Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Irish Cream Cheesecake, made Gluten-Free, but not Calorie-Free

We had a delightful, relaxing Christmas holiday spent with my sister Mandy. There was lots of good food, a bracing walking of the dog, the viewing of several films, and good conversation. Before I get to the wonderful food, I thought I would also share the results of the first Crazy Mug competition which I am hoping will be a family tradition for years to come.

I had the idea to get our family involved in a little Yuletide fun by scouring yard sales, thrift shops and other outlets for the craziest, zaniest coffee mugs one could find. I was inspired early this year by the bizarre clown mug you see below, and thought it would be a fun scavenger hunt for us to engage in and make part of our holiday festivities. (Plus the activity fit in with our "It's a Recessionary Christmas" theme this year.) We already have lots of fun with the humorous gift tags that we put on our Christmas presents (they provide clues to the gift within or are purportedly from different gift-givers in our lives) and I thought this would add to the merriment.

Well, only Dan and I and Daughter #1 were imbued with the Crazy Mug Spirit, but we still got a kick out of the unveiling of the mugs. Below you see the Crazy Mug entries.

The Penguin mug was actually judged to be rather cute, and we feel we could even use it to drink from, so that was quickly out of contention.

In any other year I think my strange Crazy Mug entry, featuring a badly-drawn, roller-skating clown peeping backwards through his well-defined buttocks would have been judged the winner....

But this was quickly eclipsed by Dan's winning entry, "Smashed Again". Dan had purveyed the glassware shelves of many a thrift shop and actually came up with the winning Crazy Mug at an antiques shop where the owner gave him the mug for free because the tail was broken off of the creepily anthropomorphic mouse figure attached to the handle. Mr. Mouse is staring down at a flattened mouse friend at the bottom of the mug.

This mug is so Crazy on so many levels. Why "smashed again" on a mug? Doesn't one drink booze out of a glass ordinarily? And how does one clean this twisted bit of pottery? And who wants to drink out of something that has a dead mouse in it, real mouse or not? No matter, Dan has won the first Annual Crazy Mug Christmas Contest and I am already looking forward to creating a trophy for next year's event.

Onto the Christmas Food! We had some mulled cider, cheese and crackers, a vegetable platter and dip and a first course salad, Pepperonata with Goat Cheese Truffles, which I had tried in an earlier post. With the addition of some red pepper poinsettias (I had a small flower cookie cutter on hand for that trick) and substituting spinach for the blanched arugula in the original recipe, this was a festive red and green starter for us. I also rolled smaller goat cheese truffles, and rolled the green ones in snipped parsley. Perfetto!

Then there were two trays of lasagna, one meaty and wheaty for my carnivorous crew and one tray of Mushroom, Artichoke and Spinach Lasagna made with rice noodles for the vegetarian, gluten-free crowd. The Christmas feasting concluded with a rich Irish Cream Cheesecake. My cousin-in-law's wonderful wife Diane had once made us such a delight one holiday season and Dan had very fond memories of it, so I dug out the recipe she had given me and figured out a gluten-free crust to replace her graham cracker version and this proved to be a delicious and successful experiment.

I double checked various celiac sites to make sure the Irish Cream liqueur is gluten-free (the consensus is that distilled spirits are gluten-free, even if they start out with glutenous grains). I used Bailey's Irish Cream liqueur but am intrigued by other recipes for making homemade Irish Cream liqueur, like this one. I started this cheesecake the day before, by making and chilling the crust and then baked the cake early on Christmas morning because it takes a long while to cool after baking.

Gluten-Free Irish Cream Cheesecake

2 Tbsp. softened butter

1-1/2 cups Honey-Nut Chex cereal
1-1/4 cups finely chopped walnuts
6 Tbsp. butter, melted

3 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, at room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup Irish Cream liqueur
1 tsp. vanilla

3 oz. white chocolate, grated on box grater (save a handful for garnish)

1-1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar

Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 inch springform pan with softened butter. Set aside.

Place Honey Nut Chex in zipped plastic bag. Smash with rolling pin until you get fine crumbs. One could also do this in a food processor. Mix crumbs thoroughly with melted butter and chopped nuts. Press into the bottom and halfway up the sides of the buttered springform pan. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least one hour to let harden.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Beat softened cream cheese with mixer until fluffy. Add in sugar and mix well. Add eggs, Irish Cream liqueur and vanilla. Mix well. Mix in grated white chocolate and mix well.

Pour into prepared crust. Bake 60 minutes or until the edges of the cheesecake are puffed up and dry looking and the center is set.

Cool on rack.

When cheesecake is thoroughly cooled, top with a mixture of the sour cream and confectioner's sugar. Spread topping smoothly and garnish with reserved grated white chocolate. (Don't garnish with Turbinado or other sugar crystals as we did because they will dissolve and make the top of the cheesecake strangely wet, causing the dessert chef some concern and involving much blotting with paper napkins before serving).

