Sunday, November 30, 2008

Leftover Mashed Potatoes Go Gourmet

My sinister plan to cook all day Tuesday and Wednesday for our family Thanksgiving feast and a weekend's worth of subsequent meals has so far worked out great. Noone's complaining about a lack of food in the fridge and I've been free to slave away at other projects. This morning, though, I was doing leftover inventory control and noticed that my big bowl of mashed potatoes had not been dented.

Hmmmm. I didn't feel like doing my usual potato cake strategy, as they always fall apart in the flipping stage anyway. Hmmmmm again. Some perusal of my cookbook collection inspired me to do a sort of mashed potato kugel recipe in my trusty clay pot and so in less than an hour we had a Sunday breakfast of colorful, reinvigorated potato leftovers that turned out rather successfully. There were no leftovers this time around.

Roasted Mashed Potato Remix

4 cups mashed potatoes (Yukon Gold potatoes looked beautiful in this dish)
2 large carrots, peeled and coarsely grated on a box grater
1 onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/2 bunch parsley, minced (comes to 3 Tbsp.)
2 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. fennel seeds
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak clay pot in cold water for 10 minutes.

Melt butter in frying pan. Add onions and garlic and saute over medium heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add carrots and saute another 5 minutes. Add parsley and fennel seeds and saute 2 minutes longer.

Turn out sauteed mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add mashed potatoes and mix with your hands to blend ingredients well. If too dry, add olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Drain clay pot and add potato mixture. Cover and place in cold oven. Turn oven heat to 450 degrees F and bake 30-35 minutes or until potatoes are brown and CRISPY at the edges.

Serves 4-6.

I wanted to use my clay pot roaster for this recipe because I wanted a nice brown crust on my potato casserole and so it is necessary to soak the clay pot right before cooking so it can steam the food inside while it's baking at that high heat. If you wanted to make this Potato Remix in a regular baking dish I would try baking it at 350 degrees F, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes.

I am submitting this recipe to the indefatigable Joelen at Joelen's Culinary Adventures for her monthly Tasty Tools event which is now featuring recipes made in roasting pans. Well, I made my Roasted Remix in a clay roasting pot, which I think is covered under this category. This clay pot works great in roasting foods so that they both steam in their own juices and seasonings and get CRISPY and brown at the edges.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bhajis Enable My Legume Love Affair

Some time ago I discovered Jeena's Kitchen's fabulous Onion Bhaji recipe. It was an instant hit with my family and has become one of our quick and easy recipes for weekday nights. I have made these Indian oven-baked delights with various kinds of vegetables, including thawed (and squeezed out) packages of our garden string beans, diced par-boiled potatoes, blanched cauliflower and even blanched Brussels Sprout halves, and they are always winners. The vegetables get delightfully CRISPY and we make bhajis at least a couple of times a month.

Dan even made bhajis one night for supper using a jar of my pickled dilly beans thinking somehow that they were just like our frozen green beans, and while they were not great, they were edible. Their taste was how I imagine a deep-fried pickle is.

Jeena's Onion Bhaji recipe is fantastic and uses buckwheat flour and a great mix of spices. Her recipe blog, which features many other gluten-free recipes, is a great resource and has many detailed instructions and photographs to guide you along on your first go at these delicious little fritters. She has also recently added a video of this marvelous recipe so you may want to view this step-by-step instruction before you whip up your dinner.

We make our bhajis and like to accompany them with some rice, a dab of Cucumber Raita and some Apple Chutney. One batch of bhajis with these condiments makes a hearty dinner for four, but they can also be served as an appetizer or first course for more hungry mouths.

I like to make Jeena's recipe with chickpea flour, or besan, which I find at my health food store. Larger urban area grocery stores may carry this in the natural foods or Indian foods section. The buckwheat flour version is fluffier, but the chickpea flavor seems to be our favorite. We also add in chopped pickled ginger, snipped fresh cilantro or chives from the garden and substitute cumin seeds for ground cumin for a little variety.

Here's my tweaked-up version of the Jeena's Kitchen recipe using green beans and our customized seasonings. No doubt we will keep playing around with this versatile recipe. I plan to try it with shredded zucchini and summer squash and perhaps chunks of sweet potatoes. Hopefully you will love this recipe too and come up with your own special version.

Green Bean Bhajis

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thin
2 cups blanched green beans (I use frozen green beans) squeezed dry
Olive oil

First Seasoning Mixture:

1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

Second Seasoning Mixture:

2 Tbsp. pickled ginger, finely chopped
3 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt

5 Tbsp. chickpea flour
1 tsp. tomato puree or sauce
Several Tbsp. water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in frying pan. Add onions and saute until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add beans and heat through, another 2-3 minutes. Add first seasoning mixture and continue to cook, stirring, another 2-3 minutes, or until spices are fragrant.

Take off stove and pour into medium-sized mixing bowl. Add chickpea flour and second seasoning mixture. Stir to coat beans and onions well. Add tomato puree and a tablespoon of water to make into a batter consistency. Add more water, a tablespoon at a time, if needed for right consistency. You don't want the bhajis to be runny, just moistened. If you think your bhaji batter is too wet, add another tablespoon of chickpea flour.

Drizzle olive oil to coat two cookie sheets. Drop about 2 Tbsp. bhaji batter onto your sheets for each bhaji. Flatten a little with spoon.

Bake 10 minutes. Remove trays, flip your bhajis so they brown evenly and return to oven for another 5-10 minutes.

Bhajis are best served right away, but for the rare occasions when we have a few leftovers, they are also good reheated in the microwave over some more rice.

Serves 4 as dinner, or more for appetizers.

This is so delicious, you will have to try it. Make sure to try Jeena's original Onion Bhaji recipe too with the buckwheat flour and her delicious spice combinations to see which you enjoy best. I know my husband pouts when I promise him a bhaji dinner and then make something else, so you know this is good!

