Monday, December 3, 2012

No Heartburn with a Nostalgic Eighties Gourmet Veggie Pasta

Earlier this year America lost a wonderful writer and filmmaker, Nora Ephron. I first encountered Ms. Ephron's writings through her collections of essays, like "Scribble, Scribble" and "Crazy Salad", books passed on to me by girlfriends whose passion for Ephron's humor and worldview became my own. 

When I subsequently read through "Heartburn", (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), her semi-autobiographical novel about chef Rachel Samstat, who loses her way during her second husband's adultery, I knew she would always be a part of my pantheon of favorite authors.

I was delighted when "Heartburn" became the featured selection of Cook the Books, a bimonthly foodie book club that I and three of my good blogger buddies co-host. Simona, of the blog, Briciole, is the host of this round of Cook the Books, and she has enlisted Laura Lippstone, a big Ephron fan and blogger at Planet Lippstone, to serve as guest judge of the posts that we all write featuring our book selection and the foods we cook up inspired by our reading. 

Dipping back into "Heartburn" was a nostalgic read: there was the nostalgia of seeing that great dust jacket art, the familiarity of sinking back into Ephron's words like having a cozy conversation with a great friend that one hasn't seen in a bunch of years, and nostalgia for the 1980s world that pervades its pages. Ephron describes Samstat's longing for the great produce sections of New York City supermarkets and gourmet shops that she left behind when she moved to Washington D.C. and that made me remember how arugula and twelve different kinds of peppers didn't used to be a common site at the average food store.

And then there was that passage that made me laugh out loud when I first read and reread it to my friends back in the early Eighties, and which I read and snorted through and reread to my husband now that we're in the 2000-teens.

"When I was in college, I had a list of what I wanted in a husband. A long list. I wanted a registered Democrat, a bridge player, a linguist with particular fluency in French, a subscriber to THE NEW REPUBLIC, a tennis player. I wanted a man who wasn’t bald, who wasn’t fat, who wasn’t covered with too much body hair. I wanted a man with long legs and a small ass and laugh wrinkles around the eyes. Then I grew up and settled for a low-grade lunatic who kept hamsters. At first I thought he was charming and eccentric. And then I didn’t. Then I wanted to kill him. Every time he got on a plane, I would imagine the plane crash, and the funeral, and what I would wear to the funeral and flirting at the funeral, and how soon I could start dating after the funeral.” (p.83)

My homage dish to Heartburn is one that celebrates the dazzling bounty of what the grocery store produce aisle features most any time of the year (alright, the locavore in me is conflicted about how great that bounty is in terms of carbon footprints). I made this great pasta dish after sniping the recipe from my cousin-in-law Diane, a fabulous cook. I added some cubed winter squash, because I have an abundance and threw in some diced tomatoes, too, cause I had some hanging around, but otherwise it's Diane's fantastic recipe. It's delicious and I can assure you that it won't give you Heartburn:

Diane's Eighties Gourmet Pasta

1 small eggplant, peeled and diced small
1 small Delicata squash (or other winter squash), peeled, seeded and cubed (about 1 cup)
1 each red and yellow bell pepper, diced small
1 red onion, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
3 plum tomatoes, medium chop
1/3 cup olive oil
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 lb. of your favorite small pasta shape (Diane uses orzo, I used GF rigatoni)

Pasta Dressing:

Juice of one lemon

1/3 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper

4 scallions, minced (I used chives)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (I used walnuts)
3/4 cup feta, diced (not crumbled)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into julienne

Toss all of the vegetables in the first part above with garlic, 1/3 cup olive oil, salt and pepper on a cookie sheet. Coat thoroughly with oil and then roast in a 425 degree oven until browned, turning at least once with a spatula.

Cook pasta and drain. Toss with roasted vegetables. Mix dressing and pour over pasta and vegetables.

Gently toss in scallions, nuts, feta and basil. 

Serve at room temperature. Serves 6-8.

Diane says to try throwing in some cremini mushrooms, yellow and green squash or zucchini, if you want.

