Friday, May 28, 2010

Rounding Up Pasta Presto Nights #165

I had an eye-opening, enjoyable time serving as the current guest host for Presto Pasta Nights, the weekly sampler of pastaliciousness started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast over three years ago. In this edition, PPN #165, we had eighteen submissions showing a splendid variety of noodles, seasonings and accompaniments. Many dishes used the herbs and vegetables of Spring and all were tantalizing.

Grab your pasta fork and let's dig in!

Lemon and Anchovies is trying to ward off unseasonably cool weather from her Northern California home with a gorgeous bowl of Pasta Salad with Arugula and Four Herbs. She claims that this is the best-tasting recipe she has ever posted on her blog, so I'll be sure to test drive this recipe!

Rotini with Spinach and Asiago Cheese was on the menu over at Gramma's Cookin. It sounds like the perfect pasta for lighter eating now that the Northern Hemisphere (except for Northern California, apparently) is easing into hot summer weather.

Daphne at More than Words in far off Perth, Australia, teaches us how to prepare Risoni Salad with Honey Pork Patties. Risoni is a rice-shaped pasta (I wonder if it is the same thing as orzo?) that she dresses with peppers, lemon, corn and peas for a tangy salad.

After scooping up the best looking bunch of radish leaves (with radishes attached) at her Toronto farmer's market, Elizabeth from blog from OUR kitchen turned out a fab dish of Penne with Radish Leaves and Broccoli. Sounds terrifically good and I am glad to learn about the edibility of radish leaves, which Elizabeth also uses sauteed in omelettes.

Feeling a bit under the weather made Cool Lassie turn to her Pan Gravy Kadai Curry kitchen for some food medicine in the form of Algerian Couscous Salad with green lentils and a colorful medley of gourmet tomatoes. This dish must have improved her spirits with all those healthy, tasty ingredients.

Orzo makes an appearance in Split Pear-sonality's recipe for Orzo Tabbouleh. This Middle Eastern salad traditionally uses bulgur wheat as the main ingredient, but this pasta-rific version would be perfect to bring to a summer party.

Over in France, Katie of Thyme for Cooking used up the tail end of the seasonal green garlic and asparagus to make a lovely supper of Fried Gnocchi with Asparagus and Tomatoes. Magnifique~!

Apu took the classic recipe for baked macaroni and cheese and gave it a little twist with a mix of chopped vegetables over at her food blog Annarasa. Looks like a great variation on a crowd favorite.

Everyone's favorite comfort carb, macaroni and cheese, gets another overhaul with Brie, black olives and a crusty garlic bread topping from Reeni over at Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice.

My Hawaiian blogger buddy, Claudia of Honey from Rock made homemade beef raviolis with a chiffonade of beet and mustard greens, swirled in truffle butter. Excuse me while I swoon. (Claudia is a two-time winner of Cook the Books, a bimonthly foodie book club that explores various food-related books, and she knows her way around truffles, having cooked up a prize-winning Omelette aux Truffes to win the Cook the Books edition featuring Peter Mayle's book "French Lessons".)

Speaking of ravioli, memories of foraging for fiddlehead ferns and other wild edibles in her native Maine inspired Think On It to make up a batch of tender homemade ravioli with stinging nettles in her new hometown in Umbria.

Homemade cavatelli got topped with some fresh-picked favas, kale, dandelion greens and spinach in this healthy, tasty spring pasta dish sent in by Feeding Maybelle.

Despite its creamy appearance, the Healthy Chicken Zucchini Alfredo Pasta recipe submitted by Holy Cannoli Recipes doesn't contain heavy cream at all, but instead combines skim milk, evaporated nonfat milk and cheese to make the rich sauce. This contribution to Pasta Presto Nights is Holy Cannoli's first appearance at Pasta Presto Nights, so be sure to stop by her blog to say hello and welcome her to our noodly world.

Joanne of Eats Well With Others was my first received PPN entry with her take on fellow blogger Chaya's Pasta with Caramelized Onions, Broccoli and Ricotta. Now that's an awesome trio of flavors!

