Friday, October 31, 2008

Poached Pears in Rioja, Ghoulishly Good!

I was doubly inspired to cook up something with pears because they are the fresh produce of the month over at Marta's An Italian in the US blog, and because I saw a cool recipe for pears poached in Spanish Rioja wine in one of the new cookbooks that ambled into the bookshop and was spirited home immediately, "The Cooking Club Cookbook" (by six cute young NYC publishing industry chicks, NY: Villard, 2002).

I have never done anything with pears other than to gobble them up out of hand, so I thought I'd give the poaching recipe a whirl. The Cooking Club Cookbook shows off the once-a-month Sunday afternoon get togethers that the authors had to hone their cooking skills. They picked different themes and cuisines for the chapters in the book and the first one, a Spanish menu, had lots of great and somewhat easy-sounding recipes. The Pears Rioja called for a flambe at the end, however, and given that the Crispy Cook has curly, escapist locks and a somewhat clumsy nature, I opted not to get any crispier with that finishing technique.

I found another recipe for Poached Pears in Red Wine over at this website, but it called for a scandalous amount of wine (2 whole cups!) and I was not willing to part with that much grapery. Taking the best parts of each recipe, (in my humble virgin pear-cooking opinion) I came up with this tasty recipe. We tried it as is and it's good, but it is even more delightful as a topping for vanilla ice cream.

Cooking it filled the kitchen with an imperial and suitably autumnal spiciness and it was great to be able to go to the market and buy hard fruit that didn't need ripening before cooking.


4 hard pears, peeled and cored. (I used Bosc pears and cored them easily with my apple corer)

1/2 cup Rioja or other dry red wine
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of one lemon
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves

Combine wine, vanilla, sugar and spices in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Keep an eye on the heat so it doesn't boil over. Let cook until desired syrupiness is achieved (about 10-15 minutes).

Slice pears into 1/4 inch slices. Add half of pear slices and cook over low heat, until medium-soft, about 10 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and add in remaining pears to cook. Add in first batch of pears and cool.

Cover and chill at least 2 hours or until cold.

Makes 6-8 dessert servings.

Today is the last day of the Fresh Produce of the Month's pear edition, so call on Marta in the next week to see the roundup of fruity recipes.

And a Happy, Healthy and Safe Halloween to all!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An Elegant Little Chutney Cheese Ball

The Gansevoort Farmer's Market is closing for the season tomorrow, October 30. I stopped by last week and picked up some bread and rolls for the freezer from Saratoga Gluten-Free Goods, and some supplies from my upcoming annual girlfriend's getaway weekend: wine (Colebrook winery) and artisan cheese made by Elizabeth Porter of Argyle, New York.

One of the cheeses, a tangy and creamy white chevre, demanded that we eat it before my escape, so I mixed it with a little chutney, curry powder and salt and gently rolled it in sliced almonds for a fantastic snacklet. It was soooo good I shall have to relay the exact dimensions of this easy recipe:

Chutney Cheese Ball

8 oz. fresh goat cheese or chevre
2 Tbsp. apple chutney
1 Tbsp. curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup sliced almonds (I will toast them next time!)

Mix cheese, chutney and curry powder together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Gently scoop this mixture into a ball shape and roll in sliced almonds.

Cover with plastic wrap, chill and let flavors mingle at least several hours before serving.

An easy and elegant appetizer that serves about 6.

I am offering this dairy delight to La Fete du Fromage hosted by Chez Loulou, an American transplant in the vineyard soil of southern France. Her photography is just gorgeous and the food and wine posts are just great. Check it out every month on the 15th to learn more about the great cheeses of the world.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Caramel & Chocolate Cookie Bars

My youngest daughter snuggled up to me on the couch last week while I was perusing a cooking magazine and spied this recipe for Caramel and Chocolate Pecan Bars. The recipe looked pretty decadent and I asked her if she wouldn't prefer a nice broccoli stir-fry instead. That didn't receive a warm response, but we sauntered over to the Crispy Kitchen to see if we had all the ingredients.

