Sunday, January 31, 2010

From Wolfberries to Gigantes Beans: Weekend Herb Blogging #218 Roundup

I was delighted to once again be the guest host for Weekend Herb Blogging, a weekly exploration of recipes and informative posts about edible plant ingredients that is hosted by Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once. This week we have a wide-ranging buffet of wonderful recipes from cooks from seven different countries; some showcasing popular fruits and vegetables in new and exciting ways, and some featuring plant ingredients that seem exotic indeed.

Let's start out in Singapore with Cheng Huann of Eat.Read.Live who fills us in on Chinese wolfberries. His recipe calls for rehydrated berries to be sauteed with garlic and nai bai, a variety of baby bok choy.

Remaking a favorite salad, Winnie from the Healthy Green Kitchen in New Paltz, New York pairs blanched broccoli with zinc-rich pumpkin seeds and dried cherries for a zingy new recipe.

Broccoli is also the featured vegetable for Jessica in her Massachusetts-based Fearless Kitchen. She contributes Ginger Lemon Broccoli to our WHB smorgasbord which sounds like a wonderful combination of flavors.

Graziana is harvesting a bounty of beautiful chili peppers in Italy over at the Erbe in Cucina. She used some almost black-colored ripe Pasilla Chiles in her Nachos with Beans and Chili recipe.

Here at The Crispy Cook in upstate New York I tramped out to my snowy kale bed and harvested some leaves for a spicy, hearty batch of Mrs. Lewis' Kale Soup, an heirloom recipe from the Azores.

Marija of the gorgeously photographed Serbian food blog Palachinka serves up a medley of oven-fried root vegetables, including parsley root, potatoes, carrots, beets and celery root.

Susan, The Well-Seasoned Cook of New York City offers us a treasured family recipe for Jewish Apple Cake with wonderful written and photographic accompaniment. Susan also hosts a popular monthly blog event, My Legume Love Affair, which celebrates the variety of legumes, from peas to peanuts, which you may want to explore. I am happy to note that I will be the February 2010 host for MLLA, so I am hoping to learn even more about the oh so tasty Vegetable Kingdom in the coming weeks.

It is late summer in Melbourne, Australia, where Johanna of the Green Gourmet Giraffe has made a pretty batch of Tomato and Peach Relish.

Also in Melbourne, Australia, our awesome WHB Headquarters Hostess Haalo, of Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once lives up to her blog's title by test driving some gorgeous and huge (check out the photos of variously sized beans on her blog post for comparison) Gigantes Beans.

Saveur blogs over at the Toronto, Canada blog Taste Space and introduces us to Baked Asian Eggplants with Miso, the "yummiest eggplant ever". Bookmarked that post for next summer's eggplant harvest!

The House of Annie recently relocated to Sarawak, Malaysia and bloggers Nathan and Annie have been reporting on all kinds of wonderful recipes using local produce. This week's contribution to WHB is an exploration of colorful bell peppers in the dish Black Bean Chicken and Bell Peppers.

From the shores of Lake Garda, Italy, Cindystar sends us a velvety bowl of Zucchini Cream Soup topped with apples browned in butter. Cindystar's wonderful blog is written in both English and Italian, and her soup sounds even more succulent in its native tongue, "Vellutata di zucchine".

Bri of Briiblog in English, Cindystar's "neighbor" in Lake Garda, tempts us with a vegan recipe for Chocolate and Coconut Muffins. Bri also takes us on a foodie field trip to some ethnic food markets in Trento with some food blogger buddies, so be sure to read her exuberantly written post.

Finally, we have a sampling of Chenna al Timo (Thyme-Flavored Chenna), an Indian cheese dessert that Simona of Briciole prepared for us in her northern California kitchen. Simona's been on a cheesemaking jag of late and this herbal-infused Chenna sounds tempting. Briciole will be hosting next week's edition of Weekend Herb Blogging, so be sure to stop by to see what's cooking and being harvested in everyone's WHB posts.

Thank you again to Haalo for the opportunity to host Weekend Herb Blogging. I have such fun indulging in my passion for cooking, gardening and learning about new edibles and cuisines with this event. I hope you all enjoyed our virtual buffet as much as I did. And now after this fabulous spread, I am off to get into my virtual sweatpants with the forgiving waistline....