Debby over at A Feast for the Eyes seared up some sea scallops and served them over pasta with a tasty white wine sauce and Presto! we have a luscious scallop pasta with which to feast our virtual eyes.

Curry leaves are wonderfully aromatic and can be found at Indian and Asian markets for those who are not familiar with them. Rachana used them to perfume her dish of Curry Leaves Pasta over at Sizzle N Spice.

Pam at Sidewalk Shoes turned out a fantastic Fettuccine with Mushrooms, Lemon and Prosciutto for her contribution to Presto Pasta Nights this week. She adapted a recipe from Donna Hay to use her own homegrown oregano and some preserved lemon rind and it sounds decadent indeed.

To wrap things up, your happening host, the Crispy Cook made a gluten-free, vegetarian lasagna using rice noodles layered with spinachy ricotta, artichoke hearts and sauteed portabella mushrooms. It was a lovely combination of flavors.

Thanks again to Ruth for giving me this opportunity to host Presto Pasta Nights and for all the wonderful cooks who shared their recipes, photos and writing. Next week, this event will be hosted by Ruth herself, our own Pasta Maven, so be sure to send her your fabulous pasta creations to keep us all inspired in the kitchen.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Presto Pasta Nights #165 Hosting and an Awesome Veggie, GF Lasagna

I am currently hosting the 165th edition of Presto Pasta Nights, a weekly celebration of the world of noodles, macaroni, spaghetti and all the great variations on pasta which is the brainchild of Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. Every Friday Ruth or a guest host rounds up a carbo-loaded array of pasta dishes from bloggers all around the world and I am delighted to announce that I am this week's guest host. You can send me the details of your pastarific blog posts by Thursday, May 27, midnight (Eastern Standard Time) and I will post the roundup the following day.

If you have never participated in Presto Pasta Nights before, please check out the details here. Basically, you just need to cook up a pasta dish, blog about it, and then email me at: info AT oldSaratogabooks dotcom with a cc to Ruth:
Ruthat 4everykitchendot cOM. Your blog post should include a link to the Crispy Cook and to the Presto Pasta Nights blog so others can find out more about the event. Include the URL of your blog post and a photo of your dish for the roundup.

My youngest daughter had a hankering for traditional lasagna with meat sauce so I made up a batch of that, but since my husband must dine gluten-free and eschews meat, I experimented with a second pan of vegetarian GF lasagna for his dining pleasure. I bought a box of DeBoles' oven-ready rice lasagna noodles which worked great because I didn't have to boil them first and risk having them disintegrate in the pasta pot if my attention wandered away. I had some fresh portabella mushrooms in the fridge, some canned artichoke hearts in the cupboard and some chopped spinach in the freezer, so they all coalesced into this very tasty vegetable lasagna.

Portabella, Artichoke and Spinach Lasagna

2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 tsp. dried rosemary, crumbled
4 portabella mushrooms, patted clean and sliced into 1/4 inch strips

1 (10 oz.) pkg. rice lasagna noodles

1 (14 oz.) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
4 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

1 (10 oz.) pkg. frozen chopped spinach, cooked, drained and squeezed dry
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pint ricotta cheese
2 eggs

1-1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup grated Parmesan
5 cups marinara sauce

Heat oil in frying pan. Add garlic and cook, stirring, one minute. Add onions and cook until soft, about 4-5 minutes. Add portabellas and cook until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add rosemary and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and reserve.

Mix artichoke hearts and parsley and reserve.

Mix ricotta, eggs, and spinach. Reserve.

To assemble lasagna, pour 2 cups marinara sauce in bottom of a 13x9 glass baking dish. Lay down enough lasagna noodles to cover and then add 1/2 of the portabellas. Cover with 1/3 of the spinach-ricotta mixture. Sprinkle with 1/3 portion each of the mozzarella and Parmesan. Ladle another cup of marinara sauce on. Add another layer of noodles, top with 1/2 of artichoke mixture.