No pecans in the cupboard, but I had arrived at the supermarket recently when a bunch of the bulk items were price reduced and scored a big bag of 99 cents a pound sliced almonds (and I got wheat-free tamari almonds too for 99 cents, woohoo!). We made the recipe gluten-free also, by substituting in Bob's Red Mill baking mix for the regular flour and it worked out well. I threw some more sliced almonds on top and this batch of delicious cookies were added to our cooking rotation. You can't go wrong with chocolate, caramel and nuts.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rice Noodle Sushi Salad

I have been tweaking my Rice Noodle Salad recipe made with tofu and nori (toasted seaweed sheets used for rolling sushi) and it's so much more flavorful than the version I blogged about previously, that I thought I would share it. My kids have dubbed it "Sushi Salad", even though the rice in this deconstructed sushi is of the noodle variety. It's quickly made with dried rice vermicelli or rice stick (maifun) noodles and it's been a real winner with our family.

Rice Noodle Sushi Salad

10 oz. pkg. rice vermicelli or other thin rice noodles

1/2 lb. firm tofu, pressed and cut into small cubes (1/4 inch squares) ***
4 Tbsp. gluten-free soy sauce
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
6 sheets nori (toasted seaweed sheets for sushi), ripped or snipped into 1/2 inch squares with kitchen shears
2 Tbsp. pickled ginger, chopped
2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds (black seeds add a little color)
3 Tbsp. rice vinegar
Wasabi powder to taste (check ingredients to see that wheat flour is not added)

Bring a pot of water to a boil and then turn off the heat and add rice vermicelli to soak until softened, about 5 minutes. Don't let vermicelli soften too much, as you want some bite here. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking. I cut it up into manageable lengths with my kitchen shears.

Mix remaining ingredients and blend with noodles. Chill at least one hour before serving.

Serves 4-6.

***With the remaining 1/2 lb. pressed tofu, I made a batch of Book of Yum's Southern Fried Tofu, which is another tofu standard in our household. Highly recommended!

Beans and bean products like tofu are the stars of "My Legume Love Affair", a foodie event being hosted by Sra of When My Soup Came Alive, and which was created by Susan, The Well-Seasoned Cook. The superior nutritional and purse-saving qualities of the legume are to be praised indeed, so I encourage you to check out this fun blog event and look for Sra's roundup after October 31st.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Fall Harvest Continues with Dried Apples

Putting up the fall harvest is not over for the Crispy Cook. Those apple trees in our "orchard" (backyard) are still half full of apples so I feel compelled to make use of it. Wasting food is a sin, right?

Dan was in charge of the dried apple project and came up with an easy way to make these delightful and healthful snacks. He prowled around our extensive cookbook collection and gleaned preserving tips from several sources for this fail-proof recipe.

Dried Apples

Pineapple juice, fresh or canned

Peel and core apples. We have one of those corer-slicer gadgets that also cuts the apple into eight chunky slices. Cut each slice in half and then toss into pineapple juice to cover. This keeps your apples from turning an unappetizing dark brown.

Drain (and make yourself a pitcher of pina coladas with that juice!) and place on trays of your food dehydrator. We find that it takes at least 24 hours for all the apple slices to become fully dried out for storage, but check them every 8 hours and restack trays to keep them cooking evenly.

If you don't own a food dehydrator, you can dry them in the oven on very low heat as well, but that does tie up one's oven for a long stretch. In a drier climate, apples slices threaded and hung to dry on a string are probably even easier, but the humidity and fly population in our autumn kitchen conjures up scary thoughts.

This is my submission for the latest round of Grow Your Own, founded and hosted this time by Andrea's Recipes. Grow Your Own highlights home grown and harvested food from around the world. While our Zone 4 home garden is at its ebb, be sure to check out what exotic homegrown fruits and vegetables will be featured from our Southern Hemisphere Grow Your Owners when Andrea does her roundup at the end of the month.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Recipe for a Foodie Book Club, or, How to Cook the Books

Take one crispy bookseller from upstate New York. Trim off any burnt edges. Combine with one food junkie archaeologist from Athens, Greece. Adjust seasonings, adding more ouzo if necessary. Fold in one Hawaiian transplant fresh picked from the kahakai (beach) and combine gently. The result: a tasty new foodie book club, Cook the Books!

