Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sharing Some Simple Gifts and a Red Pack Giveaway

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
So goes the first stanza of the beautiful Shaker song "Simple Gifts", a tune I find myself humming and singing often during the holiday season. (I also sing "Let it Snow" quite often, but really prefer to shovel rain myself). 

I have a few simple gifts to share with you all and hope you will enjoy them:

1)  A Tomato Lovers Giveaway

The Redpack Tomato company has generously offered to send a nice gift pack to one of my Crispy Cook readers which includes a huge Redpack tin filled with all kinds of goodies, including a pasta fork, pizza cutter, can opener, refrigerator magnets, cans of Redpack tomatoes, and recipe cards. When I am out of homemade tomato sauce in my pantry or freezer, or want a chunkier tomato product for a different recipe, I turn to a can of Redpack tomatoes. I reviewed the Redpack tomatoes previously on my blog, They are 100% natural, taste fresh (not tasting  tinny like the can like some other canned tomatoes I know) and are available at most local supermarkets and stores here in upstate New York. They are a product I use often and can recommend to you wholeheartedly.

To enter this giveaway to receive this cool Redpack tin full of goodies (I use my tin to hold my bird seed stash), leave a comment below by January 2, 2012, midnight Eastern Standard Time and I'll pick a randomly generated winner.

Note: I received a tin full of the items pictured above from the Redpack company, but I was not obligated to review their product here at the Crispy Cook, favorably or not. As always, my choice to blog about this product (I love it!) and my comments herein are entirely my own.

2) Potent Potables for $200, Alex

I've recently discovered a couple of new beverages these past weeks which have made things decidedly more festive. First, there's a knock-your-socks-off Christmas drink recipe from my friend Annemarie. She was born in Bavaria and her aunt makes this powerful mulled wine recipe each Christmas. It is called Gluhwein in German and was also made to celebrate my friend's December nuptials many years ago.

Annemarie shared a cup with me at a recent holiday party and it was both good and a little scary. I hadn't realized rum was also involved until I asked for her recipe, so be sure to make this when you are going to stay at home or when you have a designated driver if you are out reveling. One sip of this Gluhwein and I felt the heat rise in my cheeks, so I'm sure this will be an excellent restorative after a hard morning of shoveling snow and bringing in wood.

Aunt Gretel's Gluhwein

1.5 bottles dry red wine
1/2 bottle dry white wine
6 cups black tea (hot)
3 oranges juiced plus one orange sliced
2 lemons, juiced
1 stick of cinnamon
4-5 whole cloves
1 ladle full of sugar (about 3/4 cup)
Shot of high proof rum (optional)

Heat wines in a large saucepan, but don't let come to a boil (wouldn't want to burn off the alcohol, I guess).  Add hot tea, orange juice, lemon juice, cinnamon stick and cloves. Heat, but don't let boil. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Add rum and then Annemarie says to light the punch on fire. Her rum wasn't high enough proof to flambe, and I'm always worried about the risk of self-immolation, so I would skip this step myself. Add orange slices to float on top.

Whoa! Makes about 15 servings.

And here's a great link to a recipe for a fantastic non-alcoholic beverage, Homemade Ginger Ale, that we recently brewed up and enjoyed. It's a little more like a strong and aromatic ginger beer than store-bought ginger ale, but we relished it.

3) The Christmas Orange

One holiday tradition that I enjoy is our annual fireside reading of the following story about giving and the spirit of Christmas. My daughter came home from her wonderful pre-school teacher with this story over a decade ago and we have enjoyed reading it and doling out sections of orange-flavored and -shaped chocolate ever since.

The story's a little schmaltzy, but I don't mind being overly sentimental when it comes to the holidays. It's decorating, family and friend visits, special treats and trimmings that make Christmastime special to me, not the frenzy of gift-giving and shopping. That actually makes me kind of Grinchy.

Miss Shirley's Christmas Orange Story
"James lived in an orphanage with nine other young boys.  In the winter, any extra money went for coal to heat the old building.  At Christmas, though, the buildings always seemed a little warmer, and the food a little more plentiful.

But more than this—Christmas meant an orange.  It was the only time of the year such a rare treat was provided, and it was coveted by all the boys like no other thing they ever possessed.

Each boy would save his orange for several days—admiring it, feeling it, loving it, and contemplating the moment he would eat it.  Some would even save it until New Year’s Day or later, much like many of us relish saving our Christmas trees and decorations until the New Year, just to remind us of the joy of Christmas.

This particular Christmas Day, James had broken the orphanage rules by starting a fight.  The orphanage mother took James’ orange away as punishment.  James spent Christmas Day empty and alone.  Nighttime came, and James could not sleep.  He sobbed silently.  This year he would not have his orange to savor with the other boys.

A soft hand placed on James’ shoulder startled him and an object was quickly shoved into his hands.  A child then disappeared into the darkness to leave James alone to discover a strange-looking orange: an orange made from the segments of nine other oranges, nine highly prized oranges that had to be eaten that Christmas night, instead of being saved and cherished until a later date.

May the orange remind us all of the unselfishness and love for others that abounds at this special time of year."

Wishing everyone a lovely holiday season filled with peace, love, joy and a few simple gifts.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Presto Pasta Nights #244 Roundup

I had the distinct pleasure of serving as this week's guest host for Presto Pasta Nights, the weekly noodle celebration founded by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast way back in 2007!

It's the last PPN roundup of the year, but I am looking at one of the tastiest spreads a noodle lover could hope for.  We've got pasta in various shapes and flavors, made of various flours and cooked in all kinds of culinary traditions. Come into my virtual dining room, grab a glass of wine or some hot spiced cider and then pass your pasta bowl for a sampling of these wonderful eats:

Shaheen blogs at Allotment 2 Kitchen in western Scotland and loves to garden, forage and cook seasonally. She brings a plate of Garlic-Chilli-Spiked Cauliflower Pasta, which sounds so fragrant. Shaheen even uses the steamed core of the cauliflower in this dish, which is something this frugal cook will be trying next time out when I'm cooking cauliflower.

Tandy of Lavender and Lime has just taken the lid off her steaming platter of Creamy Pasta with Beef, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Mushrooms. Everybody dig in!

Alisha of Cook. Craft. Enjoy. is doling out some spicy Cajun Chicken Pasta. A little spice, a little cream, a little onion and peppers and that's some awesomeness on a plate.

My blogger pal Deb of Kahakai Kitchen in Honolulu was kind enough to drop by with some Rotini with Red Pepper and Anchovy Sauce. Deb is one of the cofounders of Cook the Books, a bimonthly foodie book club, where we are currently reading and cooking from John Thorne's Outlaw Cook.

Here at the Crispy Cook, I made a stir-fry of garlic, carrots, tofu, and Korean rice cakes, or dduk noodles, that remind me of little white tongue depressors. They require pre-soaking, but are a great textural addition to the wok.

Anne's Kitchen brings us a savory casserole to share: Wholemeal Penne, Pancetta and Cauliflower Bake. She advises that we can all have seconds without fear of being "gannet-esque" because the pancetta is less fatty than regular bacon and because wholemeal penne is in there too for extra nutrition.