Simona at Briciole, a wonderful food blog that offers definitions (and audio file pronunciation) of Italian culinary terms AND mouthwatering recipes, is the current host of My Legume Love Affair, which celebrates the awesomeness of the legume and is the baby of Susan over at The Well-Seasoned Cook. This Green Bean Bhaji recipe is my contribution to MLLA, which runs until tomorrow. Be sure to check back with Briciole to see a noteworthy roundup of beany recipes.

Simona is also the co-host of another event, Novel Food, which invites readers to select a novel, short story or other literary work and cook up an inspirational recipe. I have something in mind for this fun event, which runs until December 20, 2008. If you would like some more Foodie Fiction fun, be sure to check out Cook the Books, a new book club started by yours truly and two other blogger buddies, Food Junkie and Kahakai Kitchen. We are reading "La Cucina" by Lily Prior and cooking and blogging about Sicilian foods inspired by this lush and lusty novel by the December 15 deadline. Come joins us!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thyme for Mirepoix

Thanksgiving logistics hinged on lots of aromatic and flavorful magic from sauteed carrots, celery and onion, infused with fresh leaves from my still verdant thyme plant in the garden. Making two different stuffings (bread for the kids, rice for me and Dan) and two different gravies (turkey drippings-based for the meat lovers and mushroom-based for the vegetarians) was made a whole lot easier by chopping up a whole bunch of celery (leaves and all), 6 big, scraped carrots and 3 onions, sauteeing the lot in a stick of butter and then seasoning with salt, pepper and a handful of thyme leaves stripped from their stems.

In classical French cuisine, this fragrant mix is called mirepoix (pronounced meer-pwah) and it forms the basis for many soups, stews and braised dishes. I made up a whole mess of mirepoix and then divided it into fourths to make my vegetarian vs. carnivore, kid vs. adult, celiac vs. non-celiac menu dance a little easier. The Crispy Cook didn't need to get any crispier during Thanksgiving meal prep.

For a traditional bread stuffing for the kids, I took the 1/4 of my master Mirepoix mess and mixed it in with an assortment of torn up stale bread, frozen waffles they refused to eat and subsequently lounged about for months, leftover hot dog rolls from a Labor Day cookout and a few other stale oddments of bread that I had cleverly stashed in the freezer. I then added enough vegetable broth (a la crockpot) to moisten, threw in a beaten egg and then tamped the lot into a greased baking dish and baked it 30 minutes.

Another quarter of my Mirepoix was then added to 3 cups of cooked brown rice and augmented with 10 oz. fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced and sauteed in butter. More veggie broth moistened it and I threw in about 2/3 cup grated Asiago cheese and that was an awesome mushroomy rice stuffing for Dan's Thanksgiving portabellas, with much more rice stuffing baked up on the side.

The rest of the Mirepoix was divided in half and each portion formed the basis for gravy. Dan's gravy was started with 2 cups of vegetable broth and a quarter of the Mirepoix in a small saucepan. I had some of those sauteed mushrooms reserved from the rice stuffing above to throw in and then I used some of the hot broth mixed with cornstarch to make a paste which I then whisked back into the boiling broth. When it was thickened, about 10 minutes later, I turned off the heat and I was done. I added a further bit of richness to his gravy by adding some wheat-free soy sauce.

The final quarter of the Master Mirepoix was mixed in with drippings from our roast turkey and the same cornstarch paste technique was applied to thicken it up. Dan's gravy had sliced mushrooms floating in it, so it was readily identifiable.

The thyme was the perfect seasoning for all of the four gravies and stuffings above: it was nicely herbal without being too overpowering or musty, like sage can be and having the fresh herbs was a treat now that the garden has largely gone into hibernation. And the Mirepoix certainly kept me delightfully sane in the Crispy kitchen when I was juggling all my family's food requirements and holiday requests. Thank you, Mirepoix!

I am submitting these tips for using thyme and mirepoix to this week's round of Weekend Herb Blogging (WHB), a food blog event that celebrates the use of herbs and unusual plant ingredients now maintained by Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything Once. Our host for WHB #161 is Scott the Real Epicurean, a U.K. blogger who likes to focus on wild and seasonal food and sustainable foods. Be sure to check out Scott's blog, especially after November 30th, to see an always-intriguing, always-educational roundup of recipes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Roasted Soybeans, a Grow Your Own #21 Entry

I am honored to be the current host of Andrea's Recipes' Grow Your Own event, which stars the homegrown veggies, herbs, fruits, and other foraged/raised edibles from good cooks around the world. Entries are already coming in from Asia, the United States and Great Britain, so keep them coming until the midnight, November 30th deadline to be included in a tasty roundup. I imagine homegrown goodies will be the centerpiece of many an American Thanksgiving feast so feel free to join in the fun. The rules for entering Grow Your Own #21 can be found on this previous post.

My contribution to this round of Grow Your Own is a Roasted Soybean Casserole. We've grown soybeans for several years now and are delighted with what a pest-resistant and easy to grow crop they are. With the exception of a stray Japanese beetle chomp here and there on the leaves, soybeans are pretty hardy and don't get the insect damage we see on some of the other plants in our organic garden from voracious flea beetles and early spring cutworms. We did have some baby bunnies mow one row of soybeans down last year when our farmer neighbor had a tall corn crop they could hide in, but he's taking a few years to let the soil rest with a low, green cover of alfalfa, so the varmints left our soybeans alone this year. Here's a shot of them in midsummer when they were nice and leafy.

We plant the seeds in early June and when the plant sets its seeds in the pod and they are still green and young and the husk has not yet turned brown you can pick them and prepare them in the Japanese manner as edamame. You steam them right in the pod for a few minutes and then sprinkle with kosher salt for a nice snack or appetizer. They taste a bit like boiled peanuts, sort of nutty and creamy.

Our original package of soybean seeds came from Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine, but we've since used the many seeds we dried from plants that escaped our notice during the busy August harvest season and shriveled up into brown stalks. You can easily pull the dried seeds out and we've had success planting seeds that were two years old.

