Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Nutty and Toasty Cauliflower Curry

Lazy weekend cooking days are good balms for the soul on a chilly winter day. Today I had marinara quietly burbling on the woodstove, a pot of chamomile tea brewed for my periodic refreshment, a bunch of past-due refrigerator and pantry edibles pulled out for last minute cooking reprievals and potatoes and eggplant baking in the oven. All that cooking helps heat the house so that's an incentive too (19 degrees F this morning!).

I had most of a bag of these fun shaped Disco Crisps from my last jaunt to the Asian markets in Albany. These flat wafers are made of chickpea flour and spicy flavorings and though the package contains no cooking directions, I have found from experience that the best way to puff them up so that they are opaque and CRISPY is to microwave them for 2-3 minutes. My microwave doesn't turn any more, so I have to nuke them for 1 minute, then stir them around and then nuke them another minute.

They are very tasty and make nice, spicy snacks (my pet Venus Flytrap was trying to score one in the photo above if you look very closely). These Disco Crips are very good paired with a yogurt dip. They had to be cooked up en masse, so I decided to build an Indian meal around them.

I still had enough basmati rice left to cook up a pot full and then there was this beautiful head of cauliflower rolling around the back of the fridge that needed cooking. I pulled out some cookbooks and combed my recipe index file for a new way to coddle my crucifer. I found a yellowed index card in my file for an intriguing Cauliflower Curry that uses a blend of ground roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, unsweetened coconut (I bought a bag of coconut "strings" from the Asian markets last time that I keep in my freezer) and a lush blend of spices.

The smells in my kitchen were heavenly. I kept popping the top of my blender after I had ground up this mixture and it was like being transported to some sunny, golden place that had great music. Hey, that sounds like India! Had pop on some bhangra on the boom box and dance in the kitchen.

I wish I could give you the provenance for this recipe or give proper thanks to its creator, but I'm afraid all I have is my handwritten card from some decade past. To whomever it was, thank you and let me share this heavenly recipe for:

Cauliflower Curry

1/2 cup grated unsweetened coconut
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground ginger

2 Tbsp. shelled, roasted peanuts (be sure to check labels on roasted nuts of all kinds, because some manufacturers use wheat in their seasoning mix. Make sure your peanuts are gluten free)

1/2 tsp. garam masala (use curry powder if you don't have garam masala and kick it up with some cayenne pepper to taste)

1 medium head of cauliflower, broken into medium florets.

2 medium onions, peeled and sliced thinly

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Salt to taste

Juice of 1/2 lemon (I only had a lime, but it still tasted great)

Heat large frying pan. Add sesame seeds and toast, stirring continually, until seeds are brown and toasted, about 2-3 minutes. Immediately remove from hot pan and toss into a blender.

Add coconut, cumin, cloves, ginger, peanuts, and garam masala. Cover blender and blend on low for 1 minute, until all ingredients are blended together and peanuts are in a fine meal. The scent of this mixture will transport you.

Heat oil in large frying pan. Add sliced onions, and fry until soft and slightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. Add cauliflower and stir to coat with oil and onions. Add in transporting nutty blender mixture and 1/4 cup water. Stir to blend. Cover pan, and cook over low heat, until cauliflower is just tender, stirring every several minutes.

Add lemon juice and salt to taste, and cook another 1-2 minutes. Serve hot.

Serves 4-6 as a main dish served with luscious basmati rice and disco chips.

I'm linking this blog post and recipe up with a new gluten-free blogger friend, Brittany of Real Sustenance, who is passionate about cooking with the seasons. She's already got a great collection of seasonal recipes linked back to her site for her weekly Seasonal Sundays event, so drop by, say hi and check out her cool blog.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Cake Mix Doctor and the Crispy Cook Mix it Up in the Kitchen

I may have mentioned once or twice or seventeen times before on this blog that I am not now nor have I ever been known for my mad baking skills, pre- or post Glutenization. I am more at home with the savory, not the sweet, though I do love to make desserts for my family.

It's that precise, orderly, Zen master state of being that one needs for baking that eludes me. You can't play fast and loose with measurements or mix up baking soda and baking powder with any success. Having to bake without wheat flour is a whole other level of needing to have the various flours and gums in stock and remembering not to flop them into the mixing bowl too vigorously so that the fine particles powder one's face in the blow back. It's like baking needs a classical music soundtrack and I've got bebop and world music playing in my mind. I'd rather make soup.

