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!