The soybean plants are very productive and we usually have many more soybeans left over from our edamame meals so we bag up and freeze the remainders for inclusion in stir fries and casseroles. I thought I would try oven roasting some of our frozen soybeans as a side dish for dinner this past week and the result was received with gusto at the Crispy Cook cantina, so we'll be making this recipe again. Given the price of frozen packages of edamame in the "Natural Foods" section of the supermarket ($5!) I would encourage you to Grow Your Own.

Roasted Soybeans

2 cups blanched, frozen soybeans, thawed or 1 pkg. overpriced green soybeans or edamame, thawed

2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp. dried marjoram
1 tsp. garlic powder

Drain soybeans and pat dry. Toss with olive oil. Add herbs and spices and mix together well.

Place in small baking dish, cover and bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove cover, stir, and bake, uncovered, 10 minutes more to get things nice and CRISPY!

Serves 4 as a side dish.

Grow Your Own, Baby! It's so satisfying to pull a jar of homegrown, homemade tomato sauce or jam out of the pantry or a frozen package of garden gold, like these soybeans, and feed yourself and your family nutritious, non-processed, and frugal meals. See you all at the GYO #21 Roundup after November 30th.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Gluten-Free Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day is this Thursday and I will be preparing a fairly traditional New England-style dinner, incorporating lots of the bounty from our summer garden. All will be gluten-free, however, and there will be a little of everything to accommodate my omnivorous family. A bunch of tried-and-true favorites are there but I will be trying out a couple of new recipes that may end up in the former category if all goes well. Here's what's on our menu after my Sunday food shopping trip:

2008 Thanksgiving Menu


Grandma’s Stuffed Celery

Gluten-Free South Africa's Zucchini-Cheese Madeleines

Spicy Toasted Nuts

Main Event:

Roast Turkey, Bread Stuffing and Gravy (for the Carnivores)

Portabellas with Rice Stuffing and Mushroom Gravy (for the Vegetarians)

Copper Pennies

Mashed Potatoes

Cranberry Sauce (Despite all my best efforts Dan prefers the jiggly straight from the can stuff, blech)

Apple Chutney

Brussels Sprouts in Lemon Balm Vinaigrette

Sweet Potato Casserole

Roasted Asparagus

Mashed Turnip

Relish Tray – Dilled Green Beans, Sweet and Sour Wax Beans and Black Olives

Cole Slaw

Sweet Endings:

GF Mommy’s Frozen Pumpkin Pie

Apple Sour Cream Pie


The feast will be just for the four of us, as we will have our bookstore open on the following day of what is usually a big weekend of sales. Having an excuse to do lots of cooking is great during this busy time, and I am counting on the feast leftovers to fuel us all for several days. Then again, my kids are now teenagers, so who knows how long my fridge will be full.

Our Thanksgivings are quiet and simple during this stage of life, but there are many memorable and interesting Turkey Days in my past:

***As a kid, our small family would assemble at our house, with my Mom preparing the turkey after it did a short headless jig in the sink while she was rinsing it down. My grandmother would arrive with all her recycled pickle and olive jars filled with her creamed onions, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and her famous Stuffed Celery and Apple Pie (she always put tapioca in the filling to catch the juices) wrapped in brown grocery bags tied up white string.

***A college Thanksgiving smorgasbord organized by my housemates one year when we didn't feel like twice making the 8 hour drive home during the four day weekend. A Cuban buddy made pasteles, these cute tamale-like parcels; I made cornbread stuffing and sweet potato pie, my Florida friend cooked the turkey and a whole bunch of other student friends brought the remnants of our meal.

***At my first job in the Albany State Capitol, my office mates and I spent the day cooking and waiting tables at the Community Feast sponsored by the human service organization Equinox and then went back to our bosses' house for a meal and marination in Red Zinfandel followed by a mandatory sleepover. We all woke up with purple teeth.

***As a newlywed, my husband and I had long, chatty meals with my much-loved in-laws. They came of age in the 1940s-50s so there was always a cocktail hour (or two!) before the feast with Chicken Liver Pate, Chex Mix and other snacks that used to fill me up before we even got to the main event, all bathed in a blue haze of cigarette smoke. I always found room for my father-in-law's awesome Cole Slaw. He wouldn't part with the recipe after many requests, stating that he would leave it in his will for me. After his death a few years later, my mother-in-law gently informed me that it consisted of cabbage, mayonnaise and a packet of seasoning from the produce aisle.

***I had a turn at the family Thanksgiving headquarters one year and invited my husband's family over for a non-traditional Crown Roast of Pork supper. This was in an apartment with a balky stove, which silently and unfortunately turned off after the first hour of cooking so that despite my best efforts to baste and brown this large cut of meat it just kept looking gray and sweaty. The cocktail time now long over, several in-laws got into my tiny kitchen and figured out that the stove timer was kaput, so it wasn't until some ridiculous time of night like 10 pm that we picked at our holiday meal, since we had long since polished off all the hors d'oeuvres.

***When our first baby arrived, it was time to show her off to other relatives on Long Island. There are only a handful of bridges to funnel visitors onto this metropolitan New York real estate and they are jammed all through any holiday weekend, so needless to say, Dan and I grimly memorized every road sign and every piece of curbside trash that we inched by on the Throg's Neck Bridge while our infant daughter screamed and twisted in her car seat. Thanksgiving appetizers consisted of several aspirins and a large glass of wine, as I recall.

***My grandparents had no plans one Thanksgiving, so we trekked down to visit them for the day when my girls were ages 2 and 5. Grandma and Grandpa weren't up for cooking a huge meal then and we proposed taking them out to dinner at their favorite restaurant across the street. I don't much remember the meal, but the pre-dinner show was amazing. My creative and bossy eldest daughter had made American Indian drums and attire at her kindergarten and she got my youngest costumed in a quasi-Pilgrim outfit complete with bonnet and black patent leather shoes. They sang and danced and made music and it was better than any Broadway front row tickets for my grandparents.