One of my Capital District neighbors, Shelby, of The Life and Loves of Grumpy's Honeybunch, made a real crowd pleaser for her husband's office party and she made a double batch to share with us: Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese. Aren't they cute in their little individual ramekins?

Blogging from lovely Melbourne, Australia is Johanna of the Green Gourmet Giraffe. She came to our virtual feast to share her delicious recipe for Panfried Gnocchi with Cauliflower and Peas.

I know you must all be full from this wonderful pasta sampler, so before I head off for a nap to work off my carbo coma, I will just let you know that Presto Pasta Nights will be on holiday hiatus but then back in full force in the New Year, when our PPN founder, Ruth herself, will be ushering in our weekly helping of pasta love. From now until January 5th, you can send your PPN submissions to ruth (at) 4everykitchen (dot) com.

Here's to a holiday season full of peace, love and pasta!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gluten Free Food Find of the Week: Korean Rice Cakes or Dduk Noodles

One of our recent food finds at the Asian markets in Albany has been bags of dried rice cakes. No, not those tasteless puffed rice cracker-y things that come dusted with cheese or cinnamon, but a variety of Korean rice noodle, called dduk and spelled about thirty different ways in English.

These gluten-free noodles look like mini tongue-depressors to me, being somewhat elongated ovoids, and are a nice, chewy addition to stir-fries. One can buy fresh or frozen dduk, but so far I have just experimented with the bags of dried dduk. These noodles are made of pounded, steamed and dried sweet rice flour and must be pre-soaked in cold or boiling water to make them ready for cooking. They have a great texture that really stands up to extended cooking, so they are a good choice for any noodle soup or juicy stir-fry dishes in which a more tender noodle would give up and implode into mush.

Korean cooks make many varieties of dduk dishes, both sweet and savory, and a bowl of steaming Dduk Gook soup is a traditional way to ring in the New Year.  I enjoyed reading this blog post from a Korean doctor who relates the many sayings that involve their much beloved rice cakes, like "give your enemy another piece of dduk" (i.e., "turn the other cheek").

I haven't followed any traditional Korean recipes for using this noodle, (but I intend to!) so much as incorporating them in my weekly stir-fries when I have needed something starchy. They do tend to suck up a lot of sauce and flavor, so plan on adding more liquid to your wok when you are adding in your dduk noodles. Above you can see a stir-fry of julienned carrot, cabbage, zucchini and garlic bathed in a sesame-soy-garlic sauce and zapped with a little chili-garlic paste. The dduk noodles add such a nice heft in there!

I have the privilege of hosting Presto Pasta Nights #244 this week. PPN is a popular weekly blog event chronicling the many incarnations of the world's noodles and was started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast  in 2007. I thought relaying my adventures with this new-dle would fit the bill quite nicely.

I have already received some great pasta recipes from other bloggers and look forward to other pasta creations in my emailbox until the deadline of Thursday, December 15. You can send them to me (with a photo attachment of your creation) at oldsaratogabooks (at) gmail (dot) com and please also cc ruth (at) 4everykitchen (dot) com.  I will post the roundup for this last Presto Pasta Nights of 2011 the day after. Hope you can squeeze in some pasta fun with us during this busy holiday week!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Melomakarona Cookies

With Christmas packages needing a little sweet treat from the home ovens, it's been cookie baking time here at Chez Crispy, and so I was glad that this month's host for the Gluten Free Ratio Rally, Caroline of The G-Spot Revolution, picked COOKIES. Our dedicated band of gluten-free bakers tackles a new baking adventure each month (together we've made pasta, pate a choux, pie, doughnuts, cake and other goodies) using major ingredients by weight and ratios in our experimentation. For cookies, we were trying out a ratio of 3 parts gluten-free flours, 2 parts fat, and 1 part sugar.

Cookies are familiar territory to most home cooks and thankfully, the architecture that gluten provides to other other baking endeavors is not crucial to most cookies that are not made of wheat flour. I wanted to try something unusual for this month's cookie challenge, so I turned to the boatload of baking cookbooks that had recently come into our used bookstore, Old Saratoga Books. One of them, A Baker's Odyssey: Celebrating Time-Honored Recipes from America's Rich Immigrant Heritage, by Greg Patent (NY: John Wiley and Sons, 2007), has entranced me with its intriguing heirloom recipes from bakers from all corners of the world. From Wales to Mexico to Nigeria, the book is stuffed with baking lore and instructions to make the most interesting baked goods.

Patent's description of  Melomakarona Cookies, an ancient holiday cookie from Greece, reeled me in with its siren song. Melomakarona are made with flour, nuts and semolina, perfumed with orange, olive oil and spices and then soaked in a honey-nut syrup. It just seems like something Penelope would have served to Odysseus on his return home, so that he could take in the tastes and scents of his native land and they could lick the honey from each other's fingers. A sensual cookie indeed.

When I produced a batch of this wonderful cookie for my family, however, the kids kept referring to them as maccarena cookies, or worse, melanomas, and only the adults really dug into them. I don't think they were chocolatey or sickly sweet enough for them, but we grownups savored them all week long. They are lovely with a cup of fragrant herb tea and it's a nice contrast between a not-too-sweet, nutty cookie drenched in honey syrup with a nice crust from the potato starch to keep things interesting in one's mouth. Melomakarona also keep well at room temperature and just keep soaking up their honey syrup.

I used a blend of potato starch (for crisp cookie texture), corn flour (not to be confused with corn starch or corn meal. It's a flour that I got from the health food store and I thought it would substitute well for the semolina, adding some nutty flavor and stretchiness to the dough), and buckwheat (for more nuttiness) and this seemed to work well in adapting The Baker's Odyssey recipe to a gluten-free version. Next time I think I would reduce the baking time by 5 or 10 minutes because my cookies did not seem to absorb as much of the syrup as I think they should have because the outsides were fairly crisp. Or maybe I would use half as much potato starch and add in cornstarch or white rice flour to make up the difference. When serving the cookies, I made sure to dole out some extra syrup and chopped nuts after tipping the cookie plate so they could be dunked anew after each bite. They also soften up a little bit if you heat them for a minute in the microwave.

Here then is my contribution to the GF Ratio Rally's cookie extravaganza:

Greek Melomakarona Cookies
(adapted from Greg Patent's A Baker's Odyssey)

6 oz. corn flour
6 oz. potato starch
6 oz. buckwheat flour
1 tsp. xanthan gum
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Extra flour for shaping the cookies (I used white rice flour)

6 oz. olive oil
3 oz. sugar
6 oz. orange juice
Grated zest of one orange

1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

4 oz. honey
4 oz. sugar
6 oz. water

1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

Whisk together corn flour, potato starch, buckwheat flour, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt.

In a larger bowl, whisk together olive oil and 3 oz. sugar to dissolve sugar. Add in orange juice and zest. Gradually mix in flour mixture above until well combined. Slowly add in spices and 3/4 cup walnuts until blended. Let dough rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes. This seems to let the oil suck into the flour and the dough thickens up a bit. It's a very soft dough, but not difficult to work with if you have extra flour to coat your hands.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment. With floured hands, take about 2 Tbsp. of dough and shape into ovals, fitting fifteen cookies onto each prepared cookie sheet.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until cookies are browned and spring back when pressed. Midway through baking time, rotate cookie sheets from top rack to bottom so that they brown evenly.