As announced previously, the three of us food bloggers, Johanna of Food Junkie, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen and I, met over at the Leftover Queen's Royal Foodie Joust and discovered our mutual love for reading and cooking. We decided on a bimonthly book pick which we would read, discuss, and then cook from. Our first book pick is "La Cucina", by Lily Prior, where the setting is Sicily and Palermo and features lots of mouthwatering traditional Sicilian cooking. Our host trio is pleased to unveil our new Cook the Books blog designed by the multi-talented Johanna as our new home. Check back there for literary discussion, Sicilian cooking ideas, and maybe some input from the author herself!

December 15, 2008 is the deadline to read the book, cook up something inspired by it in your own cucina and blog about it. After that time, I will post a roundup of the delicious entries and we will poll participants for a winning entry. The Cook the Books champion will receive a cool Cook the Books badge to wear proudly on his or her blog. We will also be asking for your suggestions for the next bunch of book selections, whether they are foodie novels or non-fiction gastronomic memoirs, culinary history or travelogues. We would like to plan a reading list for 2009 so participants can order, beg, or borrow Cook the Books book selections well ahead of time.

To whet your appetite for "La Cucina" here's a link to author Lily Prior's website where you can read more about this and other titles, and hear Ms. Prior read a erotic, yet funny passage from the novel (p. 134 in my hardcover copy) with her delightful English accent. I have been in contact with our Cook the Books author to let her know about our new book club and she has graciously offered to answer any questions we may have, so feel free to hop over to our new Cook the Books headquarters to post a comment or question.

Now, start Cooking the Books!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Soup in the Leaves

Though the nights are frosty, we have so far resisted turning on our heat and stuffing our precious wood into the fireplace because: a) we haven't cleaned out the chimneys yet, b) we are cheap, er, frugal, yeah, that's it, and c) we have plenty of sweaters and furry friends to keep us toasty at night. It is definitely soup and stew season, and I used my day off to peruse my cookbooks for a new soup recipe for "No Croutons Required", a monthly soup and salad cooking event alternately hosted by Tinned Tomatoes in Scotland and Lisa's Kitchen in Ontario. This month's challenge is to create a hearty vegetarian soup that would stand alone as a filling meal on a chilly day, and I came up with just such a soup.

Inspiration was divined by "Chef on a Shoestring", edited by Andrew Friedman (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2001) and based on the CBS Early Show feature in which top chefs produce budget-friendly meals. I was hooked on a recipe Greenwich Village chef Jeanette Maier served at her Herban Kitchen restaurant for Hearty Root Vegetable and Lentil Stew with Three Herbs. Perusal of the Crispy larder came up rootless, veggie wise, however, and I didn't have a couple of other ingredients, but with a little substitution here and there I concocted this satisfying, hearty, and vegetarian pottage:

Autumnal Peasant Soup

2 Tbsp. 0live oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, crumbled
1/2 tsp. caraway seeds

12 oz. small lentils, picked over and rinsed (I used a beautiful autumn blend of brown, grey and orange lentils from my health food store. They look divine dried but all turn the same shade of brown when cooked).

1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
2 qts. vegetable stock, homemade if possible
5 small potatoes, peeled and cut into small dice
4 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced (I used a small bag of baby carrots that had been hiding in the fridge and were unappealingly dessicated to eat out of hand, but were fine cooked)

1/2 head medium cabbage, chopped (next time I would chope more finely)

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add onions and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add herbs and caraway seeds and cook another 2 minutes.

Add lentils, tomatoes, vegetable stock, potatoes, celery and carrots and bring to boil. Lower heat, stir, cover and simmer on low heat about 40 minutes, or until potatoes are fairly well cooked. Add cabbage, stir and cook another 10 minutes, or until cabbage is softened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 4 main dish servings, 6-8 starter servings.