Wrap cheesecake with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 6 hours before serving.

Makes 10-12 very rich dessert servings.

With many happy wishes to my Crispy Cook readers and blogger buddies for a delightful rest of the year and for a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Southern Cornbread Dressing Made Gluten-Free

Stuffing is not supposed to be a gray, gummy, overly salty mess that serves only to be manipulated to form a vessel for mass amounts of gravy. Oh no. It is supposed to be a delicious dish unto itself, moist and crunchy at the same time, studded with savory bits of veggies and seasonings, with a dollop of gravy slathered on top.

And yet, the gray and gummy stuffing is what my decidedly ungourmet daughters want on their holiday plates. Plus vats more gravy. And that wobbly cranberry sauce out of the can instead of my REAL homemade cranberry sauce or chutney.

Bah humbug I say.

Channeling my late Grandma Trudie, Atlanta, GA-born-and-bred, I made my family an awesome Southern Cornbread Stuffing (to be properly Southern one must refer to it as Dressing, not Stuffing) for our Thanksgiving feast and I wanted to share this naturally gluten-free recipe with y'all.

First, several days before you need your stuffing, you should make up a skillet of cornbread for another meal. There are lots of great gluten-free cornbread recipes out there (some right on the side of the cornmeal package or box), but I am in the midst of reviewing a new gluten-free cookbook, Jules E. Dowler Shepard's "Free for All Cooking" (review to follow soon in a separate post), so I made her recipe for Cornbread, leaving out the corn kernels and hot peppers. This made a terrific cornbread, fluffy and crumbly at the same time, with lots of Crispy edges from being finished up in the oven in an iron skillet.

Since I was intending much of this cornbread for my Stuffing later on, I loosely wrapped the leftovers and kept them in my bread box to dry out.

On Thanksgiving morning I prepared my stuffing and baked it early on, so I could make room for roasting the Big Bird later. Then I only had to reheat it and some other side dishes when the turkey was resting. Here's my recipe:

Southern Cornbread Dressing

3 cups cornbread, crumbled

2 Tbsp. butter (plus extra softened butter to grease your casserole dish)

3 ribs celery, diced
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup chopped bell peppers (I had a mix of red and green garden peppers from my freezer, but you could use 1 red or green fresh pepper, seeded and chopped)

1-1/2 cups vegetable broth (if using store-bought broth, check to make sure that it is gluten-free)

2 tsp. dried sage, crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste (cornbread was salty enough for me, so I just added pepper, but use your palate as your guide)

2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Spread cornbread out on ungreased baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, stirring them around a couple of times during the cooking. Let cool on sheet.

Butter a 1 quart casserole dish. Set aside

Heat 2 Tbsp. butter in frying pan. Add onion and celery and fry until soft and golden, about 5 minutes, add peppers and fry another 7-10 minutes, to soften them up too.

Crank oven temperature up to 350 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, toss toasted cornbread with sauteed vegetables and sage. Add stock in slowly and mix gently to moisten. Season with salt and pepper to taste BEFORE adding beaten eggs and mix gently to keep cornbread cubes from crumbling too much.

Turn out dressing into pregreased baking dish and pat down gently into the pan. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes.

Serves 6-8 stuffing lovers.

I may be Donna Quixote, forever tilting at windmills in the hopes that I can get my kids to appreciate real stuffing and real cranberry sauce on the holiday table, but I do know that my husband and I slurped down this great, naturally GF Cornbread Dressing and enjoyed it thoroughly. I hope you enjoy it too.

I'm sending a plate over to EKat's Kitchen for a Friday Potluck, and will be interested to see what others are making for Christmas week. Myself, I'm hustling back to the kitchen to start two pans of lasagna (one awesome veggie, gluten-free lasagna, and one glutenous meaty lasagna), a vegetable and dip spread, and a gluten-free version of my cousin-in-law's-wife's amazing Irish Cream Cheesecake for our Christmas Eve supper tonight. If the cheesecake recipe works I'll be posting that recipe here later on.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Let's Carbo Load with the Presto Pasta Nights #193 Roundup

So many wonderful, noodly dishes from around the globe came in this week for my stint as guest host for Presto Pasta Nights #193. This weekly event is the brainchild of Ruth from Once Upon a Feast and one can always find great ideas for cooking up the glorious range of noodles. From ravioli to rigatoni, from glass noodles to elbows, below we see a wealth of pasta cooked up by great cooks from around the world.

First in my mailbox was a submission from Beth over at The Seventh Level of Boredom. She made an awesome sounding Macaroni and Cheese with Green Chiles (and a few more spicy peppers thrown in for good measure).