Simona will be rounding up all the delicious Hearburn blog posts back at the Cook the Books site after today's deadline, so be sure to stop by and see what everyone cooked up. And don't forget to join us in reading, cooking and blogging up our thoughts about "The Hunger Games", by Suzanne Collins, both book and film, for our next round of Cook the Books!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Picnic Farewell to the Saratoga Racing Season

It was an impromptu gathering of friends to celebrate the end of summer and a chance to hang outside watching beautiful thoroughbred race horses thunder past us. Our venue was the historic Saratoga Springs Race Track. on Labor Day, the last day of the summer racing season. The racetrack offered free admission for that day, which was a nice bonus. Dan and I went early in the morning to claim a picnic table at The Top of the Stretch (where the horses make their last straightaway sprint to the finish line) by draping our tablecloth on a table near the fence. Next time I will leave the vase of zinnias home, which, though it was kind of a classy addition, invited pesky yellow jackets and wasps to our table.

Husband Dan used to go more often in his youth and we were astonished at how many years had passed since we had attended the races. Neither one of us is much of a gambler, but it is always a fun time because the people watching is superb. You'll see fashions aplenty from nattily dressed and hatted ladies strolling through the clubhouse to cigar-chomping OTB regulars perusing the racing papers with great intensity.

We arrived early and brought our picnic fare and feasted like kings. The weather cooperated with sunshine and not too much humidity, though when the track guys came around in their track misters, we did enjoy the spray of water on our faces turning like sunflowers in the light.

Our friends brought a splendid array of delicious foods. We ate some luscious lemony deviled eggs (I'll have my friend Ellen's recipe posted up soon), rice and pasta salads, gazpacho, cheeses, fruit, and other edibles, all packed up in various non-glass containers as per track rules). Then there was this luscious cold zucchini salad, inspired by one of Laurie Colwin's essays from her book "Home Cooking".

You start with a platter of fried zucchini.

I used three largish zucchini, which kept me stationed over a large cast-iron frying pan for a good while the day before. I breaded my zucchini with a mixture of brown rice flour and chickpea flour. They were moist enough after slicing to not require any eggy painting to make the flour adhere. After I drained and cooled these fried zucchini slices, I layered them with dabs of an 8 oz. log of goat cheese, chopped parsley and basil, and sliced bits of a 12 oz. jar of roasted red peppers. Salt and pepper went between the layers, they got a splash of olive oil and vinegar and that was a wonderful salad that was delicious at room temperature the next day and kept well under the hot temperatures during our al fresco track picnic.

Now, to focus more attention on Colwin's delightful book, Home Cooking, which is the featured selection for Cook the Books, the online foodie book club started by me, my buddy Deb of Kahakai Kitchen and my buddy Jo of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food. This book was published in 1988, and has been in my home library since shortly thereafter. Colwin was just a bewitching writer; she was witty, self-deprecating, passionate about the things she loved, and her descriptions of dinner parties (even the ones that went awry) are mouthwatering.

My favorite essay is entitled Kitchen Horrors, and I can read and reread this comic chapter and still chuckle out loud. There are so many disasters described in its pages, but none more hilarious than the strange English dessert Colwin attempted to make for an Easter dinner, called Suffolk Pond Pudding. It involved a sugar-encrusted lemon atop some butter and sugar, wrapped in a suet crust and then steamed in a kettle for FOUR HOURS. Well, that's enough description for me, and I certainly wouldn't want to have to ingest it, but Colwin sallied forth and when she produced her dessert, the comments on its appearances included suggestions that it looked like a baked hat and the Alien. The taste produced further editorial commentary: "This tastes like lemon-flavored bacon fat", "I'm sure it's wonderful, I mean, in England", and the straight-forward "This is awful". Ha!

Sadly, Colwin died at the tragically young age of 48 from a heart attack (her descriptions of her go-to comfort food, rosti, may have been a complicating factor), so there are not many other Colwin titles to read through, though there is a sequel to this book, More Home Cooking, to look forward to.

My zucchini salad was inspired by an essay in Home Cooking, entitled Red Peppers. In it, Colwin describes a favorite dish from an East Side restaurant that she didn't get to often enough. It involved layers of sauteed zucchini slices and pimento strips garnished with olive oil, fresh garlic and lemon juice, which sounds great too.

