Thursday, June 27, 2013

Zeralda's Ogre: Vintage Fairy Tale and Prepubescent Foodie Inspiration

Like many others, I seek out some of the books I most vividly remember from my childhood for a bit of nostalgia and to see if reading them again as an adult provides the same experience. Zeralda's Ogre, written and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer, (NY: Harper and Row, 1967) was once such blast from my past that I recently found at a library book sale and yelped over at first sight. My copy is worn, torn and full of librarian desecrations, but it is now enshrined in a place of honor in my bookshelves at home.

I remember borrowing this book numerous times from my local library long after I outgrew a respectable age to check out children's picture books, but I loved reading it over and over and gazing at Ungerer's hilarious illustrations. It's a great fairy tale about a plucky young farm girl named Zeralda who conquers a kid-eating ogre with her culinary skills. She eventually ends up marrying him, which I remember thinking was icky even way back when, but I loved poring over the zany illustrations of what she cooked up. Think Brothers Grimm mashed together with the colorful, exuberant Sixties graphic design sense of Ungerer's better known artist colleagues like Milton Glaser or Seymour Chwast.

Zeralda's food is over-the-top "Gourmet", festooned with encrustations and garnishes. I remember my child self thinking a roast chicken with red high heels was rather fetching and it still makes me grin today.

How about that "Pompano a la Sarah Bernhardt" below? Ha! I really wanted to recreate this dish for my homage to Zeralda post here, but all those lurid colors had me stumped. I could make a crispy whole fried fish Asian-style with the head and tail still attached, lounging in a puddle of black bean sauce, but the sauce in the illustration really looks more like a chocolate sundae topping or mole. Molded rice timbales might work for those little cylinders surrounding the fish, with roasted asparagus curled up at the base, but then what would I do about those lavender, pink, mint, yellow and blue stripes adorning the fish body? It all sounded too complicated and frankly, somewhat inedible, the more I pondered the Pompano Project.

Instead, I decided to make something riotously colorful and festive but still tasty, and so I put together a version of Antipasto Kebabs to bring to a party recently. There are many versions that one can make, depending on the type of pickled, salty snacks you prefer, but the key is keeping a nice color balance and finding appropriate-length toothpicks to spear them with. I finally found a nice package of four-inch toothpicks (standard sized toothpicks are really too small and bigger wooden skewers go beyond finger food handling).

If Zeralda had made these skewers they probably would be sticking out of a purple cabbage or some kind of crazy edible ziggurat, but I chose an antique china plate instead for my base. And the ogres I served them to ate them all up.

Antipasto Kebabs a la Zeralda

Wooden toothpicks or skeweres (4 inches long)
1 jar giardiniera (those mixed Italian pickles-cauliflower, celery, peppers, tiny onions)
1 can medium size pitted black olives
1 can whole artichoke hearts packed in water, cut into fourths
 8 oz. mozzarella, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
Grape tomatoes
6 slices Genoa salami, folded into fourths
6 slices cappicola, folded into fourths
1/2 stick pepperoni, cut into 1/4 inch slices
Whole basil leaves

Makes 30 skewers

These kebabs can also be drizzled with a little vinaigrette right before serving, and/or garnished with a little snipped parsley.

The artichoke hearts were a little floppy and the kebabs with giardiniera seemed to be gobbled up last, so I would go with more of the popular mozzarella and salami combinations in the future.

This post is my contribution to Novel Food, a semi-annual blog event hosted by my blogger buddy, Simona of Briciole. For Novel Food, one can submit a food post that derives inspiration by any literary work. If you would like to join in the fun, you can do so by the deadline of July 1, 2013, or wait until the next edition of Novel Food.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Candy Pie

So I had a family dessert request for pie. A chocolatey creamy kind of pie, and so I consulted my cookbooks since I am not a spur-of-the-moment baker type and decided on a standard recipe from the Betty Crocker's New Cookbook (1996 printing).
I had my trusty kitchen hound beside me:

I had an apron on, Martha had the chef hat. Note her stunning new white eyelashes now that she's an older lady. We sallied forth in the kitchen.