While cookies are baking, make the syrup by adding honey, 4 oz. sugar and water in a small pot. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to make sure sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes.

Immediately upon taking the cookies out of the oven, slip them onto another cookie sheet or glass baking dish and then drench them in your hot syrup. Let stand for 15 minutes, then flip cookies and let them sit in their hot syrup bath for another 15 minutes. Turn them right side up again and sprinkle with 1/4 cup walnuts. Patent says to let the melomakarona sit overnight before tasting, but this is impossible. The warm cookies are very good right away, though they do improve after soaking in more syrup after a long nap.

Makes 30 cookies.

Be sure to check back with The G-Spot Revolution, where Caroline has links to a wealth of gluten-free cookie posts from the other Ratio Rally bakers. And if you are looking for other gluten-free cookie recipes to try out for your holiday table or Christmas care packages, here are some from the Crispy Cook archives. I like a cookie that is long on spice and not overly sweet, as you can see below.

Swiss Basler Brunsli
Almond Cloud Cookies
Mexican Cinnamon Cookies
Apricot-Ginger Shortbread
Elegant Sesame-Ginger Cookies (vegan)
Peanut Butter Kisses
Elizabeth Barbone's Lemon Bars
Ginger-Nut Lace Cookies
Mocha-Pepper Sandwich Cookies
Fig Newtons
Rudolph's Noses (no bake chocolate-cherry cookies)

Happy baking!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Time to Cook the Books a la Grecque

The latest book pick for Cook the Books, the Internet foodie book club that my friends Johanna of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food and Deb of Kahakai Kitchen started three years ago, is Patricia Volonakis Davis'  Harlot's Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece (NY: Harper Davis Publishers 2008).  With Cook the Books, we have read many kinds of foodie non-fiction, novels, children's literature and biographies, and traveled the world reading about different culinary traditions, but we have never examined the wonderful food culture of Greece, so I was excited when Johanna picked this book for our current CTB selection.

Davis tells the story of her courtship and marriage to a Greek immigrant and the cultural clashes between her first generation Italian-American family and his. Eventually, she and Gregori and their son Nick move to Greece and her descriptions of her new life there were the most interesting part of the book for me. I enjoyed the translations of various Greek words and expressions ("She can make a donkey die!" means someone is stubborn beyond words) and loved her prose about about Greek Orthodox rituals, the complex dance of the biscotti and coffee at Greek funerals, and comparisons of American and Greek attitudes towards children, stray dogs, and education.

Though the word "Food" is given preeminence in the title of this book, there is not so much discussion of Greek cuisine as there are descriptions of how Davis' marriage weakens and ultimately unravels. And this is not what I thought the book would be about, so unfortunately, I would find my thoughts drifting away through yet another recitation of a marital argument or fight with a passive-aggressive in-law. I flipped ahead through many pages seeking out the nuggets about Greek culture seen through an American's eyes or about the love-hate relationship that first generation immigrant families have with US pop culture and societal freedoms.

My favorite character in the book is Patricia's mother, a chain-smoking philosopher, whom she unfortunately becomes estranged from after too many Gregori incidents.  I absolutely loved Mama Nancy's theory of comparative religion. When young Patricia came home from Catholic school one day and asked how one knows that their religion is "the right one", Mom replies:

 "All religions are the "right" religion, if they're right for the person following them. They all teach basically the same things: to love one another, be the best people we can be, to never deliberately harm someone else."

When her daughter asks why there are different religions, Mom's educational metaphor comes back: "The best way I can describe it is that it's like decorating a house. Some have furniture that might seem strange to you, but the people who live there are happy with it." (p. 81)

After my reading, I was inspired to filch a Greek cookbook from our bookstore shelves, Perfect Greek (London: Parragon, 2006) and perused many a delicious recipe for various mezze, sweets and salads, but ultimately I settled on a recipe for a tomatoey Greek Fisherman's Soup which I adapted to be much more stew-like and which made for a wonderfully fragrant meal served over rice. I'm glad I made a big pot of rice, because this concoction had terrific juices and we sopped up every bit at dinner.

Here's a Fish Stew fit for a Harlot or Fisherman or whomever shows up at your table:

Greek Fisherman's Stew (adapted from Perfect Greek)

2 frozen fillets of tilapia, thawed and cut into chunks (they will flake off in the cooking)
1 lb. frozen shrimp, thawed and shelled

1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes and their juice
Peel of one orange
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
3 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Hot cooked rice

Heat olive oil in large soup pot. Add onion, celery and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, about five minutes. Add fish and shrimp and cook, stirring often, another 5-7 minutes, until shrimp are pink

Add white wine and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add orange peel (I used a tangerine and squeezed in the juice too), thyme, parsley and bay leaves. Cook another 15 minutes at a simmer until seafood is thoroughly cooked and the fish has flaked up and into your wonderful stew juices.  Season with salt and pepper and serve over hot cooked rice. The citrus in the sauce really picks up the sweetness of the fish and shrimp.

Makes 4 dinner servings.

Johanna, our resident Athenian Cook the Book hostess, will be posting a roundup of all the blog entries about Harlot's Sauce after tomorrow's deadline, so hop on over to Cook the Books later this week to see all the posts. Our featured author, Patricia Volonakis Davis, will also be serving as our guest judge to select a winner from the blog entries so that should be entertaining reading as well.

**Next up on the Cook the Books reading list is John and Matt Lewis Thorne's collection of food essays "Outlaw Cook".  It's a fantastic book and I invite you all to join us in reading the book and then blogging up your thoughts and any Outlaw-inspired recipes.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Vegetable Sputnik Sends us into Orbit: Cooking with Kohlrabi

Chipmunk-ravaged kohlrabi plants from our garden

A wonderful little vegetable sputnik is the kohlrabi, a newcomer in the Crispy home garden, which I grew from a packet of seeds. Gardening with kohlrabi so easy. They grow rapidly, like radishes, and should be picked before they get too large and woody, or a swell up too quickly after a bout of rainy days.

They have the most interesting, sculptural form, looking all the world like a small, pale green satellite with stemlets jutting out from all points on its circumference.One can eat leaves too if a chipmunk is not present in one's garden shed and keeps nipping out to mine them.

I would describe the taste of this brassica as having a mild turnip or cabbage flavor. When chopped, the pale green flesh is more reminiscent of celeriac or a fat broccoli stem in texture, though it is somewhat more juicy.

You can eat kohlrabi raw, sliced into sticks or rounds to dip into your favorite spread or eat sprinkled with salt. We also tried grating the kohlrabis on my box grater and dressing them with mayonnaise, celery seed and salt and that was an okay sort of salad.

Kohlrabi in a Remoulade Dressing
On the advice of my friend Erika of Hungarian descent, the best way to cook kohlrabi is to hollow out and then parboil smallish specimens and then stuff them with a rice and meat mixture, as one would stuff a green bell pepper. We haven't yet tried that method, but I tried Erika's other suggestion, which was to slice some kohlrabis, fry them in butter and then add vegetable stock and herb. A little simmering time later and they were a nice side dish on a brisk autumn night.

