Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cook the Books - A Foodie Book Club is Born

My new foodie friends Johanna of Food Junkie (in Athens, Greece) and Deb of Kahakai Kitchen (in Hawaii) and I (upstate New York) are proud to announce the birth of COOK THE BOOKS, a blog event where participants read a chosen foodcentric book (fiction and non-fiction) and then cook up something delicious inspired by their reading.

We all met on the Leftover Queen's Foodie Forum, where we are currently embroiled in some Royal Jousting with fennel, parsley and dairy products, and we discovered that we share not only a love of cooking but a love of reading too. And what better way to escape from the trials of a long, hard day than to read a good book about food! We decided to plan a bimonthly foodie book club and so COOK THE BOOKS was born.

Here's how it works:

1) Starting today, October 1st, COOK THE BOOKS readers are asked to read Lily Prior's "La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture", (NY: HarperCollins, 2000) . There are a number of inexpensive copies of this book available online if you would like to purchase your own copy or perhaps you may prefer to get a copy on loan from your local library.

2) After reading the book, cook up something delicious inspired by this novel and blog about it. If you don't have a blog, one of us three hosts above would be happy to post your entry as a guest blogger. Make sure to include a link to this COOK THE BOOKS announcement so others can find out about the details.

3) In the meantime, feel free to suggest other foodie readings for a future round of COOK THE BOOKS by leaving a comment after this post.

4) This round of COOK THE BOOKS will run from October 1, 2008 to December 15, 2008. Participants will then be asked to vote on the next Cook the Books reading selection and for the most mouthwatering COOK THE BOOKS entry. The winner will receive a fabulous badge to place proudly on their blog.

5) Ready, set, read!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fiddling with Fennel for my Queen

It took some hard thought and a second try, but I came up with something scrumptious for Jen the Leftover Queen's Royal Foodie Joust. The object of this fun foodie challenge is to use three ingredients selected by the previous joust winner. Peter of Souvlaki for the Soul won last month's Joust with his recipe for Halvas, a Greek sweet semolina dessert, using the chosen trio of whole grains, citrus and ginger. Peter selected the next trio of fennel, parsley and dairy for this round of jousting.

I first tried making a batch of delicious Zucchini-Spinach Soup for my joust entry, but the addition of the required dairy did not improve this recipe, so I had to put my chef toque back on for some additional scheming. Instead of using fennel seeds, as in the soup, I decided to buy a fresh fennel bulb to play around with. After a little kitchen fuss and muss, improved with the accompaniment of Stanley Clarke and Cassandra Wilson on the boom box, I came up with a nice Shrimp Cocktail Parfait that was scarfed up rather quickly. This is based on a terrific appetizer Dan and I had several years ago when we vacationed at Mystic, Connecticut. Right near the Aquarium is a seafood restaurant that served a similar starter, using a couple of fried jumbo shrimp layered with guacamole, salsa and sour cream.

I wanted to recreate and lighten up this recipe, so I tried it with yogurt cheese, steamed shrimp and a tomato-fennel sauce. I made four (one cup) portions as shown in the photo, which even so proved to be very rich and filling, so next time I would dish this up in a much more dainty serving. Some shredded lettuce in the bottom of the parfait glass would no doubt be a nice addition next time too.

Here's my Joust offering:


Yogurt Cheese Layer:

1 (8 oz.) container plain yogurt

Guacamole Layer:

2 ripe avocados
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salt to taste

Tomato-Fennel Layer:

5 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 fennel bulb, trimmed and diced
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1/2 lb. large shrimp, shelled and deveined
3 Tbsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped

Begin parfait at least 3 hours before serving to ensure that all ingredients chill and flavors meld.

Line a strainer or colander with cheesecloth, a double thickness of coffee filters or paper towels. Dump in yogurt and let drain into a container, for at least 1 hour to drain whey.

Meanwhile, boil up some water in a saucepot and cook shrimp until they are pink, plump and curled up, about 10 minutes. Drain and chill.

Mash avocados with lime juice and salt. Chill.

Mix tomatoes and fennel. Pour on balsamic vinegar and chill.

Just before serving, assemble shrimp parfaits:

Put in a layer of tomato-fennel mixture, then yogurt cheese, then guacamole, topped by a couple of shrimp and some parsley. Repeat.

Serves 4 (too generously!, you won't eat anything else for dinner). More reasonably, this makes 6-8 appetizer portions.