This is the last day for the Hearty Vegetarian Soup No Croutons Event, so I am squeaking into eligibility, but check back on Lisa's Kitchen later in the month for a satisfying, seasonal roundup.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Double-Stuffed, Twice-Baked Acorn Squash

It's time for another Royal Foodie Joust over at the Leftover Queen's Foodie Forum. Last month's winner, Stickygooeycreamychewy, produced an intriguing Gorgonzola, Fennel and Pear Tart using the required ingredients of fennel, parsley and dairy and as part of her Joust prize, she got the honor of picking the ingredients for the October Joust: acorn squash, oranges and sage.

As usual, I was able to think of many recipe options to combine two of the ingredients, but the oranges had me stumped. I kept thinking of sweet squash options and savory squashes, but I couldn't reconcile the two until I had the idea that it might be fun to have both sweet and savory flavors cuddling next to each other in the same dish. The sculptural beauty of the acorn squash was also not to be overlooked. Aren't they sexy squashes?

So I tried out some ideas on my willing Crispy Cook guinea pig, husband Dan, and after a bit of back and forth taste testing, I ended up with two squash fillings canoodling with each other in their heart-shaped squash love nest. The rice base contains baked acorn squash, sauteed mushrooms and scallions and sage and is topped with a slightly sweet and very aromatic squash-orange puree with toasted walnuts. It's like having your dessert first and then plowing through to the main course, and the two fillings also blend nicely together on the same fork. Without further ado, here's the recipe:

Double-Stuffed, Twice-Baked Acorn Squash

2 medium acorn squashes
Olive oil

1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
Zest of one orange
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
1/2 lb. mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1 cup cooked rice

Cut acorn squash in half. You'll aim for 2 equal halves, but if your cleaver aim is poor, as mine is with this roly-poly squash, you'll end up with one much larger half. That's okay, too, because I just ended up cooking all four squash halves and then scooping out the flesh of the skinny halves to use for filling the love nest.

Back to the squash. Scoop out seeds and pulp with a teaspoon and then place in a lightly oiled baking pan, cut side down. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes, until softened, but not mushy-soft. Let cool.

Scoop out flesh from acorn squash halves, making sure to leave at least 1/4 inch of flesh remaining behind to provide the superstructure for your stuffing. Divide squash flesh in half.

For the first half of the stuffing, add first part of baked squash with orange juice, orange zest, nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon. This will not be a super sweet mixture as you might be used to when making sweetened, mashed acorn squash, but later on, when this aromatic stuffing mixes with the savory second stuffing, the flavors meld beautifully.

Take the other half of your squash flesh and mash in a bowl. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a skillet and heat. Add sliced scallions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add chopped mushrooms, and cook, stirring, another 3-4 minutes. Add mashed squash and cooked rice and heat through. Season with sage, salt and pepper.

Stuff acorn squash halves with a base layer of the rice stuffing and then top with citrusy squash. Score with tines of a fork for a decorative top and top with sage sprig, if desired.

Place bake in 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, or until heated through.

Serves 4. (or 2 hefty servings if you hack up your squash unequally as I did).

This would make a terrific vegan entree for any holiday meal, perhaps accompanied by an herbed mushroom gravy.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Autumn Gardening and Cooking

The Fall leaves are pretty well at their peak here in Saratoga County. A lot of the maple trees already flamed and fell early and the foliage is not as fiery as it has been in past years, but it is still a visual treat to see all the burgundy, orange and yellow leaves. The vegetable garden got its killing frost a couple of weeks back, but we still have some stalwarts hanging out like the sage, chives and oregano in the herb patch and the prehistoric looking brussels sprouts plants. The apple trees keep producing, and so I've made several batches of rosy pink apple sauce for the freezer.

That's an easy project to do with my crockpot, as I just core, peel and chunk our apples and toss them into my slow cooker overnight with maybe a cup of water. By morning, they are soft and I just throw in a little sweetener and some cinnamon.

When the meteorologists all predicted a hard frost I got busy harvesting the last beans, peppers and green tomatoes. We had a banner year for tomatoes. It was a veritable green tomato army that invaded every sunny window ledge and several 5-gallon plastic buckets. Unfortunately, they brought in their own brigade of fruit flies, so I got busy wrapping up one bucket of green tomatoes in newspaper to ripen more slowly over the next month or so.

