Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dolmades from Our Own Brined Grape Leaves

Dan and I have always liked dolmades, those delectable grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs that figure prominently in Mediterranean cuisine. We have only had dolmades at restaurants or from a pricey can from the grocery aisle, but when I saw instructions for preserving grape leaves on Kalofagas and Foodycat I bookmarked this information and stored it away until the wild grapevines that encircle our pool fence were springing forth once more.

It was a project which took the better part of a hot, sunny morning (I did prune back the grape vines at the same time as I harvested my grape leaves) but finding unblemished leaves free of bird poop and beetle chomps was a task, as was finding the correct sized leaves. My web friends advised picking leaves where the center portion was about the same size as one's palm. If you harvest leaves from a friend or public spot, do be sure to inquire if the leaves are also pesticide-free.

I followed Kalofagas' instructions, but used 6 quart-sized canning jars as I wasn't sure what "medium" Mason jars were and found I needed to prepare 50% more hot brine to fill my jars. A couple of my jars didn't seal so I tucked them into the refrigerator since I wanted to make a couple of batches of dolmades within the week. I also liked his recipe for baking the dolmades rather than trying my hand at sauteeing them (less opportunity for stuffing leakage) so that was my course of action.

I made one batch of Kalofagas recipe with sauteed ground beef (I'll bet ground lamb would be amazing too) and one batch without meat. Both came out of the oven perfectly tender and delectable, although they were a little more salty than I prefer, so I would leave out seasoning the filling with additional salt next time. We liked them so much that I plan to cook up another batch and trot them out this weekend when we have guests.

Having these jars of brined leaves in the pantry seems so luxurious now. I can whip up a batch of dolmades easily if I have leftover cooked rice and then throw them in the oven for an hour to steam away. Thank you Foodycat and Kalofagas for such tempting and easy to follow culinary advice!

This adventure in harvesting, preserving and cooking with wild grape leaves is being sent in to Weekend Herb Blogging #190, which is being hosted by Laurie of Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska. I'm sure Laurie is familiar with stuffed grape leaves but they were a new and exciting exploration for me. Weekend Herb Blogging is a weekly blog event that highlights fruits, vegetables and herbs and is permanently headquartered at Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once. I always learn something new and usually bookmark a few more recipes to try with WHB, so be sure to check out the roundup after the Sunday deadline.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Let's Cook the Books with Some Parkin in Honor of Elizabeth Goudge

A spot of tea and a spicy bite of parkin, an oat-laden gingerbread from England's Yorkshire country made our windy and cool (some might say parky) summer afternoon extra special. I made this English tea-time treat in celebration of Elizabeth Goudge's well-loved juvenile fantasy book, "The Little White Horse". This book is the current book selection for Cook the Books, the online foodie book club that was started last year by me and my bibliophilic blogger friends Johanna of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food and Deb of Kahakai Kitchen.

For each bimonthly round of Cook the Books we have chosen a book to read and then ruminate upon for culinary and bloggity inspiration. We have previously read and blogged about Sicilian cuisine for Lily Prior's novel "La Cucina", explored Middle Eastern food for Diana Abu-Jaber's delicious memoir "The Language of Baklava", and cooked up delights for bad boy chef Anthony Bourdain's book "Kitchen Confidential".

It was my turn to host Cook the Books again and so I thought to change things up a bit. Goudge's book, "The Little White Horse", is our first foray into the world of juvenile literature and fantasy and I found it to be a delightful escape into a world of coziness and comfort. Goudge's writing reminded me of my youthful devouring of George Macdonald's Curdie series and of reading C.S. Lewis' wonderful Narnia series as an older reader. Having similarly swallowed the Harry Potter series whole in reading them to my children (and reading ahead) I can see where author J.K. Rowling drew inspiration from Goudge's book, self-described by Rowling as one of her childhood favorites, for the mouthwatering Hogwarts feast scenes and tremendously sensual descriptions of train carts full of a vast array of Wizard sweets. I had thought that these feast scenes and colorful, descriptive character names were straight out of Charles Dickens' canon, but after reading "The Little White Horse", I sensed the inspiration from this jewel of a novel and imagined the young J.K. snuggled up with it, reading and re-reading it during wintry Scottish blizzards.