This pie is a type of icebox pie, which was OK with me, since it is now summery around here and I don't feel like firing up the oven much. I adapted the recipe to be gluten-free and combined a couple of Betty's variations on Caramel-Peanut Butter Pie Supreme and came up with this version of:


Pie Crust:

1 chocolate cookie crumb crust:  (next time I would use a peanut butter cookie crumb base to go better with the flavors in this insanely sweet confection)

I smashed up most of one (6.3 oz.) box of Enjoy Life (GF) Crunchy Double Chocolate Cookies (used 11 of the 14 cookies inside) mixed with 3 Tbsp. melted butter and pressed that into 9 inch glass pie plate. Baked  10 mins. at 350 degrees F. Let it cool.

Pie Filling:

1 (11 oz.) bag vanilla caramels, the soft chewy kind. Check that they are GF (Kraft brand was). Reward the person who unwraps 30 of them with the extras left in the bag (about 5 or 6)

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted briefly in a frying pan until the smell of the nuts hits you. Don't let burn!

2 T. butter
2 T. water
1 (3 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup powdered sugar
 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1 c. heavy cream, whipped and lightly sweetened

While crust is cooling, melt caramels in a sauce pan with butter and water, stirring constantly. As soon as they are completely melted, pour over cooled crust. Sprinkle on toasted pecans. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator until hardened, about 1 hour.

Beat cream cheese, powdered sugar and peanut butter together until smooth. Fold in 1/3 cup whipped cream and spoon over caramel layer. Cover again with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Slather remaining whipped cream over the top of the pie.

A super-sweet candy pie, which I was not so keen on, but the rest of my family raved about and snuck slices of for the next couple of days. It's sort of like those Seven Layer Bars in a pie plate. Next time I would leave out the caramel layer and make a peanut butter cookie crust instead.

Martha got excited by the task of licking the peanut butter jar clean after we had used up its contents. She lost her toque in the frenzy.

And then the grand finale of the pie.

Verdict: Pretty easy to make, but ridiculously, over-the-top sweet, so I wouldn't make this version instead. I think a simpler Icebox Peanut Butter Pie would be better. I think my dentist would concur.

Still, I am sending a slice over to Beth Fish Reads, a marvelous blog combo of books and cooking, and her weekly blog event, Weekend Cooking. Head on over to see what other clever and creative cooks made in their kitchens this past weekend.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Gluten Free Product of the Week: Cheese Crisps by Kitchen Table Bakers

How times change. When I started this blog back in 2007, there weren't too many Gluten Free snack options on grocery shelves besides rice cakes, but there has since been a smorgasbord of GF crackers and chips made from all sorts of wheat-free and gluten-free ingredients.

Here at the Crispy Casa we love those Nut Thins, those Mary's Gone Crackers varieties, those Riceworks crackers and we even love making our own crackers from time to time. Now there's yet another tasty GF snack cracker which proved to be a real hit in the Crispy Cook test kitchen.

Kitchen Table Bakers is a New York company whose line of products consists of various flavors of these indulgent, crunchy Cheese Crisps, made of Parmesan and flavorings. They were wonderful snacks that disappeared quickly in my house. They remind me of fricos, those crisp shavings of Parmesan that are crisply fried on both sides and then decorate fancy restaurant salads and appetizers. They were thicker and harder than a frico, but just as decadent.

We love the Cheese Crisps as is, without any topping, as they were satisfying and rich enough on their own. They were excellent accompanied by a glass of dry red wine (try Pinot Noir) and with a side salad, I think you have a nice light meal in the making. Kitchen Table Bakers sent me a package each of Aged Parmesan and Rosemary flavors to sample, and both were equally good.

Locally, you can find Cheese Crisps for sale at Honest Weight Food Coop in Albany, or you can order them online from the Kitchen Table website for $4.99 a package plus shipping.

Two Crispy Thumbs Up for Kitchen Table Cheese Crisps!