Friday, February 27, 2009

A Salad of Salted Seaweed Knots

Trying saying that ten times fast. Well, the experimentation continues with the edible "toys" acquired in my recent expedition to some of Albany, New York's ethnic markets. One of these intriguing edibles was a package of salted seaweed knots. The instructions were somewhat open-ended on the preparation of this product ("boil and use in your favorite recipes"), so I did a little online research and found this recipe for Salted Seaweed Salad with Lemon and Freshly Grated Ginger, which I followed and enjoyed.

You must rinse and soak the seaweed according to the recipe, and I also made sure to boil the seaweed knots as directed by my package instructions too. This step filled my house with a briny scent of ocean water, not unlike steaming a big pot of clams, so it was sort of like getting immersed in a little bit of summer even though the icy fist of winter has been throttling us since the beginning of December here in upstate New York. The seaweed knots expanded a great deal and of course, got a softer texture, though they were still fairly springy and chewy. One needs good, strong choppers for this dish.

The volume of my 300 gram package of salted seaweed grew exponentially after the boiling water bath, and while Dan and I enjoyed this refreshing Japanese-flavored salad, we were satisfied with eating two or three knots at a clip and so this seaweed salad lasted well over a week in our refrigerator, and we ended up getting a little sick of having it around.

The final verdict: We might make this recipe again if we were going to bring it to a party of appreciative gourmets, but we have a limited desire to eat a whole mound of it. The knots are really quite jaunty and it makes a lovely presentation, but it ended up being too much of a good thing for our two tummies (the kids wouldn't even try a nibble, though they love nori and my Sushi Salad).

I'm going to send my leftovers over to Laurie at Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska, this week's host of Weekend Herb Blogging, the popular foodie blog event that celebrates vegetables, fruits and herbs. Weekend Herb Blogging was started by Kalyn's Kitchen and is now headquartered by Haalo at Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once. Hop on over to see Laurie after Sunday's deadline to see what other interesting recipes people have contributed in the weekly WHB roundup.

Off to play with some other exotic edibles...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater Salad

The Leftover Queen has once again summoned her courtiers for a Royal Foodie Joust and this time the three ingredients which must be alchemized into something delicious include edible flowers, shallots and setsumas (or other orange citrus). This trio of ingredients has proven once again to be a challenge to the Crispy Cook, especially as it is the middle of an especially harsh and icy winter here in upstate New York and I don't anticipate any flowers to nosh on until at least Mother's Day when my purple and white violets and chive blossoms will bloom in the garden and lawn.

Originally I planned to force some Chinese chives to blossom by planting them in a pitcher of water, which I refreshed daily for a week, until I gave in to the forces of nature (and the ravages of two naughty chive-chomping felines) and realized that they would just dry out and sag before they bloomed. These chives were beautiful specimens from my recent discovery of Lee's Market in Albany, with triangular stems and a garlicky scent and flavor.

I was not sure that a bunch of wizened chive buds would qualify as flower, so I ransacked the Crispy Cupboards to see what other floral edibles might be lurking about, and then I spied a bottle of rosewater which I had purchased recently and figured I could put together a perfumed salad of greens, chopped chives (and withered blossoms!), orange sections and rosewater vinaigrette. It was quick and easy and I thought it was really savory. My husband was less impressed with having a salad that smelled like a rosebush, but I thought it was delightful and somewhat Middle Eastern.

Here, then, I present to you and my Queen, an elegant salad, with literary tribute to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. for extra delectability:

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater Salad

2 cups romaine lettuce, washed, dried and sliced
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 orange, peeled and pith removed, and sliced into chunks
2 Tbsp. dried cranberries or Craisins
1/4 cup snipped Chinese Chives and withered blossoms
2 shallots, peeled and sliced thinly and separated into rings


1/2 cup light vegetable oil (don't use olive oil or other strong-flavored oil as this will dilute the perfume of the rosewater)
1/4 cup rosewater
1/4 cup rice vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste

Arrange romaine on salad plates. Adorn with mushrooms, oranges, dried cranberries shallots and chives.

Blend together dressing ingredients and sprinkle over salad. Remaining dressing should be capped to retain rosewater perfume. It was delightful over cooked rice the next day for a quick salad.

Makes 2 salads.