We get a classic Beef Stroganoff served over egg noodles from Tina over at Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrelhead Manor. Paired with a glass of red wine and some bread to sop up the rich sauce, this sounds like the perfect comfort food for cool weather dining.

A vegetarian version of Beef Stroganoff was on the menu over at Margaret's blog, The Vegetarian Casserole Queen. Queen Margaret makes a creamy sauce of mushrooms, sour cream and meat substitute crumbles to make this hearty main dish.

Crab Mac and Cheese
is a new twist on a classic recipe and Kevin of the Toronto blog Closet Cooking is the brains behind it. Enough time had passed from his university days when he lived off of macaroni and cheese, and he thought to combine this old favorite with another favorite dish, crab cakes, and thus, a delicious new hybrid was born.

Claudia is the creative mind at the Hawai'ian blog, Honey from Rock, and she presents us with a plate full of Cauliflower and Pennes from Heaven. This dish combines cauliflower with parsley, anchovies, garlic, fennel seeds and pollen (fennel pollen is all over the blogosphere these days. Hope Santa brings me some in my Crispy stocking!) and other seasonings.

I was also thinking about pasta and cauliflower this week, and here at The Crispy Cook, I made a batch of Guy Fieri's Paccheri Pasta, er Rigatoni with Cauliflower and Spinach. This was a hearty vegetarian main dish with chunks of cauliflower, tomatoes, spinach, loads of sauteed garlic, red pepper flakes, capers and other seasonings.

A simple, elegant, yet fun recipe from Giada De Laurentiis was on the menu over at Girlichef this past week. Heather made Little Stars with Butter and Parmesan, a perfect dish for the whole family to share at the supper table.

My Cook the Books co-hostess and fantastic food blogger and photographer, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen, was also channeling Giada this week and cooked up her recipe for Brown Butter and Sage Sauce for Mushroom Ravioli. A delicious and quick supper for the busy holiday season, indeed.

Sweet Artichoke is the blog, and Pasta with Artichokes is the scrumptious dish sent in by Vanessa, who blogs in both English and French! She recently visited Rome, where she feasted on artichokes and tells us all about how to prepare them for cooking. Check out her exquisite photographs.

Ben of What's Cooking, Mexico? was craving some meatballs when he was visiting his parents recently, and whipped up this flavorful dish: Meatballs in Poblano Sauce, served over linguine. What a beautiful sauce!

Glass noodles, those squishy, clear, wonderful noodles made of mung bean or sweet potato starch, were on the plate of LimeCake. The Melbourne, Australia-based blogger made Smoked Salmon Glass Noodle Salad and the photos on her blog post are just spectacular.

Hailing from Houston, Texas, Allie blogged up a Pasta with Clams recipe over at Yum in Tum this week. She bathed some little pasta stars in a mix of clams, preserved lemon, harissa, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes, and it does sound celestial indeed.

Now here's an intriguing pasta recipe: Pasta with Mustard from Swedish-born, Italian citizen Brii of Briiblog in English. I love the way Brii presents this dish in white flowerpots; as she says, "a funny way to serve a funny dish". Belissima!

Joanne of Eats Well With Others gives us a delicious pot of Italian Braised Beef Penne from her New York City kitchen as well as a hilarious look at the state of her love life.

Athens, Greece blogger Katerina of Culinary Flavors sends us a dish of her rich looking Spaghetti al Roquefort. While she herself is not a big fan of this delightful cheese, her husband and son enjoy it, so she made them a very special meal.

Here's a super-quick pasta dish from Honeybee Cooks Jackfruit that puts a flavorful dish on the table pronto: 20 Minute Pasta Dinner. The Honeybee combines broccoli, shallots, spinach, feta cheese and a whole lot of other seasonings in this delicious vegetarian pasta.

There you have it: a ton of tasty options to contemplate for your next week's menu. I am passing the Presto Pasta Nights hosting torch over to From Kirsten's Kitchen to Yours in Los Angeles, so be sure to check there next Friday for another great roundup.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Basler Brunsli, A Swiss Holiday Cookie That's Naturally Gluten-Free

I have been happily getting started on our holiday baking traditions. My late mother-in-law was the Provider of Chex Mix to all the family members and I am filling in with my gluten-free version (I add more kinds of salted nuts, gluten-free pretzels and more spicy seasonings and replace the chow mein noodles and broken bagel chips she preferred). Those are baked, packaged and several containers are secretly stashed where I will hopefully find them again during Christmas week.

The cookie baking is also gearing up with a couple of batches of brownies stashed in the freezer and the remnants of a test batch of a cool new holiday cookie from Switzerland, Basler Brunsli. I spied this naturally gluten-free recipe in my vintage cookbook "Woman's Day Gifts From Your Kitchen" (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1976), and after experimenting with it, I am smitten with this aromatic, chewy cookie.

