Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Little Crispy Housekeeping

A reminder that today is the last day to submit a post for My Legume Love Affair #20, which is the monthly celebration of legume posts and recipes that I am guest hosting for founder Susan the Well-Seasoned Cook. You can find out more details in this previous post here. I have already received a mountain of submissions (we all particularly love chickpeas it seems) and have been getting them ready for a fun roundup tomorrow or the next day.

I also have been organizing a recipe index for the Crispy Cook and have gotten all my previous recipe posts listed by subject. You can find these links on the right hand side of the blog (below the string bean photo for MLLA #20). Please let me know if there are any broken or incorrect links by leaving a comment below.

And I've also been busy updating the list of Gluten-Free Blogs, which I posted yesterday, so that about does it for Spring Cleaning of the blog around these parts.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In Which the Crispy Cook Wonders, What the Heck is a Jicama?

There are many beautiful vegetables and fruits in the world but the jicama is not one of them. This tawny root vegetable (pronounced hick-uh-muh) is a boring brown blob that looks like something you'd whack off a gigantic witch's chin. Or perhaps a cow plop. Unfortunate visual associations aside, however, there is hidden inside the humble jicama a juicy, crunchy flesh that tastes to me like a turnip without the bitterness or a slightly sweet potato without the starch. Refreshing is about the best adjective for this humble tuber and I am delighted to have discovered its delights this past week.

The Cook the Books Club is currently reading Laura Esquivel's bestselling foodie novel "Like Water for Chocolate", and I wanted to explore Mexican cuisine a bit before blogging up my post. My local library had a copy of Diane Kennedy's classic cookbook "The Art of Mexican Cooking", so I had a lovely couple of hours escaping to Mexico's more gentle climate while the snow and wind blew against my windows the other day. I have a number of recipes I am interested in trying out, but first I wanted to experiment with a jicama.

Jicama is the root of a native Mexican vine, Pachyrhizus erosus. The leaves and seeds are poisonous and the seeds even contain rotenone, a common insecticide ingredient, but the tuberous root is entirely edible. It has become a popular vegetable in Southeast Asia and China, going under a variety of other names, and is enjoyed both raw and cooked.

Kennedy's book had two recipes for snacks, or botanas, using jicamas. In the first, sliced jicama is topped with finely chopped onion, lime juice, toasted peanuts, chiles and crumbled queso anejo cheese. The second recipe for a Jicama Pico de Gallo was a recipe from the western Mexican region of Jalisco on the Pacific Ocean and called for a mixture of cubed jicama mixed with oranges and a spicy lime dressing. According to Kennedy, this second recipe is traditionally served with little toothpicks and a side of beer or tequila but I had plans to pair it with a rice, beans and corn tortilla casserole I had popped in the oven for our evening meal. I had to substitute some ingredients around but the result was a very refreshing, citrusy accompaniment to our meal and I offer my adapted recipe from Kennedy's book below:

Jicama and Orange Salad

2 cups jicama, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes (this used 1/2 of a 2 lb. jicama)
1 (11 oz.) can mandarin orange segments in light syrup, drained (juice reserved for fruit salad dressing later in the week)
1/4 cup lime juice (1-1/2 limes)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. paprika
Dash cayenne
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro

Mix lime juice, salt, paprika and cayenne pepper together.

Mix jicama and oranges gently in glass bowl. Pour dressing over and toss gently. Let stand at least 1-2 hours to mingle flavors. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish.

If you are interested in joining our little virtual foodie book club, Cook the Books, please do check out the book. It's a great read and then we all cook up something inspired by our reading by the deadline of March 26, 2010.

In the meantime, I am sending over this jicama post to Weekend Herb Blogging, an weekly blog event about the magical Vegetable Kingdom which is headquartered at Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once and guest hosted this week by Dhanggit's Kitchen.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Japanese New Year's Treat of Pumpkin Mochi

Investigating naturally gluten-free foods is one way of dispensing with the frustrations of a GF diet. In Japan, there is a tradition of making mochi (pronounced mo-chee) during New Year's festivities, with families and neighbors gathering together to pound steamed glutinous rice (glutinous as in sticky, not full of gluten) in special stone mortars to make a mochi dough paste. This mochi dough is then rolled, molded and decorated into little cakes to eat and offer at Buddhist or Shinto altars.