Be sure to check in with the Leftover Queen's Royal Foodie Forum after October 1st to see all the joust entries.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Canning the Fruits of Autumn with Apple Chutney

When my eldest was an impossibly cute toddler Dan and I planted some scrawny Spartan apple trees around our manse. The saplings were awfully stick-like and we were not so much hoping for an orchard of fruit as some shade and landscaping for our lawn.

Fast forward fifteen years and now my apple trees are abundant with fruit and leafy as can be. We've battled with tent caterpillars, weird lichen-like scabs on the branches and spring snowstorms that battered all the apple blossoms off before the bees could get busy, so this is so amazing to see that our six apple trees have actually borne fruit. And so much fruit it is! Perhaps the long, cool spring and buckets of summer rain are just the right conditions for fruit-bearing.

We don't spray our apple trees and sometimes (alright, usually) don't remember the annual pruning, so the apples aren't pictures of beauty. They are scabby and knobby and you don't just brush them up on your shirt and take a bite after eyeballing some of the unappealing peel. But they do taste nicely tart-sweet and are wonderfully crisp.

My weekend was filled with the task of making applesauce, apple crisp and a velvety brown apple chutney. Peeling and excising out cores and inhabitants from these knobby apples takes a long time, so I didn't put up huge vats of apple products, but I did manage to get four containers of applesauce, 1 9x13 pan of apple crisp and 7 pints of chutney using the contents of only one tree. With five more trees to harvest, I am thinking that my horse and donkey owning neighbor is going to get a bushel of equine treats in the next week.

Chutney is the perfect accompaniment for spicy food, rice dishes and we love a bit of chutney and cucumber raita on the side of our Bhajis. It is also luscious mixed with sour cream for a quick dip or with cream cheese and curry powder for a stiffer spread. I tweaked the apple chutney recipe in my Ball Blue Book canning recipes cookbook and here it is:


16 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into rough chunks
2 lbs. raisins
1 large onion, peeled and rough chopped
2 large red peppers, rough chopped
4 cups brown sugar
3 Tbsp. yellow mustard seed
1 Tbsp. ground ginger
1 Tbsp. crystallized ginger
2 tsp. allspice
2 tsp. pickling salt
2 tsp. hot pepper flakes
5 cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
4 cups cider vinegar

Clean 7 pint canning jars and lids. Place in canning kettle and bring to boil. Cover and keep warm while making chutney.

Place all ingredients in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and mix well to dissolve brown sugar. Place on stove and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, uncovered, 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring often to keep from scorching. You want your chutney to be nice and thick and not runny, so you may have to extend your cooking time if your apples are particularly juicy, as I did.

Pack into hot pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Seal and adjust rings. Place back in hot water bath and process 10 minutes once water has come to a boil again.

Makes 7 glorious pints of chutney.

I have also made this apple chutney with fresh cranberries, cut in half and that is a lovely holiday addition.

I am submitting this recipe to the Slow Food Edition of the Go Ahead, Honey, It's Gluten Free cooking event founded and hosted this month by Naomi at Straight Into Bed Cakefree and Dried. This thematic event showcases gluten-free goodies and I'm excited to see what slow-cooked treats everyone cooks up this round, which runs until September 30th. Be sure to check back with Naomi for a luxurious and delicious roundup.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Zucchini Soup

I am honored to be one of the Leftover Queen's Finest Friday Foodies today. Jen's fun Leftover Queen blog not only dispenses great recipes, but she hosts the Foodie blogroll and the monthly Royal Food Joust, in which participants take on the challenge of cooking with three designated ingredients to come up with a winning dish worthy of our Queen.

This month's trio includes fennel (seeds or bulb), parsley and dairy. I have had great fun tweaking recipes for past jousts and cranking out a delicious Apricot-Ginger Shortbread, Mango & Red Pepper Chutney, Raspberry-Lime Cheesecake, Spicy Omelet Sushi, and Yard-Long Beans with Tofu, but I am having a bit more trouble coming up with a recipe for this month's joust as I am not an experienced manipulator of fennel.

I have a zucchini-spinach soup recipe I like to trot out when the squash vines are pumping out produce and thought that an adapted version of this soup might be a joustworthy entry. Alas, the addition of a little bit of cream at the end to make sure the recipe included dairy just doesn't taste right. This soup should stay dairy-free to highlight the clean, green tastes of the vegetables, so I will have to keep playing with fennel to see if I can come up with something tasty by the end of the jousting month.