I hope that all my blogger buddies have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving with your loved ones and have many things to be thankful for in your lives.

If you would like some other gluten-free Thanksgiving menu ideas, I can point you to some other blogger buddies for inspiration:

Fresh Ginger's Mexican and Mostly Home Grown/Raised Thanksgiving Feast

Carrie the Ginger Lemon Girl's Southern Style Thanksgiving

Cheryl of Gluten-Free Goodness' Thanksgiving Roundup

Karina the Gluten-Free Goddess' Southwestern Style Recipes and Cooking Tips


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thankful for Mom's Tasty Cooking

With the American Thanksgiving holiday arriving next Thursday, it is time to reflect on the many things that we can give thanks for in our lives. Ivy of Kopiaste...To Greek Hospitality is currently hosting a blog event, Time to be Thankful, which celebrates this theme and is a continuation of the focus on hunger awareness showcased last month on World Food Day (October 16).

As a food blogger, I am certainly thankful that I and my family and friends are not hungry and that we have such a bounty of food from our markets and gardens. Ivy's event gave me the extra impetus to make a donation at the Hannaford Supermarket when I was waiting in line yesterday. Hannaford has $10 boxes which contain non-perishable items that represent a meal for a family of four that are donated to area food banks. You receive a $50 coupon book when you check out as an added bonus, so if you live in the Capital District you may want to look into this easy way to help out our local community at a time when many folks are financially hurting.

I am also thankful for my Mom, Carol, who has always supported me throughout my life and given advice, comfort, and wisdom whenever I have needed it. Mom's the reason why I love to putter around in the garden and has passed on her love of nature, art, books and animals on to me. She is always eager to try out some new gluten-free recipes since my husband entered Planet Celiac and has to avoid wheat, barley and other forms of gluten for his health. I am submitting Mom's refreshing potato salad recipe for A Time to be Thankful as one way of saying thank you to my cool Mom.

Mom's Red Potato Salad

2 lbs. red potatoes, eyes cut out, but skins left on, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 eggs

2 Tbsp. minced sweet onion
3 Tbsp. pickle relish or minced pickles (I used my bounty of garlicky refrigerator pickles that are starting to go soft)
3-4 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 Tbsp. parsley, minced

1 cup mayonnaise
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. sugar

Boil up your potatoes and eggs until done (about 15 minutes). Let cool, then chop up in medium size bowl.

Add onion, celery, pickle relish,and parsley and blend well. Season with lemon, salt, pepper and sugar. Add mayonnaise and blend well.

Cover and chill at least 1 hour before serving. Sprinkle on paprika on top. Enjoy!

(Thanks mom!)

Ivy's Time to Be Thankful event ends today and she will be posting a roundup in the next day or so, so be sure to go to her blog and see all the deliciousness.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Copper Pennies - Carrot-Pepper Salad with Tangy Tomato Dressing

I used to work with a fun and feisty woman, Diana, who was a terrific cook. My office mates and I would always lick our chops and surround her like saber tooth tigers when she arrived at the office bearing some home cooked treat, like her almond-scented Danish Puff, or her homemade candies. Diana was also one of the organizers of a monthly theme lunch in the main conference room which some of us would cook for and all of us would attend (we sold lunch tickets for $3 as I recall), with the year's total donated to a local nonprofit that provided needy area families with clothes and gifts for kids at the holidays. We would "adopt" a family and get the list of what items were needed and then we'd shop and bring the presents to our December lunch for a group wrap-up. Great food for a great cause and it was all so much fun.

There were never any leftovers with Diana's contributions to these monthly lunches; the bowls were scraped clean, the crockpots scoured, the tins of cookies reduced to a meager crumb or two. One of the great recipes that she shared was for Copper Pennies, a carrot and pepper salad that was bathed in a sweet and tangy tomato dressing.

I made this salad a long time ago according to Diana's recipe and it was awesome. However when I took it out the other day, I wanted to tailor it to my family's updated cooking and eating habits.

First to go was the can of tomato soup called for in the recipe. While there are probably gluten-free canned tomato soups out there, I don't want to have to read three crowded paragraphs of ingredients and frankly, I am spoiled by the taste of my own homegrown, homemade tomato sauces and soups, so I substituted tomato sauce or puree. I also slashed the amount of sugar called for in Diana's recipe by 2/3 and did a little other seasoning adjustment. The result? Still as tasty as I remember and still a winning salad dish. I think Diana would approve.

Copper Pennies

2 lbs. carrots, peeled and sliced into thin coins (a food processor works great for this)
3 green bell peppers, seeded and sliced into thin slivers
1/2 Bermuda onion, sliced thin and separated

1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp. soy sauce (check to make sure it's wheat-free)
1 cup tomato puree or sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. prepared mustard

Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil in a soup pot. Cook carrots until tender, but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Drain and cool.

Mix together oil, vinegar, soy sauce, tomato puree, brown sugar and mustard.

Layer carrots, onions and peppers in 2 quart serving dish (looks lovely in a clear glass bowl). Pour sauce over vegetables. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours to marry flavors.

This recipe keeps very well, so you can make it several days ahead of any big feast, like Thanksgving.

When your salad veggies are gone, use the remaining marinade as the basis for a Catalina style homemade salad dressing.

Allergy Mom over at The Allergic Kid is rounding up recipes in her Thanks for "Nothing" Thanksgiving that are gluten-free, vegan, and allergy-friendly, and the Copper Pennies cover all the bases. Be sure to check back with her blog for more recipes to share at your holiday feasts that would be safe for everyone to enjoy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Grow Your Own #21 Food Blog Event Announcement

Ning of Hearth and Home has passed the torch to me as the next guest host for Andrea's Recipes great Grow Your Own blog event. This twice-monthly event celebrates recipes and informative blog posts about food that bloggers have grown themselves, foraged, fished or hunted and it is always so dazzling to see the dishes that are submitted from around the world. I will be the guest host for the 21st round of GYO from now until November 30, midnight (Eastern Standard Time), so if you would like to participate see the event rules below.