There was still an impressive bounty of green overrunning the drainboard and our window sills so I thought I would try out a batch of Green Tomato Chutney. I found this recipe to use up 24 of my green love apples and only modified it by subbing whole mustard and coriander seeds for the mixed pickling spices and it came out very tasty. Actually, it's almost identical in taste to the Apple Chutney I made earlier this season, except that there are more crunchy spices to chew on with this batch.

I still have a batch more green tomatoes on hand, so any ideas OTHER THAN Southern fried green tomatoes, would be cheerfully accepted. I just don't like them, although the book "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe"by Fannie Flagg is certainly a tasty read.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Gluten-Free Capital District

I was happy to spy this post at All Over Albany about gluten-free eats out and about in New York's Capital District region. The article mentioned K.D.'s Fish Fry and Nunzio's, but I didn't know about Avenue A restaurant, or that Wheatfield's and El Loco Taco make such great accommodations for gluten-free patrons. And I've sung the praises of Saratoga Gluten-Free Goods before, but I was unaware of the Scratch Bakery and Cafe on Madison Avenue in Albany and their gluten-free cupcakes. It's so great to see so many other dining options for our family for our special times out on the town.

Howie of Sherry-Lynn's Gluten-Free Bakery and Cafe stopped in a couple of weeks back and asked that I pass on the information that they are working hard to open up at a new location at 952 Troy-Schenectady Road (Route 7) near the intersection of Mill Road in Latham. This new, much larger location is located in the Peter Harris Plaza just off Exit 6 of the Northway (I-87). The new facility have much larger kitchen and storage space, enabling the rapidly expanding business to offer a larger selection of gluten-free baked goods, including eclairs, doughnuts, soft pretzels and my Holy Grail, cannolis! (Shh, don't tell Dan, it's a surprise I want to put under the Christmas tree!).

The plan is to be open seven days a week as well, so with this more central location I hope to get over to Sherry Lynn's more often to stock up the freezer. If all the local planning and licensing details fall into place, Howie noted that they hoped to open their doors again in early November. Their current location in Brunswick, Rensselaer County, has been closed due to a structural failure, so I am wishing them a speedy reopening.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Grow Your Own Squash and Roast It

It is time again for another round of Grow Your Own, a blog event started by Andrea's Recipes that features dishes cooked up by folks who harvest some of their own foodstuffs. Grow Your Own is being hosted this time by A Scientist in the Kitchen, a molecular biologist blogging from the Philippines with a passion for cooking.

There's not a whole lot of edibles left in our Zone 4 Fall garden, but Dan and I did try a new variety of winter squash this year, Ambercup, which looks like a pumpkin but cooks up like an acorn or butternut squash in flavor and texture. We didn't get too many Ambercups to harvest since we were besieged by various kinds of squash-eating beetles, but we have enjoyed a few sliced, brushed and grilled on the barbeque (they're kind of mealy, but good with a spicy condiment slathered over them) and even more tastily, grated up and roasted in the oven.

The recipe is simple and has been enjoyed by our family as a mellow side dish for hearty autumn dinners.

Roasted Ambercup Squash

1 medium ambercup squash, peeled and cut into large wedges (you can substitute other firm winter squash)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Grate squash wedges on the coarse end of a box grater. Toss with olive oil, paprika and salt and pepper in 9 x 13 baking dish.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 45 minutes, stirring several times to mix in browned bits.

We have also tried this recipe with cumin instead of the smoked paprika and with steak seasoning instead of the paprika, but this version above is our favorite.

Serves 6 as a side dish or 4 as a main dish if mixed with some cooked rice and topped with some grated cheese.

