscious, cream-laden cakes and a dairy case full of interesting kefirs and cheeses. Lisa and I were lured into line by the deli counter, though. We both share a love for pickled fishes and vegetables and a taste for gustatory adventure so we were quite literally drooling by the time we were at the head of the line.

We were there on a Saturday afternoon, when the store was quite crowded, so we were mindful that we didn't want to hold things up when we began ordering. After mumbling the magic phrase, "zdravstvujjte" (which means hello, pronounced along the lines of zuh-razz-wheats-yuh), the lovely blonde woman behind the counter started offering sample after sample to us both, prodded on by the customers behind us who also directed her to give us slices of their favorite deli meats. We were the only ones who seemed to be trying to hurry things along, and it was very gracious of both the staff and customers to stuff us like the sausages behind the glass.  It was also certainly fortuitous that I remembered how to say good (haroshaw) and very good in Russian (aw-chin haroshaw) in those interludes when our mouths weren't busy chewing.

We left with a whole bag full of delicious things, from Polish cookies to spicy carrot salad, but what really captivated me was a simple tub of creamy mushroom salad. I hope to return soon to see if the Dnipro folks will part with this awesome recipe, but in the interim, I had such a hankering for it that tried to recreate it in the Crispy Cook test kitchen.

The salad had small cubes of mushrooms in what I believe was a mayonnaise dressing, with a delicate hint of onion. I really didn't detect any other clues about other ingredients, and am intrigued that such a simple combination of items could produce such a delectable treat. I did a little research in my raft of cookbooks and at the public library, but couldn't find a recipe for a traditional Russian Mushroom Salad made in this style. There were recipes for pickled mushrooms, mushrooms with potatoes and cucumbers, raw mushrooms tossed with lemony vinaigrette, mushrooms and tomatoes and so on, but nothing quite like what I had purchased.


I experimented in the kitchen and came up with this very nice recreation of the earthy, yet delicate-tasting Dnipro salad, though it wasn't exactly the same. I shall have to return soon for another container of this mycological manna, but in the interim, this version makes an excellent treat for the table, slathered on some sturdy bread or eaten plain as a side dish.

Russian Mushroom Salad a la Dnipro

2 Tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 Tbsp.)

1 lb. mushrooms, cut into 1/2 inch dice

Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. sour cream

Heat butter in a pan and add in garlic and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are translucent about 4-5 minutes. Add mushrooms and sprinkle with a little salt to encourage the 'shrooms to release their juices.

Cook another 10-12 minutes, stirring, until the mushroom juices are most gone. These cooked mushrooms will have absorbed all the seasonings and juices from the pan.

Let cool for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and fold in mayonnaise and sour cream. Chill before serving.

Makes about 2 cups.

I resisted the urge to zip this mushroom salad up with chopped parsley, dill or chives, because I was trying to recreate that particular salad, but I would think these would be great additions.
 
There's a great local blog review about Dnipro at All Over Albany, where you can find driving directions, read more about the array of smoked meats, and see photos of the front and back (the entrance is in the back) of the store's grey modernist architecture. (I'd like to think the building was appropriately Soviet Style ugly, but visit the SUNY Albany campus or Empire State Plaza and you'll see the same dreary design vibe, so it's more that it's just Rockefeller-esque). Aesthetics aside, just remember your spasibas and you'll be in like Flynn, or rather, Fyodor.

I'm sharing this recipe with Weekend Herb Blogging, a weekly blog event headquartered at Cook (Almost) Anything and hosted this week there as well.

**Don't forget that I currently have a copy of Elizabeth Barbone's newest cookbook "How to Cook Gluten-Free: 150 Recipes That Really Work" to offer as a giveaway until March 21st at midnight. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment after this recent post.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cooking Vanessa's Beans at Frankie's Place


Reading Frankie's Place: A Love Story, by Jim Sterba (NY: Grove Press, 2003) makes you feel like you are visiting friends at their summer camp on Maine's Mount Desert island. Sterba's book is an atmospheric account of his courtship of, marriage to and many felicitous summers spent with fellow author Frances "Frankie" FitzGerald.  Sterba is a former NY Times and Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent and FitzGerald is a Pulitzer Prize winning nonfiction writer, both of whom found love later in their busy, globe-hopping lives.