The litany of English baked goods which emanated from Moonacre Manor's castle kitchen was what most intrigued me about Goudge's book. I enjoying researching fairy cakes, rock cakes, syllabub, and other tea-time treats. I decided to make a Saffron Cake, the culinary history of which is amply described in this blog post. I had some saffron in the spice cupboard which was fairly well aged from having been purchased for some special recipe of distant memory, as well as some leftover rosewater from another kitchen experiment, so I thought I would take a stab at this recipe for Golden Saffron Cake.

Alas, in my attempts to convert this recipe to a gluten-free version and in perhaps having elderly saffron threads, my Golden Saffron Cake, though rather smart looking, turned out to be medicinal tasting and in my husband's words, like something that had been stashed away in Aunt Tilda's drawer of undergarments, next to the packet of moth balls. I don't even want to think about an elder Auntie's niceties when I'm noshing away. Or at all, for that matter. The cake had a lovely crumb, but it was inedible, and its golden remainder was handed over to our trusty kitchen hound, Martha, for disposal. So back to the Crispy Kitchen I went to figure out something else for the Cook the Books post.

End of the school year madness got in the way, however. With two active teenagers around, there were music concerts to attend, softball and soccer games to squire the young 'uns to, academic awards ceremonies (not to boast (too much) but those Jag girls are brains, don't you know), sports banquets, gardens to plant, etc., etc. So my culinary artistry was stymied by various time constraints, so I do beg everyone's pardon who was waiting for the Cook the Books hostess to get with it and post already.

At last I found some unencumbered hours to spend by my oven, and decided to whip up some parkin. Parkin is a chewy gingerbread traditionally made in England's North Country with oats and plenty of ground ginger, then stashed away to ripen until it is sticky and moist. Again, I had to make my Parkin gluten-free, so I made a few adjustments to this recipe, and we enjoyed a square of parkin recently with a nice cuppa and a dollop of buttercream to fuel us up for an afternoon of yard work.

Here's my adaptation of a hearty Yorkshire Parkin recipe:

2-1/4 sticks butter, room temperature
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup corn syrup (golden syrup is most traditional)

4 cups gluten-free flour (I used a mixture of sorghum, brown rice and leftover packaged GF flour mix)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. ground ginger
3 cups gluten-free rolled oats, whizzed in food processor until coarsely ground
1 tsp. xanthan gum

3 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease a 9 x 12 glass baking dish with shortening or butter.

In saucepan, heat together butter, brown sugar, molasses and corn syrup until butter is melted and sugar grains are smooth.

Stir together flour, baking soda, ginger, ground oats and xanthan gum. Add in melted butter-syrup mixture and stir until thoroughly mixed.

Stir in beaten eggs and blend thoroughly.

Pour into prepared baking dish.

Bake 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of pan comes out clean.

Cool completely in pan before serving. Ideally, parkin can be aged at room temperature in a closed tin least three days to one week before consuming, so that it has a chance to ripen and soften.

Makes about 15 squares of parkin.

I am delighted to report that Deborah Gaudin, of the British Elizabeth Goudge Society, will be judging the submissions for this round of Cook the Books after the June 26 deadline and can't wait to see what everyone has come up with. Be sure to check back at the Cook the Books blog to see our roundup of tasty "Little White Horse" inspirations.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Green Lance: A Captivating Asian Vegetable

One of the delights of living in the Great Northeast is cuddling up in winter next to the fireplace with a hot mug of tea and a pile of seed catalogues. The kitchen gardener dreams of resplendently tangled beds of vegetables and herbs when the warmer weather rolls around again and it makes for many a pleasant reverie. One of the vegetables that caught my fancy this past catalogue season was the Green Lance, an Asian vegetable also known by many aliases, such as Gail Lohn, Pak Kah Nah, Chinese Kale or Chinese Broccoli.

I was captivated by the comic book name, the short growing season (50 days) and the description of its taste as being somewhere along the broccoli-asparagus spectrum. Yum yum. I got my seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds and planted them during the cooler Spring weather and am now harvesting my first crop of this tasty, hardy vegetable. I waited until I had a couple of flowering stalks and then cut the plant down to a long stub, as I will hopefully have a future crop of smaller side shoots in a few weeks.

The plant itself is very attractive with long spears and elegant little florettes on top. A couple of white blossoms opened, so I knew I better get out my knife and harvest a bouquet of Green Lance to cook up for dinner.

Somehow, I don't have any cookbooks with recipes for cooking up my beautiful Green Lances, so I just did a simply stir-fry, served over rice, for my inaugural experiment with this elegant vegetable. I am not clear as to whether one should just cook the stems and flower buds, and not the leaves too, but I went ahead and we munched on all three with equal relish. I did find some other Green Lance cooking ideas listed at this informative post from a Santa Barbara, CA restaurant, so look for some more recipes in the future from yours truly as I harvest and experiment later in the garden season.