Be sure to stop by the Scientist in the Kitchen's blog over the next few days to see a harvest roundup of home-grown recipes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Artichoke Risotto

The cupboard was kind of bare the other night and the teens were howling for supper, so I perused my cookbooks for inspiration. I pulled out Rachael Ray's "Veggie Meals" (NY: Lake Isle Press, 2001) and perused some options. I actually had a scant 2 cups of arborio rice in the pantry, a can of water-packed artichoke hearts and of course garlic, olive oil and white wine were on hand, so I decided to try her Artichoke Risotto recipe. I didn't see here recipe reprinted on the Internet and don't want to repeat it here without permission, but basically you make a risotto with stock and white wine and throw in the artichoke hearts, drained and chopped, with some thyme leaves and grated cheese, at the end when all the stock is absorbed. Add a salad and you've got your supper in about an hour. Slow food and good!

Rachael Ray is one of our North Country celebrities and returns often to her Lake Luzerne hometown to do fundraisers for local charities. She first came on the scene as an enthusiastic television cook on Channel 6 News, partnered with movie critic Dan DiNicola, and the pair were very entertaining. Dan pretended not to know how to boil water and Rachael would steer him through easy, tasty recipes in the couple of minutes of air time that they would share each week. She didn't have those verbal tics of "yumm-O" and "delish" that she's acquired with TV celebrity chef status, and pretty soon, she and Dan had a cookbook that you could buy at the local supermarket. I have several of her cookbooks, and would recommend "Veggie Meals" to anyone who wants a bunch of Italianate recipes that don't require too many fancy cooking skills and ingredients.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Check out some Excellent Blogs

My Hawaiian food blogger buddy, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen kindly passed on an award to me yesterday. The Crispy Cook is graded "E for Excellent" and I now have this badge of honor proudly displayed at the right hand side of my blog. Thank you very much Deb. I have enjoyed planning the new Cook the Books Foodie Book Club with you and Johanna of Food Junkie and hope to share many more good reads and recipes in the months to come.

The rules that accompany this award are as follows:

"Please find at least 10 more blogs of any kin
d which you deem to be excellent; but hey if you only come up with 3 or 5, I don’t mind. Post about the blogs you picked, linking back to me and to them. Once you’ve posted, return here to let me know your post is up, and of course let your 10 award winners know too."

I have a number of food bloggers whose writing and generosity inspire me each week and am hereby passing on the E for Excellent Award to:

Kate at Gluten-Free Gobsmacked - Kate's blog is informative, detailed and man, can this woman cook! I've made her Shrimp Dim Sum, Polenta Fries, and Spring Rolls and they are all tasty and easy to make when you follow her detailed instructions. Kate also had the great idea to have a Gluten-Free Barbeque from A to Z this past summer and I "brought" a Broccoli Salad a la Grecque to this virtual party. Yum!

Cheryl at Gluten-Free Goodness - As a dietician, gardener and awesome cook, Cheryl fills her blog with delicious recipes that avoid major allergens such as gluten, dairy, soy, eggs and corn. You will hardly notice that her recipes are specially prepared for allergic diners because she roams around all kinds of international cuisines to come up with some unusual and tasty concoctions, such as Tamarind Spiced Cauliflower, Garlic Scape Pesto and Nanaimo Bars.

Kay at Gluten Free Kay - Kay's new to the blogging world, but she has a lot of wonderful gardening, cooking and canning/preserving experience to share. She's also takes gorgeous shots of her Indiana garden plants and flowers, and is even trying out a sorghum harvest this season.

Trav at Trav's Gone Gluten-Free - Trav reports on gluten-free dining in Philadelphia and offers up a lot of great recipes, particularly for those with a sweet tooth. I got a vicarious thrill from his reports from Australia when he traveled there earlier this year. Trav's new to the gluten-free lifestyle, but he embraces it with verve and originality. Thanks for all the great recipes I've bookmarked!

Lauren at Celiac Teen - This Canadian teenager is a marvel. Despite her tender age, she experiments with all kinds of recipes, including those complicated "Daring Baker" challenges that would intimidate me even if didn't have the challenge of handling gloopy gluten-free doughs.

I know you will all find some excellent recipes and reading at the above blogs and hope you can squeeze in the time to cook up something delicious from them soon!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gluten-Free Crackers with the Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen

Sea at the Book of Yum is once again hosting the Adopt-a-gluten-free-blogger event she founded and this time around it has a lunchbox theme. I had bookmarked a recipe for chickpea crackers on Susan's Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen blog for a long time now and this seemed like the perfect excuse to assemble the ingredients and bake some up.