The book revolves around the slower pace of summers spent at Frankie's place, a family-and mosquito-shared cabin in the woods near the shore. It might be summer, but there is still a schedule to adhere to: Frankie is an advocate of morning dips in Maine's icy waters, calisthenics and excessively long hikes, which Sterba loving refers to as FitzGerald Survival School. There is also much writing to be done (Frankie likes a manual typewriter for that task), reading, sailing, mushroom hunting, mussel gathering and other foraging/shopping for provisions.

There's also an amusing chapter about the author's search for WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) on this island historically populated with many of these folks. He researches the subject at the library, at a private swimming club, and in other prowlings around the village of Northeast Harbor. They elude him, particularly the wily subspecies, the High WASP, until a chat with a friend clues him in to the fact that he married one. Oh.

Punctuating all the prose is Sterba's recipes - offered in somewhat slapdash prose style, with plenty of room for variations according to what the pair might have rustled up from the ocean, container garden or woods. I have festooned my copy of the book with lots of bookmarks to hold my place for various recipes, but one dish called out to me immediately. Sterba describes a warm bean salad that he first tried at a friend's wedding. He pestered the caterer like a good newspaperman until she gave up her secrets and so I offer to you my own adapted version that made us all very full and happy at Chez Crispy Cook.

Vanessa's Beans (or Frankie's n' Beans)
 -adapted from a recipe in Jim Sterba's Frankie's Place: A Love Story

1 (l lb.) bag dried small white navy beans (I used red kidney beans)

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 quartered onion
3 cloves peeled garlic
2 bay leaves

Other aromatics of your choice (I threw in celery trimmings, carrot peels, onion skins, and parsley stems from my soup stock stash in the freezer). Sterba recommends sliced ginger, bacon, rosemary and thyme branches)
2 cups vegetable broth

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley and chives)

1 cup chopped red and yellow bell peppers (I used the trimmings from chopping up pepper squares to grill on skewers during our first spring barbeque)

Salt and pepper to taste

The night before, cover beans with cold water and let sit out at room temperature to soak overnight. Change water 2-3 times.

The next day, drain beans and place in a large, heavy soup pot with 2 Tbsp. olive oil, onion, garlic, bay leaves and vegetable broth. I added in the soup trimmings as noted above to further enrich my bean broth. Bring to a boil and then simmer along merrily until beans are to desired softness (about 1-1/2 hours).

Drain off and reserve bean broth. Let beans cool a bit, and then fish out all the large bits of veggie detritus (onion skins, celery stubs, parsley stems, bay leaves, carrot peels, herb branches). The garlic should have become quite soft so you can just "moosh" that in, to use a favorite Sterba cooking term.

Mix up a vinaigrette with 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice, fresh herbs, and peppers. Add in some of the reserved bean broth (about 1/2 cup). Let stand for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Gently dress the beans and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm or at room temperature.


Vanessa's Beans are some good frugal eating and I even have leftover bean broth to use in other recipes (I'm thinking about some pasta fazool later on). I have sampled and made many other bean salads, but I think the key here is that the beans are warm and infused with so many aromatic flavorings in their cooking liquid that they really melt in your mouth. 

One serving of this lovely dish is being sent over to my friend Simona at Briciole for her semi-annual Novel Food event, where you will find lots of other interesting posts about various books and the recipes inspired by them after her March 18 deadline. 

A second serving of Vanessa's Beans is being sent to another blogger compadre, Heather of Girlichef, who is guest hosting My Legume Love Affair #45. This monthly blog event celebrates legumes in all their glory and is the brainchild of Susan the Well Seasoned Cook.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cooking Along with our Local Gluten-Free Celebrity Chef, Elizabeth Barbone and a Giveaway

I first met Upstate New York's own Gluten Free cooking diva Elizabeth Barbone at a celiac support group meeting back in 2007 when I first feeling my (gluten-free) oats as a GF cook. She was a guest speaker at our meeting, and she bedazzled me with her cool purple Kitchen Aid mixer, the cookies and cupcakes she made for us to sample and her lively presentation.