While the garden harvest is winding down in the northern hemisphere, food bloggers in the southern parts of the globe are planting and foraging spring goodies, so keep your eyes peeled for a variety of recipes about any number of interesting foods. In Ning's Grow Your Own roundup alone, there were dishes from six different countries and included such intriguing edibles as Rhubarb Schnapps, Old-School Pork Chops with Apples and Tarragon, Steamed Colocasia Rice with Coconut Gravy and Prawn Pot Pie, among others.

I have enjoyed participating in Grow Your Own over the last year with such recipes as Creamy Brussels Sprouts Soup, Dried Apples, Roasted Ambercup Squash, Roasted Rainbow Beans, Tomato Sauce (Canning), Italian Fried Peppers, Black Raspberry Parfait, and Tatsoi with Mushrooms and Indian Spices, so you can see that this event is near and dear to my culinary heart.

To join Grow Your Own #21, follow these rules from Andrea's blog:
  • Make a dish that uses at least one item from your very own garden or farm and post about it. Your garden doesn’t have to be big. Container gardens are welcome! If you hunted or foraged, those items are also eligible. You can also use something that was given to you, but the giver must have personally grown or raised the item. If you paid for it, then it doesn’t count.
  • Anything edible that you have grown or raised qualifies, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, sprouts, edible flowers, nuts, grains, legumes, dairy products, eggs, livestock, and anything else I might have forgotten. Produce from both indoor and outdoor gardens are welcome! Different regions will have different things available, so feel free to feature things unique to your area. Andrea's Recipes GYO page has archives of previous roundups to give you an idea of what kinds of recipes have been submitted before.
  • Please make sure your dish is posted during the month of the event because we like to celebrate seasonal items. One post per blog, please.
  • As a courtesy, please include a link to this announcement and this announcement in your blog post, and then update later with a link to the round-up.
  • Feel free to use the GYO badge in your post or one of the other GYO badge designs which can be found on Andrea's Recipes GYO page.
  • Let me know that your post is up by sending me an email by November 30 at oldsaratogabooks [AT] gmail dot com with: 1) your name and location, 2) your blog name and URL, 3) your post URL and recipe name, and 4) a photo of your creation (300 x 300 pixels or smaller).
I look forward to your posts!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Short Foodie Exploration of Ithaca, New York

Every year my girlfriends and I plan an escape weekend to leave motherhood, wifery and jobs behind and just enjoy each others' company. We shop, eat out, sight see, and most importantly, reconnect with each other back at the hotel room accompanied by a bottle or two of red wine and a bucket of nail polish for our pampering pedicures. Over the years we've watched our friend Laura race in the New York City and Philadelphia marathons, shopped at outlet malls, gotten roped into judging a costume contest at a Mystery Weekend and attended a crafts fair in Vermont. We are lucky to have our super-organized friend Lisa make all the arrangements and are always amazed at how she pulls it off without procrastinating. Without her, I'm sure we'd have only escaped once or twice instead of the dozen junkets we've attended.

This year we planned our annual retreat in Ithaca, New York, a funky college town set among beautiful steep hills and 19th century homes at the southern tip of the Finger Lakes region. We arrived Friday evening and left Sunday morning and managed to pack in a lot of fun into our 48 hour pass. We ate out, shopped for crafts and clothes in Ithaca Commons, tooled around the Farmer's Market and Cornell Campus, attended an elegant opening at the Henry F. Johnson Museum of Art and, of course, squeezed in a lot of chatter and laughter. Here's a view of the gorgeous and steep hills of the western campus at Cornell to give you some idea of the terrain in this area of New York State.

We all arrived in Ithaca in the evening last Friday and after a round of hugs we made a reservation for our group of ten at Viva Taqueria at the corner of State and Aurora Streets in the downtown area. Whistles were wet with a round of Margaritas while we waited for our table and we enjoyed the Mexican folk art and friendly ambiance of the wait staff. I don't have to eat gluten-free (husband Dan is the celiac) so I joined the majority of our group in feasting on a Chicken Mole Burrito that was tasty and beautiful with its white and brown sauce adornment. Numerous entrees were vegetarian or could be made vegan on the Viva Taqueria menu. Our bill was amazingly inexpensive as an added bonus. Drinks excluded, but with the tip, we each dined out for a mere $14.

The next morning was all about the Ithaca Farmer's Market, located in an open-ended, wooden trussed structure that ended in a beautiful dock on Cayuga Lake. We all purchased goodies to pass around and had a smorgasbord of crepes, muffins, Chinese stir-fries and of course, chocolate. After an enjoyable "drive by", I settled on some Cambodian food, as I don't ever think it is too early to dine on spicy stuff. I got a wokked-up to order batch of Me Ka Tang, with flat noodles, tofu, spicy chili sauce, Chinese cabbage and garlic, which warmed me and my fellow samplers from the inside out. Perfect!

There were great crafts about, and two of my buddies snapped up felted hats to warm their heads on this chilly, drizzly morning. There were wonderful leather crafts, pottery, silk-screened clothing and photographers at every turn and we all came away with a holiday gift or two. I had a nice chat with a young man at the Bellwether Cidery booth about the various types of hard cider he had for sale. I fancied the still varieties, or those without carbonation, and will report back in a future blog post about the two bottles I brought back as a souvenir for my imbiber of gluten-free spirits.

Several of our party opted for the prehistoric looking stalks of Brussels Sprouts and my friend Laura carried a gorgeous bouquet of red, orange and yellow carrots that she couldn't resist toting around all day like a Veggie Ms. America. I was delighted to find some garlic for planting at the artful vegetable counter of Muddy Fingers Farm and the young gent manning the station was kind enough to permit a photo of his beautiful vegetables. Those would be two of my mischievous friends mugging in the background which I didn't notice when I took this shot.