However, do try to make a batch of this soup sometime when you are longing for a warming dish. It is better when you have fresh spinach, but a thawed package of frozen greens is an adequate substitute. The following recipe is adapted from my battered and split copy of "Greek Vegetarian Cookery" by Jack Santa Maria (Boston: Shambhala, 1985).

Spinach-Zucchini Soup with Fennel Seeds

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp. fennel seed, crushed a little in a mortar or with handle of a knife
1 big bunch of fresh spinach (or 1 10-oz. pkg. frozen spinach, thawed), both rough chopped
2 medium zucchini, sliced thin
2 Tbsp. Italian parsley, chopped
10 cups vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a heavy saucepan and fry onions for 2-3 minutes, until softened. Add fennel seeds and saute another 2-3 minutes. Add spinach, parsley and zucchini. Stir around another 4-5 minutes to soften vegetables.

Add stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer another 15 minutes.

Leave out the cream.

Serves 6-8.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sherry Lynn's Bakery Temporarily Closed

Howie and Sherry, owners of Sherry Lynn's Gluten-Free Bakery and Cafe in Brunswick, on Route 7, asked that I pass along the following information so folks don't make a long drive out to stock up on gluten-free treats and be disappointed:
To our valued customers,

"Sherry Lynn's Bakery & Cafe is closed until further notice due to a structural failure in our building. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. We are working very hard to get back up and running."

I'll keep you posted when the doors are back open and everyone can check the Cafe's website for updates. Suzanne at Gluten-Free Saratoga recently noted that the cafe would be moving to a new location off the Northway in Latham next month, which would certainly be more convenient for this Saratoga County resident. Dan must have his apple fritters.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Roasted Rainbow Beans

The tomato torrent is finally winding down and we even have a frost watch set for tomorrow night. I must say I am somewhat relieved, as garden fertility has kept me hopping on the preservation scene almost every night. I am getting heartily sick of cooking down tomatoes and the kids are certainly sick of their pervasive perfume, although Dan and I are proud that this is the first year we've filled up the freezer and stocked all the kitchen shelves with dehydrated and canned garden veggies. None too soon by the looks of the stock market.

Here's a delicious roasted vegetable casserole I made with the last of the yellow wax beans (the fifth picking off those stalwarts!), red tomatoes, and those dazzling purple yard-long Chinese beans. Unlike other purple string beans I've grown, these legumes held onto their purple color and didn't revert to green beans, so that was a bonus. The beans are delightfully chewy in this recipe and soaked up lots of tomato juices. Here's how vibrant they looked going into the oven:

And out of the oven:

And the recipe:

Roasted Rainbow Beans

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 lb. yellow wax beans, trimmed and cut in half

1 lb. purple yard-long beans or other purple string

8 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped

3 sprigs basil, chopped

3 sprigs rosemary, snipped (or 1 tsp. dried rosemary)

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped finely

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Toss all ingredients together in 9x13 glass baking dish. Cover with foil and bake in oven for 45-60 minutes, stirring at least twice during cooking to mingle juices. Remove foil for last 15 minutes to let veggies brown up.

Serves 6. Lovely over brown rice or noodles.

The Grow Your Own cooking event is being hosted during the latter part of September by Denise over at Chez Us, a delightful food blog about her adventures in cooking and her partner's eating of same. I am submitting this Rainbow Roasted Beans recipe to join in the fun, so look for a roundup of delicious homegrown recipes at Chez Us after September 30th. This twice-a-month food event was started by Andrea of Andrea's Recipes, to showcase what people are growing and eating all around the world. From Torch Ginger Plant to Hot Peppers to homegrown Papayas, it's fascinating to see what is in season in different countries.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Upcoming Gluten-Free Event

Happy National Celiac Awareness Day! Today's a great day to remember to educate someone new about celiac disease and the need for more testing of the huge numbers of undiagnosed people who may suffering some of the myriad symptoms of the disease. Check out the Celiac Disease Foundation for more information about celiac, the gluten-free diet, and the latest in medical research. This link will also clue you in to 80+ gluten-free lifestyle, recipe and parenting blogs that focus on La Vida Gluten-Free from regular folks around the world.