 
I bought a copy of her "Easy Gluten-Free Baking" cookbook on the spot and took it home to pore over and cook from. She kindly allowed me to reprint her recipe for Lemon Bars in a subsequent post, which are a pitch perfect combination of sweet and tart flavors over a buttery crust base.  I use that baking cookbook often, as it contains a lot of baking standards, from Pumpkin Bread to Brownies, and a few unusual recipes (Garlic Muffins, Hummingbird Cake) that are fun to try. Barbone's recipes don't make you crawl from market to health food store to food co-op tracking down oddball ingredients to make her recipes and her instructions are precise and have worked for me every time.

In addition to maintaining her GlutenFreeBaking website, giving GF cooking classes and demonstrations, and writing a weekly Gluten Free Tuesday column at Serious Eats, Elizabeth has been working on her second cookbook, "How to Cook Gluten-Free: Over 150 Recipes That Really Work", (Lake Isle Press, $27.95) which will be published later this month. Elizabeth sent me an email to ask if I'd join some other bloggers in a Cook Along event featuring several of the recipes from this new book and my immediate response was a high-pitched yipping that startled my sweet Martha dog awake from her guard position snoozing at my feet.

I was able to make three out of the four recipes she sent along and each one was great. I first tried out an Avocado and Grapefruit Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette and that was very tasty. I used a Pomelo, a grapefruit cousin, as I had one-half languishing from a recent Asian market field trip and that worked out really well. The Pomelo is both a bit less juicy and less sweet than a Red Grapefruit, as called for in Barbone's recipe. This was a really refreshing salad and we made it twice more when avocados were on sale at our supermarket.


I was intrigued by the next recipe I tried, Elizabeth's No-Rise Pizza Crust recipe. Dan is usually the Pizza Maker in our house, as he has the patience for yeasty, slow food items, but since this recipe didn't call for yeast and the need for allowing the dough to rise, I forged ahead. The dough was easy to assemble and work with. I rolled it out and patted into the rectangle shape called for in the recipe and then slathered on mozzarella, Parmesan, sauteed garlic and broccoli and some spices to make a White Broccoli Pizza.

As noted in Elizabeth's recipe text, this crust can stand up to a lot of toppings, and that was certainly true as our slices buckled but didn't break under all that cheesy goodness. The crust didn't get as CRISPY as I would have liked, even baking the pizza on a heated pizza stone, so I think next time I will divide the dough in half and make two thinner, smaller pizzas. I love the ease of this recipe for busy weeknight dining, though. You can't beat slapping some pizza dough together and baking it up what my grandpa used to call a "Hot Pie", within 45 minutes.


The final recipe I took out for a test drive was our favorite, Powdered Sugar Doughnut Muffins. These little mini muffins are nicely spiced with nutmeg and then rolled in powdered sugar while they are still warm. They are fantastic little sweet bites, paired with a tall glass of cold milk. Plus they are extremely cute.


Elizabeth will be rounding up the other posts in this Cook Along to celebrate the publication of her new cookbook, so check over at her website, GlutenFreeBaking.com later to see what other people cooked up.

I am also pleased as punch to be able to offer a giveaway of a copy of Elizabeth's new cookbook to one of my Crispy Cook readers. To enter this giveaway, leave a comment below telling me about something great and gluten-free that you have recently made. You can get a second entry in this giveaway by stopping by the new Crispy Cook facebook page and liking it and then telling me that you did so in another comment. I will pick a random winner after the deadline of March 21, 2012, midnight Eastern Standard Time. This giveaway is limited to U.S. residents.

Good luck with the giveaway!

Disclaimer: I received some advance recipes from Elizabeth Barbone's new cookbook and an opportunity to offer one copy of the cookbook to one of my readers from the publisher. However, I was not obligated to post about these recipes or the cookbook and my comments about them are completely my own.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Gluten Free Product Review: Chocolate Inspirations Candies

The sound of the delivery vans that stops every other day at our neighbor's house (she's some sort of financial planning whiz) used to annoy us on our otherwise peaceful rural road. But since I've been blogging  these last five years, the drivers have been stopping at our house a few times a month with swag and items for potential review on the old Crispy Cook blog. Now smile and cock our ears when we hear those air brakes.

Though I have duly instructed my family not to open the packages addressed to me so that I can take a photo and note the contents of the various gluten-free items that are sent my way, sometimes Pavlovian impulses take over and there are suspiciously skimpy amounts of edible samples and crumbs on certain chins when I arrive home to an opened package.