The cookie calls for ground almonds. I stocked up on whole almonds from the bulk bin of my grocery store ($7.00 per pound) and then ground them up in my blender. The cookie also called for kirsch, also known as kirschwasser, which is a cherry liqueur. My local liquor store had a small, dust-covered bottle. I suppose the rise of cherry-flavored cough syrup and other cold remedies has diluted the popularity of this particular alcohol. It does have a strong cherry scent and flavor, but it is perfect for offsetting the chocolate and clove elements of this wonderful cookie.

I had to wrestle with the dough a bit. The cookbook recipe calls for one to roll out the dough on a board lightly sprinkled with sugar and then cut out the cookies in the traditional rosette shape. However, the raw cookie dough was so moist that it slowly sloshed around my mixing bowl and I couldn't see handling it even between waxed or parchment paper. I tried freezing the dough, but the kirsch kept the dough from freezing or firming up, so in the end I just pinched off bits with a metal spoon and plopped them onto parchment-lined baking sheets. They spread to a 1-1/2 inch diameter when baked.

The spiciness of the ground cloves and cherry and chocolate flavors is perfectly balanced and they are exquisite with a cup of hot tea. I think they are more of cookie for an adult palate, being not too sweet or gooey or eye-catching. The texture is wonderful too. They are crisp, yet chewy and are not brittle, so they will make good candidates for holiday gift packages.

Here then is my version of Basler Brunsli, my new found holiday favorite confection:

Basler Brunsli

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup grated unsweetened chocolate (one square of baking chocolate, grated on a cheese grater)
2 Tbsp. kirsch
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves

2 egg whites

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, except for egg whites. Do not give in to the temptation to add more cloves than a level 1/4 tsp. as this flavoring will already be a dominant note in the finished product. And this advice comes from a baker who likes a lot of spice.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs whites until almost stiff. Fold in almond-chocolate mixture and mix thoroughly, yet gently. Divide dough in half and maneuver each half into a log. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place teaspoonfuls of cookie dough onto two parchment-lined baking sheets. Try to maneuver dough into a round shape. Each cookie should be separated by at least an inch or two from its cookie neighbor as these will spread while baking.

Bake 12-15 minutes, or until cookie tops are no longer shiny.

Let cool on baking sheets for five minutes before gently removing them from the parchment with a slender spatula onto baking racks.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

I'll be linking this post up with Maggie of She Let Them Eat Cake and her 12 Days of Gluten-Free Christmas Cookies event on December 12. Check back with Maggie then to see all the other GF sweets others have cooked up this holiday season. But do try these Basler Brunsli cookies if you enjoy a spicy, chewy cookie, even if it is rather plain-looking next to some of its showier, wonderfully decorated neighbors on the holiday cookie plate this season.

You might also enjoy trying some other of my cookie recipes:

Rudolph's Noses

Almond Cloud Cookies

Flourless Fudge Brownies

Elegant Sesame-Ginger Cookies

Fig Newtons

Mexican Cinnamon Cookies (Polvorones de Canela)

Ginger-Nut Lace Cookies

Mocha-Pepper Sandwich Cookies

Lemon Bars

Peanut Butter Kisses

Apricot-Ginger Shortbread

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Presto Pasta Nights #193 Happening Here This Week

Hey Kids! This week it's my turn to host Presto Pasta Nights, the weekly blog event that gives center stage to the humble noodle, in all its glorious incarnations. Presto Pasta Nights was hatched over at Ruth's blog, Once Upon a Feast, and she graciously offers other food bloggers the chance to carbo load as guest hosts for this fun event. (Do let Ruth know if you would like an opportunity to do so in the future).

To join in the fun, all you need to do is blog about a recipe that involves some kind of pasta, link back to Presto Pasta Nights and The Crispy Cook, and then send me an email by Thursday, December 9, midnight Eastern Standard Time (info (at) oldsaratogabooks (dot) com to let me know that your post is up. Add a cc to Ruth (at) 4everykitchen (dot) com and include a photo attachment so I know which shot you'd like me to feature in my roundup post this Friday, December 10.

For my entry to Presto Pasta Nights, I wanted to try a recipe I had bookmarked earlier on The Food Network site, created by Guy Fieri, Paccheri Pasta with Cauliflower and Spinach. It seems that whenever I go to my neighborhood gym to work off some of my cooking, the televisions over the elliptical machines and stationery bikes are always stuck on The Food Network and Guy's smiling face. I'm already sweating and then I start drooling, so I have to keep a full water bottle at the ready to keep hydrated.

Anyway, I wanted to make use of the beautiful cauliflowers that are appearing in the produce aisle this time of year, so I gathered up a lovely white chouxfleur and set to work. The paccheri pasta refers to large tubes, but we made do with gluten-free corn rigatoni. This sauce was easy to prepare and had so many layers of flavor from loads of sliced and minced garlic, fresh Italian parsley, capers, red pepper flakes and fresh grated Romano cheese. A hearty vegetarian pasta dish indeed and the al dente cauliflower florets make a nice counterpoint to the softer noodles.