I also wanted to let Capital District residents know that our own Rensselaer County gluten-free author, Elizabeth Barbone, will be signing copies of her book, "Easy Gluten-Free Baking" at It's Only Natural, a health food store in Albany's Stuyvesant Plaza, on Saturday, September 27th, from 11 am to 1 pm. I bought a copy of this book when I first met Elizabeth at a celiac support group meeting in Glens Falls and it is the most bespattered gluten-free cookbook I own. Lots of everyday baked goods recipes with very clear instructions and the best Lemon Bar recipe ever! Jeanne and MaryAnna from Saratoga Gluten Free Goods will also be on hand at this book signing to serve refreshments, so don't miss out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Novel Food: Yemenite Eggplant Salad

Simona of Briciole, a foodie blog that illustrates Italian culinary terms and Lisa of Champaign Taste in Illinois had the brilliant idea to start a quarterly food blog event based on the delicious inspiration found in books. Novel Food is now in its fifth round and after perusing past roundups that beckoned with Italian murder mysteries by Magdalen Nabb, Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri, Turkish Delight inspired by the White Queen in C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe", and artichoke dip inspired by Rebecca Wells' "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood", I was lured to my bookshelves to find something to read and then cook from.

I recently posted a list of foodie fiction titles (which I have moved here to my other Crispy Cook 2 blog so I can keep updating it frequently) and decided to read Diana Abu-Jaber's second novel, "Crescent" (NY: W.W. Norton, 2003). The book is a beautifully woven tale about an Iraq-American woman who is the chef at a Lebanese restaurant in Los Angeles that feeds a pan-Arab contingent of homesick students, professors and locals. She starts a romance with a haunted Iraqi professor of Arab literature that pulses between strong undercurrents of emotion for their respective families, their love for each other and their personal identities. Throw in spicy restaurant and kitchen scenes and it's a winner all the way through.

"Crescent" inspired me to look up some Arab recipes and I settled on a Yemenite Eggplant Salad that I found on Ashbury's Aubergines website. This purple website is all eggplants, all the time, and at last count had 3,116 eggplant recipes to peruse. The photo below shows only a small remnant of the salad and zhoug condiment that was left when I managed to pry away the bowl from my hubby, who tells me that this is one of My Top Five Best Recipes. Whoa! He ate the eggplant salad in a double dinner that night, first on top of leftover GF pasta, followed by heated up rice. I liked it on salad with more fresh garden tomatoes cut up in it.

The zhoug is like a parsley-hot pepper-cilantro pesto and was not as hot as I had thought it might be, so I would add the full amount of hot peppers next time (I was a chicken and only used two jalapenos). It was delightful swirled into the smoky eggplant salad, which was sort of a punched up version of Babba Gannoush. We also smeared it onto sauteed tofu cubes for another winning supper.

There is still time to enter Novel Food if you feel like poking into a good book and cooking up something wonderful. The event runs until September 20th so be sure to check in with Simona or Lisa at the links above to find out how to participate.

Happy Reading and Eating!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

GAHIGF Seasonal Vegetables Roundup

While Straight into Bed Cakefree and Dried Naomi, the Founder of the Go Ahead, Honey, It's Gluten Free, takes stock after a holiday in France, I am pleased as guest host to offer a roundup of colorful vegetable recipes. The theme for this round of GAHIGF was Seasonal Vegetables (fruits also cheerfully accepted). We had fifteen participants, all of whom made a rainbow of gorgeous, healthy, gluten-free treats which I now present for your delectation, arranged according to color.


Jai and Bee of the vegetarian food blog Jugalbandi produced beautiful purple potato crisps in the microwave.

Ivy from Athens, Greece, maintains the food blog Kopiaste, with lots of great Greek, Cypriot and from-scratch recipes. She contributed Spicy Baked Eggplants.


Karen, the Gluten-Free Sox Fan, consulted with Marcella Hazan and whipped up a batch of Home-Made Tomato Sauce from her own tomatoes and basil.

Cheryl at Gluten-Free Goodness also made use of an abundance of homegrown tomatoes with Roasted Tomato and Caramelized Onion Soup.


Naomi of Straight Into Bed Cakefree and Dried found time for her blog baby and made a Velvet Squash Soup and Bread from one sexy looking squash.


Vittoria of Deliciously GF, made an entire week's menu from seasonal offerings found at her New York City farmer's market which you can check out here.


Lauren in New Brunswick, Canada of Harmless FOMA, a vegan blog, used some sexy veggies as well in her Creamy Roasted Garlic, Chanterelle and Cauliflower Soup with Chanterelle Croutons.