You can also find a lot of information about kohlrabi and how to cook it from one of my favorite vegetable cookbooks, Bert Greene's Greene on Greens (NY: Workman Publishers, 1984). He shows his particular fondness for this brassica with no less than eleven recipes, some of them quite elaborate.

However, the best dish hands down that we have tried with our kohlrabi bounty has been Kohlrabi Cakes. They are similar to potato or zucchini pancakes and we found that we can use up the bags of grated kohlrabi in our freezer. Dan the Breakfast King came up with this recipe during one creative morning and we've been really enjoying them.

Getting the specifics of the recipe from my brilliant, breakfast-making husband is a little difficult since it's kind of an improvisational recipe. He makes it a little bit differently each time, but he also notes that it is a very flexible and forgiving recipe. If you have a  carrot or onion scrap in your fridge, you can add it or not. You can season it differently each time. The amount of flour depends upon how moist your kohlrabi mixture is. So, with some less-than-wide-awake-note-taking on my part (I need my second mug of coffee in the a.m. before I am fully cognizant), I offer the following tasty recipe for:

Kohlrabi Cakes

2-3 apple-sized kohlrabis
1/2 green pepper, coarsely chopped
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 egg, beaten
2-3 Tbsp. white rice flour
Your choice of herbs and seasonings (we like to use coarsely ground black pepper, smoked paprika and salt)
Butter and olive oil for frying

Whack off the ends of the kohlrabi and peel them. Grate them on the big hole side of your box grater. You will end up with about 2 to 2-1/2 cups of grated kohlrabi. Squeeze to remove excess moisture. You can also use frozen grated kohlrabi, thawed and drained.

Mix in pepper, onion, carrot and garlic. Beat in egg, seasonins and add enough flour to bind it all together. If your batter is too moist, add another Tbsp. of flour. It should just hold together when you shape it into patties.

Heat a Tbsp. each of butter and olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add two or three patties to your pan and fry slowly, flipping two or three times, for about 10 minutes, or until kohlrabi cakes are brown and CRISPY on the outside.

Makes 4 kohlrabi cakes.

I am sending this kohlrabi post and recipe to that most venerable food blog event (it's reached venerability as it's in its sixth year!), Weekend Herb Blogging was started by Kalyn's Kitchen and is now headquartered by Haalo at Cook Almost Anything and guest hosted this week in Italian and English by Brii at BriggisHome.

Brii will have a roundup of all the Weekend Herb Blogging #311 posts after this Sunday's deadline, so stay tuned for that.

**And if you would like to enter in my giveaway to receive a copy of Laura Russell's new "Gluten Free Asian Kitchen" cookbook, be sure to leave a comment at the previous post here at The Crispy Cook. I'll have another giveaway this week after I announce the winner of this great new cookbook.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cinnamon Basil Cupcakes with Fresh Tomato Soup for Novel Food

If you are a gardener, cook or voracious reader of mystery novels, (or all three like me) you will love diving into Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayles series. Set in the Texas hill country, China is a former high-powered defense attorney who shifts gears mid-career to open up an herb shop surrounded by gardens in a small town. Her main side kick is a red-haired Amazon, Ruby, who wears flamboyant clothes and shares commercial space with our heroine to run her New Age shop full of crystals, tarot cards and incense.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable time this summer reading through the cozy series, which now numbers 19 books in all.  Albert has a different herbal theme for each book and its title and one can learn a lot about gardening, folklore, the medicinal use of herbs and even try out some delicious recipes from the back of many of the books. I was particularly taken by a scene in Book 2, Witches' Bane, in which China and her mom dine at former nun Maggie's Restaurant and have a lunch of Cinnamon Basil Cupcakes, thick Tomato Soup and Greek Style Broccoli Salad. That sounded like a fantastic combination, so much so, that I ordered cinnamon basil seeds from a catalogue just to try out those cupcakes (which are more like savory muffins).

That's where I was stymied. I had a nice little bunch of Cinnamon Basil plants sprouting up in a clump in the garden when the overzealous weeder, husband Dan, yanked them out by mistake. It was a long interval between reading about this mouthwatering literary feast and actually seeing this project to completion, but it was a worthwhile wait.

A bunch of Cinnamon Basil with gorgeous purple stems

Back to the garden patch I went to plant some more, this time carefully marked with a special stake, and they duly grew into the handsome plants you see above. This basil variety really does have a spicy cinnamon fragrance and taste and are a striking plant with dark purple stems and light purple blossoms. In addition to using them in the following Cinnamon Basil Cupcake recipe, I used the chiffonaded leaves liberally in my tomato and noodle salads all through August.

The Cinnamon Basil Cupcakes come out a pale shade of green, which is not the usual color for a muffin or cupcake, but they are so delectable and they certainly make for a colorful meal paired alongside deep red tomato soup. I will reduce the amount of sugar in this recipe when I make them again, as I felt they were a little too sweet, but they really were a wonderful accompaniment when served warm from the oven and dunked into my soup.

Gluten Free Cinnamon Basil Muffins (or you can call them Cupcakes like China)

1/4 cup cinnamon basil leaves, stripped from stems
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp baking powder

1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Puree cinnamon basil leaves in a blender with the oil until it is a fine puree. Add sugar and egg and mix well.

Sift together dry ingredients. Add to basil-oil mixture and combine. Add in sour cream, milk and walnuts and mix well.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, or until muffins feel springy.

While muffins are baking, you can whip up a quick tomato soup by sauteeing some onions and garlic in olive oil until golden, adding in a bunch of fresh or canned peeled, pureed tomatoes and then cooking over low heat, stirring often, until desired thickness. Season with a little more fresh cinnamon basil and salt and pepper and you have an awesome, literary-inspired light meal.

I hope this whets your appetite for this excellent herbal mystery series and to plant a patch of cinnamon basil yourself. You'll want to read the China Bayles series in order, as China, Ruby and various family members go through a lot of changes in life. I saved up this tasty post just for the 14th edition of Novel Food, which is hosted quarterly by Briciole. Novel Food invites participants to cook up recipes inspired by a literary work which has been particularly captivating.

If you haven't already discovered this fun blog event, you can check back through the archives to discover novels, plays, short stories and poems which have inspired bloggers to whip up wonderful creations in their kitchens. This round of Novel Food ends this Sunday, so you still have time to join in the fun or wait until after the deadline to see what others have been reading and then eating.

**And now for a bit of Crispy Cook housekeeping. I am pleased to announce the winners of my Lundberg Family Farms and Stonehouse 27 giveaways. The five winners are: Lindsey, John, the Swedenese Family, Simona and Kathleen. Congratulations to all and I will be contacting you to get your mailing address so that you can receive your Lundberg Brown Rice Bowl and Stonehouse 27 Cooking Sauce sent to you.

Stay tuned for another Giveaway post this week to learn how to get a copy of a great new GF cookbook: Laura B. Russell's "The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen". I've made several recipes from this cookbook and all have been terrific.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Eat Your Roses. And Your Squash Blossoms

It was during the steamy days of summer that I gave a thorough test drive to a review copy of Eat Your Roses: Pansies, Lavender and 49 Other Delicious Edible Flowers by Denise Schreiber (St. Lynn's Press, 2011). This great kitchen and garden reference is handily bound with a sturdy wire spiral binding so that it lays flat to each page enabling the reader to tote it about during the harvest, cooking or even the selection of one's garden seedlings.