Mochi has become wildly popular in Hawai'i as well, and there are a seemingly infinite ways of blending in various fruits, flavorings and other additions to make a beautiful rainbow of mochi. It is easy to make mochi using a box of sweet rice flour, which I have found locally in natural foods stores and Asian markets marketed as Mochiko by Koda Farms. I first saw mention of mochi when I read Victoria Abbott Riccardi's book "Untangling My Chopsticks: a Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto" and then checked out blueberry and cherry mochi recipes on The Food Librarian's blog, as well as this cool Pumpkin Mochi variation on Kirbie's Cravings.

Since I have lots of pumpkin puree in my freezer from the mammoth harvest of Rouge Vif d'Etampes pumpkins from our 2009 garden, I thawed some out and made up a big batch of these moist little rice cakes. I spiced them up with some allspice, nutmeg and cloves and they were a hit with the family. They made such a big batch, that I froze some. They are very moist and have sugar in them, so be careful to eat them quickly (I had a few that got moldy by the third day and the dog enjoyed them).

This Pumpkin Mochi is my submission to Grow Your Own, a blog event started by Andrea's Recipes and hosted this month by House of Annie, which celebrates home grown and foraged foods from around the world.

I am delighted to have discovered this Japanese delicacy and will be experimenting with other flavors in the future for sure.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Peanut Butter and Jelly Together in a Cookie: Pass the Milk!

Hubby had the hankering for some peanut butter cookies and I was happy to oblige my sweetheart on Valentine's Day. I used the recipe for gluten-free peanut butter cookies from Elizabeth Barbone's wonderful Easy Gluten-Free Baking cookbook (you can test drive some of her recipes at her website but this PBJ cookie recipe is from her book) and decided on the variation she noted at the bottom of the recipe page to make a thumbprint in the middle of each cookie and fill with a smidgen of jelly (I used strawberry jam). What I didn't notice with the first hot batch was her admonition that the hot jammy centers can cause burns, so if you make this luscious cookies, don't shove one in your mouth before it thoroughly cools!

I made my batch of PBJ valentines using some of the products seen below for my baking, courtesy of samples sent by the Earth Balance company. The peanut butters and butter substitutes worked perfectly in the cookie recipe and it was nice to make a sweet indulgence with a light hand on the indulgence part. The Earth Balance products are not only gluten-free, but vegan, lactose-free, and casein-free, so you can use them to cook for all your friends and family with special dietary needs. Here in Saratoga County, New York, I could only find the Earth Balance buttery sticks and spread in my local markets, but hopefully the creamy and chunky peanut butters will be on local shelves soon.

I am not as fancy a dessert chef as I would like, but those of you with mad pastry chef skills might like to try the Earth Balance recipes for Vegan Espresso Brownie Sundaes with Fudge Sauce and Vegan Lemon Cheesecake with Agave Glazed Berries.

The Earth Balance Peanut Butters get a thumbs up from the Crispy Crew in our peanut butter sandwiches (and straight from the spoon too). The peanut butters are lightly sweetened with agave, rather than sugar or corn syrup, like some other brands, so the mother in me approves heartily. I have bought the Earth Balance buttery spread before because we like it as an alternative to butter for our bread, but it was nice to play around with the other Earth Balance products and I would recommend them to others.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Some Tips for Baking Gluten Free Buns

It is particularly ironic that the most bread-lovin' member of our household is my celiac husband Dan. He inherited his bread lust from his father, who always considered a meal incomplete if it didn't include rolls or slices of buttered bread. Several years ago, when Dan was waiting for the results of his blood test to see if celiac disease was the result, he had a "last meal" of beer (verboten barley malt), pizza (wheat crust) and several slices of crusty, luscious homemade bread (extra, extra gluteny!).