Stir-Fried Green Lance with Black Beans

1 bunch Green Lance (5 fat stems with buds), chopped into 1 inch sections
2 fat cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp. peanut oil
1 tsp. fermented black beans, rinsed and drained and coarsely chopped

Heat oil in heavy pan. Add garlic slices and cook, stirring, one minute.

Add Green Lance and stir until stems are crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Add black beans and stir another 2 minutes. Even the fattest stems are tender after this cooking time, although later in the season, when the plant's skin is thicker, I may have to adjust the cooking time.

Serves 2.

I know I will be enjoying this tasty veggie many more times and will definitely grow it again in the Crispy Garden. It was very easy to grow, and despite a little damage from cutworms and flea beetles, there were so many seedlings in the row I planted that we will have a more than abundant crop, particularly if the side shoots start popping out in the hotter summer weather.

This post will be shared at the always fun, always informative blog event Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Erbe in Cucina. This bilingual blog hails from Italy, and is a great resource for gardening and culinary information about a rainbow of herbs. Weekend Herb Blogging is the brainchild of Kalyn's Kitchen and is now headquartered at the Australian food blog, Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Spicy Roasted Chickpea Nibbles

While perusing my copy of Ashley Miller's "The Bean Harvest Cookbook" (Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 1998), I came upon her recipe for Chickpea Munchies, roasted cooked chickpeas spiced up with garlic and curry powder. I was looking for a little nibble for my hubby and I to sip wine with, so I switched around the spices, threw in some leftover cooked rice and used canned cooked chickpeas instead of the home-cooked dried chickpeas called for in Miller's version and they turned out splendidly. My hand was little too generous with the garam masala, so we were sucking down liquid refreshment at a rapid rate (an old bartender's trick is set out salty and spicy snacks to encourage more drink orders), so do take care. Especially if you're buying.

The result is a lovely cocktail snack, CRISPY on the outside and softly mushy on the inside. Don't worry about the skins of the chickpeas sloughing off when you stir them around; these skins take on a nice crunch when they are baked and add to the texture of the overall mix.

The Nibbles were great warm out of the oven and Dan spent a few days snacking on them cold. I stored them in an airtight container when they cooled and they survived nicely at room temperature. Here's my adapted version of Miller's great recipe:

Spicy Roasted Chick Pea Nibbles

2 (14.5 oz.) cans chickpeas, drained, rinsed and patted dry
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. garam masala (or your favorite curry powder blend)
1 cup cooked white rice
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat olive oil in frying pan. Add minced garlic and, stirring constantly, cook 1 minute. Add garam masala and stir another 1-2 minutes. Add chickpeas and cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring.

Turn out into a 9x12 glass baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes. Stir and add in cooked rice. Bake another 15-20 minutes, or until nibbles are at the desired peak of crunchiness. Season with salt and pepper.

Makes about 2-1/2 cups of nibbles.

After I made these nibbles, I researched some other ways to roast one's chickpeas and found these other recipes which I intend to try soon:

Crispy Roasted Chickpeas with Moroccan Spices from Kalyn's Kitchen

Roasted Wasabi Chickpeas
from About.com (make sure wasabi powder is wheat-free)

Spicy Roasted Chickpeas from Rosa's Yummy Yums

Amazing Toasted Mixed Nuts from The W.H.O.L.E. Gang

This ode to the Roasted Chickpea post seems the perfect submission for My Legume Love Affair, a monthly blog event that celebrates the legume in all its glorious variations and is the brainchild of Susan over at The Well-Seasoned Cook. The current round of MLLA is being hosted by Annarasa. You can join in the fun with a leguminous post by the deadline or wait to catch Annarasa's roundup after the June 30 deadline.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My Green Babies in the Spring Garden

There's lots cooking up in my Spring gardens, or should I say, in MY garden and MY HUSBAND's garden. My garden is more of a curvilinear tapestry of flowers, herbs and vegetables,

whereas Dan's garden is a geometrically precise and orderly space for serious plants that intend to feed us early and often.