Dan and I planted the bag of garlic this past weekend and are looking forward to our first garlic harvest next summer. I also used one of the garlic bulbs for cooking and while it is a similar size to the garlic I get at the supermarket, each clove was about three times as fat and made a lovely garlicky shrimp scampi the other night.

I searched in vain for some gluten-free bakery items in my reconnaissance and found none, so I would have to say that this was my only negative comment about this lovely farmer's market. Surely this is a niche that could use filling. The Ithaca Farmers Market is open on Saturdays from 10 am to 3pm through December at Steamboat Landing and open many more days and hours during the growing season.

Afterwards, our party of ten split up into two groups: one was into shopping at the array of shops in the downtown Ithaca Commons and the other was headed by our Cornell alumni buddy Anne, who wanted to stomp around her alma mater. Parking on the Cornell Campus is tight, so I would recommend taking the frequent shuttle buses to get there, particularly if there is a Big Red football game going on, as we found out the hard way.

This public university graduate was very impressed with her first visit to an Ivy League school. The Gothic architecture of the western campus was just beautiful. We toured the library and Student Union and marveled at the murals, woodwork and Hogwarts ambiance. Anne was interested in checking out her old engineering haunts at the other end of the Cornell campus, peppered with less architecturally-interesting Sixties buildings and we managed to sneak into a Stem Cell Symposium, where the bolder members of our group helped themselves to refreshments while the others tried to look like scientists and scanned the handouts and displays. One interesting tidbit about Cornell that Anne told us was that well-mannered dogs are allowed to attend classes as per an unusual endowment by a caninophile alumnus, which explains the large friendly dogs population we encountered.

I nipped into Autumn Leaves Bookstore for a couple of quick purchases before going back to our downtown hotel room to doll up for Saturday evening's festivities. We began with a swingin' art opening at the I.M. Pei-designed Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art back at Cornell. We had spied a flyer about that night's event during our campus wanderings, so we duded up and had a blast at the opening of an exhibit of 19th century Japanese prints, serenaded by a jazz quartet and helping ourselves to free nibbles of marinated olives and artichokes, cheese, and fruit.

By group vote, we had decided on Madeline's for dinner, although I was sad to miss vegetarian icon, the Moosewood Restaurant, having cooked from their various cookbooks over many years. Madeline's was wonderful, however, and we wined and dined ourselves over the course of two hours, capping off a terrific dinner with bits of each other's desserts. Dessert was mandatory, as Madeline's big selection of elegant sweets made on premises by their full-time pastry chef beckoned to us from its prominently feature glass case.

We had to leave the next morning to make our way back to our various homes in New York and Pennsylvania, but this trip was a delight from start to finish and I am anxious to come back to Ithaca with my family for a holiday sometime soon.

Herbed Feta Fritters

There was a sweet and tasty post over at Food Buzz recently by Sam the Greek Gourmand in which his plans to produce a banquet for the 24,24,24 Blog event (24 feasts in the same 24 hours by 24 bloggers from all over the world) was interrupted (happily) by the early arrival of his new son!

Sam took it all in stride, and changed around his plans to provide an awesome Greek feast for the hospital staff that so lovingly took care of his new, expanded family.

I prowled around his great blog and found myself bookmarking recipes right and left. The first thing I decided to try out were these magnificent Feta Fritters. Sam's recipe, handed down from his Aunt Dimitra, consists of mashed potatoes, feta cheese, egg and crumbs with a luscious infusion of dill and mint. I went out to the herb patch to gather my ever-present dill but the mint plant had closed down for the season. I have contained the invasive mint in its own large container and I guess this caused the plant to hibernate early. Luckily, though, I still had a shrubby rosemary plant hunkered down in another section of the garden that I hope will overwinter in our Zone 4 climate. The mint no doubt would give the fritters a different taste, but I figured rosemary plants, a Mediterranean native and a distant relation in the mint family, would also work well, and happily, it did. I subbed in an equal amount of finely minced rosemary leaves for the mint (sorry, Aunt Dimitra!) and substituted brown rice flour for the all-purpose flour called for in Sam's recipe to keep them gluten-free, and man, they were good!

Sam serves the feta fritters as an appetizer, but I served them as a hot garnish for a nice tomato, lettuce, and caper salad tossed with an herbal vinaigrette and they were a beautiful and fragrant meal. I even had leftovers for two lunches the next day, though the fritters are less yummy when cold.

After three years of herbal fun, Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen, the founder of the Weekend Herb Blogging, has passed the reins on to Haalo, an Australian food blogger and author of the gorgeously-photographed Cook (almost) Anything At Least Once. This week's guest host of Weekend Herb Blogging is Diary of a Fanatic Foodie, where the accent is on Italian cooking, Baltimore food favorites and other luscious posts. I am submitting this adapted version of Sam's Feta Fritters as my entry for this week's round (#158!) of WHB and urge you to try it soon, that's how yummy these fritters are. I'll be making them again in the near future, perhaps over a Greek Salad with Kalamata olives and sliced Bermuda onion. Be sure to check back with Diary of a Fanatic Foodie after Sunday for the complete WHB roundup.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Creamy Brussels Sprouts Soup

After a tiring day at the bookstore, this was one of the easiest supper I ever dreamed up. I had a limited larder the other night, but I crossed my fingers, heated up bunch of stuff, seasoned the whole and served it forth, and it turned out to be a wondrous soup. It was quick to make, tasty, easy on the wallet, outstandingly healthy, but unfortunately rather drab in the curb appeal department. Food to serve at the orphanage, gray food for a gray, drizzly day. But luckily, Oliver and Company rallied with "Please, Crispy Cook, may I have some more?"

