Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cook the Books Review: An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof

As one terribly winter-weary North Country resident, I was glad to have an armchair sea voyage to warmer climes courtesy of Ann Vanderhoof in her book "An Embarrassment of Mangoes" (Doubleday Canada, 2003).  This fun book is the current selection of The Cook the Books Club , a bimonthly foodie book club and was chosen by my CTB cohort Deb of Kahakai Kitchen.

Vanderhoof's book is about the two-year sailing trip that she and her husband Steve made from their home in Toronto down through the Caribbean. Long distance sailing holds no appeal for my hobbity self, but I was glad to have this vicarious vacation in a dust jacket while foot upon foot of snow and other variants of frozen precipitation visited my home pretty much every couple of days these many long winter weeks. It was nice to imagine myself basking in sunshine, sipping a rum punch and bopping to soca, that combination of soul and calypso music that screams "party time!"

The author's prose is very descriptive and certainly lauds the wonders and beauty of cruising around the West Indies, but she doesn't gloss over poverty in the region or the down side of sailing.  I loved her passage about the day long chore of scrubbing, washing and repacking of foodstuffs when stashing new provisions to avoid bringing bugs on board. Vanderhoof was lucky to make friends with a Grenadian buddy, Dingis, who is a master in the kitchen and offered to teach her some of her cooking secrets.

I was entranced by the description of Dingis' lobster curry, so despite the very dear cost of the crustacean, I got one steamed at the fish counter of my supermarket and brought him home, scarlet and stiff, in a waterlogged paper bag.  I cracked the meat out and then stuffed the shells into a pot with some vegetable trimmings collected in my freezer stash and boiled it all up for a delicious lobster broth that was later cooked up into a lobster-scented rice.

The lobster rice served as my base for Dingis' Lobster Curry (recipe on page 127 of the book).  I was surprised that the lobster wasn't overwhelmed by all the seasonings in this dish; curry powder, peppers sweet and hot, garlic, onion, ketchup and vinegar.  The next time I would use poor man's lobster, i.e., chunks of monkfish, or maybe some large shrimp, because of the cost, but the sauce was really luscious.

A delicious Island dinner needed a toothsome ending, so I also made up some Mango Crisp (p. 133), which had a great zing from some chopped crystallized ginger.

There's still time to join in the fun at Cook the Books. Deb will be accepting entries from readers who like to head for the kitchen after reading a great book until Friday, March 25th. Be sure to stop back to CTB headquarters after the deadline to see the roundup of Embarrassing Mango posts and then to see which entry will be picked by our special guest judge, our esteemed author herself, Ann Vanderhoof!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Austrian Kale and Potatoes

Okay, so this is not a great photo, even for me, of what was really a wonderful dish. So my apologies for not having the patience to set up my traveling photo studio (two lamps and a popup white tent contraption which live in the basement) and snap a fab photo. But do try this awesome vegetarian stew if you would like a new way to cook up kale, which is so packed with nutrients and available pretty cheap this time of year.  

I dove into my shoebox recipe card file and retrieved this recipe, provenance unknown, for Austrian Kale, and it was a great blend of tender, frilled bits of kale in a potato and celery base. You can thicken up the stew with a bit of grated cheese, but I liked it on its own, with its delicate flavors.  It was even better the next day heated up for lunch.

Austrian Kale and Potatoes

1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. oil

2 cups vegetable stock
4 potatoes (not russets), peeled and cut into chunks
2 stalks celery, chopped

2 bunches kale, chopped into 1 inch ribbons

Heat oil in large frying pan. Add onion and garlic and saute over medium heat until lightly browned. Add vegetable stock, potatoes and celery and bring to a boil.

Lower heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add kale and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain and then add to the potatoes and simmer 10 minutes longer.

Season with salt and pepper.

This was a hearty vegetarian main dish supper for 4 with a couple of lunchtime leftover servings.