But take a look at this beautiful cake I made the other day. Me, Rachel, the Crispy Cook, followed a recipe and it not only was pronounced delicious and devoured by the family and one newish boyfriend type (he ate my cake with gusto but is not yet within my Circle of Trust), but it looked really, really beautiful! Feast your peepers on this Bacardi Rum bundt cake which I made from the new cookbook by Anne Byrn "The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten Free (NY: Workman Publishing, 2011).

Fancy schmancy! It was very easy to mix this bad girl up and the texture was springy and not at all dry like so many other gluten-free cakes I've attempted. Byrn relates that she experimented for a couple of years with various gluten-free cake mixes, learning from her experiments that the grittiness of the rice flour in these mixes can be tempered with sugars and instant pudding and playing around with proportions of liquids and baking times.

This is the first recipe I made from this cookbook, but it will not be the last, as there are 75 other recipes for other bundts, traditional layer cakes, cookie bars, brownies and even a classic wedding cake recipe. The Crispy Husband has a birthday next month and even though I traditionally make him a Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing, I think I will surprise him with something different, like the German Chocolate Cake (p. 60) or a Boston Cream Pie (p. 82) and see how he likes it.

Thank you to Workman Publishers for sending me a review copy of this cool new GF cake bible and to Anne Byrn for spending so much time working up these toothsome recipes. With the publisher's permission, I am also happy to share the recipe for the cake I made so that you can test drive this great cookbook out for yourself. Anne's got a few other gluten-free recipes on her website which you can check out as well.

Bacardi Rum Cake with Buttered Rum Glaze -
(reprinted with the publisher's permission from The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten-Free by Anne Byrn, NY: Workman, 2011)

There is nothing better than a good rum Bundt cake, and the classic Bacardi cake is the best of them all. This recipe is much like the original Bacardi cake from my first Cake Mix Doctor book, but made with a gluten-free cake mix, of course. The difference is the glaze, a better glaze with some brown sugar in it. The glaze seeps into the cake, keeping it moist, and full of good rum flavor. The pecans in the bottom of the pan are totally optional, but I love how they get crunchy as the cake bakes.

For the cake

Vegetable oil spray, for misting the pan

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (optional, see Note)

1 package (15 ounces) yellow gluten-free cake mix

1/4 cup (half of a 3.4-ounce package) vanilla instant pudding mix

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup Bacardi dark rum (The Cake Mix Doctor says it's okay to use light rum too which I did)

1/4 cup water

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the buttered rum glaze

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 cup lightly packed light brown sugar

3 tablespoons Bacardi dark rum

1. Make the cake: Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly mist a 12-cup Bundt pan with vegetable oil spray. Scatter the pecans evenly in the bottom of the Bundt pan. Set the pan aside.

2.Place the cake mix, pudding mix, sour cream, oil, ¹⁄³ cup of rum, and the water, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until the ingredients are just incorporated, 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat the batter until smooth, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes longer, scraping down the side of the bowl again if needed. Pour the batter over the pecans in the prepared Bundt pan, smoothing the top with the rubber spatula, and place the pan in the oven.

3. Bake the cake until it is golden brown and the top springs back when lightly pressed with a finger, 40 to 45 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, make the buttered rum glaze: Place the butter in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until melted. Add the brown sugar and 3 tablespoons of rum, and stir to combine over low heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture boils and thickens, 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the glaze cool.

5. Transfer the Bundt pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool for 10 minutes. Run a long, sharp knife around the edges of the cake, shake the pan gently, and invert the cake onto a wire rack to cool completely, 5 to 10 minutes longer.

6. Using a wooden skewer, poke a dozen holes in the top of the cake, being careful not to loosen the pecans. Very slowly spoon the cooled glaze over the warm cake letting it soak into the holes in the cake before adding more. Let the cake cool to room temperature, 20 minutes longer before slicing and serving.

Note: If you have a nut allergy, omit the pecans and dust the pan with cinnamon sugar (see box, page 118). The cake will be just as delicious.

Keep It Fresh! Store the cake in a cake saver at room temperature for up to three days. Freeze the unglazed cake, wrapped in aluminum foil, for up to one month. Let the cake thaw overnight on the kitchen counter before glazing.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Adopting A Blogger Who Really Knows How to Cook

Hey, this woman can cook! I'm talking about Jill, the mighty force behind Hey, That Tastes Good!. She's my culinary-adventurer-in-the-kitchen hero and the person I most wanted to adopt for the past several rounds of the The Book of Yum's Adopt a Gluten-Free Blogger Event (someone kept adopting her ahead of me, but I was quick on the draw for this last round).

