Friday, May 29, 2009

Cook the Books: The Little White Horse Interpreted by a Guest Blogger

The current book selection for the foodie book club, Cook the Books, is "The Little White Horse", by Elizabeth Goudge, a charming juvenile fantasy classic first published in 1946. This round of Cook the Books is being hosted by yours truly and I'll be accepting entries in which readers have cooked up something inspired by reading this book by the deadline of June 26, 2009. Anyone can join in the fun; there's no need to do anything other than read the book and cook up something delicious.

You don't even need to be a blogger to join our little group, as proven below by Bettina, an Australian food and book lover, who kindly asked me to post her toothsome Cook the Books submission below. She recreates a homey and satisfying meal as laid out by the kitchen staff at Moonacre Manor for the arrival of our young heroine, Maria, and her governess, Miss Heliotrope:

Bettina says:

"My CTB offering from The Little White Horse is the arrival meal. I have experienced travelling through the dark to an uncertain destination and found a warm welcome and a delicious meal waiting for me. There are other aspects of the book that resonate - including my part Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dogs and my quarter-Cornish ancestry husband who planted salmon pink geraniums in the garden and gave me a pearl necklace.

I first read TLWH in 1966 and re-read it regularly: literary comfort food.
We had home made crusty bread, hot onion soup, delicious stew, baked apples in a silver dish, honey, organic butter and a bottle of claret. Maria and Miss Heliotrope arrive at Moonacre Manor in late winter. It is not quite the end of autumn (fall) in Queensland so I made some adjustments due to seasonal availability. I used chicken instead of rabbit for the stew - using an English recipe for Gamekeeper's Casserole. Chestnut trees don't grow here, so I served Italian chestnut honey instead. Mulled claret seemed like a waste of good French wine and we enjoyed it without mulling.

I wanted to reflect the English-ness of the story and wasn't sure about how to make an English onion soup. After some research, I used leeks and onions with sage leaves and left out the floating crouton with melted cheese of the French version. I comforted myself with the thought that, despite the English pastoral of the story, there are definite French influences in the Old Parson and the descendants of Monsieur Coq de Noir.

Finally, TLWH always mentions the food served to the animals - a detail my two dogs approve of completely. I can report that they had the chicken wings, shared a slice of the bread with stew juices, finished off the apple cores and then retired to the sofa to digest the meal just like Wiggins."

Thank you Bettina, for a cozy, dreamy meal inspired by your reading. I look forward to reading the other entries submitted for this round of Cook the Books.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cooking up Some Tex-Mex Delights with Gloria Chadwick

The prize package for my February Chili Cook-Off winning recipe (actually Dan's recipe, for Spicy Lentil Chili) over at Gloria Chadwick's Food and Flavors of San Antonio blog was a copy of her newest cookbook of the same title.

I have been delightedly cooking my way through this book and savoring the little snippets that precede many of the recipes highlighting San Antonio's Tex-Mex cuisine. We've all enjoyed the Red Rice recipe, which I've made several times now, and Dan proclaimed the Chilaquiles Calabacitas the best casserole I ever made. Chilaquiles is a layered dish of corn tortillas, veggies and cheese, and Gloria's recipe (enlivened with a little snipped fresh cilantro from our garden) was awesomely good. You'll have to buy the cookbook to get those two terrific recipes, or perhaps win a copy as I did by checking out Gloria's blog, but she is very generous in offering up several other recipes from her book at the blog as well.

I keep forgetting to photograph the Red Rice (it's a very pretty red-orange color) and the Chilaquiles were devoured before I remembered my blog photographer duties, but here's a shot of the lovely and refreshing Watermelon Aqua cocktail (it's actually non-alcoholic) that made use of some leftover watermelon.

Gloria's cookbook is a winner because the cook doesn't have to go hunt down some crazy ingredients or master elaborate techniques to make any of her recipes. That suits my cooking style and since the results have all been warmly received (aka chowed down), this cookbook will be placed in the coveted kitchen bookshelf where all my "go to" cookbooks reside.