Kimi at The Nourishing Gourmet provided a tasty batch of Grilled Corn.

Here at the Crispy Cook, I plucked a cauliflower from the garden and made a Cauliflower and Mushroom Saute.


Mansi at the Fun and Food Cafe provided a beautiful Healthy Avocado Smoothie.

Divya from ..And a Little Bit More prepared a tasty Soybean and Green Pepper Fried Rice for us to drool over.

In Tampa, Florida, Allergy Mom at The Allergic Kid tackled an armload of cukes to make Marinated Cucumbers.

Oakley from the Portland, Oregon food blog, Lemon Basil, scoured the farmers' market for her ingredients for Local Fingerling, Edamame, and Goat Cheese Salad with Asian Vinaigrette.


Chicagoan Joelen of Joelen's Culinary Adventures played around with some spices and vegetables to come up with Spiced Turkey Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms.

Scrumptious explores her weekly vegetable goodies in her CSA(Community Supported Agriculture) box in her blog In My Box. For the GAHIGF event, she took potatoes, zucchini and tomatoes and made a lovely, and undoubtedly SCRUMPTIOUS Summer Bounty Gratin.

Thanks to all the participating cooks and to Naomi for coming up with this fun blog event to showcase the deliciousness of gluten-free cooking. What an inspiring rainbow of vegetable dishes: all beautifully prepared and photographed and naturally gluten-free. Time to gather up some veggies and cook!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Tomato Rice Soup

Having blazed through our original bottle of Smoked Paprika, Dan and I were eager to grab another and keep experimenting. Thanks for all the great foodie suggestions in my last post on our new favorite spice. This time I wanted to try it in some homemade tomato soup and it lent an earthy, rustic taste that was just fabulous. A bit of leftover rice from last night's dinner and presto, Tomato Rice Soup.

The tomato processing marches on the Crispy Kitchen as our plants, though many have blight, keep cranking out fruit, and we haven't yet had a frost. One batch of chunked up tomatoes cooked overnight in the crock pot (4 qts.) made just the right amount of tomato puree, when the tomato water was drained off for later vegetable soup stock.

Tomato Rice Soup

8 cups cooked tomatoes, (skins and seed removed through a food mill or equivalent amount of canned crushed tomatoes)
5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and put through garlic press or minced fine
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 heaping Tbsp. smoked paprika
2 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
2 cups cooked rice
Salt to taste

Heat olive oil in soup pot over low heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly to avoid burning and making the garlic bitter. Add paprika and cook 1 minute more. Toss in tomatoes and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 20 minutes, uncovered. Add rice and cook until heated through. Season with salt to taste.

Garnish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, grated cheese, parsley and a nice round of fresh ground pepper. Divine!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Canning Homegrown Tomato Sauce

The Crispy Cook is mightily staying on top of the perpetual tomato harvest by roasting tomatoes in the oven overnight (175 degrees F) tossed with oil, salt and pepper in glass baking dishes (metal cookie sheets get eaten away by tomato acid and then make the tomatoes taste unpleasantly metallic) AND by cutting grape tomatoes in half and dehydrating them overnight in the dehydrator AND by giving them away in our bookstore and to all friends and parents of kids' friends (HOW EMBARASSING!) AND by canning them into salsa or sauce. (Chutney is on the agenda next).

Canning tomatoes is somewhat of a multi-step and multi-hour process, but one with rhythms that soothe me after a long day, so I really do enjoy it. I've found that this year I've been able to get into a system of picking and washing tomatoes one day, chunking them up into the crockpot to cook down the next, and sieving and cooking down the sauce and canning on the third day. Here's what I've being doing at the Kitchen Tomato Factory:

Day One: Pick ripe and even a few slightly underripe tomatoes (for extra acid and zingy green flavor). I use whatever tomatoes I have ready, usually a mixture of plums and salad tomatoes, both red and yellow. Wash and let air dry.

Day Two: Core and cut up tomatoes into large crockpot (mine is 4 quarts). You don't need to add water because the tomatoes will let off a lot of juice. Cover and cook on high 1 hour, then lower heat to low and cook until tomatoes are mushy (at least 4 hours). I usually go to bed and wake up in the morning, turn off the crockpot and put the tomatoes in my Mouli contraption that presses out the tomato juice and pulp, but leaves a surprisingly small amount of seeds and skin behind. Then I either let it cool and refrigerate it until I have time to deal with it or proceed to:

Day Three: Cook down tomatoes until they are a thicker, saucy consistency. Dont' let the sauce scorch on the bottom. This is where you throw in the seasonings: sauteed garlic and onions, some red pepper flakes, black pepper, chopped basil and oregano and a hint of brown sugar to take the edge off the tomato acid. When sauce is desired thickness, add pickling salt and lemon juice/cider vinegar and keep on low flame.