Repeat layers and make sure to sprinkle final lasagna with some shredded mozzarella to melt.

Cover lasagna with foil and bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour. Remove foil and let cheese melt, another 10-15 minutes.

Serves 8-10.

This was supremely good. Dan even said it was the best lasagna he ever ate, so I made sure to get all my scribbled notes on the lasagna box transcribed immediately.

Don't forget to send me your delicious pasta dishes for Presto Pasta Nights by this Thursday! I've already received some tempting entries, so it should be a delicious roundup.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I Eat for England with a Gluten-Free Ploughman's Lunch Picnic

Americans and Brits seem to speak the same language, but really we don't. American soldiers wear camouflage and ride around in tanks; English soldiers get dipped in runny egg yolk. American seaside rock pokes your feet when you are wading into the surf, but Brits pop their sugary version into their mouths to suck on. The British eat rocket; Americans launch same. And I used to have to babysit a bunch of jammy dodgers, but in England they are considered a biscuit. By which they mean a cookie.

And that is the chief delight of reading Eating for England: The Delights and Eccentricities of the British at Table by Nigel Slater (London: Fourth Estate, 2007). This whimsical collection of mini food essays is the current book pick for Cook the Books, the bimonthly online foodie book club that I co-host with two food blogger buddies, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen and Jo of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food. As a devoted Anglophile and logophile I loved learning about all the Britishy foods that I've read about in novels through the years and figuring out that a dog's dinner is not a bowl of kibble, but a real mess of things.

All the better to savor the short takes on British foods, traditional and modern, that author Nigel Slater slings about with great humor and elucidation for this American reader. Many of these foods beloved by Britons have such wonderfully distinctive names: Junket, Pontefract Cakes, Faggots and Gravy, Gooseberry Fool, Jam Roly Poly, Chudleighs and Old English Spangle and it is delightful to read about their history and what they are exactly.

I loved his writings about brussels sprouts, the fond descriptions of his childhood sweets, and was particularly taken by one paragraph about British cakes that "have a certain wobbly charm to them, and what might be missing in terms of finesse is there in lick-your-fingers stickiness". They are "not delicacies you eat politely with a cake fork, they are something you tuck into with the enthusiasm of a labrador at a water bowl" (p. 13)

Slater is also devastatingly funny when he sums up the various species of cooks: the pedant who never deviates from a recipe, the pre- and post-Jamie Oliver Man (the former cooks up "The Great Dish" and must not be criticized, even though there are mounds of dishes in the aftermath, and the latter thinks nothing of purchasing a champagne-priced bottle of vinegar). I must confess I think Nigel may have described me a bit too closely for comfort in his passage on "The Grow-Your-Own Cook": George Bush face planted on the garden scarecrow (great idea!); sunflowers left over in the garden to feed the winter birds (check!); committed recycler, compost-maker and seed-sower (triple check!); kitchen pots are old and mismatched (home run!); knives and forks were their grandmothers (whoa!); every ingredient is organic or free-range or made by a tousle-haired artisan (slow down, Nigel, I am also a cheapskate, so I do hie off to the supermarket for quite a lot of kitchen shopping).

I thought about what to make from this terrifically entertaining book for quite a time. All those British sweets seemed so tempting, but eventually I decided to try my hand at a Ploughman's Lunch since the Spring weather has turned so mild of late and we are enjoying picnicking out of doors again.

The Ploughman's Lunch is a modern British pub staple, consisting of bread, cheese, chutney or pickle and a nice pint of ale. It is supposed to conjure up a rustic lunch such as an English farmer might have enjoyed after a hard morning in the fields, though there is some evidence that this may all be an advertising ruse cooked up by the British Milk Marketing Board in the 1960s to sell more cheese. Perhaps dreamed up by this fab cat with the monocle. The Mr. Peanut of Cheese.