I learned so much from this book and was pleasantly surprised to learn that many of the vegetables and herbs that I let flower on after the main harvest are still able to provide food and garnish for my table. Those radishes that inevitably get past me with their growth spurts are still able to provide snappy salad toppings with their pale pink and purple blossoms. Those deep blue and purple bachelors buttons that I let reseed themselves in bits of my vegetable garden because they arere just so darn pretty and feed the pollinating insects also fed my family for the first time, strewn over our summer salads.  And who knew lilac blooms were edible? I grow a stand just for its heavenly scent and color, but next Spring some lilacs will migrate into my cream cheese to be spread on a cracker for a pre-prandial snack.

Schreiber's book is loaded with color photos and each page is devoted to a different edible flower. Organized alphabetically, the book gives descriptions of how to grow, harvest and prepare each plant and also gives cautionary advice about some of their health impacts (i.e., don't consume chamomile if you are taking blood thinners).  A recipe section at the back lists many scrumptious and unusual dishes that will appeal to all five senses, including Fresh Salsa with Pineapple and Nasturtiums, Watermelon and Feta Salad and Lemon Verbena Salmon.

My tastiest use of this informative book was in experimenting with squash blossoms. I had a healthy zucchini crop this summer (only three plants) with plenty of blossoms available during the really hot spells. Schreiber's book notes that "squash flowers can be stuffed with cheeses and other fillings, battered and deep fried or sauteed and added to pasta". The trick with the squash flowers is to get the male flowers (the ones without a bulbous base that indicates that a baby zucchini is on the way) when they have just started to open, as they are rather fragile and get raggedy even after a day in the sunshine. The other trick is to avoid getting stung by a bee while picking them, as they are also very attractive to the Insect Kingdom. I found that early morning, when the cold-blooded bees are still drowsy and slow, was the best time to swoop in and steal them.

I don't often have great frying success, so rather than battering and frying my blossoms, I gently rinsed and patted them dry, then laid them on a parchment-lined baking tray. I mixed up a little softened goat cheese with salt, pepper and some chopped fresh summer savory and gently stuffed my squash blossoms. I then gave my flowers a good spritz of olive oil.  I popped them in the toaster oven and broiled them for a few minutes on each side, until the tops browned and the cheese started to melt.

They were decadently good and we indulged in this little snack several times over the next few weeks, subbing in cream cheese and basil and rosemary, when the goat cheese ran out and we wanted a different herb flavor. They are also terrific with a little fresh marinara on the side.

If you enjoy cooking from the garden, foraging your own grub or interesting kitchen experiments, you will want to buy your own copy of  Eat Your Roses. You can purchase one at the St. Lynn's Press website ($16.95) or your favorite bookstore.

Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, but was under no obligation to post a review. My comments, as always, are my own.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cook up a Homemade Life and Some Cabbage with Molly Wizenberg

There are times when you are in the mood for a light read to let you escape into another world; there are times for a chunky doorstop of a novel to distract you from the miseries of a stubborn cold; and then there are those occasions when a great book of essays or short stories is just the thing to see you through bouts of stop-and-start appointments and other life interrupters. Molly Wizenberg's "A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table" (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2009) was the perfect book to tuck into during a busy last few weeks and I thoroughly enjoyed reading and dog-earing the pages of this lovely book of food essays.

The author has chronicled her journey from anthropology grad student to popular food blogger and author on her blog Orangette and expands upon these writings in "A Homemade Life". The pivotal moment that changed her life focus came after the death of her gusto-laden dad, known affectionately as Burg. Burg smacked his lips when cooking and eating; he sometimes laughed so hard that he gagged; he showed his family how to live "wholly, hungrily, loudly" and to appreciate the whole process of cooking and gathering together around the table. The pages of "A Homemade Life" are packed with the author's memories of various members of her family and friends, but Burg is the one that cartwheels out of the pages with his effusiveness and charisma.

I was also tickled by Molly's memories of a first date with a health food aficionado who served her a salad made of seven kinds of sprouts--plus three cherry tomatoes!-- and then serenaded her with some sort of Chinese lute. She lurched home to her peanut butter jar to muffle the roar in her stomach. It reminded me all too vividly of some one and only dates in my past, including one strange encounter on Halloween night (I should have known better) with a cute but twitchy reporter who played opera music at Def Leppard volume while we poked at our bowls of not-quite-defrosted lentil soup with blocks of frozen legumes in the middle.

The book is stuffed with recipes for desserts and sweets, but I was lured in by her recipes for savory delights. Someday I will try her intriguing recipe for Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper and those Tuna Buchons, but for a recent dinner, I made up a batch of her homey Cream-Braised Green Cabbage. The cabbage sections come out caramelized, yet sweet and this simple, luscious recipe has won a place in my brassica recipe rotation.

Molly's great book is the present selection of the online foodie book club, Cook the Books, that a couple of food blogger colleagues and I started back in 2008. We take turns hosting the bimonthly rounds of Cook the Books and this time round it was my Hawai'ian blogger buddy Deb of Kahakai Kitchens who picked this gem for us to delve into. Today is the deadline to submit a blog post for the roundup that Deb will put up with all the blogger contributions, so be sure to check back in later to see what others thought about the book and what they cooked up. Molly herself will be taking some time out of honing her next book to serve as the guest judge for the CTB submissions.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gluten Free Chocolate Donuts with Chocolate Glaze: Baked, Beany and Beautiful!

I sit here stunned. Amazed that I baked up something that was not only edible, made with normally infuriating talc-like, slippery, gluten-free flours, but which looked kinda fancy; like something you might buy in a bakery.

I'm talkin' doughnuts, those circular little sweeties that form two-thirds of Homer Simpsons food pyramid; those coffee break staples and snack time scarfables that bring sugar and grease together in one carb-bursting handful of deliciousness. Oh, I tried lightening up my doughnut making foray with some garbanzo bean flour, by baking rather than frying, and by substituting in coconut oil instead of other oil or shortening. But I know doughnuts are lovely indulgences that wreck hell on one's middle-aged metabolism unless you are an annoyingly lean soul such as my Old Man.

Doughnuts and fritters are this month's baking challenge at the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally, hosted this time round by Meg of Gluten Free Boulangerie. Meg has all the other links to the toothsome doughnut varieties that other GF bloggers and awesome bakers have cooked up in their kitchens, so be sure to drop by on your coffee break.... The GF Ratio Rally is built on the premise that using ratios of flour:eggs:fat:liquid and measuring by volume will produce more predictable results in baking and I am sold on the concept after successfully churning out cream puffs and cherry bublanina cake with this group.