The prolific Ms. Chadwick is already hard at work on another cookbook project, this time to benefit her local food pantry, so be sure to go visit her blog to see if you can contribute an original Tex-Mex style recipe and of course, to soak up some of her fantastic recipes.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Spring Garden 2009

Ah, Spring... Time to play in the dirt and walk around the yard barefoot. The birds have started sitting on their eggs and the first herbs and vegetables are arriving onto our dinner plates. We've already had a couple of meals of our own asparagus and have reveled in the fresh tastes of dill, oregano, chives, thyme and even a few surprise cilantro plants popping up in the garden beds.

I am a first-time garlic grower, and have been hovering over the cloves planted last November. They are green and vigorous and managed to survive a weird winter of freezing and thawing and an onslaught of meadow voles, so I see some garlic scape pesto and garlands of dried garlic in my future.

Every year I try to add a few new herbs and vegetables to my repertoire. Last year I tried leeks, but was foiled by those voracious voles who chomped down on my tender baby leek bulbs in a sneaky subterranean assault. I also planted Anise Hyssop from seed and didn't really see much action there, but this Spring a luxurious little shrub of this herb has unfurled and I look forward to harvesting its leaves for tea. If anyone out there has some other culinary or medicinal information about Anise Hyssop, please leave a comment below.

New to the Crispy Cook's kitchen garden this year is a lovely legume I've always wanted to try, based on the raves I've heard about fresh fava beans. The seeds were huge, like magic beans, and have sprouted into very robust bean seedlings, so I have high hopes for actually consuming some later in the season. Again, any fava bean recipes and tips gratefully appreciated. I have heard that steaming the fresh favas and then slitting open their skin and serving them forth with shavings of Pecorino cheese is divine, so I'll keep you posted. I also have a recollection that they go well with liver and a nice Chianti, but that could be hearsay.

Another new inhabitant in the Crispy Garden this year is Green Lance, a variety of Asian green residing somewhere along the kale-broccoli continuum. Green Lance is supposed to grow up to be a thick-stemmed, flowering cruciferous vegetable that likes to be steamed and stir-fried, so voles and cutworms willing, we will dine on them next month.

Memorial Day Weekend is the traditional day of planting the more tender veggies in our area. We just had a frost last week, so I am holding off on sticking the tomato plants out just yet, but when I am off tomorrow, it will time to get muddy toes and fingers planting string beans and zucchini.

With visions of sugar snaps dancing in my head....

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Book Review: Elisabeth Hasselbeck's "The G-Free Diet"

The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide, by Elisabeth Hasselbeck (NY: Center Street, 2009).

The publisher sent me a copy of this brand-new book by television personality Elisabeth Hasselback, a celiac herself, and here's my thoughts.

A new book about the gluten-free diet is always welcome and having a celebrity author brings extra public awareness to the issues of celiac disease and gluten-intolerance. I applaud Mrs. Hasselback for bringing her own experiences to print (embarrassing digestive disturbances and all) and letting more people know about the symptoms and long-term health effects of celiac disease.

The most useful chapters are the ones in which she describes strategies for food shopping and preparation and ways in which she and her family, a combination of gluten-eaters and "G-free" dieters, avoid contaminating kitchen work surfaces and cooking implements. Hasselbeck also dishes out lots of good advice about how to approach family, friends and restaurant workers when eating away from home. There are many recommendations for specific restaurant chains which offer gluten-free dining options and information regarding certain food brands and products, although this kind of data is so easily changed that the book became dated the minute it rolled off the printing press.

The concerns I have with the way the book is packaged. I assume that is the author's picture on the front dust jacket pushing away a tempting assortment of crusty breads and rolls. Why make these breads so delicious-looking? Why don't they look moldy or misshapen or bad for you, like a squishy, spongy, loaf of supermarket bread? I say, forget the food stylist for that cover photo and just show the sparkling health of Mrs. Hasselbeck next to some unappealing piles of glutenous products.

The dust jacket blurbs are also kind of goofy. The quotes on the rear jacket promote the gluten-free diet as a "lifestyle" option that can help you lose weight, and as the "next big movement in health and wellness". 95% of Americans with undiagnosed celiac disease, suffering from any of the myriad, commonplace and sometimes subtle symptoms, might pick up a copy of this book, scan it quickly and get the wrong idea to self-diagnose and stop eating gluten before being medically tested. The actual text of the book and Dr. Peter Green's foreword do caution against this, but the dust jacket just sends the wrong messages out.