Wash jars and put in canning kettle with water to cover. Bring to boil. Take out hot jars, fill with tomato sauce, seal and process in hot water bath. Take out and let the music of the popping lids bring a smile to your face.

I follow the Tomato Sauce recipe in my old reliable, the Ball Blue Book, but you can also find good instructions for canning a variety of tomato items on this site, which also gives you all the correct ingredient amounts and processing times. I personally would stay away from adding mushrooms to any tomato sauce as it just doesn't seem safe to add fungi to a home-canned item. You can always zip up your home-canned sauce later to add other chunky items or cheese or simmer it longer to get it even thicker.

Don't be afraid to learn how to do simple home canning. If you are scrupulously clean with jars and lids and in following exact proportions for canning recipes, you'll end up with delicious, nutritious, economical, beautiful items in your pantry. Things won't blow up, you won't poison your family, it'll be alright.

I am submitting this Tomato Sauce Extravaganza to Grow Your Own, a twice-monthly event started by Andrea's Recipes, and which is being hosted this round by Noob Cook, who is not only a talented cook but an excellent food photographer.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Crispy Jumble of Rice

There are days when the Crispy Cook is crispier than usual at dinnertime. With two omnivores, one gluten-free pescatarian and one vegan, it is difficult to put something on the table that we all can eat. I looked in the fridge after a steamy day at work tonight and was dubious about my prospects. There was some leftover white rice, a herd of garden tomatoes in the drainboard, a package of wrinkly mushrooms and some grated cheese. Well, I whipped something up and darned if everyone didn't lick their plates. I added the shrimps and some grated cheese at the end so we could scoop out a vegan plateful for my daughter first, but we all enjoyed the following jumble:

Tomato-Mushroom (and Shrimp) Risotto

4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 onion, chopped fine
3 cups leftover cooked rice (white or brown)
4 plum tomatoes, ends cut off and chopped
2 sprigs fresh basil, slivered
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 (7 oz.) pkg. mushrooms, sliced thin
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 lb. frozen shrimp, thawed and shelled
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat oil in pan. Add garlic and stir around for one minute. Add onion, and continue to cook until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add wine and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Lower heat and stir around to let tomatoes soften and release their juices. Cook 5 minutes.

Add mushrooms and stir about. Cook another 5-7 minutes, or until they are soft. Add basil, salt and pepper. Scoop out vegan portion if needed.

Throw in shrimp and cover pan. Cook 7-8 minutes, or until pink and cooked through. Add rice and cook just until it absorbs the delectable pan juices and is heated through.

Serves 4. Delicious with grated cheese on top.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Gluten Free Food Find of the Week: Saratoga Peanut Butter

Browsing the peanut butter selections at my local supermarket I came upon some flavored peanut butters that boasted a local label. Perusing the back label, an autonomic response in my post-apocalypto-gluten-free state, the words "Gluten Free" jumped out at me. Gluten-free, flavored organic and local made peanut butters! They were in the cart faster than you could say George Washington Carver.

I bought a jar each of the maple and chocolate flavored peanut butters and they are mighty tasty. I prefer the maple flavor, as it is a bit sweeter than the chocolate, which had a chocolate-y smell, but didn't seem as chocolate-y tasting as I was expecting. Perhaps I am too hooked on Nutella. The maple peanut butter is divine on whole wheat toast and of course, makes an awesome PBJ.

At any rate, this is the kind of natural peanut butter that is chunky and a bit soft, although it does not have the weird oil slick on top that some natural peanut butters get when they sit around. Kudos for that too.

You can check out the Saratoga Peanut Butter Company website to check out their other products and order some by mail if you don't live in the Capital District. Or you can call them at 1-888-yopeanut.

Be sure to check out their photo contest for pix featuring their peanut butters to win some free nuttery!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cooking up a Foodie Fiction Reading List

I'm starting to compile a list of foodie fiction, novels which feature food, chefs, restaurants and other gourmet attractions. In other words, books that send you straight to the kitchen. The Crispy Cook has read many of the books described below and they are a nice, low-calorie diversion from life's weightier problems.