It was a cinch to whip up since I had made a pot of vegetable stock in my crockpot several days earlier using my ever-present freezer stash of vegetable trimmings and had also thrown in several peeled, chunked potatoes for another recipe I had in mind. I still had veggie stock and cooked potatoes in the fridge, as well as some leftover cooked brussels sprouts from our garden, so it only took me 20 minutes to get dinner on the table. I estimate it only cost a total of $5 to feed my family of four with this awesome soup, so I patted myself on the back after this rare alignment of frugality, deliciousness and quick cooking time in my kitchen.

Creamy Brussels Sprouts Soup

6 cups vegetable broth
4 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
2 cups cooked brussels sprouts (about 1 lb. raw brussels sprouts or 1 10-oz. pkg. frozen sprouts, if you must)
2 tsp. dried thyme
2/3 cup sour cream
Salt and Pepper to taste
Grated Cheddar Cheese for garnish

The easiest way to make this soup is to put your stash of vegetable trimmings (carrot and potato peels, celery ends, onion and garlic skins, etc.) into a 4 quart crockpot overnight with water to cover. Add potatoes. Cover crockpot and cook on low heat 8 hours or until you wake up. The potatoes will be appropriately soft and will have a nice mahogany tan from the onion skins.

Cool and throw potatoes and stock in blender or food processor in batches to be pureed. You don't want to cook brussels sprouts or any member of the cabbage family for too long because they are surprisingly delicate veggies that will just slime out and get sulphurous when overcooked. Cook brussels sprouts separately in lightly salted water until done (about 15 minutes). Puree brussels sprouts in blender also.

If you don't have a veggie scrap stash or haven't done the overnight cooking of the following day's meal, skip the instructions above and just go ahead and boil up your vegetable broth from a can or bouillion powder. Add potatoes and cook until soft (about 15-20 minutes). Cook brussels sprouts separately in lightly salted water until tender (about 15 minutes).

Place purees of potato and brussels sprouts into soup pot and heat over medium heat until heated through. Add thyme, salt and pepper and taste. Swirl in sour cream and heat just until hot. Serve immediately with grated cheese on top.

A luscious, if not the most photogenic recipe.

Makes 5-6 hearty soup servings.

I am submitting this recipe for the first November installment of Grow Your Own, hosted this month by Filipino Foodie, Ning, of Hearth and Home. Grow Your Own is a fun foodie event that highlights recipes from home grown, foraged or fished/hunted items, as started by Andrea's Recipes. The Brussels Sprouts are among the lone inhabitants of my November garden plots, next to some forlorn and yellowed asparagus stalks and a few hardy herbs.

Yours truly will be the host of the next round of Grow Your Own, running from November 16-30 and I will be excited to see what everyone is cooking up from their gardens or catches in their streams, all around the world.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mocha Pepper Sandwich Cookies, Gluten-Free and Spicy!

Once more the Leftover Queen summons me to a Royal Foodie Joust and this time the challenge of concocting a scrumptious edible out of the required three ingredients: black pepper, honey and coffee, was really a cranium stretcher. I've never really cooked with coffee, though I love (need) to slug it down each morning.

The ingredients sounded like something from a medieval cookbook so I did a little research with my cookbook collection and online but nothing struck my fancy. Perhaps a Middle Eastern dish? Again, I was stumped with the flavor combination and it was only after taking a culinary break that I thought about the spicy, peppery holiday cookies from northern Europe, like Icelandic Piparkokur and German Pfefferneuse.

I thought coffee and black pepper needed a third major flavor partner and since chocolate is my universal go-to flavor when baking, I decided on a mocha-flavored cookie with honey sweetener. My first batch of cookies was destined for the dog, Martha, but then I remembered that dogs digest chocolate rather poorly, so I just threw it on the compost pile.

For the second round of cookie dough I got a decent tasting batch with my first tray of cookies but they did spread out too much, so I really had to concentrate when dishing out further lumps onto the greased cookie sheets so that I got the right nuggety size. The second tray also got a sprinkle of Turbinado sugar before baking, which, while not needed for sweetness, adds some dazzle.

This second batch of cookies was more toothsome than the first, but it was still a bit on the arid side, perhaps because that's how all my gluten-free baking experiments end up. However, I got the idea to make them slide down easier when mortared together with a luscious and decadent coffee frosting. I think these are pretty much cookies for grownups, as my kids thought they were a bit too spicy, but they went crazy over the frosting, so I may have to concoct a coffee-frosted cake in the near future. I and my gluten-free husband, Dan, however, really enjoyed these sophisticated cookie sandwiches. One was just enough to suffice as a sweet at the end of our dinner meal and they were also wonderful with our morning mug of coffee.

Mocha Pepper Sandwich Cookies

3-1/2 cups gluten-free flour blend (or all-purpose flour if baking for a glutenous crowd)
1 Tbsp. instant coffee
1 Tbsp. baking cocoa
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup Turbinado or raw sugar crystals

Coffee Buttercream Frosting:

4 Tbsp. butter, softened
4 Tbsp. cream cheese, softened
1 Tbsp. instant coffee
1-/12 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In large mixing bowl, mix together flour, 1 tsp. instant coffee, cocoa, cinnamon, black pepper, and salt. Blend in honey, milk, oil and vanilla, mixing well. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.

Grease cookie sheets and put about 1-1/2 tsp. cookie dough for each cookie, spaced about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle with Turbinado sugar crystals.

Bake 8-10 minutes. Cookies will still look a little shiny on top when they are done, but don't overbake or they will be dry as the Sahara.

Remove with spatula to wire racks to cool. When cooled completely, sandwich together with Coffee Buttercream Frosting: Blend together cream cheese and butter until completely blended and fluffy. Add second teaspoon of instant coffee and then gradually beat in powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time.

Makes 18-20 sandwich cookies, depending on your parsimony in placing the batter on the cookie sheets.