Hasselbeck's book is a nice addition to the gluten-free library and would be good to peruse if you are newly diagnosed as a celiac or want to pass on a copy to a friend or family member who wants to cook for you. For an introduction to gluten-free living, I personally favor the more comprehensive information in Danna Korn's "Living Gluten-Free for Dummies" (2006) and the glorious and delicious writing of Shauna James Ahern's "Gluten-Free Girl" (2007). However, Hasselbeck's "The G-Free Diet" has the opportunity to introduce many more people to the issue of celiac disease and gluten-intolerance because they are familiar with her from "The View" and "Survivor". She has lots of good information to share and is working hard to promote the book and the issue of celiac disease, so it is a welcome book. Just throw away the dust jacket.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Grandma Trudie's Southern Apple Cake Made Gluten-Free

I was lucky enough to have three loving grandmas when I was younger: my mom's mom, my dad's mom and my stepfather's mom. All three were interesting, sweet women, and I miss them all now that they are gone. Each one had their own interests and kitchen passions.

My mom's mom was a Depression baby who collected cookbooks and loved to bake and I have many recipes in my card file from her kitchen experiments. Each summer we would plan lovely picnics where we would pick wildflowers, collect abandoned balls from a nearby public tennis court, and feast on deviled eggs, her special iced tea and her buttery cupcakes.

My dad's mom was a butcher's daughter and was known for her slow-cooked roasts and chops and for having an electric coffee percolator snuffling away in the corner of the kitchen when her best friend would come over for an afternoon of card playing and conversation. She was incredibly well-read and could polish off the Sunday crossword puzzle in expert time. In pen, no less.

My step-grandmother, Grandma Trudie, lived far away in Atlanta, Georgia, but would come up on the train for a week or two each year toting heavy suitcases filled with cans of my stepdad's favorite breakfast sausage and boxes of Nabisco cookies from the factory where she worked. She was a fantastic Southern cook and as a teen foodie I pestered her to explain how she made her Brunswick Stew, potato salad, and her moist apple cake. She was an intuitive cook that had most of her recipes in her head, so she'd smile when I'd ask her for measurements.

"Oh, I don't know, sugar", she'd say, "add about enough flour until the batter is right."

I'd knit my brow with youthful puzzlement and write something down to approximate what I saw her doing.

I had a hankering for my Grandma Trudie's Apple Cake last week and pulled out the framework of the recipe I had. It called for a small ("you know, small") bag of sweetened flaked coconut, but as I have a coconut-phobe in the house, I left it out. I also made adjustments to this treasured recipe to accommodate our gluten-free needs, so feel free to substitute wheat flour or your favorite GF flour blend).

Grandma Trudie's Southern Apple Cake

1-1/2 cups corn oil
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 large eggs

3 cups GF flour (I used a blend of 1 cup garbanzo bean flour and 2 cups
amaranth flour to use up some bags in the pantry; later used mix of sorghum, brown rice and white rice flours)
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. xanthan gums

5 medium apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Grease and flour a 10 inch bundt pan.

Combine oil, sugar and brown sugar and blend until smooth. Beat eggs
in, one at a time, making sure batter is smooth after each addition.

Blend together dry ingredients: flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking soda
and salt. Gradually add to wet mixture, stirring until smooth.

Add in apples, walnuts and vanilla and mix until blended. Batter should be wet. Spoon into
prepared pan.

Bake for 1-1/2 hours, or until a skewer or toothpick inserted into
cake comes out clean. Cool in pan 10-15 minutes.

Then invert onto plate and then invert onto cooling rack.

You could glaze it, but Grandma Trudie always just served it plain and it would disappear quickly. I sprinkled a little powdered sugar on top just to make it blogworthy.

*I made this again with a cider reduction glaze that was outstanding. Cook 2 cups cider in pan until reduced to 1/2 cup. Watch carefully, or the burned pan will have to be thrown out. Add in enough confectioner's sugar to make stiff glaze (about 2 cups). Drizzle over cake when it has cooled completely. Let sit an hour or so to stiffen up.

This recipe will be submitted to a new blogging event: Family Recipes: Memories of Family, Food and Fun, which is being hosted by my fellow upstate New York foodie, The Life and Loves of Grumpy's Honeybunch. This new event concentrates of family recipes, and this one sure brings back some happy memories of my Grandma Trudie. There's still time to join in the fun, as the deadline for this nostalgic event is May 23rd.