I always have a few of Jill's recipes bookmarked and had the good fortune to meet her in person last Fall at the Gluten-Free Blogger Summit at the General Mills headquarters. She was just as sardonically funny in person as she is writing on her blog and it was a pleasure to be her baking buddy in the Betty Crocker Test Kitchen when we were musing about how we'd like to doctor up our assigned recipe, Mexican Brownies, with a generous blast of chipotle powder.

Not only is Jill terribly photogenic, but she's an enthusiastic and confident cook. She's always sharing her kitchen experiments with new foods and cuisines and she comes up with great recipes time and time again. I have made her fried calamari a couple of times now and it is as good as any we've ordered in a restaurant. For our Thanksgiving meal, I tried Jill's Green Bean Casserole, and let me tell you, those crunchy fried onions were hard to hang on to when I was multitasking in my holiday kitchen. I had to keep swatting people away from "tasting" them while I was trying to whip up the rest of the side dishes. The seasoned cornstarch coating really gives the onions a wonderful crunch.

After Jill posted a recipe for a gluten-free Tres Leches Cake, I had to duplicate that in my own kitchen. I had heard about this milk and cream infused cake that is very popular in Latin America, and so when Jill put out a GF version, I was on it! Tres Leches means "three milks" in Spanish, and the sponge cake base of this cake is stabbed and poked to create holes for the combination of condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream that is slowly poured over it all. Top it with some whipped cream as I did, and now you're talking Cuatro Leches and one decadent dessert! And some extra time at the gym.

Now I know that bloggers don't often post their kitchen failures, but it seems like Jill just comes up with one scrumptious and interesting recipe after another. So far, everything I've cooked up from her blog has made me look good in the kitchen, so I'm going to keep on bookmarking them, because I know, hey, that will taste good!

Then there's her mad photography skills and the cute family photos back on the blog. Plus, that awesome new recipe she just posted for Spinach Filled Spring Rolls....What a GF Temptress!

You can check out all the other Adopt a Gluten Free Blogger roundups back at the Book of Yum after the Feb. 5th deadline.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pea Salad in Endive Cups

Getting one's daily dose of chlorophyll is more challenging in the winter months. One can't freeze lettuce and so salads must be devised out of other greenery. I often make use of frozen petite peas in various salad incarnations and my latest pea salad tinkering came out so well that I thought I would share this elegant and dare I say easy peasy winter recipe with you.

My friend Lisa, of Finnish-German heritage, makes a great Sweet Pea Salad comprised of frozen peas, sour cream, celery and cashews, but I prefer a more vibrant melange for my pea salad combos and hit upon a great mustardy, lemony, cheesy pea salad that we enjoyed recently served in crisp leaves of Belgian endive.

Endive is a vigorous plant that is easy to grow outdoors in these parts, but the Belgian endive one gets from the grocer is an endive plant that is grown in darkness and sends up hopeful little shoots that are blanched white. They make nice alternatives to chips as crunchy little vehicles for dips and salads and have a slightly bitter taste.

Pea Salad in Endive Cups

1 (10 oz.) pkg. frozen petite peas (don't get the bigger sized peas as they tend to be starchier and mushier)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard (check to make sure no wheat flour has been added)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and Pepper to taste

1 cup grated Cheddar Cheese

Belgian endive, separated into leaves

Thaw frozen peas in colander. Shake to drain.

Mix together mayonnaise, mustard, olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add in thawed peas and grated cheese and gently toss. Let stand 1/2 hour to meld flavors.

Makes 4-6 side dish servings. Great as a pot luck salad and delightful spooned into endive leaves for an elegant appetizer.

I am sending some of this delicious winter pea salad over to my blogger buddy Simona of Briciole, who is this month's guest host of My Legume Love Affair #31, started by Susan the Well-Seasoned Cook to celebrate the wonderful variety of legumes. Legumes are well-loved in our house for their tastiness, economy and healthful qualities and I encourage you to stop by Briciole after the January 31 deadline to see a spectacular amount of posts from bloggers around the world when the roundup is posted for this popular event.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Untangling my Chopsticks with Japanese Comfort Food in the New Year

Denizens of some lakeside and seaside communities like to dip into icy waters for a Polar Bear Plunge on New Year's Day, believing that it brings one good luck and fortune in the months ahead. For me, the alternative of a gentler dive into a great book about Japanese culture and cuisine has proven to be just the ticket for starting the New Year in our house.