I have already gotten some intriguing and tasty Presto Pasta Nights entries already and am looking forward to YOUR noodly submissions to our weekly pasta party!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Weekend Herb Blogging #262 Roundup

Welcome to the Weekend Herb Blogging #262 Roundup! WHB is the weekly blog event run by Haalo of Cook Almost Anything and which celebrates the variety of edible plant ingredients. I had the honor of hosting this event this past week and as usual, am delighted by the new information and recipes I have collected.

Here's what bloggers from around the world sent in for our visual feast:

Megha from India made a Not So Traditional Tomato and Onion Chutney for us to enjoy on her blog Live to eat!!! She paired this spicy condiment with some raw papaya parathas. Spicy and good!

Our wonderful WHB Doyenne, Haalo, from the Melbourne, Australia-based blog Cook Almost Anything, gets ready for the holidays with a Stem Ginger Cake. I wasn't familiar with stem ginger, but they are pieces of baby ginger cooked in a sugar syrup and Haalo says they add a luscious heat to this moist, Christmasy cake.

Italian blogger Cindystar sends over another elegant holiday recipe: Insalata di faraona con castagne ed uva, or Guineafowl Salad with Chestnuts and Grapes. This would be the perfect way to use seasonal ingredients in a lighter dish to offset the richness of other holiday feasting.

Yasmeen from the Ohio-based blog Health Nut sends a recipe for Roasted Pumpkin Farro Stuffed Pablanos. Gluten-free cooks may want to sub in quinoa or rice for the farro, but either way, these appetizers look mighty delicious!

We get not one, but two delightful recipes for WHB from Indian blogger Priya from her site Bon Appetit. She shares a recipe for Dal Tadka and Parwal Fry. Parwals are a pointed gourd that are vine plants similar to cucumbers or squash. They look mouthwatering!

Here at The Crispy Cook, I tried cooking with poha for my entry to WHB. Poha is a flattened or beaten rice product that is soaked, drained and then cooked up quickly in many Indian dishes. My whole family really liked the Poha dish I cooked up with sliced potatoes, curry leaves, peanuts and spices. I also learned that poha can be used as a breading for fried foods, so may try that soon.

Brii is a resident of beautiful Lake Garda, Italy, and shares many spectacular photographs of the countryside on her blog, Briiblog in English. This week she offers us historical background about and a recipe for Christmas Stollen. Brii is also offering Italian readers a spot to read WHB posts in Italian on another of her blogs, Briggis Recept Och Ideer.

Thanks to all the bloggers who sent in their wonderful posts and thanks to Haalo for giving me this hosting opportunity. Next week Weekend Herb Blogging moves to China and will be hosted by Huan at Eat.Read.Live, so be sure to check out the roundup next week for more wonderful recipes.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Turning up the HEAT to Cook the Books

Time to Cook the Books again, dear readers. No, it's not tax time, but time to post about the latest book selection from the greatest online foodie book club, Cook the Books, which I and two dear blogger friends started up two years ago. Johanna of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food and Deb of Kahakai Kitchen and I take turns hosting each bimonthly round of Cook the Books, and this time it is the lovely Johanna who is leading our discussion of Bill Buford's book "Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany" (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006).

This is a very entertaining memoir by Buford, a founding editor of Granta and writer/editor for The New Yorker, who left the literary life to pursue his passion for the culinary arts. Buford signs on to work as a grunt with Mario Batali at his three-star restaurant Babbo and so we get a backstage pass to the testosterone-fueled, invective-filled world of a high-profile New York City restaurant kitchen. Much of the book focuses on the Mario Batali back story, but I was actually more intrigued by two others who lie within the Rabelaisian orbit of Planet Mario, Joe Bastianich and Marco Pierre White.

Joe is the laconic scion of the Bastianich restaurant empire and Batali's business partner. He knows food and wine and how to keep the finances afloat in the Batali restaurant galaxy. He does not wax poetic about the glamour of restaurant life, having had to clean out the grease traps, pull bay leaves out of choking throats and sweep up piles of post-exterminator insect detritus in the family restaurant.

Marco Pierre White is an even more outrageous, larger-than-life character than Batali, who endured a four-month stint as White's kitchen slave in London before quitting in a fit of pique. White is so very foul-mouthed, so mean, so physically intimidating, as described by Buford, that even when the two meet, over a frightfully proper traditional roast grouse meal at White's newest restaurant acquisition, he works himself into an increasingly cold fury ruminating on every bit of the dish that is overdone or incorrectly prepared. There are croutons that are insufficiently darkened, a sauce that is too intense, butter that is not foamy enough, and an overabundance of parsley garnish. Each rant is punctuated by his dining partner's name, so that the reader feels the tension ratchet up with each seemingly polite, yet darkly ominous, phrase from White's lips:

"It's not right, is it, Bill?"