I'm sending a bowl of this great dish over to Real Sustenance for her weekly Seasonal Sundays roundup of delectable dishes using foods in season.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Consider the Rutabaga

As the mom and head cook of my household, there are little food sacrifices that I make all the time. I constantly DON'T cook things that only I like to eat, like Pasta Puttanesca (caper and olive phobes in the house), Scalloped Oysters (now that my mother-in-law is no longer with us, I'm the only one that likes that Thanksgiving favorite), Pasta with Anchovies (don't get my husband started on defaming them as hairy, stinky eyebrows), Beets?  Fuhgettaboutit. And I only buy those delectable little jars of pickled herring for parties when my buddy Lisa, she of Finnish extraction, is going to be around to nibble with me. I figure it's not frugal or fair to make up up a whole pot of something that only I am going to enjoy.

But I ask you, dear readers, is it wrong to occasionally cook up something I crave from my pre-finicky family days? No, I say! Everything in moderation, as my wise Grandma used to say. There must be payback for all those sleepless nights walking my ear-achey babies around and being the only one that can find things in the refrigerator for my appliance-challenged husband.  (there's a finite amount of space in the fridge, so I don't know why he can't find stuff).

And so I splurged on a rutabaga.

A little one, comparatively. About 1.5 lbs.

Rutabagas can be much larger, but I picked up this very cute purple-topped beauty, gleaming in its skin of wax.  The wax keeps the 'baga from wilting away during storage.  It's a member of the Brassica family, closely related to the whiter, smaller turnip, but with a mellower flavor.  Once stripped of its skin, the flesh is a pale golden color that deepens into a yellowy-orange when cooked.

My grandma, she of the moderation exhortation above, would make mashed rutabaga for holiday meals and she and I always partook of it, but my nuclear family will have none of it, so I chomp it down myself and subsequently only buy a rutabaga every few years. I think it is very earthy and tasty, steamed in chunks until tender and then mashed with salt, pepper and butter.  It is a great source of fiber and Vitamins A and C.

The rutabaga is also known as a Swede (if you are English or Australian), a kalrot (if you are a non-vegetable Swede),  or a neep (if you are a Scot).  I find it curious that it has so many funny sounding names.  Apparently this root vegetable inspires a lot of humor, because it is also the star of the annual
International Rutabaga Curl, an annual end-of-the-season Ithaca Farmers Market event.  The vegetable has even inspired a fabulous Handel-inspired Rutabaga Chorus.

So I cooked up my rutabaga and then decided to try a recipe for a Rutabaga Souffle from my shoebox card file.  I don't know where I got the original recipe, but I halved it and tweaked it a bit and the result was so good that I was even able to tempt Mr. Crispy into trying it on his dinner plate.  He said it was better than eating it plain mashed, so while he might not be a Rutabaga Convert, I think I might step up to buy a rutabaga each year!

Here's my recipe for Rutabaga Souffle, which can be easily doubled for rutabaga loving folk:

Rutabaga Souffle

1 small rutabaga, peeled and cut into chunks (about 2 cups)

3 Tbsp. softened butter
1-1/2 tsp. onion powder
Salt and pepper to taste

2 eggs, separated

2 Tbsp. sharp Cheddar Cheese, grated

Lightly grease a small casserole dish with softened butter, reserving remaining butter for rutabagas.

Place rutabaga chunks in a small pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil.  Turn heat to low, cover and simmer until rutabaga is fork-tender (about 15-20 minutes).  Drain.

Mash rutabaga with softened butter and try to get most of the lumps out.  Add onion powder and salt and pepper to taste.  Beat in egg yolks.

Beat egg whites in separate bowl until stiff.  Fold in gently but thoroughly into rutabaga mixture. 

Turn into buttered casserole dish and bake in a 325 degree F oven for 45-50 minutes.  Sprinkle souffle with grated cheese and bake another 5 minutes until cheese is melted.

Makes 4 servings.

I will be sending this post over to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Yasmeen Health Nut. Weekend Herb Blogging is a popular food blog event, now in its fifth year, headquartered in Melbourne, Australia by the lovely Haalo of Cook Almost Anything (who has yet to cook a rutabaga judging from a quick search of her blog!)