I do not, alas, have a large reservoir of patience for baking. I like to riff in the kitchen; to cook without exact measuring, and I like to try lots of new recipes and variations thereof, which are not qualities which make for a good baker. And Gluten-Free baking presents its own challenges. Wheat gluten does so many alchemical things in the oven that require several different substitute flours, thickeners and binding agents, so I get a little frustrated.

But my sweetie must have his carbs, and he particularly likes buns rather than bread for his veggie burgers and sandwiches, so I have come up with some strategies for working with the sticky GF bread doughs which I will pass along to you here. I have used them fairly successfully to adapt many different gluten-free bread recipes to the making of buns.

Most gluten-free bread doughs are too soft, wet and sticky to knead or shape by hand, so what has worked best in my Crispy Kitchen is to make up a batch of bread dough and then divide the dough into six portions (a wet knife works well) and plop each into a greased and white rice floured egg ring which is sitting on a cookie sheet covered with a sheet of parchment paper. I got my egg rings at a restaurant supply store for about $2 each as I recall. They are meant for making perfect circlets of cooked egg on the griddle, but I like them for keeping my GF rolls from spreading out .

Then I let my rolls rise in a warm oven for an hour, having previously heated up the oven to its lowest temperature (170 degrees F in my case), leaving the oven door open just a crack.

After the rolls have risen, I either leave them free form on the tops, or smooth them down with an egg or milk wash. I sometimes sprinkle on cheese, salt or spices. The egg wash will leave your bun tops nice and shiny and it helps the sprinklings adhere better. Below are some herb bread buns which I made from a bread recipe from Carol Fenster's sorghum flour-lovin' compendium, "1001 Gluten Free Recipes".

I have used this bun baking technique to adapt many different gluten-free bread recipes for Dan's bun consumption. You just have to greatly reduce the baking times, so be sure to keep an eye on your oven.

Here are a couple of other gluten-free baking tips which I have found helpful:

1) Thoroughly blend dry ingredients. The gluten-free flours are so finely milled that they billow about and you want to make sure that if you use xanthan gum or guar gum in your recipes that they are well incorporated so you don't end up with sticky little gum pockets in your final product.

2) Getting all ingredients room temperature takes a bit of fore-thought. I usually forget to take out the butter and eggs ahead of time. I use my microwave for a few seconds to warm up the butter. Chilled eggs from the refrigerator can be warmed up by soaking in a bowl of warm water for ten minutes or so.

3) Once buns have cooled, store in a plastic bag in the freezer, as GF baked goods seem to be very crumbly and will go stale very quickly. I then thaw out individuals items as needed.

I have found inspiration, solace and a healthy attitude towards GF cooking in many of the posts at Gluten Free Goddess and this post about GF Baking is particularly full of good advice. I was happy to see lots of gluten-free bread recipes and baking tips at the Red Star Yeast website and used their GF Chick-Pea Bread recipe to make into individual buns. They came out beautifully after a cooking time of 25 minutes. I threw in 2 tsp. of cumin seeds for a little flavor boost and they got rave reviews from Bunzilla, aka Dan, so this recipe will go into our files.

Chickpea flour (also known as besan) is sometimes found in the supermarket, but you can certainly seek it out at a natural foods or health food store or Asian market. The cooked flour has a delightful, warm taste and makes for a fluffy bun.

I hope you will be able to have success with my GF bun baking tips. They have produced some great buns for our pantry and I would love to hear about tips others may like to share about baking their buns. I recently compiled a list of my baking recipes here if you would like to check out these other baked goods. I left out the links to my many other less successful baking misadventures!

This post about Chickpea Buns is my submission for the 20th helping of My Legume Love Affair, a monthly event started by Susan the Well-Seasoned Cook to celebrate the deliciousness of the world of legumes. I have the honor of being this month's guest host for MLLA #20 and I welcome your submissions until February 28, 2010. You can check out the cute green bean logo at the right sidebar or this post for more MLLA details.