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cupcakes and Green Chiles

If you are a food blogger and you haven't yet joined the Leftover Queen's Foodie Blogroll you are missing out on a whole lot of foodie fun. In addition to connecting with great cooks from all over the world, our Queen puts together numerous contests for various edible and kitchen-related gifts. I was the lucky winner of a weekly drawing for a fabulous and very flattering Black Cherry apron from Cupcake Provocateurs recently, as well as a wonderfully-packaged "Cupcakes in a Jar" mix. The Cupcakes in a Jar are not gluten-free, though my wheaty daughters and their friends enjoyed them very much, but Chief Cupcake Cynthia told me that she is working on developing gluten-free and dairy-free versions of her wonderful cupcake mixes, so we all have that to look forward to. Thank you Cynthia and thank you Leftover Queen for my delightful food prize.

And now for a chance to pay it forward with the contest karma. I am a participant in My Blog Spark (see the badge on the right hand side of The Crispy Cook below), in which the Betty Crocker company offers me the chance to try out new products and offer prize packages to my loyal readership. Previously I've been able to share the new BC gluten-free cake and cookie mixes and Fruit Snacks with you and this time the prize pack is a mite spicier!

It's all about the Green Chiles. First, there is a link to get a coupon for El Paso canned green chiles here. There is usually a can of these mildly spicy babies in my pantry and they are great for stirring into cheesy casseroles, dips, and homemade salsa when the garden is pumping out tomatoes in the summer. Second, I can offer one of my readers the "El Paso Tackle the Taste" gift pack that I just received. It contains two cans of green chiles, a ceramic football-shaped chip and dip dish, and some football-themed napkins, plates and a table runner. I'm bringing my prize pack over to a friend's house for the Superbowl Game (Go Saints!) with a green chile-infused offering and am offering one of you the chance to win this prize package too. Just leave a comment below and I'll randomly pick a winner from the entries after February 15, 2009. This contest is limited U.S. readers only, however.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Spicy Kale Soup Recipe from a Centenarian Azorean

A bookseller colleague sent me an heirloom recipe many moons ago when we were chatting about our mutual love of cooking. She has a neighbor, a certain Mrs. Lewis, a native of the Azores, who was 102 years old and still cooking up wonderful things in her kitchen at the time my buddy sent on her recipe for Kale Soup. I like to think Mrs. Lewis is now 103 and still stirring up pots of this wonderful soup, which is a traditional favorite in Portugal and the Azores, an Atlantic chain of islands 900 miles west of Lisbon and a Portuguese Autonomous Region.

My hardy kale plants soldier on in the Crispy garden even under the snow and after enduring several bouts of freezing and thawing along the temperature scale. Kale is a super vegetable in terms of nutrition too. Kale is high in many great vitamins and nutrients, including betacarotene, Vitamins C and K, lutein and calcium, and it makes a hearty soup for these chilly days of deep winter in upstate New York.

I am reproducing this treasure of a recipe below verbatim, (**funny typos and all, you'll see) and will just note that in deference to my Crispy spouse, Dan, who eschews meat, I substituted 1 (12 oz.) package of Melissa's meatless soy chorizo, removed from its inedible casing, for the linguica sausage called for by Mrs. Lewis.

Mrs. Lewis' Kale Soup

4-6 cups water (depends on how many you're severing**)
1/2 cup chopped up onion
1 clove garlic
1 potato small
1/2 cup thin slice linguica
2 cups kale chopped
Salt to taste

Bring water, onion, garlic, salt and linguica to boil. Add greens and potato, cook until tender. Serve with bread. If you don't have linguica you can use salt pork and if you don't have meat use red beans.

This hearty recipe is my contribution to this week's edition of Weekend Herb Blogging. Weekend Herb Blogging is a weekly event that was started by Kalyn's Kitchen and has been organized by Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once for the last year or so.

I am happy to report that I the host of WHB #218 this week and will be happy to accept recipes featuring plant ingredients (herbs, vegetables, fruits, seeds, stems, flowers, etc.) until Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010. Entries must be submitted by:

* 5 pm Sunday - New York City Time (EST)
* 3pm Sunday - Utah Time
* 10pm Sunday - London Time
* 11pm Sunday - Rome Time
* 9am Monday - Melbourne (Aus) DS Time.

