Monday, December 8, 2014

My Grandma's Lemon Chiffon Pie, Gluten-Free Version

 My maternal grandmother came of age in the 1930s, when ice-boxes were the norm in the kitchen, before refrigeration. She was always interested in cooking while growing up, and as the eldest child, was responsible for many domestic chores at the family home. I have many fond memories of cooking along with her during the annual summer vacations I would spend with her. We'd spend a day cooking and then bring picnic lunches along during our walks along the Hudson River Aqueduct, picking wildflower bouquets, stopping at the little library for our books, collecting shells and stones along the shores of the Hudson River and window shopping along the downtown of her historic village, Dobbs Ferry, New York.

One of the treats she taught me how to make was Lemon Chiffon Pie in a graham cracker crust. The vogue for gelatin desserts seems to have reached its crescendo during my grandma's youth, but we both loved its sweet and sour taste and light texture, which seemed just right for muggy summer days. My grandma's original recipe called for a graham cracker crust, which I needed to adjust for our gluten-free kitchen. We also used to use a whisk to beat the egg whites and heavy cream into submission, which required quite a bit of bicep strength. Thank goodness for my electric mixer!

I recently had a hankering for this pie and for savoring the memory of my delightful grandmother, so this recipe was trotted out and fiddled with to make a gluten-free version for my family's Thanksgiving feast. My kids were disappointed that this showed up in place of the traditional pumpkin pie, so I suppose I'll have to produce some when they are home visiting (ransacking) my house for Christmas. However, husband Dan and I loved this elegant dessert.

Grandma's Lemon Chiffon Pie (makes two 9 inch pies)


1 (8 oz.) pkg. gluten-free graham crackers, crushed into crumbs (I used Kinnikinnick's S'moreables, which are gluten-free but a bit grittier than wheaty graham crackers)
1/3 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. softened butter


1 Tbsp. unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
4 eggs, separated into yolks and whites
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (two large lemons)
1/2 tsp. salt
Grated rind of one lemon
1 pint heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla
Extra sugar for sweetening whipped cream

Make the crust first by crushing graham crackers into crumbs. You can use a paper bag and a rolling pin like grandma and I used to do or whizz them up in a food processor like I do now. Add 1/3 cup sugar and softened butter and mix well. Press into two glass 9 inch pie pans and bake in preheated 375 degree F  oven for 8-10 minutes. Let cool.

Dissolve gelatin in cold water and let soften 5 minutes.

Beat egg yolks well and add in 1/2 cup sugar, lemon juice and salt. Beat until foamy. Place in top of a double boiler and cook, stirring constantly, until they are thickened, about 5 minutes. Don't let the mixture go and return to have scrambled eggs instead. Vigilance is the key here. Let cool.

Add lemon rind and gelatin mixture to thickened egg yolks.

Beat reserved egg whites with remaining 1/2 cup sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold into yolk mixture, taking care not to do so too vigorously so as to destroy fluffy egg white texture. When thoroughly mixed, fold into graham cracker crusts, cover with plastic wrap and let chill until set, about 2 hours.

Beat heavy cream with vanilla and extra sugar to taste. Serve each slice of pie with a generous dollop of whipped cream, or alternatively, spread whipped cream over each pie and chill another hour before serving.

Makes two pies.

As a final serving, I leave you with a vintage poem for this vintage dessert by Edgar Guest:

Lemon Pie

The world is full of gladness,
    There are joys of many kinds,
There's a cure for every sadness,
    That each troubled mortal finds.
And my little cares grow lighter
    And I cease to fret and sigh,
And my eyes with joy grow brighter
    When she makes a lemon pie.

When the bronze is on the filling
    That's one mass of shining gold,
And its molten joy is spilling
    On the plate, my heart grows bold
And the kids and I in chorus
    Raise one glad exultant cry
And we cheer the treat before us
    Which is mother's lemon pie.

Then the little troubles vanish,
    And the sorrows disappear,
Then we find the grit to banish
    All the cares that hovered near,
And we smack our lips in pleasure
    O'er a joy no coin can buy,
And we down the golden treasure
    Which is known as lemon pie.

Edgar A. Guest, Just Folks (Chicago: Reilly and Lee Co., 1917)

I am sharing this post with Weekend Cooking, a weekly blog event hosted by Beth Fish Reads, where cooks gather to swap food-related -sometimes food-book-related- posts. Please stop by to see what others have written about this week.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Pigs, Proulx and Pernil: A Cook the Books Review of That Old Ace in the Hole

The Shipping News, author Annie Proulx's most well known books, is one that I count among my top ten favorite novels. It's a book that I have bought multiple copies of to press into the hands of our bookshop customers and which I have read with gusto numerous times. I love the minutiae about Newfoundland weather, geography, history and maritime lore that Proulx packs into it and the characters are exquisitely drawn. I also have enjoyed Proulx's other works, including Postcards and Accordion Crimes, but somehow I hadn't yet prowled through That Old Ace in the Hole, so I was delighted when Simona of Briciole, the current host of this round of Cook the Books (the bimonthly foodie book club) picked this fun book.

That Old Ace in the Hole is one of Proulx's trademark intensive explorations of a region, in this case the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. I have not personally been to this part of the West, but after reading this book, I feel I have had an armchair tour of some of the dusty small towns, farms and landscapes that dot this sparsely populated area.

I have to say that I fell in love with the front jacket photo of the British edition I have (but not the high-acid paper content that makes the pages so browned already). The expression on the dude's face makes me laugh and seems to fit the central character, the hapless Bob Dollar, a young man who is abandoned by his parents at the doorstep of his uncle Tam, who runs a Denver thrift shop and is a fiend for Bakelite and other "art plastic". Bob finishes junior college and then is hired by a light bulb company from which he is fired after he recoils from massaging the owner's damp and fetid stockinged feet. He signs up as a front man for a hog farm conglomerate and is assigned to go undercover in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle to scout out possible locations for more pig farm-factories.

I also love that the book is positively festooned with ridiculous names: Sheriff Hugh Dough, Rope Butt, Tater Crouch, Red Poarch, Ribeye Cluke, Francis Scott Keister (aw, come on!) Hefran Wardrip, Jerky Baum, Freda Beautyrooms, and on and on.

WARNING The following paragraphs contain a spoiler alert or two, so don't read on if you plan to read the book, which I hope you do:

I am annoyed that Proulx did not wrap up the two ongoing mysteries that I thought would be explained at the end of the book. In fact the very last sentence of the book just mentions that Bob Dollar is going to ask his former landlady, LaVon Fronk, to finally tell the story behind a photo of her grandad with whip scars on his back that readers have been wondering about for 250 pages. And I thought Bob's wayward parents might show up in the pages to explain why they never scooped him back up or at least some resolution of that issue might be explained (their bones lying bleached on a dusty Texas arroyo). Perhaps a Bob Dollar sequel is in the can....?

At Cook the Books, we not only read and blog about our chosen book, but we cook up a dish that represents a scene or embodiment of our reading. In my case, I went for a porky meal, a nod to small-scale pig farming discussed so eloquently in the book. This Dominican-style Roast Pork Shoulder (Pernil) recipe is one we have been enamored of at our favorite restaurant in Albany, New York, Casa Dominicana. The owners, Hector and Maria, are the sweetest, friendliest couple and make you feel right at home in their cozy restaurant. They have a large menu, but somehow our family never makes it past the CRISPY-skinned roast pork steaming at the ordering counter. Hector and Maria make a spicy cilantro, garlic and jalapeno sauce to sprinkle over the pork, which we haven't as yet successfully reproduced. But the couple gave us basic instructions for pernil, which they cook in huge quantities in their restaurant oven, which we have tweaked a little to adjust to our home kitchen. The trick as Hector says, is a long, slow cooking time.

