Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dipping Into Risotto Chips: A Product Review

Before the Gluten Bomb reorganized my husband's snack options he was enamored of the New York Style Brand's bagel chips, thin-sliced bagels that are very crunchy and make sturdy little shelves for various dips and spreads. The same company has recently introduced Risotto Chips, a gluten-free and very tasty snack option and we were delighted to receive a box of 12 bags of Risotto Chips recently; four bags of each of the three flavors: Sea Salt, Parmesan and Roasted Garlic and Spicy Marinara.

The chips are very good. The Sea Salt flavor is a little bland and really need a dip partner, but the other two flavors are delicious enough to eat by themselves. We all loved, loved, loved the Parmesan and Roasted Garlic chips, with the Spicy Marinara chips coming in at a close second in the flavor competition. I made a Cranberry-Gorgonzola Dip (whizzed together about 1/2 can of that horrible jellied cranberry sauce that my kids insisted I buy for our Thanksgiving turkey and which has since quivered alone and forgotten in the fridge with some Gorgonzola cheese, sour cream and hot sauce. It looks terrible but it is delicious) and this made a nice sweet-salty foil to the pleasantly spicy Marinara Chips.

One thing that I really like about all the varieties of these Risotto Chips is the addition of flax seed, which adds more nutrition and fiber to these snacks. We had been occasionally buying bags of Riceworks brand Brown Rice Crisps and I had a bag in the house to compare with the Risotto Chips. The Riceworks Chips contain 1 gram of dietary fiber per serving while the Risotto Chips contain twice that amount.

I did find that there seemed to be many more broken chips in each package than whole chips. They are still tasty, but it is disappointing to open a bag and reach for a whole chip and get mired in pointy little crumbs.

If you would like to try these new Risotto Chips you can take advantage of a $1.00 off coupon currently on the New York Style Brand website. I found all three flavors of Risotto Chips at the South Glens Falls Hannaford's Supermarket for $3.19 for a 5.5 oz. bag.

Overall, an enthusiastic endorsement for these Risotto Chips in all 3 flavors, with hopes that better shipping will result in more whole chips and fewer broken ones.

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.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cookbook Review: Fresh From the Market by Laurent Tourondel

Looking for a classy gift for your favorite foodie this holiday season? Take a gander at the newest cookbook by restaurateur/chef Laurent Tourondel "Fresh From the Market: Seasonal Cooking with Laurent Tourondel and Charlotte March" (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2010). I received a review copy from the publishers and it has been my guilty pleasure to ponder its pages throughout the last month.

I think cookbooks cleave into three different categories: first, there are the Constant Companions, those besplattered and dogeared stalwarts in the kitchen library that one refers to time and again to check on how to make a certain kind of cookie or sauce. Then there are the Acquaintances, those specialty cookbooks that contain recipes for a certain kind of cuisine (baking, garlic, Thai food, etc.) that one dips into occasionally. Then, there are the Inspirationals, those gorgeous cookbooks that are filled with ingredients that are new or cooking techniques that are waiting to be tried out. The photos beckon, the recipes entice and they are cookbooks that end up on the nightstand to provide inspiration for your foodie dreams or that you snuggle up with in a cozy chair and pore over as one would a favorite novel.

Fresh From the Market falls into the third category for me. It's an Inspirational, packed with luscious new-to-me seasonings and fish and vegetable varieties that will prove an inspiration to me many times over. I will go to this cookbook when I am in a cooking rut or want to seek out something new to plant in my kitchen garden or buy at the farmer's markets.

Accompanied by the lush food photography of the aptly named Quentin Bacon, this cookbook appeals to all the senses. Some of the recipes involve some advanced kitchen techniques or special equipment, but many do not; however, all will inspire the cook to head back to his or her batterie de cuisine and start trying out the wonderful flavor combinations.

Organized by the seasons, and further categorized into recipes for cocktails, appetizers, main courses, desserts and breakfast, this book is a gem and will have you bookmarking pages right and left. The authors also provide wine and beer recommendations for each recipe so that one can experience the whole restaurant experience at home.