Ruse it may be to suggest that this modern pub fare is a British working man's lunch from time immemorial, I thought it sounded rather tasty and decided to pack up a robust ploughman's picnic for my sweetie and I to enjoy after a rugged morning of edging the garden and turning that overwintered compost pile, Good Grow-Your-Own Cooks that we both are.

Here's what we ate:

I made up a batch of Sesame-Rosemary Crackers, a cream cheese and chutney ball rolled in some garden parsley and chives, cucumbers, apples, a couple of bottles of naturally gluten-free hard cider, a jar of pickled onions, and a selection of English cheeses: a Cheddar, a sliver of White Stilton with Lemon Zest and a Double Gloucestershire.

Cheddar needs no description, so I will proceed to give you a virtual taste of Double Gloucestershire, a hard cheese, rather like a mild Cheddar or Colby, but a bit creamier on the tongue. It is perhaps most distinctively known as being the cheese of choice in Cheese Rolling, an extreme English sport involving a hurtling run after the coveted cheese wheel down a steep hill, with both participants and spectators in danger of injury from the speeding cheese and out-of-control Cheese Roller athletes. You can read more about Cheese Rolling in True Brits, by J.R. Daeschner, a book I reviewed a couple of years ago here.

And now, back to the cheese. Lemon Stilton was a lovely choice. There are two kinds of Stilton, a blue cheese with deliciously moldy veins running throughout and a milder version which is studded with dried fruits, ginger and in my case, bits of lemon zest. This was subtly sweet, crumbly, and full of lemon perfume. A bit messy, but tasty enough to overlook that.

For a wonderful take on the Ploughman's Lunch, I refer you to Foodycat's excellent post this past January, in which she put together a sumptuous repast of Beer Damper, homemade pickled onions and two kinds of wonderfully-named English cheeses, Hereford Hop and Dambuster.

Foodycat will be the judge of all the blog entries we receive this time round for Cook the Books and will no doubt bring her wit and kitchen erudition to this task. I credit her with inspiring me to try my hand at pickling a jar of onions, a slow food task indeed, as it requires a bit of salting, brining and waiting to make a proper batch. I turned to this recipe for English Pub Style Pickled Onions, and fiddled with the ingredients and seasonings to make it gluten-free (traditional malt vinegar is not gluten-free).

Here's what I did:

Britishy Pickled Onions

1/2 cup pickling salt (do not substitute regular table salt)
2 quarts water

1 1/2 lbs. boiling onions (also known as pearl onions, the ones you make traditional creamed onions with at Thanksgiving)

2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 c. cider vinegar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed roughly in a mortar and pestle
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. hot pepper flakes
1 bay leaf, crumbled
2 Tbsp. snipped fresh chives

Dissolve 1/4 cup salt in 1 quart water in glass bowl. Add the
onions. Weight them gently with a plate that fits inside the bowl (I used a can of 14 oz. can of pineapple on a saucer). Let them stand overnight.

Drain the onions, and peel them. Remove tips of onions with a sharp knife. Return them to the bowl. Make another brine with the remaining 1/4 cup pickling salt and water, pour it over the onions,and weight them gently again. Let them stand 2 days. This will soften them, but they will still have a bit of a crunch at the end.

In a nonreactive saucepan, bring the sugar and vinegar to a boil. Stir to dissolve. Let the liquid cool.

Drain and rinse the onions, and drain them well again. In a 1-
quart jar, layer the onions, peppercorns, allspice, pepper flakes,
bay leaf and chives. Cover them with the cooled, sweetened vinegar. Cover
the jar with a nonreactive cap, preferably all plastic.

Refrigerate the jar for at least 1 month before eating the
onions. They will keep for at least 6 months.

Well, I was on a Cook the Books deadline here, so I only waited two weeks before snacking on them and it was really quite tasty. The onions have a nice vinegary snap and are right in between being crunchy and soft.

The original recipe indicated that one could process these pickled onions in a water bath, in which case you would sterilize 2 pint jars, bring the vinegar mixture and onions to a boil and then seal and process 10 minutes in a hot water bath.

Makes 1 quart or 2 pints pickled onions.