"It is made with a veal stock reduction, isn't it, Bill?"

"The bread crumbs, they're disappointing, aren't they, Bill?

"The butter sauce, ...I mean, really...One clove, [of garlic] do you understand me, Bill?"

"We're here to eat a f*$&@#ing bird, are we not, Bill?"

You get the point.

The other passage from Buford's book that really stuck with me was his description of how the Food Network packages its food celebrities (called "talents" or "brands") and their shows. They are less reliant on the quality of the cooking information so much as the sensual, lip-smacking, groaning-while-chewing presentation skills of the talent. Buford describes it further:

"The skin-flick feel was reinforced by a range of heightened effects, especially amplified sounds of frying, snapping, crunching, chewing, swallowing...The "talent" (also known as a "crossover" personality, usually a woman with a big smile and no apron) was directed to be easy with her tongue and use it conspicuously--to taste food on a spoon, say, or work it around a batter-coated beater, or clean the lips with it". (p. 143)

Seems like Julia Child wouldn't cut it these days with her data-laden French Chef episodes. But I still like to watch her chirpy reruns, which I guess makes me hopelessly old-fashioned.

It was hard to decide on a dish I wanted to prepare in honor of this book as there was a parade of cooks described in its pages. Ultimately I decided to try a recipe by Le Grand Orange, Mario Batali. I waded through a thicket of his online recipes without being inspired. So many of them consist of meaty meat plugged with other bits of meat, wrapped in layers of yet more flesh. I do see that he is planning a new book focusing on vegetables, so that should be interesting to pore over.

Ultimately, I ended up making a very elegant Batali appetizer (though we ate it for dinner, at least the gourmet type adults did), Goat Cheese Truffles with Peperonata. Now I can see that he has a dab hand at vegetarian fare and so he is back in my good graces.

To make this wonderful dish, you take some arugula, blanch it for 10 SECONDS, whereupon it wilts into submission, like spinach and becomes a whole new vegetable with a delicate texture and taste. Magical!

You then toss your blanched arugula with a lemony dressing, put a little mound on a plate, top it with red pepper strips slow-cooked with sherry vinegar, and then top these with goat cheese "truffles" rolled in paprika, crushed fennel seed (Mario says fennel pollen) and poppy seed. It was spectacularly good and changed my mind about arugula. I have only used it fresh in salads, but the blanching technique made me fall in love with this salad green which is actually still hanging out in the lettuce patch outside the Crispy Casita. Will definitely plant more arugula next Spring.

I would only change things up by making smaller, more bite-sized goat cheese truffles next time. Wouldn't this make a spectacular salad or first course menu item for an elegant Christmas dinner with the play of red and green?

Please join us after the December 3 deadline for this round of Cook the Books to see all the thoughtful and tantalizing entries. Anyone is welcome to join in our book club. There's no entry requirements other than reading our selected foodcentric book and then blogging up a post about the book and a dish that you have cooked up which is inspired by your reading. A guest judge reviews the roundup of posts and then picks a winner who receives a fabulous Cook the Books trophy badge to adorn his or her blog.

Our December/January Cook the Books selection will be Victoria Riccardi's "Untangling My Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto" and I will be hosting the book discussion and roundup with Ms. Riccardi herself serving as our guest judge. Please join us!

Monday, November 29, 2010

WHB Hosting and the Gluten Free Food Find of the Week: Poha

When groceries are so inexpensive at the Asian markets in Albany, I feel free to grab packets and bottles and cans of interesting-looking new edibles and fling them in my cart without remorse. We've discovered so many great naturally gluten-free new foods (one must still read labels diligently though) including new varieties of rice, a world of gluten-free noodles from all kinds of culinary traditions, and wildly exotic spices and sauces.

One of my new favorite discoveries is poha (also spelled pohe), a Western Indian comfort food. Poha is a quick cooking product made of pounded or flattened rice that is available in either thick or thin varieties. I bought a package of thick poha for $1.89 at the Indian Bazaar on Central Avenue in Albany that contained 4 cups of poha, enough for two separate dinners for our family of four.

According to my blogger colleague TongueTicklers, poha is one of the first solid foods that children smack their gums upon. She also notes that a dish of poha is a favorite breakfast or snack food and gets packed in many a lunchtime tiffin, whether it is cooked up savory or sweet. Since I have more of a salt tooth, I went savory for my poha test drives.

First I cooked up TongueTicklers' recipe for Kaanda Pohe, which pairs poha with sliced potatoes, which sounds like altogether too much starch, but which blends together beautifully. I added some (well, a lot) curry leaves that I sauteed with the spices and this was an aromatic and belly-filling dinner indeed. You soak your poha in water for a short while and then drain it in a colander. It absorbs the liquid and becomes sort of spongy, rather like a rolled oat, with a delightfully chewy texture.