Happy Baking!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I Was Just Trying to Be Fancy with Those Cute Red Jalapenos

Getting ready for a Superbowl party with friends when you dine gluten-free takes a bit of advance planning. The usual Superbowl fare at our friends' house where we indulge in this annual ritual of football and food is bit wheaty, so I always try to bring several things for Dan to eat, drink and share so he does not get glutened. While others are slinging down beer, pizza slices and breaded wings, I want to bring some alternatives. My hubby hates to impose on our hosts with his dietary restrictions, though they are always thoughtful in making sure he does have several tasty GF snacks.

I will be making a batch of hummus, another yet-to-be-determined GF snack from this list of lovelies and I wanted to bring some kind of hot finger food to pop in the oven when we arrived. Something cheesy and spicy, like a Southwestern twist on the ever popular mini quiche. I was inspired by my El Paso green chiles prize package, (which a lucky Crispy Cook reader will win after the Feb. 15 deadline), and a can of festive red jalapeno slices that lured me from my pantry.

I used Gluten-Free Kay's Hot Mamas recipe and this recipe for Mini Chile Rellenos for inspiration, assembled my ingredients and had a lovely several hours of kitchen fun. Here's my recipe:

Cooking oil spray
1 (4 oz.) can chopped green chiles, drained
1 (7.75 oz.) can red jalapeno slices, drained (I used Chi Chi's brand with lots left over for nachos and other future foodie experiments)
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed and blotted dry
1/4 cup snipped chives (I used garden chives from my freezer)
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
5 eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup milk
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup white rice flour

Spray 12 count muffin or cupcake pan with cooking oil. My pans are 1/4 cup so they make smaller-than-desired muffins and cupcakes, but wonderful mini-quiches. Mini-muffin pans would probably work well too, but one would need to adjust the baking time downward.

Distribute corn kernels, chives, green chiles and cheese equally among the muffin cups.

Mix eggs, milk, cumin, salt and flour. Blend well. Pour over mounded ingredients in the muffin cups. Garnish each mound with a red jalapeno wheel or two.

Bake in preheated 400 degrees F. oven for 30 minutes or until tops are browned and bubbling. Let cool in muffin pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and let cool until they are warm. Serve immediately. They are a little too moist to serve as finger food, so I served them on a plate with a little tomato salsa on the side to my taste tester.

Makes 12.

Now, you may have noticed that this recipe bears no title. I proudly bore my creations in to my Gluten Free Superbowl Taste Tester for his review. Dan looked at my cheesy offering and grinned.

"What should I call them?", I asked innocently.

Dan merely chuckled and continued to look bemused at his plate.

"Go ahead and eat it", I urged.

Dan shook his head.

"What? It's good, I already ate one. You'll like it."

Dan looked at me again fixedly. "You're kidding me, right?"

"What is wrong with this? It's good."

"Rachel, it's a boob."

I gasped. And looked. And realized I had cooked up a perky, little edible breast.

"Oh man! I can't bring these guys to the party. I'll never live it down."

"No, they'll be perfect. You can say they're in honor of Janet Jackson's peek-a-boob."

Ay, caramba! That was one surreal Superbowl moment in 2004 when Jackson bared her breast during her half-time dance number. I was trying to collect my kids to start our drive home (they were younger and it is a school night, after all) and had stopped to watch the musical interlude on a couch in my friends' basement rumpus room. When the breast escaped I thought perhaps my eyes had deceived me, and turned to my compatriots on the sofa, but both young lads were aged ten and under and it didn't seem appropriate to converse with them on the subject of perhaps-imagined nipple slip. The television announcers didn't mention anything and so I went upstairs to chat with some adults about the subject.

Nobody else had paid attention to the half-time show! I was astounded and perhaps thinking that I had indulged in one too many beers. Dan drove us home and it wasn't until later when I hopped on the Internet that I found out that I wasn't delusional but had indeed witnessed celebrity nudity during America's holiest football holiday.