You can see the full range of book reviews and blog posts for all the Cook the Books participants who read "Eating for England" after our May 21st deadline. Come see what we all cooked up!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cosmic Shrimp Two Ways

My wonderful sister-in-law Cathy parted with her flavorful shrimp appetizer recipe years ago after we vacuumed it up at a family party. My paper copy of the recipe is quite bespattered and tattered now, and I can't believe I haven't shared it here on The Crispy Cook before now, as it is one of our favorites. We like to bring these tasty crustaceans to parties and serve them chilled on skewers (in which case we cook up the larger sized shrimps) but we also have found the recipe makes a great warm topping for our noodles, too.

I am wasting no more time sharing this keeper with you all, especially since our Gulf Coast seafood supply is endangered with that BP oil rig disaster. Grab some shrimp now and cook this up before they are $30 a pound and marinated in crude.

Cosmic Shrimp Pasta

1 head broccoli, cut into florets (save stem for another use)

1/4 c. olive oil
1 -1/2 lbs. shrimp, peeled, deveined and patted dry (use large or jumbo shrimp if you are serving the shrimp as a chilled appetizer, otherwise medium shrimp are better for a pasta topper)
3 Tbsp. gingerroot, peeled and grated
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 -1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1/4 tsp. salt
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and chopped ( jarred roasted red peppers work fine too)
1/2 tsp. hot sauce
1 bunch scallions, sliced very thin
1 Tbsp. black sesame seed (optional, but it does add nice color)

1 lb. pasta, cooked and drained

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add broccoli florets and steam until bright green and crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and cool.

In a large frying pan, heat 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil until hot. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add shrimp and cook until they turn pink and opaque, another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, blend together the remaining olive oil, lemon and lime juice, salt, red peppers, hot sauce, scallions and sesame seeds. Add shrimp and broccoli and toss to coat.

For Cosmic Shrimp Appetizer: Cover and chill in refrigerator at least 2 hours and then thread shrimp and broccoli on wooden skewers and serve as an appetizer, with leftover sauce drizzled over. Or you can serve as a mound on a lovely plate with toothpicks on the side for personal skewering. Serves about 8-10 shrimp lovers.

For Cosmic Shrimp Pasta: Toss cooked shrimp with pasta and serve immediately with a little extra lime juice and extra-virgin olive oil on the side for diners to sprinkle on. Makes 4-6 dinner servings.

The Cosmic Shrimp Pasta seems perfect to send over to Presto Pasta Nights, a weekly celebration of the noodle in all its delicious forms, which is an event started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. This week's edition of Presto Pasta Nights is being hosted by Susan, The Well-Seasoned Cook, and she will be posting a pastarific roundup of all the other dishes submitted by food bloggers next Friday, May 21. Grab your pasta pot and get boiling!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Adirondack Spring Flora

We interrupt this erstwhile food blog with some photos of a delightful May afternoon in the Adirondack woods in the town of Hadley. My trusty dog Martha, husband Dan and I enjoyed a tromp around Viele Pond, despite a pesky haze of black flies circling our heads.

A rotting log served as a perfect bench to rest on and inspect the Spring flora growing out of it. These little red-tipped beauties are a kind of lichen known as British Soldiers.

Violets are more diminutive in the forests, and this yellow violet is a lovely example. The tiny partridge berries are also hidden little jewels on the forest floor.

This appears to be a relative of the viburnum bush with lovely lacy white flowers.

We heard a beaver spank the water with his broad tail twice while we were inspecting his rustic log home.

I couldn't find the name of this lovely wildflower in my guidebook. It is almost like a white bleeding heart, but the row of little white bells are much smaller and the foliage is completely different. Leave a comment below if you know the name of this pretty plant.