Such was the case with my review pack of gluten-free offerings from Chocolate Inspirations. I came home from a day at the bookshop to a ravaged box of chocolates, toffees and other sweet delights from this Illinois candy company.  After some interrogation, I found the culprit to be none other than my sweet husband, who couldn't resist sampling the goods. With an Oliver Twist crooked smile and pleas to try some more of these sweeties, I began the official product review.

Chocolate Inspirations offers an extensive selection of confections that are all-natural and gluten-free. Many of these items are also vegan and dairy-free, and they provided me with an ingredients list for all of the samples they sent along. This is very reassuring for those of us with food allergies of various kinds. I myself can't handle horseradish (alas, no more wasabi peas for me!) and raw onion, while others in my family are lactose-intolerant), so I really appreciate this information.


The company specializes in gift baskets and packages, all looking quite glamorous, so this is something to consider for mailing or gift giving, especially now that Easter is on the holiday horizon. I also like that the company donates a portion of its profits for charitable purposes. Normally, the company's Chocolate for Charity program is dedicated to local animal shelters, but for the next several months, the funds are going to help offset the medical and home modifications costs for a young man disabled in a biking accident, so there's another good reason to like this company.

In the end, however, the endorsement of a gluten-free product depends upon its taste, so here's what the Crispy Crew thought about each of these confections:

Caramel Corn Brittle - My husband really enjoyed this treat. It's like Cracker Jack, only lighter and crispier and the butteriness of the toffee glaze really bursts through. (this item was the first to be wolfed down when he opened up the Chocolate Inspirations package).


Peanut Butter Pillows with Chocolate - Another winner, according to the old hubby, who, AHEM, was the only one to sample this bit of goodness. He says its like a Butterfingers candy bar, only more Buttery and Fingery. Whatever that means.

Coconut Brittle - Nice texture from all the coconut flakes tucked inside and a good buttery flavor coming through.

Fudge Brownie - Good flavor, but the texture was a bit dry. I prefer a moister, fudgier brownie. Brownies are so easy to make at home that I would probably not buy brownies from a mail order company anyway.

English Toffee - This candy is the company's bestselling item for the last twenty years, and it's easy to understand why. It's butter, crunchy without breaking off your teeth, and then has chocolate and pecans to boot. A real winner.

Cinnamon Toast Toffee - This item was Da Bomb!  Not only do you get that awesome, buttery toffee, but it's wrapped in chocolate on both sides and then sprinkled with these glittery cinnamon sugar crystals.


Chocolate Pecan Decadence - This is an interesting and yes, decadent, confection made of dark chocolate covered with sugared pecan halves and drizzled with white and milk chocolate. A nice combination and the most beautiful of the candies we sampled.

Overall comments: This company makes an awesome array of flavorful, attractively-packaged sweets that anyone, gluten-free or not, would be happy to tuck into. I can't stop thinking about that Cinnamon Toast Toffee, which was also a unique presentation. Aside from the fudge brownie, which just can't compare to a warm homemade brownie, all of the other items we tasted were of high quality and something we can wholeheartedly recommend to you all.

Disclaimer: I received a box of candy samples from Chocolate Inspirations for possible review here at the Crispy Cook, but I was not under obligation to do so, and my comments and impressions about their products are completely my own.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Raspberries and Cream Crepes

It's GF Ratio Rally time again; time to unveil the monthly challenge to tackle a recipe using ingredients measured by weight rather than volume and in ratios of liquid: egg: flour. This month's project was crepes, as chosen by guest host T.R. of No One Likes Crumbley Cookies. These eggy, thin pancakes are something that I remember making in my high school French classes, but not since, so I was excited to learn more.

The classic French crepe is a thin pancake, browned lightly and then either topped or stuffed and rolled with sweet things like jam, macerated fruit, powdered sugar, or honey. They can also be savory and filled with all kinds of cheeses, leftover cooked vegetables or meats and other imaginative fillings. My family is a big fan of the raspberry, so I had it in my head to make a some sort of delicious crepes dessert with Raspberries and Cream using up most of a bag of frozen thawed raspberries from my freezer.

Unfortunately, the first version of my Raspberries and Cream Crepes were passably edible, but they lounged on the plate like slabs of fried bologna, and no amount of tarting them up with my lurid raspberry sauce and chocolate chips could disguise their basic lack of curb appeal. My idealized crepes dessert failed in its practical application, although perhaps it might make its way onto a Halloween dessert buffet someday.