Pernil a la Hector and Maria (start recipe two days in advance)

1 pork shoulder (go for 10-12 lb. shoulder, since this is a somewhat time- and labor-intensive dish. That way you'll have plenty of delicious pork for several meals. And be sure to invite your friends over to help you eat it up)

1/2 cup orange juice (about 2 small oranges)
1/2 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 bunch cilantro, stems and leaves, rough chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. oregano
2 Tbsp. paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and pat dry the pork shoulder.  Slash into the skin and fat as much as you can to draw in the marinade.

Mix all ingredients except pork in a blender or food processor and whizz until smooth. Pour over pork shoulder and let marinate at least 24 hours in a covered glass bowl or baking dish in the fridge. Two days is better. Turn a couple of times during this period.

Remove pork from marinade and discard marinade. Place pork in heavy roasting pan, add in 1 cup water, and roast at 300 degrees F for 5-6 hours. Baste every half hour and add in additional water if needed. You should start out uncovered, but then, after turning the roast a couple of times, cover for last hour. Test for doneness by poking with a long fork. If roast is ready, it is now time to crisp up the skin. Sprinkle with a little extra kosher salt, turn up the heat to 375 and take off the cover. When skin is sizzling and crispy, take out roast and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.

Pernil is great served with rice and beans and a little salad on the side with a citrusy dressing.

The next book we will be reading for Cook the Books is Sustenance and Desire: A Food Lover's Anthology of Sensuality and Humor, edited and illustrated with paintings by Bascove, one of my favorite book jacket illustrators. Readers may be familiar with her luminous jacket art for the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters or the novels by Robertson Davies, but she has done many, many more. I will be hosting this next round of Cook the Books and hope you will join us in reading and cooking from this tasty book. Submissions for the next round are due Feb. 2nd, 2015.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"It's the Sicilian version of Ratatouille; trust me, it's good."

Our newest Cook the Books Club hostess, Debra of Eliot's Eats, picked a very sensual book for us to read, Marlena de Blasi's "A Thousand Days in Venice".  It's a lushly written memoir about the American author's visit to Venice during which her future husband, Fernando, (aka The Venetian, the Man with the Blueberry Eyes, the Stranger, the Technicolor Anchovy, among other endearments) pronounces that she is the love that he has been waiting for his whole life. There are some language and cultural barriers to hurdle over, but Marlena accepts her fate and moves to Venice to become his bride, after first selling her share of her St. Louis, Missouri cafe and her opulently appointed new house.

I enjoyed this tale very much. Marlena seems a larger-than-life character and has a bit of bravado, after suffering a tortuous first marriage and a "grim childhood, scattered here and there with the hideous". As a fellow romantic, I rooted for her to make things work with Fernando and sighed with pleasure when they did. It was not a shudderingly violent sort of love affair, but one that was quiet and sure: "Now all the doors are open, and there is a warm yellow light behind them." Ah.

At Cook the Books, I and my fellow readers not only read and comment on our bimonthly foodie book selections, but we cook up a dish (sometimes a whole feast) that embodies our literary selection. While de Blasi's book provided some great recipes (Fresh Pasta with Roasted Walnut Sauce, Traditional Tuscan Tomato Porridge, Lemon Gelato with Vodka and Sparkling Wine, among others), I went to my late summer garden to gather up ingredients for a Caponata, that great eggplant concoction from Southern Italy. My harvest of tender white eggplants, parsley, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and basil just needed a few pantry ingredients to come together for a party dish to share with some friends.

My host had not ever tried caponata and I tried to describe the recipe to him to his ever-furrowing brow. Finally, I just said "It's the Sicilian version of Ratatouille; trust me, it's good." and that did the trick. I took my bowl back home in a scraped-clean state.

Here's my contribution to this month's Cook the Book Feast:


2-3 small, tender eggplants, chopped (if they are small and fresh-picked, you do not need to peel them or salt and drain them in a colander first)
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (can use canned, but drain first)
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted
Handful each of fresh Italian parsley and basil, chopped
1/4 cup raisins
Salt and pepper to taste

Give all of the vegetables a rough, but uniform chop.

Heat olive oil in large frying pan.  Add onions and garlic first and lightly cook 1-2 minutes. Add eggplant and celery and cook, stirring often, another 10 minutes, until soft. Remove vegetables from pan and reserve.

In same pan, add tomatoes, vinegar and sugar and cook down about 10 minutes. Add olives and raisins and cook another 5 minutes. Add in reserved cooked vegetables and cook until everything is heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add parsley and basil and remove from heat.

Let cool to room temperature before serving.

Caponata is great served at room temperature or chilled. It is wonderful on crackers or served in small endive or bell pepper "cups".

Please join us in the next week back at Cook the Books for the complete roundup of all the posts and recipes celebrating A Thousand Days in Venice. Our next book selection is "That Old Ace in the Hole" by Annie Proulx, and new participants are always welcome. The deadline for the next round of Cook the Books is December 2, 2014, so there is plenty of time to buy or borrow Proulx's book and read and cook along with us.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Send Me Gluten Free Products Box and Giveaway

Interested in trying out new gluten-free products? A fun new monthly gluten-free products subscription service is now live. Send Me Gluten Free is an opportunity to sample full-size and trial-size gluten-free foods and household products inaugurated by the Gluten Free Marketing Group. The monthly service has a flexible subscription service. You can sign up for a month to month, three-month, six-month, or one-year subscription and receive eight to twelve gluten-free goodies to test drive, plus coupons and recipe cards. Depending on the subscription type you choose, the monthly cost will range from $20-$30 (free shipping is included).

I am also able to offer Crispy Cook readers a discount code for 20% off any subscription length with the code BLOG20.

I received a complimentary September Send Me Gluten Free box full of delicious items. First to disappear was the bag of Beanfield's barbeque bean and rice chips. We were also pleasantly surprised to receive a bag of Pamela's GF pancake and baking mix, which, while not a new product, is one that is tried and true. That got incorporated into some breakfast muffins. Another great product that I have reviewed before here at the Crispy Cook, Kelapo Coconut Oil, was included in the Send Me Gluten Free box and was used to saute up some of our bumper crop of garden eggplants.

The other products included in the September Send Me Gluten Free included:

-Go Picnic Turkey Pepperoni and Cheese Meal (includes crackers, cheese, fruit and nut mix and a caramel lollipop)
-Virtuous Living Spice Blends (the Hope Spice blend is really delicious on roast pork)
-Giddy Up and Go Granola
-Soy Joy blueberry bar
-Lovely candy
-Soapbox Mandarin soap
-Schar Honey Grams
-Savory Choice Chicken Pho Broth Concentrate (and a pair of chopsticks)

Thanks to Send Me Gluten Free, I am also able to offer one of my Crispy Cook readers a giveaway opportunity to receive the October Send Me Gluten Free box. To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below. You can receive an additional giveaway entry by liking the Crispy Cook on Facebook.

The giveaway deadline is Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014,  midnight Eastern Standard Time. I will pick a randomly generated winner from the received entries. Please make sure that I have an email or other way to contact you. Winners are limited to addresses within the United States.

**I received a free Send Me Gluten Free box and giveaway opportunity from The Gluten Free Marketing Group, but as always, I was not obligated to post a review and my thoughts and comments are completely my own.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Gluten Free in Denver and Colorado Springs and Giveaway Winner Announcement

I just returned from a short trip to Colorado, visiting the cities of Denver and Colorado Springs.  My vacation was filled with lashings of green chile, that wonderful sauce/stew that is a Colorado/New Mexico food specialty made from roasted green chiles cooked down with onions, garlic, tomatillos, tomatoes, and a pork bone. I just wanted a bowl of that mildly spicy awesomeness for every meal, but sadly, it is considered a condiment and not a main course.