Do check back with the Leftover Queen at the end of the month to see what other edible flowers will grace the Royal Table.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Culinary Tour Around the World: Ethiopia

Joan at Foodalogue continues her great blog event to promote awareness of world hunger and the work of BloggerAid with her virtual culinary trip around the world. Our last stop was Ethiopia, an ancient culture with a spicy and complex culinary tradition. I was determined to research Ethiopian food and make a meal for my family to introduce us all to this country and culture and it proved an interesting and tasty experiment.

I found a great website with lots of Ethiopian recipes tailored for American home cooks and decided to make injera (a spongy, fermented bread made from the tiny native grain, teff) and two kinds of vegetarian stews to place on top: Doro Wat (spicy tomato sauce with tofu cubes, traditionally made with chicken or beef) and Atar Allecha (a spicy green pea porridge).

I attempted to make injera, which serves as a sort of edible platter for moister stews and foods. I got some teff from the health food store and soaked it in water for three days to try to get it fermenting, but somehow it never got to the sour-smelling, pancake stage and just ended up smelling very swampy and suspect, so I was forced to abandon that part of my project. (In hindsight, I suspect that teff and teff flour are two different items).

The Tofu Dorwat and Atar Allecha were mercifully easier to reproduce and my husband and I especially liked the latter, an intriguingly-flavored peas porridge hot. Instead of injera for our base, we had plain steamed rice, and enjoyed it very much.

Joan will be posting a roundup of other Ethiopian recipes in a few days, so do look for that. I also wanted to let people know that the BloggerAid group, now comprised of over 140 bloggers from around the world, is preparing a fundraiser cookbook for the UN World Food Programme's School Meals initiative. School Meals provides meals to hungry children all around the globe and the extended deadline to submit an original recipe is now March 31st. Please consider joining us. For a sneak peak at some of the dishes that will be included, check out this sexy badge below:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tracking Down Exotic Ingredients in the Albany Capital District

Dan and I had a delightful day in Albany poking around the Historic Albany Foundation Warehouse and Silver Fox for historic hinges and other architectural parts for our perpetual home renovation project. We found a few treasures and then wanted to hunt down some lunch and to explore a couple of the ethnic food markets we found on this cool list.

When you explore the world of gluten-free cooking, there are always some funky ingredients and special flours that require detective work, but we found two fantastic local markets that provided us with bags of inexpensive, yet hard-to-find, ingredients for many kitchen experiments to come.

We ended up first at Lee's Market, at 1170 Central Avenue and had a blast. It was not as hard to search for gluten-free foods with new allergen label requirements, though Dan made sure to bring his reading glasses Not having a working knowledge of any Asian language is a little daunting when scanning labels in Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and other unfamiliar Asian alphabets, but we had plenty of time and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as we prowled the shelves. The fresh produce was just great, with lots of Asian greens, unfamiliar fruits and interesting-looking knobs and tubers in abundance. Lee's has a pretty fishy smell from the seafood counter, where logy crabs waved their claws slowly in the air from baskets on the floor and many varieties of fish and shellfish languished on crackd ice.

Next time we would bring a cooler to scoop up some cleaned squid or something from the freezers and refrigerator cases, though we will avoid the numerable varieties of wheat gluten, to be sure. Sweets lovers will love the aisles of Japanese candies and biscuits, but we mostly stocked our shopping cart with condiments, flours and canned goods.

Lee's was a fantastic shopping bargain. We filled six grocery bags for $62 and found many things to experiment with since the prices were so cheap: bay leaves, sweet potato starch, mung bean flour, bonito flakes, shallots ($1.25 for a small sack of about 25 shallots!), rice noodles of all kinds, pickled ginger, nori, various kinds of flavored and fried tofu, and sesame oil (12 oz. for only $3.00, instead of $4.50 for a smaller bottle!). Here's some of our Lee's Market Treasures:

We were excited to check out one more ethnic market before going home and headed further east to India Bazaar at 1321 Central Avenue (near the renowned Kurver Kreme ice cream stand). This was another bargain spot, this time with no meat or fish counter, but with a lovely selection of exotic vegetables: bitter melons, fresh curry leaves, okra, a bodacious assortment of eggplants and loads and loads of spices and all kinds of lentils, beans and other pulses. Interestingly, there were only male shoppers in attendance and everyone seemed to fall silent when we entered the shop, but the shopkeeper was friendly and helpful and gave me some cooking tips for those yardlong beans I grew last summer.