I was thinking about maybe sitting out this GF Ratio Rally challenge this month, as my Fear of Frying and visions of ending up with a greasy pan of burnt donut crumbs was scaring me off. But then I had a sign from Saint Honoratus, the patron saint of bakers, while I was making my weekly visit to my favorite charity thrift shop. Ever alert in the housewares section, I spied my Holy Grail: a bag of what I believed to be aluminum doughnut molds (they actually produce a rather skinny, though beautifully round, donut) but which I believe now to be individual jello molds. No matter, St. Honoratus gave me the self-confidence to put these new kitchen treasures to use, and after a thorough cleaning, drying and anointing with holy oil, or rather cooking spray, they were perfect for shaping my sticky and unwieldy donut batter into perfect little cake donuts.

I started with this great recipe for a vegan chocolate donut from this blogger, and then adapted it to be gluten-free and to incorporate the coconut oil for my exploration into the donut zone. I thought that the garbanzo bean flour would work beautifully in a chocolate doughnut, both in terms of taste and texture, and that proved to be the case. The dough was rather sticky, as most GF batters tend to be and really dripped rather slowly and thickly from my wooden spoon into the greased donut molds. It was a messy project, but satisfying, and the gooey batter leveled itself out after a minute or so, so I didn't have to smooth it into position.

These doughnuts are cakey, rather than CRISPY, like fried doughnuts. They had a not too sweet taste and the chocolate, gooey glaze was the perfect counterpoint. With a glass of cold milk or a mug of hot coffee on the side, (and I tried out both options), this made the perfect snack/breakfast/go-to-the-gym-motivator.

Gluten Free Chocolate Doughnuts with Chocolate Glaze

Cooking oil spray

3 oz. coconut oil, (liquified if your coconut oil has gone solid in the jar)

10 oz.  sugar

10 oz. gluten free flour (about 1-1/3 cups - I used a mixture of 1 cup brown rice flour and 1/3 cup garbanzo bean flour, also known as besan)

4 oz. baking cocoa (about 1/2 cup)

1-1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp. xanthan gum

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup milk mixed with 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar (let sit for 10 minutes to get thick)

3 eggs, lightly beaten

2 tsp. vanilla

Chocolate Glaze:

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 Tbsp. melted coconut oil

Doughnut Toppings of your choice (I used flaked coconut and sprinkles for my resident coconut-phobe)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  If you own doughnut molds or donut rings/small jello molds, lightly spray them with cooking spray. If you don't own such things, try a different recipe, because this batter is too oozy for shaping freehand.

Blend together sugar, flours, baking cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum and salt.

Add the  milk and vinegar mixture, coconut oil, eggs and vanilla. Mix just until the ingredients are combined.

Dribble 2 1/2 tablespoons of batter into each prepared doughnut mold. My batter was very thick and I had a lot of drips and drizzles all over the molds until I got the hang of it, so I kept a wet napkin at the ready to wipe things down.

Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool on the racks for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the doughnuts in the molds and invert them onto a baking sheet. Let cool another 10 minutes.

Make chocolate glaze by melted coconut oil over a low flame in a frying pan. Add chocolate chips, and, stirring continuously, let melt into a smooth chocolate glaze.While glaze is still warm, dip half of the doughnut into the chocolate sauce. Allow some to drip off and then dip glaze side down into your coconut or sprinkles. Let dry on a rack for at least another 10 minutes.

Makes 12 doughnuts. GF Ratios: 4:1.5:1.5:2.

These doughnuts are not super-sweet like a coffee-store donut or greasy like the cider donuts you get at an apple orchard. Instead, they are more cake-like and semi-sweet like a great cake donut, but they were a stone cold delight for my family. I am envisioning making spice cake and carrot cake versions in the future, and will certainly be checking out the other GF Ratio Rally recipes that other bloggers have posted over at GF Boulangerie. St. Honoratus would want me to.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Czech Heirloom Recipe Made Gluten-Free: Cherry Bublanina Cake

The theme for this month's Gluten Free Ratio Rally is Yellow or White Cake and I knew immediately which cake I wanted to modify to make GF for our household: my Czech father-in-law's famous Bublanina. Bublanina is a fruit-topped cake that is delectable by itself for dessert or breakfast or gussied up with whipped cream or ice cream. Here's a plate of the delicious blueberry bublanina (try saying that three times fast) and strawberry bublanina that "The Wheaties" were served at our last visit from Alex's kitchen (my GF hubby had ice cream).

Bublanina is good Eastern European comfort food and I wanted to try my hand at a gluten-free version for my Dear One, so this GF Ratio Rally Challenge was the perfect opportunity to get cracking at it. Plus, sweet cherries are in season here in upstate New York, so I bought a couple of pounds: one for snacking and one for cutting up for a Cherry Bublanina

The Gluten Free Ratio Rally event is a monthly challenge to tackle a recipe in which participating bakers use weight as a measure for ingredients rather than standard cups and teaspoons to ensure more reliable results. I enjoyed playing around with Pate a Choux in May to make Cream Puffs Filled with Coffee Cream and posted up my recipe for Smoked Paprika Noodles last month for the pasta round. This time we are all trying out white and yellow cake variations, and the roundup of everyone's posts is available at Gluten Free Gobsmacked.

I was determined to reproduce this homey Czech cake recipe for the Yellow/White Cake round this month and I'm happy to report that it came out really well. You can also use most any other fruit to top your Bublanina. Father-in-law Alex uses strawberries or blueberries most often, but other berries or stone fruit will work well too.

Czech Cherry Bublanina

4 eggs, separated

8 oz. sugar (about 3/4 cup)

8 oz. white rice flour (about 1 cup)

1/2 tsp. lemon juice

1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel

1/2 tsp. xanthan gum

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

fine gluten free bread crumbs

1 lb. pitted slice cherries (or other fruit)

Powdered sugar

Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Add 1/3 of the sugar, beating until whites are stiff and glossy. Fold in egg yolks, 1 at a time, and then blend in remaining sugar and flour. Gently blend in xanthan gum, cinnamon, lemon juice and grated lemon peel.

Grease a square or rectangular 1 quart baking pan and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Pour in batter and spread evenly in a layer about 1 to 1 and 1/2 inches thick. Dust cherries with a bit of white rice flour and arrange evenly on top of batter.

Bake in preheated 325 degree oven for 30-35 minutes. Cool. To serve cut in squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Makes 8 servings.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cook the Books: Garden Spells and Bachelors Buttons

With the fruits of our garden labors taking up an increasing amount of real estate on my kitchen counters, it is the perfect time to let you know about an evocative novel, Garden Spells, the debut offering by bestselling author Sarah Addison Allen (NY: Bantam Books, 2007). This is the current book selection for the bimonthly foodie book club, Cook the Books.

Cook the Books features books from all kinds of genres, from chef memoirs to fiction featuring cooking or foodcentric themes, and participants offer up posts that discuss our current selection and their culinary creations inspired by their reading. I will be coordinating the roundup of submissions at the Cook the Books blog after tomorrow's deadline and then our guest judge, Jenna of the wonderfully entertaining blog, Literature and a Lens, will pick a winner.