The thawed frozen raspberries that I mixed into my crepe batter tinged things up to a dusky purple-gray that indeed looked like fried bologna, and when folded on the plate went from bad to worse, looking then like a giant dog tongue. The Raspberries and Cream sauce that I made from heating up some other frozen berries with sugar and half-and-half turned a shocking magenta and that combo of clashing colors really took things downhill fast.

It was time to go back to basics. Make a basic crepe, and then adorn it simply with some raspberry jam or fresh raspberries, and a dollop of whipped cream.

I actually didn't have trouble with the technique of making the crepes and flipping the batter. I read up on the making of crepes in my various cookbooks and I started with a ratio of 2:2:1 for my basic crepe batter that was outlined in our GF Ratio Rally information (2 parts liquid, 2 parts egg to 1 part flour mix). I used a non-stick pan and kept a small plate with pre-measured 1/2 tsp. pats of butter to sizzle in the pan before each new crepe got started to keep the momentum going.

I got the knack of pouring a small amount of batter in my hot pan using a quick spiral motion starting at the center of the pan. I seemed to judge pretty accurately when the crepe was ready to flip (it looks very dry on top and when the pan is shaken the crepe moves slightly in the pan). Using a wide rubber spatula, the crepe was ready to flip (see photo below for correct technique).


Eliminating all the fancy pants mix-ins and adornments, my second round of creperie turned out much better. I didn't have to press dessert on my dinner victims as with my first version and we enjoyed this much more elegant looking batch very much.


So, here's the recipe for Round 2 of the Raspberries and Cream Gluten Free Crepes project:

4 oz. almond milk
2 eggs
2 oz. gluten free flour mix (I used equal measures of potato starch, brown rice flour and tapioca starch)
Pinch of salt
1 Tbsp. sugar

Butter for frying

Adornments:

Raspberry jam
Powdered sugar
Fresh raspberries
Toasted sliced almonds
Whipped cream

I mixed my first five ingredients in my food processor.  I then poured the rather liquidy batter into a large measuring cup with a spout and covered this with plastic wrap. It went in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to rest. When it came out, it was a bit thicker, more like a traditional thin pancake batter.

Heat a nonstick skillet. Add in a pat of butter (about 1/2 tsp.) and let sizzle. Working quickly, pour about 1.5 to 2 Tbsp. of crepe batter in the pan, starting in the center and spiraling outward. Tip pan to coat the bottom evenly. Let cook until the tops are dry, about 1-2 minutes, then loosen the edges with a rubber spatula. Turn or flip your crepe and cook another 30 seconds to 1 minute. The crepe should have lightly browned bits on each side.

Remove crepe from pan and let cool on a plate all its own. By the time you have flipped the next crepe, the first crepe will have cooled to the point where you can fold it into fourths on a separate plate to finish up later.

Makes 5-6 (8 inch diameter) crepes.

To garnish, spread some raspberry jam inside a warm crepe. Roll into a flute. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, adorn with a few fresh raspberries, some toasted sliced almonds and dollops of whipped cream. Voila!

T.R. will have lots of other links to the sweet and savory gluten free crepes recipes that other Ratio Rally participants are posting about today so be sure to stop by.  From Black Pepper Crepes with Chicken Tikka Masala to Nutella Crepe Cake, this looks like a fascinating crepe roundup!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Atlanta Trip Highlights: Part Two and Giveaway Announcement


I hit the publish button too soon when writing my last post about the short trip to Atlanta this past week. Must've been the crash from all the adrenaline that fueled my white knuckle driving in the Big City, but here's a couple more fun ideas that the kid and I discovered if you find yourself in NE Atlanta:

We found FOUR, count them, FOUR Ethiopian restaurants on the corner of Clairmont and Briarcliff Roads, and so my daughter was interested to try out some of this exotic cuisine. We dined early one night at Meskerem, which smelled like incense and roasted spices, and found ourselves enjoying some mildly spiced lamb and incendiary Doro Wat on some spongy, sour Injera bread. Injera is traditionally made from teff flour, but many restaurant injera recipes commonly add in wheat flour, so be sure to check on that if you are interested in GF dining options.