Allison, Karen, "How I Gave My Heart to the Restaurant Business: A Novel", (NY: HarperCollins, 1997). A novel of the New York City restaurant business by a former three-star restaurateur.

Binchy, Maeve, "Scarlet Feather", (NY: Dutton, 2001). Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather are cooking school chums and upon graduation, decide to combine forces in a Dublin, Ireland catering company.

Bond, Michael - Monsieur Pamplemousse series. Prolific author Michael Bond, creator of Paddington the Bear and the Olga da Polga guinea pig childrens' tales, has at least 15 mystery novels featuring undercover French restaurant critic and gourmand, Monsieur Pamplemousse (French for grapefruit). Magnifique!

Carl, JoAnna - Chocolate Mystery series. This cozy series features Texas ex-trophy wife Lee McKinney, who moves back to her Michigan hometown to work in her aunt's gourmet chocolate business.

Carter, Sammi - Chocolate Mystery series. See JoAnna Carl above. Another cozy series with another divorcee in a chocolate shop.

Davidson, Diane Mott - Goldy Bear Culinary Mystery series. Davidson is the reigning queen of the culinary mystery series, with a Colorado caterer, Goldy Bear, who solves many a whodunnit in between whipping up fabulous feasts. Recipes included.

Esquivel, Laura, "Like Water for Chocolate" (NY: Anchor Books, 1992). The author's first novel, a magic realist AND foodie classic. The Mother of all Foodie Novels. Esquivel interweaves the bittersweet story of a young Mexican woman, Tita de la Garza, whose home cooking is infused with her emotions after her mother forbids her to marry the love of her life. A recipe for a Mexican dish or folkloric home remedy heads each chapter.

Flagg, Fannie, "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe", (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1988). A folksy foodie classic set in a down-home Southern cafe during the 1930s. You can almost taste the pimento-cheese sandwiches.

Fluke, Joanne, Hannah Swensen mystery series. A light culinary mystery series featuring a Minnesota bakery owner. Recipes included.

Gordon, Nadia, "The Sunny McCoskey Napa Valley Mystery series". Chef Sunny is the heroine of these novels which feature her organic restaurant and the other bistros and wineries in this California region.

Hart, Ellen - Sophie Greenway & Jane Lawless series. This art has two separate culinary mystery series: one featuring Minneapolis food critic Sophie Greenway and the other featuring Minneapolis restaurateur Jane Lawless.

Hendricks, Judith Ryan, "Bread Alone" (NY: William Morrow, 1993). Wynter Morrison gets ditched by her upwardly mobile husband and drifts over to Seattle, where she works in a bakery and heals her sore heart with breadmaking.

Hildenbrand, Elin, "The Blue Bistro" (NY: St. Martin's, 2006). Described as a sophisticated romance novel in which upscale Nantucket restaurant hostess pines for the affections of her boss, who dines nightly with a female chef.

Jaques, Brian - The Redwall series. This juvenile fantasy series is chock full of feasting scenes among the Good animals (hares, voles, otters, badgers) of Redwall Abbey. They work hard at the harvest and in fighting off the Bad animals (foxes, rats, wild cats) but then enjoy bountiful harvests of nut-studded cheeses, ales, casseroles of grains and vegetables and toothsome, honey-drenched desserts.

James, Kay-Marie, "Cooking for Harry: A Low-Carbohydrate Novel" (NY: Shaye Areheart Books, 2004). This light confection was written by a best-selling author under the pen name of Kay-Marie James to raise money for her financially-strapped best friend, so there's a mystery underpinning this tale about a chubby hubby whose gourmet hobby must be curtailed on the advice of his doctor. Plenty of mouthwatering cooking scenes.

Laurent, Antoine, "Cuisine Novella" (NY: Viking, 1987). The author's first book, a novel in which a French master chef proposes to instruct fashion designer Annabelle Fleury in the secrets of haute cuisine.

Lyons, Nan and Ivan, "Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of America" (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1993). A sequel to the Lyons' wildly successful gastronomic murder mystery, "Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe", which was made into a 1978 film with the wonderfully comic actor Robert Morley as the overweight gourmand determined to sample the specialties of various world-class European chefs, but finds that they are fatally "prepared" in the same way as their dishes before he can dine. In this American sequel, murder breaks out at a Culinary Olympics.