I tried out an amazing main dish salad from the book, Nantucket Bay Scallops with Smoked Fingerling Potato Salad, Endive and McIntosh Apple. While I had to make some adaptations to Tourondel's recipe, I plated up a restaurant quality salad that left my husband licking the plate and my kids scarfing up the leftover potato salad that I had intended for a Round II the next day. Guess what...I made the recipe all over again the next day anyway.

This Inspirational cookbook does have many recipes that call for specific vegetable or fish varieties, but as with any cookbook, one can easily adapt the original recipe for one's own market conditions and family palate. In my case, as shown above, I left out the bacon for the vegetarians, couldn't find hickory wood chips this time of year so my potatoes remained unsmoked, and certainly my scallop searing technique needs refinement (though in my defense I will note that my supermarket scallops were previously frozen and subsequently let off a lot of liquid while cooking). Still, an elegant, plate-clearing experience was had by all.

With permission from the publishers, I am able to share the recipe and ethereal cookbook photo for this mouthwatering dish below. You can also sample several other of the recipes from this gorgeous volume at the Amazon page for this book, including Steak au Poivre with Green Oak Lettuce and Homemade Boursin, Mammy Louisette's Ginger-Rhubarb Tart, Beef Shank Stew and Red Apple and Bourbon Fizz.

Photograph by Quentin Bacon

"Nantucket Bay Scallops with
Smoked Fingerling Potato Salad, Endive, & McIntosh Apple

McIntosh apples grow abundantly in New England, making them one of my local favorites.
The red and green skin conceals a tender-crisp, pale flesh that is not overly sweet and
adds the perfect crunch to this salad.


Potato Salad

2 slices thick-cut bacon
3/4 pound fingerling potatoes
Kosher salt
1 cup hickory wood chips, soaked in water
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons store-bought barbecue sauce
1 tablespoon mustard oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon finely diced celery
1 tablespoon finely diced red onion
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


1 tablespoon canola oil
11/2 pounds Nantucket Bay scallops


3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 head endive, sliced on the bias into 1/2-inch strips
1 small McIntosh apple, peeled and cut into matchstick-size strips
1 bunch watercress, large stems removed

Make the potato salad

Cook the bacon in a small sauté pan over medium heat until crispy, about 5 minutes. Drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Once cool, roughly chop the bacon.

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover them with cold water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat and salt liberally with kosher salt. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 18 minutes. Drain the potatoes. When they are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins.

Line the bottom of a pot with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Drain the hickory wood chips and place them in the pot. Heat the wood chips over a burner until they are smoking. Place the potatoes in a steamer insert and set the insert in the pot. Cover tightly with a lid, allowing no smoke to escape from the pot. Smoke the potatoes over medium heat for about 5 minutes.

Whisk the mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, mustard oil, and sherry vinegar in a large bowl to blend.
Add the warm potatoes to the dressing and, using a fork, crush the potatoes into the vinaigrette.
Fold in the chopped bacon, parsley, celery, onion, and tarragon and season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Let the salad stand for 20 minutes to allow all the flavors to incorporate, stirring occasionally.

Prepare the scallops

Heat the canola oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. When the pan is smoking hot, add the scallops. Sear the scallops on 1 side until caramelized, about 2 minutes. Once the scallops have caramelized, swirl the pan several times and continue to cook for 2 more minutes. Transfer the scallops to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any excess moisture.

Assemble the salad

Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic in a medium bowl to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Toss the endive, apple, and watercress in the vinaigrette to coat.

To serve

Spoon the potato salad in the center of 6 plates. Place the scallops over the potato salad and then top with the watercress salad. Serve immediately.

Wine suggestion

This dish is perfect with an un-oaked Chardonnay that offers notes of green apple, lemon zest, and tangerines, such as Chardonnay, “Clone 76 Inox,” Melville, 2006, Sta. Rita Hills, California. "

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!