Garden Spells
is a lyrical blend of Southern Gothic and magical realism set in a small North Carolina town, where the Waverley clan has always had a certain reputation for odd powers. Elderly cousin Evanelle is driven to give people gifts which they later find out that they need and want, from Strawberry Pop-Tarts to bed linens, condoms and mango cutters. Caterer and night gardener Claire cooks up magical foods that have various properties, like the snapdragon casserole used to ward off the unwanted admiration of her hunky new neighbor. It would be a plot spoiler to let y'all know about the power that her wayward sister Sydney discovers that she possesses late in the book, but suffice it to say that all of the Waverley women have unusual talents. Even the family apple tree in the backyard has an ominous power: the ability to fling apples around, which, if eaten, will give the bearer a vision of the biggest event in his or her life. And bigger is not always better.

There were so many delicate and intriguing things that Claire cooks up in this book: lavender bread, crystallized pansies, violet white cake, lemon-verbena sorbet, and honeysuckle wine. Herbs and garden vegetables feature prominently in her sensual descriptions and it was a treat to read the excerpts from the Waverley kitchen journal at the rear of this book. Chive Blossoms will ensure you will win an argument and are an antidote for hurt feelings, and Nasturtiums are noted as promoting appetite in men (for sex or food, or both?) and for making women secretive. Very entertaining.

With a swath of long-blooming Bachelors Buttons in my vegetable patch, grown just for attracting pollinating insects (and because they're so easy to grow and are self-sowing), I was delighted to learn from this book that the petals are edible and, according to this book,
"Bachelor's buttons make people see sharper, helpful for finding thing like misplaced keys and hidden agendas"

Well, sez I, I could certainly use help in both these departments, so I plucked a handful of petals, and used them to garnish a salad gleaned right out of the Crispy summer garden: mixed lettuces, radishes soaked in rice vinegar and some sliced asparagus stalks. They really looked lovely as a garnish and I am making a note to remind myself to use them on top of my next Fourth of July dessert. They are so deeply blue.

I'll be posting the roundup of all the Garden Spells submissions over at the Cook the Books blog after tomorrow's deadline and encourage you to drop by and see all the different, creative interpretations of this dreamy novel that we've all cooked up.

Our August/September Cook the Books selection is A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg, a collection of essays and recipes, compiled from her popular blog Orangette. Anyone is welcome to join in the fun for this and all future rounds of CTB by reading the selected book, and then blogging up your book commentary and a dish inspired from its pages.

Off to deliver some garden produce to my friends. Now, where'd I put those keys?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic for Weekend Herb Blogging #292

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (Hamlet, by William Shakespeare)

And so it seems the Bard's words ring true with each trip I take to the ethnic markets in Albany.

Finding a new vegetable to cook up is so much fun. While at the vast arboretum that is the produce section at Albany's Asian Supermarket, I found a bag of bright green pea shoots to play with. They looked just like the tips of my own garden peas with their curly tendrils and fleshy stems and leaves, but since clipping the tips of peas would mean diminishing the precious harvest of fresh peas from the pod, I have never wanted to harvest my own.

I washed through this bag and picked out a few yellowed pea shoots and then rinsed them off. My cookbook collection advised me to simply prepare this tender vegetable with some garlic, oil and a splash of soy sauce, so that is what I did. I threw 5 cloves of finely chopped garlic in some heated peanut oil; stirred them around for a minute or so, then threw in my pea shoots. They wilted down, though not as much as spinach or other fresh greens would, and after 3-4 minutes of stir-frying, I splashed in a tablespoon of soy sauce and hied them over to the table.

Curiously, these pea shoots did not so much taste of peas as spinach. They have a springy texture from the stems and a soft, melting greens taste in their leaves. They are full of all kinds of wonderful nutrients and they will be sproinging their way onto my table again soon. I may even have to consider harvesting my own, much as I love my sweet little petit pois; that's how tasty they are.

I found a great list of pea shoot recipes on this website and will be sure to try out some of these methods soon.

This sojourn into the possibilities of pea shoots is my contribution to the 292nd edition of Weekend Herb Blogging, which I am hosting here at The Crispy Cook. Weekend Herb Blogging, now in its fifth year, is headquartered Down Under by Haalo at Cook Almost Anything, and if you are new to WHB you can find out all the details about this popular and longstanding food blog event here.

In a nutshell, (or pea pod), Weekend Herb Blogging is a weekly celebration of posts from great cooks all around the globe which spotlight an edible member of the Vegetable Kingdom, be it herb, fruit, flower, veggie or some other plant part. Posts for WHB must be written exclusively for this event and not cross-posted elsewhere. They may contain information about growing, harvesting or cooking a plant ingredient. The deadline for submitting a WHB #292 submission is Sunday, July 17, 5 pm, Eastern Standard Time.

To participate, send your posts to me at oldsaratogabooks AT gmail DOT com
with WHB #292 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 your tasty posts!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Smoked Paprika Noodles with Butter, Cheese and Garlic Scape and Herb Drizzle

A wonderful bunch of gluten-free bloggers posted a collection of recipes and posts for making fresh pasta a couple of days ago. I was unable to get my own post up in time for the Gluten Free Ratio Rally, a monthly food blog challenge that encourages experimentation in the kitchen with gluten-free flours. Last month, we all played with pate a choux (I made cream puffs filled with coffee cream) and next month we will be trying out cake recipes.

I did make an awesomely good set of gluten-free noodles, gently flavored and colored with smoked paprika, and wanted to share my experiment with you. I started with the Fresh Gluten-Free Pasta recipe from the showcase cookbook, Gluten Free Girl and the Chef by Shauna and Daniel Ahern. I had made their recipe for fresh pasta once before and wanted to switch up some of the flours. Shauna and Daniel's recipe in their cookbook called for corn flour and quinoa flour, which added a nice nubby texture to the fresh pasta, but I was out of quinoa flour, so I subbed in brown rice flour and added in 3 generous tablespoons of smoked paprika. The Aherns have since done some other experimenting with fresh pasta, so you can check out their recipe at the link above and try it for yourself to find out how adding in a boost of extra egg yolks makes the dough more easy to work with.

My dough came out beautifully; just needed a touch more water to make it more pliable. I covered it and let it rest for a while, giving me time to head out to the herb patch to pick some Italian parsley, basil, oregano and garlic scapes. I whizzed them up with some olive oil and kosher salt in my blender to make a garlicky herb drizzle that I scattered over the noodles later on.

I then rolled out my pasta dough between sheets of parchment paper and was able to get it to about 1/4 inch thickness. I would have liked it to be thinner, but I just couldn't seem to get it to stretch as much as I wanted, so my noodles came out on the hearty and thick side. I therefore cut them into short fettuccine lengths.

After a short bath in some salted boiling water, I tossed my noodles with some butter and grated Parmesan, seasoned with salt and pepper and then drizzled on my garlic scape and herb puree. What a toothsome dish! It was a satisfying, yet light supper and we all licked our plates.

I'm sending a batch of these gluten free noodles over to Presto Pasta Nights, a weekly celebration of the world of pasta started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. This week's guest host is Lavender and Lime, who will be posting her roundup of carbs next Friday.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Pasta with Broccoli Rabe, Garlic Scapes and Anchovies

It's taken years, but I finally made an anchovy aficionado out of the old husband. Oh, I've tried before, with stealthy insertions of the salty fish into Caesar Salads, minced onto pizza pies and tucked into pastas, but I was always discovered. Not until I melted a tin of anchovies into a luscious and decidedly unsalty base for a supper pasta with Broccoli Rabe and some of our bountiful supply of homegrown garlic scapes did I succeed in winning over my Dan to the anchovy side.