We really enjoyed eating with our hands, ripping off bits of the injera and dabbing in the bits of meat, yellow pea puree and salad that adorned our shared plate. There was a beautiful dining alcove with low seating and tables, covered with pillows in all different spice shades that looked inviting and there was also a raised seating area with giant baskets that had conical covers that must keep injera warm for diners.


With a gloriously sunny, 72 degree day we headed out on our last full day in Atlanta to the Zoo. We were decidedly skewing the median age of Zoo attendants (mostly toddlers and babies) but we really enjoyed watching the drowsy beasts and the Reptile (and Amphibian) House is particularly interesting. From the world's most venomous snake, the deadly Black Mamba, to beautiful green tree vipers and tiny turtles and frogs, there's plenty to gawk at.


While getting mildly lost yet again on our way to the Zoo, we passed through the funky Little Five Points neighborhood (the heart seems to be the intersection of Euclid and Moreland) and decided to head back there to do some sightseeing and shopping. There's some spectacular people watching with an interesting mix of dreadlocked white dude skateboarders, dreadlocked black dude street poets, retro gals with Bettie Page hairdos and bright red lipstick and all kinds of other interestingly adorned folks. I felt quite dowdy in my sweater and jeans.

The strip along Euclid housed a variety of record stores, arty movie theatres, falafel joints and at least four vintage clothing stores. We really liked Rag-o-Rama for its huge selection (we were bummed that we were two days early for their $1 sale), Stefan's for their eclectic and stylish decor (a cluster of wig heads over the transom and a folk art circus poster over the cash register for an Alligator Girl) and my daughter Amy's favorite, Psycho Sisters. This last shop is jam packed with second hand clothes and all the accessories one could need for any kind of occasion, from spangled booty shorts to Mod wigs to earrings the size of toasters, all modestly priced. The staff was really friendly and fun, and put up with my queries about whether they stocked all kinds of bizarre fashionwear, from snoods (check) to go go boots (check).

And now, for what everyone has been waiting for, our report of the famous barbeque dinner. By day 3, I had finally got my bearings about our neighborhood, and armed with some extensive Internet maps and directions, we finally made our way to the fabled Fat Matt's Rib Shack. And it was all worth it. I didn't have my camera with me, which is probably a good thing as I would have dribbled barbecue sauce, rib grease, and pot likker all over it, but the atmosphere is dark and smoky, with room for live blues bands to perform in the back.

The food was terrific and we both ordered a slab of ribs with some collard greens (they are not cooked to death but rather have a nice texture and bacony flavor), potato salad (just like my Atlanta born and bred Grandma Trudie used to make with green bell pepper, onion and lots of mayonnaise, not my style now, but a nostalgic treat!) and coleslaw (just okay). We didn't speak much as we chomped our way through our tender, heavenly barbeque, but we were grinning all the while.

The place had a long line of customers waiting to order, so I didn't get to quiz the counter staff about its gluten-icity, (and Amy and I are not the GF diners in the house), but The Atlanta Gluten-Free Dinner Club notes that they have checked the BBQ sauce ingredients and determined that they are GF. Obviously if you are gluten-free, you'll want to skip the macaroni and cheese and the delicious-looking pecan and sweet potato pie slices as your sides. And do mention that you'll not want the standard, grease- and sauce-absorbing two pieces of white bread slapped on top of your order. If you are planning a trip to Atlanta and would like some more expansive gluten-free dining options I would recommend the website of The Gluten Intolerance Group of Atlanta.

My buddy Simona tells me that there are two other attractions that one should not miss in a visit to Atlanta's Northeast neighborhoods: The Dekalb Farmers Market, and the Kudzu Antique Market, both of which look really tempting. As it was, I had dragged Amy to two used bookstores, so I was pushing my luck at keeping to our college visit schedule, but they are on my Atlanta bucket list. We had such a delightful time visiting this warm and welcoming Southern city and I know we will be back.

I would also like to announce the giveaway winner of a copy of my mom's new book "Anna: Heart of a Peasant" which is Eliot's Eats. Congratulations Eliot! I will be contacting you about the shipping details.
For those who would like an extended stay in Atlanta and take in more of the tastes and fun times, try these hotel coupons to save money. Disclaimer: I received compensation for adding the link to the hotel coupons site in the last paragraph above.