I also tried poha again a week later without the peanuts, topped with the chopped up last blast of cilantro from the garden. Another winner.

Scheduled next on the Crispy Cook poha experiment trials will be this recipe for Mane Adige's recipe for Gojjavalakki, in which you whir your poha around in the blender or food processor and cook it up with tamarind, rasam powder and other spices. Sounds divine. But gotta trek back down to the Big City to buy more poha!

I am going to include this poha post in this week's edition of Weekend Herb Blogging, which is now in its fifth year, making it one of the Grand Old Dames of food blogging events. Weekend Herb Blogging started over at Kalyn's Kitchen and is now run by Haalo of Cook Almost Anything. The weekly event includes posts about edible plant ingredients, whether they be fruits, vegetables, seeds, grains, legumes, herbs, or flowers. I always find out about new ingredients and new ways to prepare old favorites with this event.

As the guest host of Weekend Herb Blogging #262, I would love to showcase your blog post, which may contain a recipe or information about growing or using a plant ingredient, to include in my recap after this week's deadline of Sunday, December 5, midnight Eastern Standard Time. WHB submissions must include a link back to The Crispy Cook and to Haalo's WHB rules link. WHB submissions must also be specifically written for this blog event and not cross-posted to other blog events.

In your email submission (to oldsaratogabooks AT gmaildot coM) please include the following information:

* Your Name
* Your Blog Name/URL
* Your Post URL
* Your Location
* Attach a photo (please check the details below for specific photo requirements)

Looking forward to seeing what you and other great cooks from around the world will be submitting!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gluten Free Treats at Nova Mae Cafe in Bennington, VT

There's a wonderful cafe full of gluten-free treats in downtown Bennington, Vermont. Nova Mae Cafe, located at 512 Main Street, is named after owner Kim Post's young daughter, and is a delightful way to refuel when you are visiting this vibrant college town. You can get soups, salads and sandwiches (I forgot to ask if they carry GF bread), coffee, tea and....

a whole shelf full of gluten-free baked goods in their bakery case. I saw scones, pumpkin pie, brownies and two cute little iced apple breads that I snapped up for Dan. What a score!

Kim is the effervescent owner/baker/chef at the Nova Mae Cafe, helped by her adorable mom when I was there. Next door to the cafe at 514 she also runs Junque, which is one of the coolest shops for funky home furnishings, vintage linens, artsy cards, handcrafted clothing and other kinds of gifts. I have found some great items for our home and to adorn the shelves of our used bookstore at Junque over the past several years, including some heavy chicken bookends, a vintage avocado colored tablecloth to match my Crispy Kitchen, hand embroidered napkins and table runners and fun cards.

For hours and more information about Nova Mae Cafe you can call them at (802) 447-9490. See you there!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Growing and Eating a Gaudy Purple Cauliflower

While not the most prolific vegetable in my upstate New York garden, the cauliflower is so delightfully odd-looking and so terribly toothsome, that I always like to buy a six-pack of seedlings each spring to intersperse among my plants.

This year my local farmer offered the Graffiti purple cauliflower variety so I snapped some up and coddled them throughout my growing season. Only two of my six Graffitis formed heads. Here's the first one in all its glory, nestled among my autumnal asparagus stalks.

The color of this cauliflower is a deep magenta and the florets are spectacular on a raw vegetable platter. I tried cooking up half of my first Graffiti to see how it would change color when cooked, and it was a weird shade of blue (it's the plate on the right in the photo below), so I'm just going to keep the second cauliflower (still out in my patch, a very cold hardy plant) for my crudite plate.

I'm sending this post about the purple cauliflower I grew to Weekend Herb Blogging, now in its fifth year. This weekly blog event celebrates the edible members of the Vegetable Kingdom and was started by Kalyn's Kitchen. Now headquartered by Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once, this informative and always tasty roundup always surprises me with exotic plant ingredients I never heard of before or with new ways of preparing more common vegetables. I am delighted that I will once again serve as guest host for this Weekend Herb Blogging next week, so I will dig out some more vegetable favorites to blog about.

This week's WHB roundup will be hosted by Anh, of A Food Lover's Journey. Anh is a Vietnamese ex-patriate living in Melbourne, Australia, and she presents many Southeast Asian recipes and new culinary delights on her beautifully-photographed blog. I have bookmarked her latest post involving a recipe for Gluten-Free Mango Clafouti that looks delicious! Stop by Anh's blog after the Sunday deadline for WHB #261 to see all the great entries.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Countdown to our Gluten-Free Thanksgiving 2010

Preparing a gluten-free Thanksgiving feast takes a bit of planning and reconnaissance in the kitchen, but adding in other dietary considerations (some of my family members are vegetarians) adds another layer of thinking about recipes.