Both styles work well for us: I love seeing which annuals have reseeded themselves and love the surprise of finding a hardy tomato or tomatillo struggling up through the Spring soil. I haven't had to plant dill or cilantro in years, and a packet of wildflower seeds strewn on a bare patch of garden five years ago still renews itself each year in a long-blooming patch of delicate red poppies. Dan's garden soil is the more fertile, however, as he is diligent about laying down mulched grass clippings and stepping only where his wood chip pathways intersect the veggie beds. He has an lovely bunch of broccoli plants right now and we are looking forward to a second year of the tropical vines of red noodle beans grown all around the wooden pyramid trestle he made.

A mama robin has nested in the crotch of a wild cherry tree, right next to my garden, which drives her mate frantic whenever I'm in weeding or planting, so I'm trying to be careful about not disturbing them too much. You can see a tiny yellow sliver of beak in this photo.

Two new vegetable varieties await consumption a little later this month: One is Green Lance, an Asian cruciferous vegetable which is supposed to be harvested when it gets a little bigger and sports a miniature broccoli headpiece. It has suffered a tiny bit of damage from ravaging cutworms, but I should have a nice little harvest in a week or so:

The other garden newbie is the Fava Bean, which is a beautifully sculptural plant with square stems and lovely leaves and is now wearing some eye-catching black and white blossoms:

We have been enjoying our first lettuces in the past week and the shot below captures the first harvest that went beyond a handful of radishes or herb snippets. I had a couple of leafy Black-Seeded Simpson lettuces sprout up from a row I had planted last year, so I let them fatten up and then harvested them for a delicate salad with home grown chives and radishes. Unfortunately, my kids won't eat my salads for a while, as I somehow didn't notice a stowaway in my salad greens, who survived several soakings in water and a ride in my salad spinner. I plated up a toothsome quartet of green salads and was bringing them to the table, when a coin-sized Daddy Long Legs marched out of his hiding place and made a dash for it off the dining table. I suppose the vinaigrette was the final indignity.

See if you can spot the spider in the photo above. Obviously I couldn't.

Stay tuned to see what the Crispy Cook concocts out of her Green Lance and Fava Bean harvests and whether my children will cured of their arachnophobic eating habits.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Barbecued Shrimp with Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce

The grill has been put to use for many dinners lately with the glorious Spring weather. We do have a penchant for the zesty Plantation Shrimp over rice and have made that so many times our kids have begged for a different barbecue dinner. I perused some of my cookbooks and came up with the idea of marinating the shrimp in a lemony dressing with plenty of snipped garden herbs and then grilling them, tails left on for easier handling. We made up a batch of tasty Spinach Risotto, and dunked our shrimps in some peanut dipping sauce kicked up with a little fresh grated ginger and hot sauce. A perfect combo for a Springtime BBQ!

Here's the gist of what I did:

Barbecued Shrimp with Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce

1 lb. frozen large shrimp, thawed and peeled down to the tail

Marinade Ingredients:

1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of one large lemon
2 Tbsp. snipped fresh dill
2 Tbsp. snipped fresh chives
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Peanut Dipping Sauce Ingredients:

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 Tbsp. soy sauce (check to make sure it's wheat-free!)
1 (one inch) piece gingerroot, peeled and grated
1 tsp. honey
2-3 Tbsp. hot pepper sauce
3 Tbsp. hot water

Prepare shrimp. If you like to peel your own shrimp at the table, leave the shells and legs on, but if the bugginess of these crustaceans freaks you or your family out, just leave the tails on for a little handle. Can you tell that my bunch are not entomophages?

Mix marinade ingredients together and pour over shrimp in a glass or ceramic bowl. Let marinate at least 2 hours.

Make dipping sauce by placing all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and whipping around until it is smooth. Cover and let stand at room temperature to let flavors meld.

When ready to grill, make sure grill is really hot. Drain shrimps and place on oiled flat surface (or tin foil over grill rack). Cook 3-4 minutes on each side, turning once. The tails should be slightly charred.

Bring to the table and dunk those shrimps in your sauce. Luscious!

Serves four.

This recipe seems like the perfect contribution to this month's round of "Go Ahead, Honey, It's Gluten-Free", a themed blog event started by Naomi at Straight into Bed Cakefree and Dried and hosted this time round by Carol at the exquisitely-photographed blog, Simply Gluten-Free. The theme of this month's event is "Manly Food", and a barbecue, even when tended by a female BBQ flippers, always gets the testosterone and caveman tendencies flowing. Tune in to Simply Gluten-Free after the June 26 deadline to see what other manly recipes are musking up the Internet. Maybe someone will take up the challenge of cooking up some grub on their automobile radiator!