Deb is hosting this current round of Cook the Books, so be sure to check back at our book club website after the September 24th deadline to see Deb's roundup of all the Home Cooking posts.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Curried Zucchini Coins

It's that time of the garden year when bowls of cukes, zukes and tomatoes overtake the kitchen real estate. A really hot and dry July burned out my broccoli and greens, except for a hardy patch of escarole in some semi-shade, but our sun-loving vegetables are really enjoying this warm patch of weather.

I've been keeping up fairly well with the veggie bounty, making batches of pesto, zucchini bread and muffins, sauteed grated zucchini with basil and garlic, zucchini stewed with tomato and garlic, and other summer zuke standards in our repertoire, but then the other day I tried a few different spices with my zukes and husband Dan said that the recipe was a keeper. I tried it out again the next day and have to concur. Maybe you will too.

Curried Zucchini Coins

1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. mild curry powder
1/2 tsp. celery salt
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, peeled, halved and cut into thin rings (we grew purple onions this year)
6-7 small zucchini (about 1.5 - 2 inch diameter) topped, tailed and cut into thin coins

Melt butter in large skillet. Add olive oil and let it bubble up. Add in curry powder, celery salt, onions and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes. Add in zucchini coins and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 15 minutes, or until onions are soft and golden and the zucchini is floppy, but still has some bite. You don't want to overcook tender, young zucchini.

Please use small zucchini for this dish, as the bigger, older zucchini that one tends to overlook in the patch under the leaves will be too seedy and watery.

Makes 6-8 servings.

The curry, celery salt and sauteed onions lend such a nice earthy, mellow taste to this dish.

I am sending over a virtual plate of this delicious way to deal with zucchini abundance to Susan the Well-Seasoned Cook, who is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging this week. Weekend Herb Blogging is a long-standing weekly food blog event hosted by Haalo of Cook Almost Anything that celebrates edible plant ingredients.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Laura's Brown Rice and Lentil Salad with Caramelized Onions

At a recent summer soiree, my friend Laura brought an exotic-tasting salad to the party buffet. It had nubby brown rice, lentils and a blend of mellow, earthy flavors that sent me pestering her for the recipe. The special secret ingredient that knit everything together was a pair of slowly caramelized onions.

I made up another batch of this great side dish for my family last week and it was perfect for the sweltering temperatures we've been having. With a simple dressing of balsamic vinegar, spices and herbs, there's no risk of spoilage in the heat, making it a terrific addition for hot weather dining.

I didn't have green lentils on hand, just the cute little orange ones that turn to mush when you cook them, so I rooted around my cupboards and came up with a forgotten bag of horse gram, a legume closely related to the lentil, which is a staple in some southern Indian cooking traditions. A lentil will take much less cooking time than the horse gram, which I cooked before adding to my salad, in a pot of boiling salted water for 30 minutes.

Here's Laura's recipe for:

Brown Rice and Lentil Salad with Caramelized Onions

2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
3 Tbsp. butter

2 cups cooked brown rice
1 cup brown lentils, cooked
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. paprika
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepepr to taste

Melt butter in a frying pan. Add onions, and cook slowly, over low heat, until they are soft, golden and caramelized, about 20-25 minutes.

Mix all ingredients together in a serving bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 6-8.  Double this batch to bring to a party. Serve warm or at room temperature to let flavors mellow.

I am sending over a virtual plate of this awesome summer salad to No Croutons Required, a monthly vegetarian recipe challenge alternately hosted by Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa's Kitchen. The challenge this month is for a soup or salad that is suited for hot summer weather, so Laura's recipe is a stellar fit!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How to Make Gluten Free Crumpets

It's October in the genteel city of Charleston, South Carolina, and tea shop owner Theodosia Browning is not only busy with her regular business, but there's an important catering job to plan and carry out with aplomb: the city's annual candlelight historic homes tour. Unfortunately, while the blackberry scones were a hit with the partygoers, Theodosia's tea gets a bad reputation when one of the guests is found to have dropped dead over his cup and saucer.

That's the set up for the first book in author Laura Childs' Tea Shop Mystery series, Death by Darjeeling, and the current selection of the online foodie book club Cook the Books. I am hosting this round of Cook the Books and am collecting submissions until July 30, 2012, after which time our guest judge, author Laura Childs herself, will be picking a winner to receive the coveted Cook the Books winner's badge and a copy of her latest Tea Shop mystery (#13), Agony in the Leaves. Cook the Books participants read the featured book, blog about it, and then cook up something inspired by their reading. New participants are always welcome, so feel free to stop by Cook the Books to find out more about the fun.