Again, another bargain, with four bags for $48, as displayed here by your friendly Bollywood hand model:

That night I was somewhat overwhelmed playing around with all my new toys, but I ultimately selected a crisp bunch of a flowering pac choi variety which I wokked up with a brown sauce. Pac choi is an Asian green that has fleshy stems and dark green leaves and is a great cool weather garden crop. It is a member of the cabbage family and is rich in fiber, calcium and Vitamins A and C. I've grown other varieties of bok choy in the garden and they are ridiculously easy to grow, as long as you harvest them before the hot, humid weather sets in, as they tend to bolt.

Without further ado, here's my recipe for using this architecturally-beautiful, healthy, tasty, Asian vegetable:

Braised Pac Choi with Mushrooms

1 (1.5 lb.)bunch pac choi (bok choy), washed and trimmed and cut into 1 inch lengths
6 dried shitaki mushrooms, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes, liquid reserved
4 shallots, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 (one inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

3 Tbsp. peanut oil

3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. honey
1 cup vegetable stock
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. cornstarch

Mix together soy sauce, honey, sesame oil and vegetable stock (use mushroom soaking liquid as part of vegetable stock). Mix cornstarch with a couple of Tablespoons of this sauce in a separate bowl and blend until smooth. Mix back into remaining sauce and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Heat oil in wok over medium-high heat. Add garlic, shallots and ginger and stir fry several minutes, or until ginger and garlic are golden. Add pac choi and stir around wok several minutes or until wilted. Chop mushrooms and add to pan and stir fry another several minutes. When greens are crisp-tender, add sauce and stir several minutes more, or until thickened.

Serve over hot rice.

Serves 6.

I've been busy with some other new ingredients from our Albany foray and will post some other recipes soon. In the meantime, I'm sending a bowl of this saucy pac choi to Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being hosted this week by Susan, the Well-Seasoned Cook, and which is now permanently headquartered at Haalo's tasty blog, Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once. Susan will have a roundup of posts featuring veggies, fruits and herbs after the Sunday evening deadline, and I always learn a lot and bookmark a few recipes from this event.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How to Make Gluten-Free Veggie Burgers

My husband Dan has been on a quest for the perfect gluten-free bean burger. There are many veggie burgers out there gathering ice crystals in grocery freezers but most are not gluten-free and of the safe remainder, many are unfortunately also taste-free. Since we have been growing a plentiful crop of soybeans over the last several garden seasons, we have bags of frozen blanched soybeans in the freezer and bags more dried soybeans in the cupboard.

Dan's been doing a little gastronomic experimentation and found a tasty soybean burger recipe that he's been slamming down for lunch quite often. It does take a lot of time to make the GF buns, make a batch of homemade barbecue sauce and cook and process the beans. It is the slowest of slow food, but these are some tasty burgers! You need an overnight to cook the beans and about 3.5 hours of prep time, so save it for a day when you can luxuriate in the kitchen.

Dan's Famous GF Veggie Burgers

1 cup dried soybeans
2 bay leaves

2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/2 small onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (Dan used Orgran GF crumbs)
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

1 cup thin barbeque sauce (we used Dad's special recipe)

Place soybeans in crockpot with water to cover (we used our little 1 quart crockpot and add 3 cups water) and cook overnight or at least 8 hours, or until beans are tender. You may need to check the crockpot and add a little water, if necessary.

In a food processor, combine soybeans and eggs. Puree until fairly smooth. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until well blended.

Place in bowl and cover and chill in refrigerator at least 2 hours.

When ready to cook up bean burgers, shape into eight patties and place on an oiled cookie sheet. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Baste burgers with barbeque sauce and bake 1 hour, carefully turning and basting burgers every 15 minutes to give them crispy, crusty edges. They are a little delicate, so turn with care.

Makes 8 luscious bean burgers.

Dan likes them on a split Crusty French Roll (recipe is in Bette Hagman's "The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread") with lettuce, cheese, home-canned sweet cucumber relish and more of Dad's barbeque sauce on the side. Now that's eatin'!