Susan's blog is not not exclusively gluten-free, but she has a wide range of gluten-free recipes noted in the left-hand sidebar of her well-designed blog, from Kidney Beans in Curry Sauce to Cherry-Chocolate Mousse Pie. She's a Mississippi resident whose popular blog provides a wealth of healthy, low-fat or fat-free vegan meal ideas that are perfect for planning meatless menus. Her photography is impeccable and every recipe typically gets added to my heap of TBC (To Be Cooked) bookmarks folder. Even if you are not vegan or vegetarian you are sure to be tempted by many of these delicious recipes.

I had never tried making crackers, gluten-free or otherwise, but Susan's post inspired me to grab another bag of chickpea flour and nutritional yeast from my local health food store and cook up some of these wafers. While Dan has appreciated having the almond-based Nut Thins crackers for a safe snack cracker, he was hankering for some variety in CRISPY edibles, so I took on this project.

Cracker making was surprisingly easy. I had thought that rolling out the cracker dough to 1/8 inch thickness would be a feat, but the dough worked well as long as I kept sprinkling white rice flour on my counter and rolling pin. If anything, I think I made some of the crackers too thin and they and their smoked paprika topping came just shy of being overdone. I used a one-inch wide heart-shaped cookie cutter to make the crackers, but as Susan notes in her recipe, you could even more easily cut them into squares.

We paired our crackers with hummus and cheese and they were a welcome addition to our gluten-free recipe file. Thank you Susan! And thanks to Sea for this fun blog event which always inspires me to break out of the weekly recipe rut and try something new.

Be sure to check out the Lunchbox Roundup at the Book of Yum after October 13th, when this Adopt-a-gluten-free-blogger round ends for some more portable food ideas. Gluten-free, of course!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My Cooking Mojo Was on Overdrive

Monday was one of those surreal days where my culinary skills were in touch with the heartbeat of the universe. I had a pile of bookmarked and dogeared recipes to try on my day off and I seemed to get into that zen-zone Olympic athletes must ascend to when everything clicks and they go on to win medals in seemingly effortless style. That's how it was Monday, my Holy Day of Cooking, when my spatula was golden, my apron strings were winged and my oven cranked out one beautiful creation after another.

First up was some baking for my gluten-free sweetheart, who was bereft of buns and bread. I consulted my new cookbook "1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes" by the amazing Carol Fenster (NY: John Wiley and Sons, 2008), which I will review in a subsequent blog post. I mixed up a batch of her Sorghum Blend, half of which was devoted toward her Russian Black Yeast Bread recipe and the remainder to her Italian Parmesan Herb Yeast Bread. The Russian Black Bread was superb, with that great complex taste of cocoa, caraway and molasses that makes pumpernickel type breads so distinctive and flavorful. I decided to covert the Italian Parmesan Herb Bread into six big buns which I kept in shape with some snazzy new metal egg rings I bought at my local restaurant supply store ($1.90 each). They rose beautifully and cooked up into fluffy, yet chewy buns that Dan enjoyed immediately as a tomato sandwich with some of the last Brandywine beauties from our garden. The buns also were wonderful toasted.

While the breads were rising and baking, I decided to make a batch of Cannellini Beans in Mint Marinade from Kalyn's Kitchen. Easy, elegant and exquisite! Next up was another bookmarked recipe from Deb of Kahakai Kitchens, a Tofu Egg Salad recipe. Vegan daughter loved it after school and the next day, and the omnivores in the house grooved on it too. I still had a half block of pressed tofu left, so I thought I'd tweak my Rice Noodle Salad with Tofu and Nori and use it up, and with my enchanted Kitchen Mojo still in gear, it came out the best I ever made and was slurped up that night with no leftovers!

With a streak like this, how could I stop? Despite a lingering cold I continued this preternatural chain of cooking prowess with another project to use up some of our mint patch with Mint Flavoured Sugar from Italian blogger Briggi. That was easy and perfumed the house with its spicy scent while it cooked in the oven at low temperature. I popped the result into some glittering 1/2 pint jars and am dreaming of giving away this treat at the Christmas holidays and saving some for us to sprinkle on sliced fruit (fresh pineapple is recommended), spoon into hot tea, garnish cupcakes and maybe adorn the rim of my next Mojito!