This is the quintessential cozy mystery, full of atmosphere, a fairly bloodless crime, quirky characters and then there's the interesting tidbits about tea making, tea varieties and the mouthwatering Indigo Tea Shop tea time treats!

For my Death by Darjeeling entry, I was inspired to make up a basket of crumpets. Now, before last week I couldn't tell you the difference between a crumpet and a trumpet, but after a little tea-soaked research (several cuppas in hand while I pored through my cookbook collection and looked online) it appears that the crumpet originated as very holey griddle cake that morphed into something a bit grander and yeastier on Victorian tea tables. They have been described as the love child of a pancake and an English muffin, with the main point being that there must be many, many airy pockets in the crumpet either on the top side or within, when split, that must be slathered with butter, jam, honey or golden syrup.

I found a recipe for Gluten-Free crumpets in the 2006 edition of the Glens Falls Regional Celiac Support Group cookbook "Tried and True Recipes", and with a little adjustment here and there, I made a very satisfactory batch of these fluffy little tea accompaniments. Just look at those gorgeous little air pockets above! These crumpets were so good straight out of the oven, split and served up with softened butter and some homemade strawberry jam, but they were just as good the next day when we toasted them and used them for sandwich buns.

Gluten Free Crumpets

1 cup warm water
1 Tbsp. dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar

Vegetable shortening

1/2 cup chickpea flour (also known as besan)
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. Egg Replacer (found at most health food stores)

1 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. poppyseed
1 egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten
3 Tbsp. melted butter
1/2 tsp. white vinegar

Mix warm water, yeast and 1 tsp. sugar together and let stand in warm place until foamy, about 5-10 minutes.

Grease 6 egg rings or English muffin rings (I bought egg rings with the handles above pretty cheaply at a restaurant supply store, but you could also make your own from carefully cutting and filing down the rough edges of some small, 3 inch diameter, tin cans, like the ones you buy tuna fish, pineapple rings or clams in). Place greased rings on a baking parchment-lined baking sheet.

Whisk together chickpea flour, cornstarch, tapioca starch, xanthan gum, salt and egg replacer until well blended. If your chickpea flour comes out of the bag in small clumps, make sure to run it through a sieve first to make sure the flours will blend smoothly).

In a large mixing bowl, blend together 1Tbsp. sugar, egg, melted butter, vinegar, poppyseed and yeast-water. Beat in 1/3 of the dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Add in another third and then blend and repeat until dough is silky. It will be a bit moist, but then when you divide it and pour it into the greased rings, they will contain the dough and give it its shape when it rises and bakes.

Cover dough in the rings with, what else, a tea towel, and let it rise in a warm place, until the batter doubles (30-45 minutes).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Bake your crumpets for 18-20 minutes or until browned on top and crumpets have pulled away slightly from their metal girdles.

Makes 6 large crumpets. May be eaten hot or cold. Store in airtight container once cooled.

Having a spot of tea (lemon balm from the garden) with these crumpets on the side made for such a civilized afternoon break; almost as good as a Hobbit's Second Breakfast. And this project made for good excuse to break out some underutilized linens and doilies to make our tea break even more enjoyable.

One thing about crumpets. There appears to be some very naughty British slang usage for the term tea and crumpets, something Theodosia and Company would not likely approve of, so be forewarned, my fellow Americans, before you start spouting off about how much you are looking forward to eating these in bed or something else potentially embarrassing.

I hope you will join my booking and cooking friends in reading Death by Darjeeling (I've devoured books no. 2 and 3 in the series already and am savoring the thought of diving into no. 4 later this week) and joining us at Cook the Books. I will post the roundup of all the posts for this book selection shortly after the July 30 deadline over at the CTB website, so be sure to pop on by for a spot of tea and some good reading.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Spinach Quinoa Mediteraneo as a Side Dish and Salad

Recently I was contacted by Westside Market about their recipe for their popular Spinach Quinoa Mediteraneo dish.  This New York City market features freshly made prepared foods from recipes by Maria Zoitas, wife of the Market's founder and I jumped right into the kitchen to make this dish.