I'm contributing this Veggie Burger recipe to The Well Seasoned Cook's Eighth Helping of "My Legume Love Affair", a popular food blog event that celebrates those tasty, healthy, frugal legumes that we should all celebrate on our plates more often. Susan is the Well Seasoned Cook and she is accepting recipes for MLLA until February 28th, so feel free to join in the fun with a beany recipe until then.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Blasphemous Bowl of Red: My Baked Bean Chili Recipe

Over on my bookstore blog, The Book Trout, I recently reviewed the classic chilihead bible "A Bowl of Red" by Frank X. Tolbert. It was a fun and informative book, full of culinary history about the development of and different species of chili, and I would recommend it to other foodie bibliophiles. There are lots of tales about crusty chuckwagon cooks, "son-of-a-bitch" stew (it's offal), ethnobotanical aspects about hot chili peppers and "paper napkin" restaurant reviews.

With the continued cold weather forecast by that diabolical Pennsylvania groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, (Crockpot Groundhog Chili, anyone?) I was inspired to whip up a batch of chili to warm my family up. With the vegetarian emphasis among the Crispy Crew, however, I did not try to reproduce Texas minimalist chili (beef, hot peppers, spices) but a beanier variety that would clean out my cupboards and freezer. Alas, I had no dried beans or even cans of cooked beans to work with, but I did have a large can of baked beans in the pantry left over from a summer side dish I forgot to cook up when we were entertaining. I'm not a huge baked bean fan, as I don't like their sweetness, but I did a little experimenting and raised the heat factor some, and the result was pronounced delicious by my Upstate New York cowpokes, so here it is in all its glory. Just don't serve it up to any Texans.

Blasphemous Baked Bean Chili

Baked Bean Chili

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. ground coriander
1 zucchini, trimmed and sliced into half moons

3 Tbsp. hot pepper sauce
1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
2 cups frozen or canned corn
1 (28 oz.) can baked beans
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add garlic and onions and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add green pepper, cumin and coriander and cook, stirring, another 3-4 minutes. Add zucchini slices and cook, stirring, another 5 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients, except for pumpkin seeds, and bring to boil. Cover and let simmer about 20 minutes to blend flavors. Season with salt and pepper and extra hot sauce to taste. At the last minute, add pumpkin seeds and serve.

Garnish with sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese and a squirt of lime juice.

Serves 6-8.

A great chili to slap together on a busy night from the pantry and freezer. Some of the beans melt into the chili sauce and thicken it up nicely and some stay whole for texture. If I had a can of green chiles I would have added them too.

I'm sending over a bowl of this chili to my Cook the Books blogger buddy Deb of Kahakai Kitchen for her weekly Souper Sunday roundup and a second bowl to Gloria of Foods and Flavors of San Antonio for her February Chili Cook-Off, both convivial and satisfying food blog events.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Cilantro and Dill: Double Agents in the Garden

Cilantro and dill are two herbs that I have not had to replant for several gardening seasons. They grow so quickly that I have a hard time keeping up with the harvest of their aromatic green leaves and they reseed themselves throughout my untidy, yet productive garden beds of mixed herbs, veggies and flowers. I like to wait each spring to see where they (and an unending tangle of red poppies from a packet of seeds sown at least 8 years ago) will sprout.

This vexes my gardening partner, husband Dan, to no end, so he resorted several years ago to planting his own highly organized, well-edged garden. Where he sees weeds, I see delight in "volunteer" plants that spring unbidden from my soil. Where he sees order in straight, string-straightened rows of vegetables, I see wasted time in planting. His and Hers gardens seem to be equally productive, so we just raise an eyebrow, shake our heads at the other's gardening style and tend our own.

Back to my disorderly garden patch. The cilantro is harvested by washing, snipping and drying the green fronds. I then either freeze them in little baggies as is or mix up some cilantro chutney to freeze in ice cube trays. The frozen chutney cubes are then popped out and put in a baggie for easy access. The chutney cubes are great thawed and mixed with yogurt for a quick raita or used as is for a deceptively cool-looking condiment on the dinner plate.

When I forget about my cilantro patch for a couple of days in midsummer they plants quickly set up seeds, which are also welcome in the kitchen. Cilantro seeds are coriander, which can be used whole in pickles and curries, or can be ground to use in any number of spicy dishes. The seeds need to be thoroughly dried and then I store them in a glass jar, to be ground up as needed in the cheapo coffee grinder I have reserved just for grinding spices. Freshly ground coriander has a much more lemony scent than the store-bought jars of ground coriander.

