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.