Green chile adorned two of my breakfasts, a ginormous breakfast burrito that my Denver hotel offered, and then Chilaquiles (pronounced chill-uh-killez), eggs scrambled up with broken corn tortillas, beans, tomatoes, peppers and whatever other appropriate leftovers you might have handy. That's my over-exposed photo of Chilaquiles (and some avocado Eggs Benedict) from Cozy Cottage, 4263 Tennyson Street in Denver, which is a terrific breakfast restaurant. Lots of gluten-free options available, including pancakes.

I also had a Green Chili Burger for dinner at Mead Street Station, 3625 West 32nd Avenue, Denver, which was amazingly good. The restaurant also had gluten-free bread upon request for its menu items and carries GF New Planet beer, so they get double points for that.

I spent much of the week eating cafeteria food while attending the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, (where they had some green chile available for breakfast one morning!), so I only had a few outside dining opportunities. In general, I found Denver and Colorado Springs to be very gluten-free friendly eating cities. And I am now obsessed with green chile. Somebody send me or point me to a great green chile recipe so I can recreate here in upstate New York.

I did want to also mention the Everest Nepal Restaurant, 28 E. Bijou Street, in Colorado Springs, where a large party of Book Seminarians descended quite late at night after book hunting at two used bookstores. The owners were quite kind to agree to serve us at such a late hour and both carnivores and vegans found lots of great fare. I tried out some yak (tastes like beef) dumplings, not gluten-free, but a first for me. There were many other items on the menu which would be naturally GF, as is the case with many other Indian-Nepali-Tibetan restaurants, but it would be wise to discuss this with the server in detail before ordering.

And now to announce the winner of the recent Vegetti giveaway here at the Crispy Cook. 

I had previously reviewed the Vegetti, a handy little gadget that takes zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, squash and other vegetables, and spins them into thin strands that are perfect for fresh salads and to be cooked as vegetable pasta. The randomly generated winner of the Vegetti Gift Package Giveaway, which includes a Vegetti and $25 gift card from Ontel, is Amanda. Congratulations Amanda, and thank you to all who entered.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Some New Vegetables in the 2014 Crispy Summer Garden

We've got a few new varieties we've been trying out in the garden this year.

Watermelon Radish

I couldn't resist buying a packet of seeds at the hardware store for a watermelon radish. It's a beautiful vegetable inside and out with pale green skin and a sunburst of magenta and white inside. Just a gorgeous little root vegetable, easy to grow like all radishes and perfectly lovely for an appetizer with a little bit of kosher salt on the side and a nice glass of cold beer.

Friends of ours have had lots of success growing okra in their garden. It's a strikingly ornamental plant with big yellow and brown blossoms. I've not had a lot of experience eating okra after a slimy experience in my youth, but picked fresh from the garden, dusted in rice flour and fried they are good.

Taxi tomatoes and Okra
Those lovely yellow tomatoes are another first timer in our gardens. The Taxi variety is very early, so we are enjoying them in our July salads and tucked into all kinds of other meals. Still awaiting my meaty Brandywines and Cherokee Purples to ripen up.

Pattypan and Spaghetti Squashe
To keep company with  our lone zucchini and yellow crookneck squash plants (I've learned something about gardening over the last twenty years) we picked up a couple of Pattypan and Spaghetti Squash plants. Both have been prolific producers, and we're enjoying the Pattypan very much. It's got a tender skin and sliced up and sauteed with tomatoes, basil and topped with some fresh mozzarella slices, it's a real treat. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Review of the Remarkable Veggetti and a Giveaway

Is it an egg timer? No.
Is it a medical device? No.
Is it a model railroad water tower? No.

It's a Veggetti!

I received this nifty little kitchen gadget from the Ontel Company just in time for the hot and humid summer season when the cucumbers, zucchini and other summer veggies start catapulting out of the garden.

Cucumber Salad

I first tried out the Veggetti with some garden cucumbers. They went in the thin end, but were TOO thin, so I used the thick blade side and they were perfect. The Veggetti spirals through the cucumber very quickly and I then chopped up the long strands, doused them with rice wine vinegar, a splash of olive oil, some salt, pepper and chopped fresh herbs, and voila! A quick, refreshing cucumber salad for the dinner table in short order.

We were wise enough to only plant one zucchini plant in our garden this summer, so we are not being overrun by these plants (the buttercup squash is another story-what a space hog!). I made the recipe for Cold Zucchini Salad that was in the recipe booklet that came with the Veggetti. You run several zucchini through the thick end of the gadget, chop them, and then toss them with 2 tsp. salt in a sieve. After 10-15 minutes, you squeeze out the excess moisture and toss in a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice and chopped herbs. Easy and luscious! One can also toss in some chopped toasted walnuts as an option, which sounds even more decadent.

I haven't yet tried to make pasta from vegetables with my Veggetti, but I am looking forward to that for some lighter-on-the-carbs summer dinners. Also want to make some hash browns soon using potatoes in my Veggetti.

I found this kitchen gadget very versatile and easy to use. It is incredibly sharp, so cautious handling when cleaning it (I poke errant veggie pieces out of the Veggetti with a chopstick) is definitely advised. There's a spiked disk that is included that one stabs on the end of the vegetable when you are working it through the Veggetti so that protects your fingers when you are slicing things up.

Ontel has graciously offered to provide a giveaway opportunity to one of my Crispy Cook readers to receive a Veggetti Gift Package from Ontel consisting of a Veggetti, recipe booklet and $25 Visa gift card. To enter the giveaway, you can leave a comment below. You can earn an additional giveaway entry by liking the Crispy Cook on Facebook. If you already have liked the Crispy Cook, you can earn a second giveaway entry by leaving a comment on the Crispy Cook Facebook post about this Veggetti giveaway.  Deadline for entries is August 15, 2014. Contestants limited to the U.S. No Post Office box addresses allowed.

**Note: I received a Veggetti Gift Package as described above from Ontel, but I was not obligated to post and my comments about this product, as always, are completely my own. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Pies and Peril Culinary Mystery Giveaway Winner and another Giveaway tomorrow!

As mentioned previously here at The Crispy Cook, a blogger buddy of mine, Janel Gradowski, has written a new book: Pies and Peril: A Culinary Competition Mystery (Gemma Halliday, 2014) which was a delightful debut. As part of the blog tour for this tasty new book I was able to offer an ebook version of this culinary mystery to one of my readers.

The randomly generated winner from my giveaway post is comment number 6, Annabelle, who lets us all know that her favorite pie is Strawberry Rhubarb. Good choice Annabelle, and congratulations! I'll be contacting you with the details to claim your prize.

I will have another giveaway posted tomorrow here at the blog that you won't want to miss, so be sure to stop by .

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Jacques Pepin's Venison Revenge

Our June/July book pick at Cook the Books has been Jacques Pepin's memoir "The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen". While I was familiar with Chef Pepin's smiling face, easygoing manner and uncomplicated, but awesomely tasty, recipes from his many appearances on public television cooking shows, I was not familiar with his personal story. "The Apprentice" tells his remarkable tale, from his childhood in France during the darkest days of World War II, his years of apprenticeships at various hotels and restaurants, his emigration to America and various experiences at fancy restaurants, and his remarkable friendships with Craig Claiborne, Julia Child, Pierre Franey, Howard Johnson, Barbara Kafka and James Beard.

Through it all, his down-to-earth style and personal warmth shines through. I have always thought Pepin was an admirable TV chef because he never cops an haute cuisine attitude about cooking, but instead deconstructs recipes and techniques so that his audience can replicate the dishes he makes on screen. After reading his autobiography, I am even more impressed and endeared by his manner. Despite being a foodie superstar he always stresses the importance of cooking good food for your family and friends in order to share time and love with them, not show off.

I am looking forward to trying Pepin's recipe for Smoked Trout a la Gloria, named after Madame Pepin, an expert angler who brings home fish for her husband to smoke in a roasting pan on the stove. Sounds delicious and while I am not the fisherman in the family, I am willing to smoke up the trout that Dan loves to catch.