Your post can be informative, spotlight a particular ingredient and/or include a recipe where your chosen ingredient is one of the primary ingredients in the recipe. WHB posts must be written specifically for this blog event and may not be cross-posted in other events.

If you have a great veggie recipe to share this week, please send your posts to oldsaratogabooks AT gmail DOT com with WHB#218 in the subject line and the following details:

Your name Your Blog/URL
Your Post URL
Your Location
Attach a Photo: 250px wide

Looking forward to seeing what's cookin' in your kitchen this week. I've already had several cool WHB submissions and can't wait for more to include in the roundup.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Turkey Post Without a Bird

Anik See's evocative collection of travel essays, "A Taste for Adventure: A Culinary Odyssey Around the World" is the present selection for the Cook the Books Club, the bimonthly online book club where participating foodies read, review and cook from the featured book. I am the current hostess for this round centered on See's wonderful book, and was delighted to recommend the book to others.

"A Taste for Adventure" is lyrically written about the author's slow bicycle journeys through a number of exotic destinations in Asia, South America and the Middle East. Often See was alone, but on several of her sojourns she was accompanied by her boyfriend Doug, and in most every destination, she and he were welcomed to feasts, personalized tours, loaded down with local delicacies and pulled into kitchens and bedrooms for respite.

I enjoyed reading and then rereading the many bookmarked passages in See's book as her writing so vividly gave me a chance to tour remote corners of Patagonia, Georgia, Armenia, Malaysia, Iran and Argentina and several other delicious-sounding, breathtaking countries. She has a gift for making this Western-centric reader appreciate the shift when arriving in a foreign land and making sense of things. Here's her arresting, philosophical take on Thailand:

"Southeast Asia has a way of redefining things. The common misconception is that it makes you appreciate the "privilege" of being born into a western country and its potential for affluence. In fact, what Southeast Asia does is reveal the excesses of the West, of how we westerners have lost sight of the importance of simpler things in the quest for money and "meaningful" careers (as opposed to a meaningful existence), the need for a house or two or three, a car or two or three, and material possessions. Southeast Asia has a way of forcing you to define what is absolutely necessary for your survival and uncover the happiness that lies within a possessionless existence" (pp. 50-51 in my softcover copy).

The challenge for my Cook the Books post ended up trying to narrow down the particular geographic locale that I would research further. I was partial to See's description of Georgia, and the "fierce pride", contradictions of romanticism and economic desperation, high spirits, romance and chivalry and chauvinism all entwined. See was wisely accompanied by Doug on this route, which begins as they wheel their bikes out of the customs checkpoint and are embraced, kissed and laden with apples, jam and vodka by a complete stranger. At every Georgian pitstop the pair are forcefully bestowed with eggplants, exuberant greetings, more vodka, joyful, hours-long impromptu feasts, tearful departures, homemade wine, watermelons, and many, many more glasses of homemade wine.

Ultimately, I decided to dip an exploratory cooking spoon into the cuisine of Turkey, described so tantalizingly in See's book as "multidimensional, coy and luring, steamy, seductive, like nothing I have ever tasted and certainly like nothing I had ever expected" (p 96). I found some excellent introductions to Turkish cuisine at this website and then visited quite a while over at Binnur's Turkish Cookbook, where I decided to try my hand at Guvecte Mantarli Pilav, a toothsome mushroom and rice pilaf topped with a snowy cap of cooked grated potato and egg yolks. The two starches might seem a bit much combined together, but this made a great main dish supper for our family, who tucked into it before I was able to snap the requisite food porn photo. Darn!

This was a great recipe, thank you Binnur! I made it with sliced baby portabella mushrooms and it was hearty and homey on a cold January evening. Even my dill-phobic daughters scarfed it up with gusto and I would recommend it to anyone interested in an introductory recipe to help explore Turkish cooking. It was an accessible-sounding casserole, sort of a riff on vegetarian shepherd's pie, but the spice and flavor combinations were just different enough to make it an exotic dish for our table.