When anchovies are cooked down over a low flame, they lose their super salinity and gain a mellow, earthy flavor that was the perfect foil to the bitter Broccoli Rabe greens. This dish was so successful, I've made it twice since, and Dan has even cleaned out the cupboard of my tinned anchovy stash, so I believe I have an anchovy convert on my hands now.

It's a quick and simple pasta dish and one that I will pass on to you should you covet a hearty pasta dish with once-sharp flavors that are delightfully mellowed after cooking.

Pasta with Broccoli Rabe, Garlic Scapes and Anchovies

1/2 bunch broccoli rabe, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch slices

1 lb. fettuccine

1 tin anchovies

10 garlic scapes, chopped

Olive oil

Pinch of hot pepper flakes

Grated Romano cheese

Salt and Pepper to taste (taste first; you made not need to add any salt with the saltiness of the anchovies)

Cook fettuccine until al dente. Drain and rinse with warm water. Set aside.

Heat a teaspoon or so of olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add chopped garlic scapes and stir over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring. Add anchovies and their oil and break up with a wooden spoon, stirring until they melt and coat the scapes. Add chopped broccoli rabe and stir all around. Cook until leaves are wilted and broccoli rabe is crisp-tender, about 7-8 minutes. Add a little water and cover pan to steam for another minute or two.

Add hot pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Mix with your cooked pasta and toss to coat. Garnish with grated cheese.

Serve hot to 6-8 persons.

I am sending a plate of this toothsome pasta over to Helen of Fuss Free Flavours, who is this week's host for Presto Pasta Nights. This weekly event was started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast and is a great showcase for noodly dishes. Helen will have the roundup for Presto Pasta Nights #221 posted after the July 7 deadline.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Foraging a Fungus Among Us Which is Now In my Corpus

And what a delicious fungus it was. I don't normally cook dangerously; but having transplanted a patch of lily-of-the-valley at the base of a grand old sugar maple in my backyard the day before, I came out to inspect my flowers the next morning. Right above them was this beautiful shelf of white mushroom that had definitely not been in residence before.

It was a truly lovely 'shroom.

It was a pearly white with a cascading shape and sweet aroma.

And most importantly, it looked delicious.

Now, I'm no foraging expert. I am more in tune with the idea of foraging than successful in its application. I've failed at harvesting stinging nettles (gathered them too late in their development) and at figuring out fiddlehead ferns (gathered them too early in their development). The potential for disaster with harvesting wild mushrooms always steered me clear but this specimen was so tantalizing.  And my husband Dan was so cute when I pointed out this gorgeous fungus and its potential for our dinner. He exclaimed that he had just fallen in love with me all over again.

Out came my field guides, my mushroom books, my Euell Gibbons library, and research on the Internet. After much study, it appears that I had an Oyster Mushroom, a wild edible delight that blooms on decayed and dying maples during the spring and summer in the Northeast. It has no toxic lookalike mushroom cousins on this continent and so it was with only a small amount of trepidation that I cleaned it up, dipped cut up sections in brown rice flour and then dipped them back in some beaten egg. After a final dredging in some gluten-free bread crumbs, I sauteed them briefly in butter and garnished my 'shrooms with some chopped lemon thyme and parsley.

Heeding well-worn foraging advice of the ages to only sample a small amount of this new wild edible, we adults munched on our CRISPY fried oyster mushrooms with moderation on the first night. They were earthy and delicate and had a nice chewy texture. The next day, having noticed that we were still alive and were suffering no ill effects of my foraging adventure, we heated them up and feasted once more on these delicious wild treats.

I noticed one more shelf of oyster mushroom blooming at the base of my tree and decided to come back a few days later to cook it up, but alas, the passage of just a couple of days had made this mushroom dry up quite a bit and turn brown. There were also lots of insects in residence, so it was not the evanescent thing of beauty that its had been.

I am sending this successful mushrooming adventure post over to Healthy Green Kitchen, who is hosting this week's episode of Weekend Herb Blogging. WHB is the popular food blog event centering on edible plants, herbs, flowers and fruits, and is headquartered at Cook Almost Anything. Healthy Green Kitchen will post a roundup of delicious posts from great cooks from all corners of the globe, so tune in after tomorrow's deadline to see what was cooking.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Jazzing up some Gluten Free Eats with Zatarain's Rice Mixes

Jazz is a cool word, isn't it? It describes a great style of American music, conveys being excited ("I was jazzed up to hear about your new job"), and can be used as a verb to show how to do something creatively ("he jazzed up his vintage automobile with a coat of paint and some spiffy detailing").

So, when the folks at the Zatarain's company asked if I'd like to review some samples of their gluten-free rice mixes, I was, in a word, jazzed. I love the spiciness and flavor combinations of New Orleans style cooking and was delighted to receive four boxes of various Zatarain's rice mixes to try out.

With the smoky sounds of some Cassandra Wilson on my kitchen boom box to inspire me, I first tried out this easy supper recipe from the company's website: Seared Shrimp, Peas and Yellow Rice. Perfect! Everyone gobbled that down because we all love those three ingredients and I loved the ease of slapping it together on a softball-school concert week night. Next time I'll try it out with frozen shrimp, because I usually have a bag in the freezer for a quick meal.

I used to buy bags of a different brand of Yellow Rice mix that my kids would love, but it contains wheaty ingredients so I haven't done so since we went gluten-free. But the new Zatarain's Yellow Rice mix is gluten-free, so that restores one more food that we all used to enjoy before the celiac diagnosis. The Jambalaya rice mix and Dirty Rice mixes are a bit spicier than the Yellow Rice, and I doctored them up further with a bit of garden cilantro, whizzed up into a slurry with some olive oil and coarse salt, and swirled throughout the rice. Delicious!

The Zatarain's Yellow Rice is sold for $1.29 for an 8 oz. box at my local supermarket and there's a bigger "family size" box as well, so it's an inexpensive start to a quick meal when you are pressed for time. I even made the Jambalaya Rice and Dirty Rice mixes in my rice cooker (they spluttered a bit, but it came out fine. As Roger Ebert notes, "the pot always knows"). I've since stocked up on Yellow Rice and Dirty Rice for our cupboard so I can whisk together a shortcut dinner during this hectic end-of-the-school-year.

Do avoid the Red Beans and Rice, which contains wheat and barley, but many of the other varieties of the Zatarain's rice mixes - Jambalaya, Yellow Rice, Dirty Rice, Spanish Rice, Long Grain and Wild Rice - are gluten-free and should all be displaying a gluten-free label with a little check mark (see lower left corner on photo above) on your grocer's shelf as the old product sells and the new packages arrive. You can see the full list of the company's gluten-free products and some other jazzy recipes here.

Overall, an enthusiastic thumbs up for these tasty products and a thank you to the Zatarain's company for adding the gluten-free labeling to their GF products. We all still need to double check labels to make sure foods are safe to eat, but it's nice to have another large food company reach out to the gluten-free community and retool its packaging to make it easier to shop for our dinners.