For my Cook the Books Pepin-inspired dish, I looked over the two dozen recipes that stud each chapter of this memoir. They were tempting, but I decided to create something with venison, in reference to the most harrowing incident related in the book: Pepin's nighttime car accident with a deer that left him with a broken back, two broken hips, a broken leg, cracked pelvis and a left arm that was so badly fractured that his surgeon considered amputating it. What an ordeal! But Pepin doesn't dwell on that incident, and segues into his subsequent experiences in teaching cooking classes, working with corporate clients and writing cookbooks. But I feel Jacques should have his revenge against that kamikaze deer with a venison dish, so I pulled some venison stew meat that we had in the freezer care of Dan's hunting cousin and put together a delicately seasoned venison stew.

Jacques' Venison Revenge Ragout

1 lb. venison, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3 stalks celery, medium dice
3 carrots, peeled and medium dice
2 cloves roasted garlic
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. chopped fresh sage
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
3 Tbsp. sorghum flour
1/2 cup dry white wine

Pat venison dry with a paper towel. Mix flour with salt and pepper and dredge venison in this mixture.
Heat 2 Tbsp. of oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Brown venison in batches over medium-high heat until browned on all sides and a nice crust forms. Remove and set aside.

Add remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to pan along with celery and carrots. Cook five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in potatoes and cook another five minutes.

Add wine and bring to a boil. Return venison to pan. Cover and simmer until vegetables and venison are tender, about 30-35 minutes. Add herbs during the last two minutes of cooking.

Serves 4-6.

This is a very delicate, aromatic venison stew. A couple of turnips or parsnips would be nice additions in here too.

Please join us after the July 31 deadline for Cook the Books to see the roundup of dishes inspired by our reading. 

I am also linking this post to Souper Sundays, a weekly celebration of soups, stews and sandwiches at Kahakai Kitchen.

The next book selection at Cook the Books will be Marlena de Blasi's "1000 Days in Venice". Deb of Eliot Eats is hosting and notes that the book is one of her favorites. Submissions due September 30, 2014.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pies and Peril, a book review of a new culinary mystery series and a giveaway!

Janel Gradowski's new book, Pies and Peril: A Culinary Competition Mystery (Gemma Halliday, 2014), is the first in a new mystery series that is sure to win over fans of foodie fiction. Amy is the heroine of this novel, a former hairdresser turned baker and competitive cook. She enters her small town Michigan baking contest and aims to win the triple crown in Cookies, Cakes and Pies, but the pie contest crown has been worn for the last five years by the villainous Mandy Jo, Amy's former friend and coworker. 

When Amy delivers her scrumptious pie entry to the contest she discovers Mandy Jo's recently murdered body, garnished with a raspberry pie to the face, and sets about aiding the police in uncovering the murderer. This cozy mystery is full of humor, mouthwatering food descriptions, and engaging characters, from Amy's sidekick, emergency room nurse Carla to her pie-scarfing dog Pogo, and is the perfect summer read, as light and luscious as, well, a Key Lime Pie.

I am honored to be part of the author's blog tour and pleased to be able to offer a giveaway of an e-book version of this fun new mystery to one of my Crispy Cook readers. To enter the giveaway just leave a comment below telling me about your favorite kind of pie by the deadline of Wednesday, July 23, 2014 and I'll pick a random entry to receive this prize.

Be sure to check out the other stops on the Pies and Peril Blog Tour for other reviews of this book and to enter other giveaways for the ebook.

Janel is a frequent participant in Weekend Cooking, a weekly roundup of foodie posts over at Beth Fish Reads, which is where I met her, and so naturally I am linking up this post over there.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Gallimaufry of Gluten Free Product Reviews

Here at the Crispy Cook we've been test driving some new gluten-free products and perusing some new gluten-free cookbooks and here are the verdicts:

1) Outer Spice

There are some new low- and no-salt seasoning blends on the market, which are also gluten-free and MSG-free. The Austin, Texas based Outer Spice company recently sent me a jar of the original Outer Spice No Salt blend to try.

It is an aromatic blend of garlic and black pepper (nice heat and kick there!) with other herbs and spices which I used in a variety of ways: topping grilled steelhead trout, as the seasoning base for a vinaigrette, spicing up buttered noodles and omelets, and as a general spice to have on hand at the dinner table. Outer Spice tasted very fresh and if one is on a salt-restricted diet, this would be a great seasoning to have on hand to zip up all kinds of meals.

Outer Spice sells for $6.99 for a 3.75 oz. jar and can be found at Whole Foods stores or online at the Outer Spice store.

2) Cooking Light Gluten Free Baking by Robert Landolphini (NY: Oxmoor House, 2014).

The publisher sent me a review copy of this new Gluten Free baking cookbook and I found it to be a real keeper. Landolphini really knows his subject inside and out: he's a culinary professional AND his wife and two of his children have celiac disease, so he knows the gluten-free diet.

Even though I own and have reviewed dozens of gluten-free cookbooks, I found the kitchen basics chapters informative and gleaned some new information. There are great photos of the rainbow of gluten-free flours, leavening agents, gums, dairy substitutes, sweeteners, oils and other GF baking ingredients and discussions of the merits and drawbacks of each for various kinds of baked goods. His recipes are for family favorites as well as more exotic fare, and are geared for the home cook of average ability. One does not need to be a baking expert to whip any of them up (see paragraph below) and there are plenty of color photos to provide guidance.

This cookbook gets a rave Crispy Cook review for its awesome Snickerdoodle recipe. We love these chewy, cinnamon-kissed cookies and this recipe is the best we've tried. I thought the author was being a bit diet-conscious when I read that the recipe made 16 cookies and one cookie would suffice as one serving. Who eats just one cookie? But this recipe produces cookies of impressive diameter, not little button cookies, so be prepared to indulge. The turbinado sugar coating adds excellent crunch. I have penciled a note in my copy of this recipe to place the unbaked cookies on two baking trays next time, as they really spread out during the baking time.

The publisher graciously agreed to let me share the Snickerdoodle recipe with you, so here it is:

Snickerdoodles ( Cooking Light Gluten-Free Baking page 113)

Hands-on time: 8 min. Total time: 36 min.


4.2 ounces garbanzo bean flour (about 1 cup)

1.3 ounces potato starch (about 1⁄4 cup)

1-teaspoon baking soda

3⁄4 teaspoon xantham gum

1⁄2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter, softened

1⁄4 cup packed brown sugar

1⁄4 cup granulated sugar

1-tablespoon corn syrup

1-teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large egg yolks

3 tablespoons turbinado sugar

1-teaspoon ground cinnamon


1. Preheat oven to 350

2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour and potato starch into dry measuring cups;

level with a knife. Combine flour, potato starch and next 4 ingredients

(through salt) in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk.

3. Place butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in a large bowl; beat

with a mixer at medium speed until blended. Add corny syrup, vanilla, and

egg yolks beating at low speed. Add flour mixture, beat at low speed until


4. Combine turbinado sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Shape dough

with moist hands into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in sugar mixture. Place 2

inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper; flatten cookies

with the bottom of a glass. Bake at 350 for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges

of cookies are golden brown. Cool completely on pan. Serves 16 (serving

size: 1 cookie)

Okay, back to some other gluten-free products:

3) Redpack Tomatoes

I've shared my favorable views about Redpack canned tomatoes before and when they asked if I would like to share information about the Toss in the Flavor promotion, I had no trouble agreeing. Their tomato products always have a nice fresh flavor and I use the petite diced tomatoes a lot in my marinara sauces, pasta salads and stews.

The Toss in the Flavor Sweepstakes invites readers to check out some new summer salad recipes (Peach Chipotle Salad sounds amazing) and visit the Redpack Facebook page to register to win free tote bags and a Grand Prize of a Gourmet Picnic Gift Basket worth $350.

4) Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt Pops

I received a coupon for a free box of Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt Pops. I found all five of the Yasso flavors available in the freezer case at Price Chopper: Peanut Butter Cup, Mint Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Fudge, Dark Chocolate Raspberry, and most tempting of all, Sea Salt Caramel. They were delectable and creamy, but I did find them expensive. There are four pops to a box which retails for $5.49, so that makes them on the luxury end of the frozen treat spectrum in my book. 

The Sea Salt Caramel Pops disappeared in a jiffy, and since I do approve of tasty things with all-natural ingredients, I went back and plunked down some of my own Crispy Cash to buy a pack of the Dark Chocolate Raspberry pops. Also decadently good.

***I received complimentary product samples and a review copy of Landolphini's book, but as always, I was not obligated to post a review of any of these items and my comments and opinions are completely my own.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Great New Mystery Series with Wonderful Characters, an Exotic Setting and Terrific Food

I have been enjoying Tarquin Hall's wonderful mystery series featuring Vish Puri, a portly but vain, bombastic but decent-hearted, Punjabi detective in modern Delhi. (His mother, Mummy-ji, also knows a thing or two about sleuthing, but is careful not to let her hidebound son know about her own investigations until they are all neatly sewn up.) Vish pampers his containers of blisteringly hot pepper plants, surreptitiously avoids his doctor's advice to avoid rich foods and is the head of a crack team of undercover associates which all have Vish-supplied nicknames: Tubelight (a morning-averse safecracker and car thief), Face Cream (a beautiful female mistress of disguise), Door Stop (the extremely lazy office boy), Handbrake (Vish's chauffeur), and Flush (an electronics and computer whiz who was the first to have a flush toilet in his village).

The books have humorous dialogue and Hall helpfully supplies glossaries at the end of each novel to explain all the unfamiliar words. I found that it was easy to tune my reading "ear" to the rhythm of Delhi-speak, or Dilli. Tarquin's plots offer a great introduction to the history and culture of modern Delhi and each book delves into a mystery that explains one or more social issues, from the caste system to the lingering effects of Partition on Indian-Pakistani relations.

The series is now up to four wonderful books, and Tarquin Hall will hopefully continue to entertain me and many other readers with the foibles of our flawed detective with future installments. My favorite book so far is the the third novel,  The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken. While the titular dish is something I do plan to try, I was actually intrigued by Chicken Frankies, a street food dish that Puri scarfs down throughout the series. I originally thought he was just inhaling chicken frankfurters, but after reading about them over and over in the books, a quick Internet search revealed that a Chicken Frankie is a roti slathered with spicy chicken bits, chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro and hot peppers and then rolled up to be eaten out of hand.

Chicken Frankies are marvelously flavorful things, but they are not the most caloric food item in the world, so I do wonder why he is badgered by his wife Rumpi about eating them. He is on the rotund side, and he does seem to deserve her nickname for him, Chubby, gauging by his Alfred Hitchcock-like profile on each of the hardcover dust jackets.

Here's our version in a gluten-free roti. Dan makes these handmade rotis in a variation of this stove-top pizza crust recipe using 1/4 cup chickpea flour (besan) and 1/2 cup white rice flour for the Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Gluten Free Mix called for in the original recipe. I actually prefer my Chicken Frankies roti-less, with the filling ingredients served over over basmati rice, but Dan must have Vish's favorite snack in the traditional manner.

There are many Chicken Frankie recipes out there, but the variation I like the best is to cut up some chicken breast into small cubes and slow cook it in tomatoes that have been simmered with browned garlic, fresh ginger, coriander, cumin, chili powder and garam masala. You then lay your spiced chicken along one side of the roti, add some diced fresh onions, hot peppers, parsley, cilantro and other seasonings (I threw in some very un-Indian sour cream in there, which Vish would find horrendous, being a good Hindu). Then roll up and eat. Don't forget the napkins!

I am linking this post to Novel Food, a blog event at Briciole, which rounds up posts about food inspired by participants' reading selections. Please consider adding your own entry to this round of Novel Food, which ends June 23rd.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Sharing our Family Recipe for Grandma Nellie's Chicken

When I married my husband Dan, I not only joined a warm and loving family, but I became privy to the heritage that he and his relatives shared. I got earfuls of family lore and albums of photographs of long dead ancestors posing with their town baseball teams, classmates and in one case, a taxidermied ostrich! (that was some strange photography studio where that shot was taken). I inherited cool cousins that were of my same vintage to go to softball games with and carouse.

And then there were the wonderful new-to-me things that my new extended clan ate: New England-y classics like scalloped oysters and baked beans, fresh garden peas (they are a different species than the canned and frozen peas my family was used to), manly delights that Dan's father made in his newfound gourmet phase of his retirement like Veal and Peppers and fork-tender barbecued chicken slathered with his famous, long-simmered barbecue sauce.

One of the family classics was Grandma Nellie's Chicken, a favorite handed down from the Irish side of the family. It's a simply seasoned baked chicken casserole covered over with sliced potatoes, celery and green peppers and is always a hit with our family and friends.The chicken gets tender and moist in its olive oil and butter basting and the vegetables roast down to make a fantastically tasty "gravy". All you need is a salad on the side and some rice to soak up the luscious chicken and vegetable juices and your meal is complete.

I usually add in fresh herbs (dill and thyme are good)  when I make this dish, and sometimes I add in sliced mushrooms if they are threatening to turn brown from too much time in the fridge, but I don't tweak this dish too much because I imagine its creator shaking her rolling pin down at me from On High and muttering about the cheekiness of the interloper that is trying to change up a classic recipe that doesn't need any gussying up.

Here then, is a great chicken recipe from the Crispy Cook heirloom recipe vault:

Grandma Nellie's Chicken

4 chicken breast halves, cut in half across the muscle (leave skin on)
5 potatoes, peeled and thick sliced
3 onions, sliced
4-5 sliced red and green peppers
5 stalks celery, sliced
 1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2 Tbsp. soft butter

Grease a 9x13 glass baking dish. Place chicken inside, skin side up. Layer potatoes, onions, peppers and celery in a mound over chicken. Dab on softened butter and drizzle with olive oil.

Season with salt, pepper and paprika to taste.

Bake 1-1/2 hours at 400 degrees F., stirring at least twice to get the chicken pieces evenly browned and to keep vegetables from sticking.

Serves 6-8.

This recipe also works well with chicken thighs or a cut up whole chicken, but be sure to keep checking the chicken pieces for doneness and adjust cooking times accordingly.

I am sending this recipe over to Weekend Cooking, a weekly roundup of food blog posts at Beth Fish Reads. You'll find lots of other recipes, cookbook reviews, and other delicious posts by the other contributors at this weekly blog event.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Peek at Price Chopper's New Cooking School

Last night I checked out one of Price Chopper's new cooking classes at their Market Bistro location in Latham. I and a bunch of other area food bloggers received an invitation to attend the Two Guys and a Grill cooking demonstration led by Market Bistro Cooking Chef John Winnek and Chef Michael Ollier from Certified Angus Beef. As you can imagine, beef grilling techniques and recipes were front and center as our instructors led us through three different beef recipes with accompanying side dishes.

That's Chef John behind the red mixer and he was a delightful educator, mixing practical cooking information and techniques from his many years of restaurant experience in with the recipes. (He's a fellow Schuylerville resident, so he gets even more points for that!) He showed us how to make a delicious corn souffle (fresh corn kernels really add a nice brightness and crunch), roasted brussels sprouts with bacon, chimichurri sauce, and a wonderfully tasty potato gratin that starts out with baked russet potatoes grated on a box grater mixed up and baked with all kinds of wonderful ingredients.

Chef Michael was the beef master and imparted his kitchen wisdom -and lots of jokes- as he showed us how to properly cook London Broil (shown below the the two-layered corn souffle on the side), Petite Sirloin Steaks and New York Strip Steaks.