Since receiving the celiac diagnosis five years ago, I've been planning and cooking meals that are mostly gluten-free and mostly pescatarian or vegetarian, including our family's Thanksgiving meal, but this year I'm making things easier on myself by making it all gluten-free.

Not that I'm telling my holiday family and guests, mind you.

I will let the vegetarians know that aside from a roast turkey and accompanying gravy, they are free to roam the Thanksgiving table without fear of ingesting meat. And I will whisper in my husband's ear that he may do the same without being glutened. My Thanksgiving gift to him. And not incidentally, to me, as the Chief and Crispiest of Cooks.

I still plan a lavish spread (because I love to cook, I love to eat, I love to have leftovers during a busy retail season at our bookstore, because I have teenagers) but I will not be making gluten-free AND Gluteny kinds of stuffings, two kinds of desserts, etc. etc. as I have in the past. I think I have just gotten to a different mindset about cooking in my kitchen as we have tried to transition from our previous cooking/eating ways to a gluten-free lifestyle.

Whereas right after the G-bomb hit with my husband's diagnosis I was overwhelmed with the enormity of having to retool the kitchen, rethink my repertoire of recipes and cooking methods, and relearn how to bake (fuhgeddaboutit!), I am now more at ease with shopping and cooking gluten-free than not. Weird.

I'm certainly planning to be less mentally CRISPY a cook when I am putting the finishing touches on my Thanksgiving spread and calling everyone to the table. If anyone asks about whether things are gluten-free before the feasting is over, I plan to get a distracted look and hurry off to say "I forgot to put out the salt and pepper", or "I forgot to turn off the stove". I will only let slip that the entire deliciousness is gluten-free after the fact, when they are lulled into a post-prandial daze.

At least, that's my devious plan. Keep your fingers crossed for me on my secretive gluten-free guerrilla assault on my otherwise GF-wary diners.

Here's my game plan for a totally Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Feast:


Magical Muhammara (a fantastic Middle Eastern dip courtesy of author Diana Abu-Jaber, I sub in GF bread crumbs)
Grandma's Stuffed Celery
Cream Cheese Glazed with Garlic-Rosemary Jelly (recipe to follow in another post this week)
GF Crackers (Sesame-Rosemary Crackers if I'm extra-ambitious, but more likely a couple of packages of store-bought Nut Thins)

Main Event:

Roast Turkey with Pan Gravy (for the omnivores)
Roast Portabellas with Rice Stuffing and Mushroom Gravy (for the vegetarians)

Mashed Potatoes
Copper Pennies Salad
Sweet Potato Pudding
Cole Slaw
Green Bean Casserole with Crunchy Fried Onions (courtesy of Jill of Hey, That Tastes Good!)
Apple Chutney (with dried cranberries thrown in to macerate for a couple of days)
Cornbread Dressing
Brussels Sprouts with Lemon Balm Vinaigrette
Relish Tray (olives, carrot sticks and Dilly Beans)
GF Parker House Rolls (courtesy of Art of Gluten-Free Baking)

Sweet Finale:

Apple Sour Cream Pie
Impossible Vegan Pumpkin Pie (courtesy of the Fat Free Vegan)
Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

My daughter and I made a batch of these Chocolate Dipped Strawberries during the summer, to serve as an elegant ending for our wedding anniversary dinner and I was amazed at how ridiculously easy they were. They look so beautiful that I had always assumed they were difficult to assemble, but after perusing some cookbooks and Internet recipes I came up with this breezy way to make these simple little show stoppers.

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

1 lb. fresh strawberries, hulls left on, rinsed and patted dry

1 (8 oz.) pkg. gluten-free milk chocolate chips

1-2 Tbsp. vegetable shortening

Melt chocolate chips in double boiler over low heat. Stir often. When chips are fully melted, add in shortening as needed to achieve a runny, liquid texture.

Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper.

Holding strawberries by hulls, dip in melted chocolate to coat on all sides except hull. Place gently on waxed paper to cool.

That's it! Chill when cooled. You can also get fancier with these dessert treats by swirling on lines of melted white chocolate or dipping their little bottoms in crushed nuts while they are still warm.

I'm sending this Thanksgiving 2010 post over to Shirley at Gluten-Free Easily, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in person recently. She is a lovely, supersmart lady who shares her gluten-free recipes, entertaining ideas, health information and so much more on her wonderful blog. Shirley's hosting week 2 of a Gluten-Free Holiday series sponsored by Amy of Simply Sugar and Gluten Free and Shirley's theme this week is Thanksgiving Favorites.

Hop on over to Gluten-Free Easily to see what other bloggers are planning for their Turkey Day. I just visited and see that my tentative feast menu may be subject to change based on some droolworthy options over there. You can also leave comments there to enter to win some wonderful cookbooks.