And now to return to the kitchen to produce something tasty to blog about.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cooking with Dried Mushrooms

Another series of culinary experiments in the Crispy Cook Test Kitchen has been in the making the past several weeks, with thanks to the swell folks at Marx Foods, an online fine foods market, and the Leftover Queen, our presiding monarch at the Foodie Blogroll. Our Queen provides monthly contests and opportunities to win cookbooks, chef gear, and interesting new food products for Blogroll members and I was delighted to see that Marx Foods was offering a sampler of some of their dried mushrooms.

My package arrived with a forest of fungus varieties to check out, including morels, chanterelles, matsutakes, black trumpets, porcinis and some orangey lobster mushrooms. The dried mushrooms are easy to reconstitute with a quick bath of boiling water, 10 minutes of mushroom spa soaking, and then patting dry. Be sure to save the luscious bath water for soup stock or sauces, as this contains succulent 'shroom perfume and taste.

I was smitten with the color and idea of a lobstery mushroom, so I put these to work first in simple omelette dotted with snippings of garden chives and some diced avocado. The lobster mushroom hints at a taste of the sea, but mostly it just provided some pretty carnelian color to the plate.

Less photogenic but much more tasty was my Porcini Mushroom Gravy which I spooned over some pan-fried polenta (northwest quadrant of this horrendous food photo). I reconstituted 1/2 cup dried porcinis, sauteed an onion in butter until soft, added some white rice flour to thicken, added the porcinis (diced finely after their spa treatment), 1 tsp. dried thyme, salt and pepper and stirred it around until it was thickened. What a treat!

As for the other dried mushrooms I am open to ideas about how to best feature them. I think the morels might be most sumptuously enjoyed in a creamy risotto, but if you have another way to showcase their earthy flavor, please let me know. Thanks again to Marx Foods for this awesome mushroom sampler and for the Leftover Queen for letting me in on a whole new food palette to play with.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Spring Garden Wakes from Its Long Nap. And Hops into my Salad Bowl

What to do when the asparagus starts to wake up in the patch? One only harvests a spear or two at first, and if the gardener doesn't snap them off at a certain height, the plant's energy goes to seed production. And we prefer stems to seeds with our asparagus.

So I usually have a "bouquet" of two or three lovely green spears on my kitchen window sill in early Spring before the asparagus engine really gets going. Sometimes I have the patience to wait a full week to roast or steam them up, but today I was trying to assemble a dinner out of the many leftover edible bits in our fridge and snapped them up to mix with a less-than-fresh head of broccoli that had been hiding out in the vegetable drawer with an equally forgotten half of a red pepper. And I didn't remember buying that red onion, hidden underneath a cabbage. With a knob of hardened mozzarrella (just slice that arid bit off), some leftover fresh (well, less than fresh, but not bad-smelling) mozzarella balls, I was in business.

And so was born,

A Serendipitous Springy Vegetable and Mozzarella Salad

1 head broccoli, cut into florets and stem peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup mozzarella, cut into cubes (I had some leftover fresh mozzarella balls and a stub end of regular mozzarella)
2 Tbsp. red onion, diced fine
3-4 asparagus spears, cut into 3/4 inch slices (looks nice sliced on the bias)
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsp. dried basil (or 1 Tbsp. fresh basil, slivered, or 2 Tbsp. pesto)

Bring a small amount of salted water to a rapid boil in a pot. Add broccoli and cover and cook 3 minutes. Toss in asparagus and steam another 1-2 minutes. Drain vegetables, rinse in cold water and let drain. Pat dry.

Place broccoli, asparagus, mozzarella and red pepper in salad bowl.

Blend together olive oil, vinegar, garlic, basil and salt and pepper. Pour over veggies and mozzarella and toss gently to coat.

Serves 4 as a side salad or 2 as a main course over a bed of salad greens. We enjoyed it served immediately at room temperature, but the leftovers were also great chilled and served the next day.

I thought I would share a serving of this salad with Weekend Herb Blogging, the wonderful weekly showcase of the Edible Vegetable Kingdom, headquartered by Haalo at Cook Almost Anything At Least Once, and hosted this week over at Cafe Lynnylu. Check out Lynnylu's great photography and wonderful recipes; they are a visual treat.