I thought about taking a restorative nap, but with all the positive culinary vibrations swirling about me, I thought I might try one more project: Dinner! A quick trip back out to the garden for some basil and tomatoes and a nip to the grocery store for shallots after scooping up my soccer star from her afternoon practice provided the missing ingredients for yet another bookmarked recipe, Shrimp Scampi, courtesy of Nataysha of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. Boy, that was plate-licking good! I've made Shrimp Scampi a bunch of times before, but the lemon, hot pepper and shallots really kick up the flavor.

Wow! After seven successes, I thought it best to blow the smoke off the ends of my kitchen tools and bask in the satisfaction of having made a bunch of treats for my family and some holiday giftables for the future. My streak was an amazement, when I think of all the scorched and overbaked goods I've left in my wake, particularly since Glutenzilla showed up. I guess it just takes a bit of practice and a lot of good cook buddies on the Internet and who write cookbooks to help you out. Here's hoping you catch some Cooking Mojo too!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Brussels Sprouts with Lemon Balm Vinaigrette

The colors of autumn are burnishing our garden, and though we are still ahead of a hard frost, I pulled out the eggplants, harvested the peppers and said a reluctant goodbye to my beautiful tomato plants, all of which haven't grown a whit since nighttime temperatures dipped in mid-September. The herbs are still chugging away, though, so we are still enjoying their enlivening presence in our supper cooking.

The lemon balm has been particularly frisky and escaping its initial bounds, so I keep harvesting the runners and making up tea, now served hot instead of iced like the summer version. It's a member of the mint family (its cousin serves at the garnishing ring around the bowl in the photo), so I have to keep an eye on it or else it will propagate unfettered and take over its own garden empire. Lemon Balm is a perennial and benefits from frequent clipping of its somewhat shrubby stems to encourage new bright green leaves. It has an intensely lemony fragrance, though sometimes they veer toward the citronella end of the lemon olfacto-spectrum (maybe when the plant has started to go to seed, I haven't figured that out yet). Lemon Balm leaves are also covered with fine hairs, so I advise mincing or slicing them finely for use in recipes other than tea brewing.

I had seen a recipe for Lemon Balm Vinaigrette somewhere in my Internet travels and that idea popped in my head as a dressing for cooked Brussels Sprouts. Dan and I always have a patch of these unfairly maligned vegetables to harvest from our Fall garden. We love them steamed with lemon butter, roasted with olive oil and herbs and now, in this new recipe, which has been added to our Brussels Sprouts repertoire.


1 stalk Brussels Sprouts (about 30 sprouts)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. whole grain mustard (check to make sure no wheat flour is added)
1/4 cup finely chopped or minced lemon balm leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash sprouts and cut in half. If especially woody, cut out cores.

Bring 5 cups lightly salted water to a boil in a medium sauce pot. Add Brussels Sprout halves and bring to boil again. Lower heat, cover and simmer 5-7 minutes. Sprouts should still be bright green, but crisp-tender. Brussels Sprouts, like cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables get limp and smelly when they are overcooked, hence their bad, though undeserved reputations. Drain and let sit while making vinaigrette.

Mix all remaining ingredients together. Be sparing with the salt, as the mustard will no doubt already give this dressing a good bit of flavor. Dress warm sprouts with about 3 Tbsp. of the vinaigrette, saving the rest for your salads later in the week.

Serves 4. We enjoyed this best hot, although the cold leftovers didn't survive past the next day's lunch either.

Enjoy this flavorful dish!

I thought this recipe would be perfect for the Weekend Herb Blogging event which was started by Kalyn's Kitchen to explore the possibilities of cooking with herbs and unusual plant ingredients. This week it is hosted at Trembom, a food blog written by Valentina, a Brazilian-born British banker, whose recipes reflect many international origins. Check back with Trembom after Sunday to see a marvelous roundup.