After the delightful indulgences of the holiday season, I have been ready for some lighter, more delicate fare to balance things out and rereading Victoria Abbott Riccardi's "Untangling My Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto", (NY: Broadway Books, 2003) has been the perfect cup of (green) tea to start 2011 for the Crispy Cook.

This book is the current book selection for Cook the Books, the bimonthly foodie book club and I have the privilege of hosting the book discussion and roundup for this round, which ends January 28, 2011. We love to have new members join us in reading our selected book and then blogging and cooking up something inspired by our anointed book, so be sure to check the Cook the Books website for more details and to see the cool roundup of posts after our deadline.

I initially read this evocative book a couple of years ago for a Books About Food Reading Challenge, and here's my summary from that first reading:

"Untangling my Chopsticks" recounts the author's year spent in Kyoto, Japan, learning about the art of kaiseki. Kaiseki is the traditional and highly ritualized series of foods to accompany green tea ceremonies and involves a series of small dishes of exquisitely prepared and garnished foods.

Riccardi lands in Kyoto without much knowledge of Japanese culture or language, but is fortunate to have some friends of friends to stay with until she finds other lodging, enrolls in language classes and snags a coveted spot in a prestigious tea kaiseki school where there is an American ex-pat to help her navigate the new culinary and language challenges she faces.

The kaiseki banquets she studies sound exquisite; they evolved from Buddhist monastery traditions into highly formal social dining banquets in which tastings of thick and thin whipped green tea are interspersed with samples of the freshest, seasonal dishes, exquisitely garnished. She also provides interesting glimpses of Japanese home cooking and ordinary restaurant fare, and includes many recipes easily adapted to Western kitchens.

Though this book is but a glimpse into a highly complex Japanese culinary tradition, it was a mouthwatering introduction and I will be referring back to it when attempting my own forays into Japanese cooking."

I enjoyed my reread of Riccardi's book just as much, and found that I was bookmarking different pages the second time round. There is so much that is elegant and seasonal about this refined style of cuisine that I know I will be seeking out many times over.

I am a novice Japanese cook, so I thought I would start with the basics of preparing dashi, the kelp and bonito broth that is a mainstay in many Japanese dishes and then prepare a simple donburi, "Japan's quintessential comfort food", according to Riccardi. Donburi is a bowl of hot cooked rice topped with eggs and other proteins along with vegetables in a salty, sweet broth.

I made dashi according to Riccardi's recipe (page 48) which was very easy, once I had the correct ingredients: konbu, or dried giant kelp, brought just to the boiling point in a pot of water and then removed, and dried bonito flakes. I then used some of my dashi in a Shrimp and Egg Donburi and some as the stock for a slurpy bowl of rice noodles later that same week.

The donburi was a great dish for a wintry, overcast January day, with candles lit on the table and the woodstove crackling away. Our featured book notes that donburi restaurants pepper Japan and describes this dish thus:

"Scrumptious, healthy, and prepared in a flash, it redefined the meaning of fast food" (p. 21)

Certainly seems a better fast food alternative than a "special sauce" burger and fries on so many levels.

Shrimp and Egg Donburi (adapted from Riccardi's Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl recipe in "Untangling my Chopsticks")

4 cups hot cooked rice

1 cup dashi (I made homemade dashi which is super easy, but there are also canned and powdered dashi products available in Asian markets)

1/4 cup soy sauce (check to make sure this is wheat-free)
1-1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. mirin (sweet rice wine)

4 eggs

1/2 lb. large shrimp, shelled and deveined (I used frozen shrimp)

3 Tbsp. snipped chives or scallions

Mix dashi, soy sauce, sugar and mirin in medium soup pot. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer two minutes.

Break eggs into mixing bowl. Untangle your chopsticks and use them to beat eggs until blended. Chopsticks work surprisingly well at this.

Add shrimp to simmering broth. Pour eggs over the shrimp and then sprinkle on the chives. Let simmer without stirring , until shrimp turn pink. Gently stir up shrimp and eggs and cook another 1-2 minutes, until shrimp are completely cooked.

Divide hot cooked rice into four medium bowls. Pour shrimp-egg mixture and broth over rice in each bowl.

Slurp away!

This dish really calls for those big porcelain Chinese ladle spoons which I didn't have, so you can slurp up a good portion of rice, broth and egg/shrimp chunks.

Serves Four.

I will be trying this again soon with tofu cubes and sliced raw fish. Truly great fast food!

As hostess of this round of Cook the Books I have already received some great submissions based on "Untangling my Chopsticks" and look forward to seeing what the rest of the batch looks like. Be sure to stop back at the Cook the Books website for the roundup after January 28.