Everything was delicious and I particularly enjoyed having medium-rare meat cooked perfectly, since my Crispy Crew adheres to the well-done taste spectrum. My favorite item was the Chimichurri sauce adorning the tender grilled Strip Steaks. I never considered having such a gardeny-tasting sauce with beef, but it was the perfect accompaniment to cut some of the richness of the meat.

Overall, I was pleased with the amount of information and generous-sized tastings provided and it seems like the $20-$55 per person cooking class prices are similar to what someone would pay for a meal out at a sit-down restaurant, so having the added bonus of personalized kitchen instruction makes it a real value.

Price Chopper just started these Cooking School classes a couple of months ago, and it seems that they are really taking off. The June schedule for the Cooking School includes a nice variety of classes, many of them hands-on, including a tapas night, Chinese take-out, sushi-making, seafood grilling, and cooking classes for children. There's even a reprise of the Two Guys and a Grill class tonight at 6 pm ($40) if you would like to attend. See the Market Bistro Cooking School website for more details.

After the class I got my first look at the Market Bistro, which is like a regular Price Chopper supermarket on steroids. Every conceivable food item is on sale, from Dr. Ray's Cel-Ray celery tonic -the King of deli beverages- to an awesome array of gluten-free grocery items. I skipped over to the meat counter to get some of those strip steaks to reproduce that great recipe for my family this week and also picked up some unusual gluten-free crackers and cookies for my celiac sweetie.

**I received a complimentary invitation to attend this Market Bistro class, as well as a bag of Certified Angus Beef goodies (including an insert thermometer, which Chef Michael recommends inserting laterally through one's grilled steaks to achieve the correct internal temperature). However, I was not obligated to post a review of the Market Bistro class and, as always, my comments are completely my own.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Roundup of Reviews of some New Gluten-Free Books

The Crispy Cook mailbox has recently been stuffed with a spate of gluten-free books to review.  The variety of the books I've been sent by various publishers shows how sophisticated and popular the gluten-free book-buying public has become. We've come a long way since 2007, when my husband and I were whacked over the head with the celiac diagnosis and the only gluten-free resources on store and library shelves were Bette Hagman's writings.

Here's a quartet of new books that I found to be great reading and which you may want to check out for yourself:

1) Gluten-Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread, by Nicole Hunn (NY: Da Capo Press, 2013).

I was very excited to receive Nicole Hunn's new bread baking cookbook, having relied on her original cookbook, Gluten-Free on a Shoestring, for several years now, for some of my go-to recipes. She's a very funny writer and whip smart, so the recipe introductions are good reading, too.  (I previously reviewed Nicole's original cookbook here at the Crispy Cook and made some of her tortillas and focaccia. Tres awesome!).

I haven't yet tried a recipe out of the latest Gluten-Free Shoestring book because her techniques and ingredient specifications have required some restocking of the baking pantry as welll as a few equipment acquisitions. And while I do like to test drive a new cookbook before I recommend it to others (usually a requirement in my cookbook reviews), I have been cooking out of Nicole's first cookbook for years now, and it's a beauty.

The baking philosophy in this new book relies on using the right, top-quality baking ingredients to make gluten-free bread that has chew, crust, taste and texture, so I am very excited to dive into her book once now that my kitchen is properly outfitted.

2) The Blender Girl: 100 Gluten-Free, Vegan Recipes, by Tess Masters (Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2014).

I wasn't primed to like this book. I'm not a big smoothie fan. I like to chew my food. But this gorgeously photographed cookbook of gluten-free, vegan recipes is so engagingly written by Aussie native Tess Masters that I succumbed easily. Sure, there are a lot of recipes for smoothies and shakes, but the bulk of the book actually describes a lot of other salads, snacks, noodles and main dishes that have enough heft and texture to make my choppers happy. And while the author is a vegetable evangelist, she doesn't whack you over the head with the guilt mallet to make you swallow her food philosophies.

I made a batch of Tess' Mental for Lentils salad, a mix of lentils, onion, zucchini, carrots, parsley and a load of other delicious seasonings and it quickly was gobbled up by some good friends at a party. I can't wait to try her recipe for Onion and Herb Socca, oh, and her Watermelon Gazpacho, oh, and then there's the delicious-sounding Live Lasagne Stacks.....

3) Sweet Debbie's Organic Treats: Allergy-Free and Vegan Recipes from the Famous Los Angeles Bakery, by Debbie Adler (Don Mills, Canada: Harlequin, 2013).

When this toothsome little dessert cookbook arrived, I wasn't sure what to expect. It is published by Harlequin (as in the romance novel publishing giant) and the leading recommendation on the back cover is from comedian Ray Romano. An unexpected combo, to be sure, but I was won over after flipping through the pages and finding a lot of interesting flavor combinations and creative recipes, paired with the food photos by Carl Kravats that really make these allergy-friendly sweet treats something to swoon over.

Bakery owner and author Debbie Adler explains all of her baking techniques and ingredients in the first few chapters and then lays out recipes for various kinds of muffins, brownies, cookies, cupcakes, bar cookies, donut holes and breads. I tried a double batch of her Quinoa Cranberry Cookies (though I subbed in raisins and walnuts for the dried cranberries called for in her recipe, cause that's what I had in the pantry) and they were very good. The quinoa flakes in the recipe makes for a nice, chewy texture and the cookies were imbued with a lot of flavor.

There's lots of other bookmarked recipes in my copy of this great new cookbook: Salted Caramel Apple Muffins, Fudgy Fig-A-Mama-Jig Bars, Krispy Kale 'n' Cheese Soft Pretzel Rods, but I have to say I'm most intrigued by Debbie's recipe for Caramel Glazed Fakin' Bacon Brownies (the faux bacon is made from roasted sliced shitake mushrooms!).

4) Jennifer's Way, by Jennifer Esposito (NY: Da Capo Books, 2014).

Jennifer Esposito is another organic, allergen-free bakery owner (her bakery is in New York City) and this book is a memoir rather than a cookbook, though there are a handful of recipes at the end of the book. The actress, baker and now author shares her odyssey toward good health after too many years of misdiagnoses and suffering. It seems unbelievable in this day and age that she didn't find out that  she had celiac disease until many years of travail.

Her story is heartfelt, honest and inspiring, and while she does catalog a litany of horrific health symptoms, from nerve damage to exhaustion to hair loss (extremely debilitating in the acting profession!) her story is not whiny or self-pitying. I found the memoir to be very educational and hope that others will learn from it and find it as absorbing as I did. It is also a good book to place in the hands of friends, family members or co-workers who "don't get the gluten-free thing" that people with celiac disease, gluten-intolerance and other health conditions must live with in order to stay healthy.

Note: I received complimentary review copies of these four books above from the publishers, but I was not obligated to post a review and my comments and opinions, as always, are completely my own.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dipping my Culinary Toe into Persian Waters with Funny in Farsi

Firoozeh Dumas’ first memoir, Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America (NY: Random House, 2003), is a collection of lighthearted essays that illuminates her childhood experiences growing up as an Iranian transplant in Southern California. She and her family arrived before the Iranian hostage crisis and Revolution, and she clearly shows how she and her family were treated before and after this great divide.

There were two reasons that I picked this book for the April/May selection for the online foodie book club, Cook the Books, that I and my wonderful blogger buddies, Deb, Simona and Debra, organize. First, this book offered me an excuse to explore the beautiful, fragrant Persian cuisine that Dumas describes in her book. Lucky Californians that get to dine out in numerous Persian restaurants started by Iranian-American immigrants!  

Second, I picked this title because I feel like too often Iranians (and Iraqis, Aghanis, Pakistanis and now, Russians - yet again) get demonized in the press because of the actions of their political leaders. As Dumas so expertly shows in her anecdotes about her goofy relatives, her own culture clashes at school and as a young teen, there are universally human traits that we all share around the world, no matter our ethnicity, religion, etc., and I wanted to have others read about her experiences. A little extending of the olive branch, or rather, a bowl of olives, out into the world, if you will.