Back to my culinary creations. I'm of two minds about whipping up another batch of these snacks to bring to our party. Part of me is a prude: I am the Crispy Cook, not the Lascivious Chef. The other part of me would like to offer them to my (adults only) friends with a scampish wink. Dan and I certainly got a kick out of imagining many other mammalian monikers for these offerings: Boob Jobs, JJ Peekaboobs, Wardrobe Malfunctions, Tex-Mex A Cups, Cheesy Chesties, Bosom Bites, Whatever. They certainly are Hot Mamas too.

There are other edible homages to Janet Janet's torso out there, (The Amateur Gourmet's cupcakes are anatomical likenesses indeed) and the concept of the erotic bakery is not a new one, so I would be able to point out that other dirty minds out there wearing aprons.

I just don't know now. I am not a young, ironic thing, so perhaps I will bring a more sedate hamper of GF goodies for my sweetie to enjoy tomorrow. These bosomy bits seem more suitable for a bachelor party or a meeting of the local La Leche League. Or maybe I'll put more than one red jalapeno adornment atop each snack to avoid the whole business entirely.

Let's just hope the members of The Who won't be brandishing their bits at tomorrow's half-time show. I don't want to have to bake up any of their septugenarian body parts.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Announcing My Legume Love Affair #20

The 20th edition of My Legume Love Affair (MLLA) is being hosted here at The Crispy Cook from today through February 28, 2010. This popular foodie event is the brainchild of Susan, The Well-Seasoned Cook, and was started to celebrate information and recipes about the edible members of the Fabaceae family (formerly Leguiminosae), most commonly known as legumes.

Legumes include a broad variety of beans, peas, pulses and other vegetables and leguminous by-products, and any of these can be featured in a MLLA submission, including: beans (fresh and dried), peas, tofu, black-eyed peas, tepary beans, lentils, chickpeas and chickpea flour (besan), fenugreek, peanuts, limas, favas, mung beans, and many other legume varieties.

To join in the MLLA fun you can submit a post featuring one of these legumes with a link to this post on The Crispy Cook and to Susan's blog here. Recipes submitted to other events are also permitted but recipes from one's blog archives can be accepted ONLY if updated and reposted as current.

There are two prizes to be awarded to a randomly generated winner. Susan is generously donating a copy of "The Pasta Bible" by Teubner, Rizzi and Lang to be sent worldwide. If the winner resides in the U.S., they will also receive a Hurst Bean Box - A case of six bags of the winner's choice of Hurst Bean products, suitable for every diet, donated by Hurst Bean. (Due to shipping restrictions, this prize can only be awarded if the winner is a U.S. resident.) Susan does not receive any product nor financial compensation for her arrangement with Hurst Bean to provide this prize supplement for My Legume Love Affair.

You may submit more than one recipe or blog post to MLLA #20 but only one submission will be considered for these prizes. Susan and I, and our family and friends are not eligible for the prize drawing.

Send your MLLA entry to me at: oldsaratogabooks At gmail dOt cOM, with an attached photo (250 pix wide preferred), your blog post URL and your location. I will post a roundup for MLLA #20 shortly after the deadline of February 28, 2010. Don't have a blog, but still want to join in the fun? Send my your information and I'll post it for you on The Crispy Cook.

For leguminous inspiration, you may want to check out some of the previous MLLA roundups or see one of my MLLA posts below:

Previously I have enjoyed contributing to this beany bonanza with recipes for

Zippy Black-Eyed Pea and Pasta Salad,

Red Noodle Beans (very fun to grow) and Tofu,

Fava Beans,

Spicy Roasted Chickpea Nibbles,

Black-Eyed Peas with Preserved Lemon,

Dan's Favorite Gluten-Free Veggie Burgers,

Rice Noodle Sushi Salad

Green Bean Bhajis.

I look forward to seeing what everyone will cook up for My Legume Love Affair this month!