Mason, Sarah J., "Corpse in the Kitchen" (NY: Berkley, 1993). English Det. Sgt. Trewley is aided by his scientist and judo expert partner, Sgt. Stone, as they investigate the murder of a baker, suffocated by a wad of her own bread dough.

McCouch, Hannah - "Girl Cook: A Novel" (NY: Villard, 2004). A chick lit novel centering on the trials of Layla Mitchner, looking for love and respect in the heat of Manhattan's trendiest restaurant kitchens.

McKevett, G.A. - Savannah Reid series. Light police procedurals featuring Southern California Police Detective Savannah Reid, a chubby, 40-something policewoman with a fondness for desserts.

Mehran, Marsha - "Pomegranate Soup" (NY: Random House, 2005). This debut novel and its sequel "Rosewater and Soda Bread", combine Persian cooking with Irish culture, as the three Iranian Aminpour sisters open the Babylon Cafe in a rural village.

Myers, Tamar - Magdalena Yoder series. These culinary mysteries feature Yoder as the owner/cook of an Amish inn located in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Loaded with down-home cooking and recipes.

Mones, Nicole, "The Last Chinese Chef", (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Recently widowed Food Writer Maggie McElroy finds solace in classical Chinese cuisine when she travels to Beijing to write an article about a chef hoping to make a spot in the National Cooking Team for the 2008 Olympics.

Pence, Joanne - Angela Amalfi series. A breezy, romantic, culinary mystery series with San Francisco food writer and caterer Angela Amalfi at the helm.

Pezzeli, Peter, "Francesca's Kitchen" (NY: Kensington, 2006). Francesca is an Italian-American Queen of the Kitchen, who faces widowhood and an empty nest with sadness until she finds a new family to cook and care for as a part-time nanny.

Prior, Lily, "La Cucina" (NY: HarperCollins, 2000) . The Sicilian version of proto-foodie novel "Like Water for Chocolate", in which our middle-aged librarian protagonist, Rosa Fiore, leaves her raucous rural peasant family, comprised of six older brothers, a pair of younger Siamese twins, and her frequently absent parents when her lover is murdered by the Mafia. She becomes an academic librarian in Palermo and saves her passions for her cooking, until a mysterious English visitor, L'Inglese, enters her life.

Rich, Virginia - The Eugenia Potter series. The late Virginia Rich wrote several food-laden mysteries, starting with "The Cooking School Murders", which star the savvy Eugenia Potter, a Nantucket retiree. Nancy Pickard has continued the delightful and well-written series.

Stout, Rex - The Nero Wolfe mystery series. Grand master mystery writer Stout wrote over 30 novels and 30+ short stories featuring his corpulent, housebound (by choice) detective Nero Wolfe, whose sidekick Archie Godwin does all the legwork in solving multiple murders. Wolfe's passions are for growing orchids in his opulent New York City brownstone and for the three gourmet meals his personal chef Fritz prepares for him (with Wolfe's critical suggestions).

Temple, Lou Jane - Heaven Lee series. Lee is the chef at her Kansas City restaurant, Cafe Heaven, and sleuths for clues when she's not cooking there or judging barbeque contests in this cozy culinary mystery series.

Winston, Lolly, "Good Grief", (NY: Warner Books, 2004). Sophie is a young widow with panic attacks and depression who moves to Oregon to make a fresh start as a culinary student and bakes her way through her grief.

I hope you enjoy this literary appetizer and that you can carve out some time to snuggle in with a good book sometime soon. I'd love to hear about other foodie fiction to add to this list and snag for my own reading pile.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Nightshade Ragout

For once, I was able to keep ahead of the flea beetles and keep my eggplants happy and healthy resulting in some gorgeous purplish-black beauties for the table. We've enjoyed some eggplant parmigiana to use our garden bounty already and this week I came up with a nice vegetable stew to highlight the eggplant, tomato, and summer squash bonanza. We ate up a bunch for supper and I froze the rest to reheat in the winter when we need a whiff of summer.

Nightshade Ragout

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 medium zucchini, quartered and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 medium yellow squash, quartered and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
6 plum tomatoes, cut into quarters
Handful of fresh basil leaves, sliced
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in large frying pan. Add garlic and onions, and cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook another 5 minutes. Add eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash and stir around. Cover and cook over low heat until all vegetables are soft and soak up the tomato gravy, about 15 minutes. Add basil, rosemary, salt and pepper and cook another 2-3 minutes.

Serves 6.