The best parts of Dumas’ book were her descriptions of her father, Kazem. He is such an interesting mixture of intellect and childish enthusiasm. He was a petroleum engineer back in Abadan, Iran, and later earned a Fulbright Scholarship to continue his graduate education in the U.S. It was during his American sojourn that one of his professors took him on a road trip to Princeton where he met (and flummoxed) Albert Einstein. After launching into a endless monologue of his American experiences, Einstein was rendered somewhat speechless. Or perhaps he took a mental vacation to hone his Theory of Relativity during Kazem’s "year's allotment of conversation". 

I didn't have any cookbooks at the bookshop, or in my home library about Persian cooking. The local library's few volumes were out on loan, and I ordered a copy of "Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States: A Dinner Party Approach to International Relations" by Chris Fair (NY: Globe Pequot Press, 2008) but it arrived after I'd made the meal I was planning for this post. Fair's book is so wonderfully witty, educational and droolworthy all at the same time, so I'll be featuring something out of its pages here sometime soon. 

I was rescued in my quest for Persian culinary education by the wonderful Persian food bloggers out there. I spent a few rhapsodic hours perusing their recipes and food memories until I finally settled on the meal I would make for my family. Since we are Persian food newbies I didn’t want to make anything too wild or for which I would need to purchase endless amounts of exotic ingredients. I was struck by how fragrant -or perfumed might be a more descriptive word- the Persian food palette is; there's a heavy emphasis of great bunches of herbs and complex combinations of spices, and rosewater enters the scene too. It also seems like presentation is very important. As is copious amounts of available cooking time, for as Dumas explains in Funny in Farsi, ingredients are seasonal and require special attention: 

"Summer meant eggplant or okra stew fresh tomatoes, and tiny cucumbers that I would peel and salt. Winter meant celery or rhubarb stew, cilantro, parsley, fenugreek, and my favorite fruit, sweet lemon, which is a thin-skinned, aromatic citrus not found in America. There was no such thing as canned, frozen, or fast food. Everything, except for bread, which was purchased daily, was made from scratch. Eating meant having to wait for hours for all the ingredients to blend together just right." (p. 25)

I finally settled on meatballs spiced with sumac (already had it in the spice cabinet) and a dried rose petal-less advieh, that Persian spice mixture that contains cardamom, cumin, and coriander, all of which I did have on hand). I got the recipe for the fragrant meatballs at Silk Road Diary, and then made up a pot of rice seasoned with sauteed garlic and cumin seeds which I shaped into the traditional Persian dome shape and decorated with radish roses and curling parsley springs. Our Iranian feast was rounded off with pitcher of cold mint tea, a chilled cucumber, tomato and herb salad and some fresh fruit. 

You can still join us at Cook the Books by reading and blogging about this wonderful book by the June 1, 2014 deadline. I will have a roundup of posts up a few days later so that we can all enjoy our various takes on the book and partake of our virtual Persian feast. 

Our next Cook the Books selection will be The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, by Jacques Pepin. Deb of Kahakai Kitchen will be our CTB host and deadlines for posts are due July 31, 2014. Come join us in reading, blogging and cooking up this great book!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Garden Lites Veggie Muffins Review

Dan and I recently received a complimentary sampler of five flavors of Veggie Muffins from the Garden Lites company based in Queens, New York. These muffins are not only gluten-free, but each muffin also contains 20% of one's daily recommended fiber requirement, so that was a big plus.

The muffins come frozen, so to heat them up we placed a couple in our microwave for a minute (your microwave may be less anemic than ours, so timing may vary) and then unwrapped them. Each of the flavors was delicious though we each had different favorites:

Zucchini Banana Chocolate Chip - My favorite flavor. Tasted just like a slice of cake.

Carrot Berry: Dan's favorite flavor. He is a big carrot cake hound, so no surprise here.

Veggie Blueberry Oat: We both liked this one for its chewiness. The oats give it a lot of good texture. Another reassuring feature is that the ingredients list notes that certified gluten free oats are used. Oats can sometimes be cross-contaminated with gluten in their processing, so this was important to us.

Zucchini Chocolate: This was a very moist muffin, and with a little bit of frosting, you could call it a cupcake! This variety also contains 50% of one's daily Vitamin A allotment, so that was also a nice bonus.

Golden Corn: This was our least favorite of the flavors, but it was still tasty. We're just not big corn muffin fans and the other flavors had more vitamins, anyway, so why not go for more nutrition AND more tastiness, I say.

The company website says that these Veggie Muffins can be found at Target, Whole Foods, Price Chopper, and Walmart, so I will have to verify that when I'm out grocery shopping. The company also makes vegetable souffles and currently has a $1 off coupon which you can download at their website.

Overall, these muffins get two thumbs up from us. They are an easy way to get a quick vegetable and fiber boost to your day and are delicious and moist.

**Note: I received a complimentary sampler pack of five muffin varieties and a tote bag from the Garden Lites company, but as always, I was not obligated to post a review and my comments are completely my own. And Dan's.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Chicken Riggies: An Upstate New York Specialty

I thought I knew all about the local food specialties in my corner of the world, but then I had a peek at this blog post at All Over Albany. I can't say that I have every had -or desired- mozzarella sticks with raspberry sauce, or know why mini hot dogs made the list, and I lived in Albany for over ten years. As a Saratoga Springs resident for two decades, I can attest that potato chips were allegedly invented at Moon's Lake House in Saratoga Springs and for the last twenty years a local candymaker has been putting out a purportedly traditional Victorian holiday treat, the Peppermint Pig (complete with miniature hammer for smashing it to bits for consumption).

A map of New York state foods subsequently was posted on All Over Albany, which I reproduce below:

food regions new york state shannon glazer

I have had the delectable spiedies of the Binghamton area, those marinated grilled chicken sandwiches, and of course Buffalo chicken wings are the best. And I must say no one really eats bark in the Adirondacks, except for the wildlife.

But I had no idea about Utica's Chicken Riggies. It seems that the Italian-American community there love a very saucy, spicy chicken with rigatoni (the "riggies" part) so I had to try that. The secret ingredient is chopped up hot cherry peppers, so do yourself a favor and buy some fresh or at least buy the biggest jar of pickled cherry peppers you can find and keep it on hand to make this great recipe.

I found this recipe at The Brooklyn Ragazza blog which claims to be the original recipe as created by chef Joe Morelli (one of Stephanie Plum's love interests in Janet Evanovich's comic mystery series is named Joe Morelli, so that was another propitious sign inspiring me to make this dish).

I cut down on the hot peppers called for in the recipe and had a slightly more judicious hand with the meat, and dairy products, and served up our Chicken Riggies over gluten-free corn rigatoni.


And husband and child number 2 tell me it must now be part of our regular menu rotation.

Here's my version of Chicken Riggies, made Gluten-Free and a bit lighter on the old stomach.

Chicken Riggies (adapted from The Brooklyn Ragazza)

1 pound of Rigatoni
1 lbs. of boneless chicken breast, cut up into  1/2 inch cubes
2  large roasted red peppers, medium chopped ( I used jarred roasted peppers)
4 hot cherry peppers, roughly chopped (fresh is traditional, but pickled peppers worked great too)
1 (28 oz.) can of whole plum tomatoes, broken up into chunks (your hands work well for this- just get in and get squishy)
5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped (divided)
1/2 c. of grated Pecorino Romano cheese (plus more for topping)
1/2  c. dry Sherry wine
4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (divided- half for sauté, half for sauce)
2 Tbsp. butter
¼ c. heavy cream
½ tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. salt

In a large pot heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil on low heat with 4 of the garlic cloves. Be careful that the garlic doesn’t get brown or burnt. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes and Sherry. Simmer for a few minutes.  Add the butter, dried basil and the sea salt.  Allow to simmer on very low heat.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, saute the chicken in remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil. When chicken is almost browned, stir in the roasted red peppers, cherry peppers, and remaining garlic and sauté for a couple of minute so the flavors marry.