Be sure to check the Foodie Forum to see what other jousters are whipping up out of these three intriguing ingredients. It sure is an interesting challenge, and luckily for the Crispy Cook, it came out a sweet success.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cook the Books: Tonno alla Siracusa inspired by Lily Prior's "La Cucina"

The first book selection for the new foodie book club, Cook the Books, is Lily Prior's "La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture". It features an earthy, sensual heroine, Rosa, who grows up in a Sicilian village in the Alcantara valley on the eastern side of Sicily near slopes of a volcano. There are many evocative scenes of cooking and eating throughout the book and I had a delightfully difficult time settling on the dish I would make inspired by Ms. Prior's excellent prose.

Should I make Honey Cookies like Rosa makes to assuage her grief over her grandfather's death or the panelle (fried chickpea fritters) she slips into his mouth on the morning of his funeral in a vain attempt to bring him back to life? The Sfincione (thick Sicilian-style pizza with anchovies) her Mama was making when Rosa entered the world? How about Pasta alla Norma (with fried eggplant, tomatoes, basil and ricotta), Caponata, Nucatoli (squiggly almond cookies served at Lent with dried fruit, or Pasta con Sarde (sardines)?

I considered Roasted potatoes with Rosemary, Mustazzioli (chocolate icing-covered almond and candied fruit cookies, and Toasted Bread with Melted Caciocovallo cheese and sprinkled with vinegar. I had to empty my drool bucket a few times in the planning, but ultimately I selected a "magnificent" Tonno alla Siracusa that Rosa teaches her lover, the mysterious L'Inglese, to make when they are at his friend's villa on a hot summer weekend.

In keeping with seasonal division of the book: (L'Inverno (Winter), La Primavera (Spring), L'Estate (Summer) and L'Autunno (Autumn), I put Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" on my kitchen boombox and cracked open a great Sicilian dry red wine, Colossi Sicilia Rosso, Nero d'Avola, which had a rich, mellow flavor, and assembled my supper ingredients. My famiglia was in for a feast!

I found this recipe to use as my starting point, but I thought 1/2 cup vinegar would pickle my expensive and delicate piece of tuna, so I cut that down and added some powdered cloves as noted in Rosa's cooking, so here's my tweaked version of Tonno alla Siracusa, named for the ancient Greek city of Siracusa (Syracuse) on Sicily's east coast, close to Rosa's fictional village.

****As a sidenote, here in America and especially in upstate New York, we have many towns and cities named after classical cities: Syracuse, Athens, Troy, Rome, Utica, Cairo (pronounced Kay-roh in these parts). These villages were christened during a 19th century wave of national enthusiasm for all things classical in a Greek Revival mania that you can also see in local homes and public architecture.**********

Tonno alla Siracusa

2 lbs. tuna, cut into four or five portions
2 cloves garlic, peeled and slivered
1/8 tsp. cardamom
1/8 tsp. powdered cloves
1 large onion, peeled and sliced thinly
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 large tomatoes, diced
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

1 lb. pasta
3 Tbsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
3 Tbsp. snipped chives

Toss garlic slivers in cardamom and cloves. Make small slits in tuna and pop in spice-crusted garlic slivers.

Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tuna and brown on both sides.

Stir in diced tomatoes. Cover and cook on medium heat for 20 minutes, turning at least once. I used previously frozen tuna, so I had plenty of pan juices, but if using fresh tuna (lucky you!) add a little bit of water if the pan gets too dry

While tuna is cooking, cook up your pasta, drain and toss with a little olive oil, chives and Italian parsley. Season
with salt and pepper and set aside
to keep warm.

Pour vinegar over tuna, sprinkle with oregano and add salt and pepper to taste. Cook another 10-15 minutes, or until tuna is cooked through. Slice tuna and plate over herbed pasta.

Serves 6-8. A rapturous dish!

The website where I researched my original Tonno alla Siracusa recipe, In Mama's Kitchen, also has an interesting article on the history and development of Sicilian cooking and many more authentic recipes, so do travel over there if your interest has been piqued in this spicy, cross-pollinated style of cuisine. You can find even more Sicilian cooking inspiration at FX Cuisine where you can learn to make Arancinis (a home cooking cult dish of fried rice croquettes), learn how to fry eggplants like a Sicilian mama, cook up tangerine sorbet, and conjure up some Drowned Broccoli, among other culinary wonders.

I hope you enjoyed dipping your wooden spoon into Sicilian cooking as much as I did. To see what other Cook the Book readers think about "La Cucina" and to suggest future book club picks, please hop over to the Cook the Books blog my cohosts Johanna of Food Junkie and Deb of Kahakai Kitchen and I have set up as our new headquarters. There is still time to participate in this first round of our book club. All you need to do is buy or borrow the book, read it and cook up something inspired by it by December 15, 2008. I will be posting the roundup of delicious "Cucina" dishes from all of the participants shortly afterward.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

An Election Day Breakfast

Anticipating longer lines at Town Hall for this exciting Election Day, Dan and I needed a sustaining and warm breakfast. I have had a box of Arrowhead Mills Rise and Shine Hot Cereal in the pantry for a few weeks now and decided to crack it open for a test run in the Crispy kitchen. It is made of brown rice grits so there's a nice bit of fiber and a warm belly full of hot cereal sounded like it would get us energized for all that lever pulling.

I was immediately tempted by the Rice Pudding recipe on the back of the box, and with the addition of some raisins and maple syrup, this did indeed provide an excellent start to our day. I am reprinting the recipe below with my minor adaptations, as I couldn't find it on the Arrowhead Mills website, which does have a lot of other delicious gluten-free recipes on it that I will have to explore further.

Rice Pudding with Raisins

1 cup Arrowhead Rise and Shine cereal (brown rice grits)
1/4 tsp. salt
2-1/2 cups milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup maple syrup
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup raisins

Spray 1 quart baking dish with cooking spray or grease lightly with shortening or butter.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix cereal and salt in saucepan. Add milk and stir. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, then lower heat and simmer until thickened, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Gradually stir in beaten eggs, then maple syrup, vanilla and raisins. Pour into prepared baking dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. We ate it warm with more maple syrup drizzled over, so it was sort of like an Indian Pudding.

Don't forget to vote today!