The same gardening and harvesting methods are used for my never-ending dill patch. Fresh dill is put up in the freezer and thaws quickly to be used in dips, fish recipes, cucumber salads and as a garnish. Once again, my many mobile dill plants seem to grow overnight from fresh green fronds to the leggy, woody stalk stage so I let the heads develop and dry. Some dill heads are used when I put up refrigerator cucumber pickles and the rest are divested of their seeds, spread to dry on a cookie sheet in a sunny window and then stored in a glass jar.

We have an abundance of dill seeds right now, which are used in bread recipes and the occasional sauteed cabbage, but I could use some other recipes featuring dill seeds. Feel free to send me some recipes or links so I can reduce my stash of dill seeds.

I am sending this post over to Weekend Herb Blogging #169, which is hosted this week by the Daily Tiffin. Weekend Herb Blogging is an always enlightening, always delicious blog event hosted by Haalo at Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once, from sunny, hot Melbourne, Australia. Check back with the Daily Tiffin after Sunday's deadline to see what awesome cooks from around the world have to offer from their gardens, markets and kitchens.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Revisiting Mussels for A Culinary Tour Around the World

During the first blush of our courtship, I invited my future husband over for dinner to dine on mussels in some kind of creamy, garlicky French sauce. It wasn't until much later that he informed me about how revolting he found this particular dish. I was really surprised, since we had begun our romance in an Albany, New York tavern league (he was a baseball pitcher on the men's team, while I was a catcher on the ladies' softball team) where post-game drinking involved not a small number of beers accompanied with steamed clams.

Clams and mussels are almost the same thing, right? Well, Dan has continued his hatred of my beloved black bivalves over the course of two decades and I've only had them several times since as supporting players in a few plates of restaurant Zuppa di Pesce. I found myself eyeing them longingly last week at the supermarket fish counter and decided to grab a bagful, since they were so darn cheap ($2 a pound!). I'd cook some up for myself and see if I could attract anyone else to join me in a heavenly plate of mussels.

It had been so long since I had prepared mussels I had to look up how to do so in some of my cookbooks. I found out that one should try to get farm-raised mussels, if possible, which are grown on strings suspended in water, rather than mussels dug up from muddy sea bottoms, as the latter will contain much more dirt, even after long soaking and prep times. Well, my mussels had big chunks of stone attached to their lovely, long beards, so they were definitely children of the sea bottom. The mussels all got their beards barbered and their shells buffed and further spa treatment with an overnight soaking in the fridge, with some corn meal "bath salts" sprinkled in to encourage my shellfish to expel their sandiness.

The pampering was over the next day, when they got scrubbed again, rinsed in fresh water, trimmed anew and then readied for the cooking pot. You must also discard any mussels that won't close tightly. I decided to try recreating my romantic mussel meal of yore, but couldn't find an exact recipe, so I came up with this Frenchified version:

Mussels in a Romantic Sauce (Moules de l'Amour)

2 lbs. of mussels (cleaned and debearded as above)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
6 Tbsp. butter
1 cup dry white wine
3 Tbsp. Italian parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup half-and-half

Heat a heavy-bottomed soup pot over a medium flame. Melt butter and then add garlic and shallots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add white wine and bring to boil. Let boil, until reduced by about half and then add mussels. Cover and cook, 5-7 minutes, shaking the pot every couple of minutes, to make sure mussels are cooking evenly.

Uncover pot, remove any mussels that haven't opened and discard. Add salt and pepper to taste, parsley and half-and-half to pot and stir 2-3 minutes.

Serve hot with lots of crusty rolls (Crusty French Rolls from Bette Hagman's wonderful "The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread" cookbook) on the side to mop up the luscious sauce.

Serves 2-4 (2 mussel lovers as a dinner entree, 4 first course servings)

In a surprise move, Dan tried them and announced that they were delicious and more delicate-tasting than he had remembered. He actually ate his whole portion! My daughters were not in love with my romantic Love Mussels and after dissecting them rather rudely at the table, went off in search of a peanut butter dinner, leaving more for their appreciative parents (and clearing the way for some clandestine post-prandial smooching!) Ooooh la la!

I am sending this romantic recipe over to Joan at Foodalogue, where we are taking a virtual tour of France this week for her Culinary Tour Around the World Event. Joan will have a French roundup in the next several days, and then I believe we are traveling to Portugal to check out the sites. And, the food, of course! Come join us...

Au revoir