Be sure to check back in at Cook the Books after our January 22 deadline to see the roundup of blog posts, book reviews and book-inspired recipes for our "Taste of Adventure". Until then...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fennel Two Ways: Fresh and Baked

The best recipes are often the simplest, and cooking with fennel seems to bear this out. The sweetness and delicate anise flavor of fresh fennel is a welcome note in our summer salads. We also enjoy simple salads of thinly sliced fennel dressed with a squeeze of lemon, a splash of olive oil and some salt and pepper (and don't forget to decorate with some snipped fennel fronds!)

I had great luck with my fennel crop this summer after hiding them from ravaging bunnies and voles amidst some spiky pumpkin vines and we enjoyed many delicious fennel salads. After perusing my winter seed catalogs and looking longingly at the fennel page, I recently splurged on some supermarket fennel and tried baking them, similarly dressed, in the oven. They were fantastic! Baked fennel is a meltingly luscious side dish. The anise flavor mellows and a richer roasted taste comes forth when the fennel is cooked, and it makes a wonderful accompaniment to grilled fish.

Fennel Going in the Oven

Simple but Sensational Baked Fennel

2 large bulbs of fennel
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Trim fronds and pithy stalks from fennel. Trim off bottom end. Chop into quarters. Toss with olive oil to coat. Add garlic and toss again to coat. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with Parmesan.

Place in casserole dish and cover with foil.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes to let edges get CRISPY and browned.

Serves 4.

Fennel Coming Out of the Oven

I am sharing this recipe with Maninas: Food Matters, who is this week's host for Weekend Herb Blogging. Now in its 216th week (impressive!)this foodie blogging event started by Kalyn's Kitchen and now headquartered by Haalo at Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once celebrates the fruits, herbs and vegetables that grace good cooks' tables all over the world.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Zippy Black-Eyed Pea and Pasta Salad

Cooking up a pot of black-eyed peas is one of our New Year's traditions. The peas represent the promise of money to be had in the coming year, especially if accompanied by some greens. There's actually still produce hanging out in the snow-capped Crispy garden, some hardy kale plants, which are extremely tender now after many freezings and thawings, so we have still been enjoying our greens, mostly roasted and stir-fried with garlic.

I always have bags and jars of dried beans around the kitchen, but I will confess to hoarding and viewing them more often than putting them to use. Those strumpet cans of already-cooked beans have a more alluring siren song at the dinner-making hour, its' true. However, when I have the leisure of planning meals rather than flinging food at my busy, hungry teenagers, I do like to soak my own and cook up those frugal meals, so my aim is to use more of these food budget-extenders in 2010.

On New Year's Eve I made sure to soak some dried black-eyed peas in water overnight and then changed the water and simmered them until they were tender the next day. Some were accompanied with some sauteed kale (bring on those 2010 riches!) and some were left over for another concoction, which turned out to be a tremendously good pasta salad. I got inspiration from this recipe, but wanted to use ingredients which were more readily in my pantry during the winter, so I substituted frozen peppers and tomatoes from our garden, switched around some of the seasonings and came up with a version which even my eldest teen daughter, a notorious avoider of legumes, pronounced delicious.

A Zippy Black-Eyed Pea and Pasta Salad

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped (I used chopped peppers from the freezer)
1 cup diced tomatoes (also came from my freezer stash)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
2 Tbsp. Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp. hot sauce
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and minced (or run through garlic press)
Salt and pepper to taste

4 cups cooked pasta (I used Pasta d'Oro corn elbows, $1.50 per lb. bag at the Ballston Spa Job Lot)
2 cups cooked black-eyed peas
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in frying pan. Add onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add peppers and tomatoes and cook until soft.

Mix 1/4 cup olive oil, lime juice, parsley, hot sauce, and garlic until well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Mix pasta, black-eyed peas and cheese together in serving bowl. Mix in sauteed vegetables. Pour on dressing and toss lightly.

Makes 6 main dish servings. Accompany with breath mints.

I am passing along a bowl of this vibrant tasting and vibrant colored salad over to the 19th Helping of My Legume Love Affair, a monthly food blogger celebration of the glory of legumes. Simple Indian Food is hosting the January round of this beany bonanza, started by Susan, the Well-Seasoned Cook. Aside from learning about various kinds of legumes and tasty ways to prepare them, My Legume Love Affair offers prizes to participants, which this month includes a calendar and a sampler of N.K. Hurst Co. dried beans.

Off to soak some more beans...