Stir tomatoes and Romano cheese together and add to chicken. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Cook rigatoni until al dente and toss with sauce mixture. Serve with additional grated cheese.

Serves 4-6.

I'm sending over a plate of this Utica, New York signature dish to the Pasta Please Challenge, hosted by Tinned Tomatoes and guest hosted this month by Slice of Me.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Of Possums, Oysters and Mark Twain

My Cook the Books Cohost Simona (the cheese-, pasta- and bread-making force behind Briciole) picked a wonderful title for our online foodie book club to savor: Andrew Beahrs' Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens. The book examines some regional foods that Twain pined for, both in terms of their historical importance and as they appear in contemporary America, interspersed with some snippets about Twain's interesting life. It's a great gumbo of a book full of food history, ecology and literary biography and a good introduction to the life and words of this multi-faceted American genius without having to snap one's wrists wielding his autobiography (Vols. 1 and 2 of an anticpated three volume set recently released on the centenary of his death and weighing in at 4 lbs. each so far).

Twain's Feast is a book that both Dan and I thoroughly enjoyed and which we kept reading out loud to each other during each of our turns flipping through it. Beahrs' starts with a list of American dishes that the homesick and hotel food-weary Twain dreams of tasting upon his return from the European tour described in his hilarious 1880 travel memoir A Tramp Abroad:
"It has now been many months, at the present writing, since I have had a nourishing meal, but I shall soon have one—a modest, private affair, all to myself. I have selected a few dishes, and made out a little bill of fare, which will go home in the steamer that precedes me, and be hot when I arrive—as follows: 
Radishes. Baked apples, with cream, 
Fried oysters; stewed oysters. Frogs.American coffee, with real cream.American butter.Fried chicken, Southern style.Porter-house steak.Saratoga potatoes. Broiled chicken, American style.
Hot biscuits, Southern style.
Hot wheat-bread, Southern style.Hot buckwheat cakes.American toast. Clear maple syrup.Virginia bacon, broiled.Blue points, on the half shell.Cherry-stone clams.San Francisco mussels, steamed.Oyster soup. Clam Soup.Philadelphia Terapin soup.Oysters roasted in shell-Northern style.Soft-shell crabs. Connecticut shad.Baltimore perch.Brook trout, from Sierra Nevadas.Lake trout, from Tahoe.Sheep-head and croakers, from New Orleans.Black bass from the Mississippi.American roast beef.Roast turkey, Thanksgiving style.Cranberry sauce. Celery.Roast wild turkey. Woodcock.Canvas-back-duck, from Baltimore.Prairie liens, from Illinois.Missouri partridges, broiled.'Possum. Coon.Boston bacon and beans.Bacon and greens, Southern style.Hominy. Boiled onions. Turnips.Pumpkin. Squash. Asparagus.Butter beans. Sweet potatoes.Lettuce. Succotash. String beans.Mashed potatoes. Catsup.Boiled potatoes, in their skins.New potatoes, minus the skins.Early rose potatoes, roasted in the ashes, Southern style, served hot.Sliced tomatoes, with sugar or vinegar. Stewed tomatoes.Green corn, cut from the ear and served with butter and pepper.Green corn, on the ear.Hot corn-pone, with chitlings, Southern style.Hot hoe-cake, Southern style.Hot egg-bread, Southern style.Hot light-bread, Southern style.Buttermilk. Iced sweet milk.Apple dumplings, with real cream.Apple pie. Apple fritters.Apple puffs, Southern style.Peach cobbler, Southern stylePeach pie. American mince pie.Pumpkin pie. Squash pie.All sorts of American pastry."
To cap off this "modest" repast, Twain also noted that he would like some fresh fruit and ice water on the table.

It's quite a list. And one would think that a food blogger, namely me, would have an easy time selecting from this cornucopia of foods to produce a dish in homage of Messrs. Beahrs and Twain, but I was unsettled about what to make.

My first inclination was to make Saratoga Potatoes, being that I live in New York's Saratoga County and these CRISPY delights are the stuff of local food legend. Saratoga Potatoes are now more commonly known as potato chips -or crisps to you Brits- and were allegedly first whipped up in anger by George C. Crum, the chef at Moon's Lake House in Saratoga Springs, for a pesky customer who kept returning his potatoes back to the kitchen. I made a pilgrimage to Potato Chip Lane, near the famous Saratoga Race Track, but was left uninspired, though I plan to try my hand at chips in a future blog post.

Twain's list referenced two American mammals, the opposum and the raccoon, which are given a chapter's treatment by Beahrs' as he attends a southern Arkansas coon roast. I don't understand why the locals bother cooking up 600 POUNDS of coon meat, when the stench from the fat makes the meat nigh inedible until it is boiled and rinsed and sauced to death. Then it takes like sauce. Must be just the novelty or the tradition of the thing.

I almost took it as a divine portent when unbelievably, we had a day time visit from a young opposum two weeks ago during the one day it was sunny and above freezing this calendar year. This possum was a real cutie and stayed around our house for almost six hours snacking on wild cherries that had fallen (and no doubt fermented) on the ground. At dusk, it made its way painfully slowly across our well-trafficked road to resume hibernation in our neighbor's barn. (Don't tell her, she's not a marsupial fan).

I ended up inspired by Beahrs' chapter on oysters, once so plentiful in the U.S. that they were sold by the barrel. I usually make my late mother-in-law's Scalloped Oyster recipe at the holidays, though my last several versions have been soupier than desired since we now make a gluten-free version. Here I was almost ready to go back to the drawing board again, as every supermarket and fish market I tried did not have them in stock. Apparently oysters are now considered only a holiday item. I did end up with one container of shucked oysters from the Saratoga Springs Price Chopper (they weren't in stock the other two times I tried) which were cleverly hidden away in a refrigerated case next to the organic vegetable section, so clutching this in the crook of my arm throughout the rest of my shopping trip, I got it home and tinkered with the family recipe to make this rich and delectable side dish.

Grandma Millie's Scalloped Oysters

1 cup gluten-free crackers, crumbled (I used Glutino original premium rounds – 4.4 oz. They are most like the saltines Millie used in the original recipe).

1 cup gluten-free bread crumbs (from 3-4 slices of GF bread, not those Sahara dry pre-packaged GF crumbs)

1 stick butter, softened

1 pt. oysters, liquid reserved

1/4 tsp. black pepper

milk or cream

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce (check to make sure GF)

Use 1-2 Tbsp. butter to grease a 1-1/2 qt. casserole dish. Melt remaining butter and mix with cracker and bread crumbs.

Roughly cut up oysters to break up large pieces (I used kitchen shears in the oyster container so I wouldn’t lose any of the precious oyster liquor).

Place 1/3 of the buttered crumbs on the bottom of the casserole dish. Spoon half of oysters over the crumbs. Repeat layers once, reserving last third of crumbs.

Add enough milk or cream to oyster liquor to make 1 cup. Add in salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to mix well and then pour over oyster casserole. Top with remaining cracker crumbs.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, uncovered.

If you don't need to dine gluten-free, replace GF crackers and bread with an equal amount of saltine crackers, like Grandma Millie used to. This dish is lovely served with a green salad and roll on the side or as part of your New England holiday table.

Please join us after the March 31st deadline for this round of Cook the Books to see the other parts of Twain's Feast that my compadres have cooked up. And please also consider joining us in reading and cooking from our next Cook the Books selection, Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas. Deadline for that next round of Cook the Books is June 1, 2014.

I am also sending a scoop of this rich and decadent oyster treat to Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly roundup of links to foodcentric posts across the blogosphere.