I don't remember to make quinoa often enough, though it's as easy to make as rice (and I even make it in my rice cooker for more simplicity).  Quinoa is so delightful in the mouth; the little seed kernels pop as you chew them, sort of like caviar, and the grain itself is one of those nutritional powerhouses, packed with iron, protein and calcium. Here's the recipe for this great side dish, which makes a bit batch, about 10-12 servings, so it's a good choice to bring to a potluck or picnic.

(recipe reprinted with permission from Westside Market)


·         8 oz. quinoa
·         1 bunch scallions (I used chives, which I have in abundance in the spring garden)

·         1 spanish onion
·         4 cups spinach
·         2 tablespoons olive oil
·         1 bunch parsley (I used Italian flat-leaf parsley)

·         1 bunch anise (I couldn't find anise, so I used a whole bulb of fennel)

·         1 bunch dill
·         2 teaspoon kosher salt
·         1 teaspoon black pepper
·         6 cups of water

·         Saute onion, scallion, parsley and anise, in olive oil
·         Add 6 cups of water and cook for 5 minutes
·         Add quinoa and cook for 15 minutes
·         Add the spinach and cook until wilted

My notes:

This was a delicious dish, but since it made such a big amount and my dill-phobic spawn wouldn't eat it, Dan and I decided to jazzed up the leftovers into an ever more Mondo Mediterraneo cold salad by adding 8 oz. crumbled feta cheese, juice of one lemon and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Both versions were very good!

Thanks to Westside Market for sharing this gluten-free, vegetarian recipe. You can check out more of Maria's recipes at their website.

I am sharing this recipe with No Croutons Required, a monthly vegetarian recipe contest held over at Tinned Tomatoes. This month's theme for No Croutons Required is Leafless Salads, so I thought this would be a great entry. Hop on over to Tinned Tomatoes to check out the other entries this month.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Gluten Free Chickpea Sandwich Bread

Bread. The staff of life. The stuff of my celiac husband's dreams. Ironically, while the rest of our non-gluten-free family thinks bread is just okay, Dan must have something bready to complete his dining experience. A plate of pasta is not a whole meal if there is no roll to swab up the last luscious bits of sauce, breakfast isn't right without a couple of slices of toast on the side and breadstuffs are one of the holy trinity of the dinner hour.

Blame it on his Irish-Polish ancestry, and while we're at it, we can attribute the celiac gene to the paternal side of his family as well, though they were just known for their "sensitive stomachs" in the days before celiac disease was being diagnosed by the medical community.

So he and I bake a lot of gluten-free bread, buns and rolls and keep them, sliced and wrapped in the freezer for quick thawing for his meals. Dan prefers having buns and rolls around to slices of bread, so we've come up with some ways to get the soft, sticky, slidy gluten-free doughs (like using greased metal egg rings that restaurants use when they want eggs to stay in a perfect circle shape on the griddle) to stay in their bun shapes with some success. You can check out more GF bun baking tips at this post from the Crispy Cook archives and then pretty much adapt any gluten-free bread recipe into GF buns.

The recipe we use over and over again for sandwiches and for toast is Elizabeth Barbone's Sandwich Bread recipe from her cookbook "Easy Gluten-Free Baking". It makes a great basic white bread recipe that toasts beautifully and doesn't crumble easily.

With the encouragement of the Gluten Free Ratio Rally bakers, a group of gluten free food bloggers that tackles a different baking project each month and deconstructs/reconstructs them measuring ingredients by weight and recipes by ratios of flour/liquid/fat/egg, I was looking to make a different kind of sandwich bread to add variety to the freezer stash. This month's GF Ratio Rally Host, Karen of the Cooking Gluten-Free blog, picked BREAD as our baking challenge and initially I thought about trying to make a crusty, artisan-style loaf. I just ran out of time and schedule during this busy past month (note dearth of Crispy Cook posts) with various kid, business and garden activities on my plate, so I will hopefully be copying down someone else's recipe for such a gluten-free delight when Karen rounds up all the Ratio Rally posts on June 6th.

For my contribution to this bread rally, I wanted to use chickpea flour as my base flour. I find big bags of chickpea flour (labeled besan) at the Indian markets in Albany and they are economically priced. We use chickpea flour (and our other staple gluten free flour, brown rice flour) in lots of savory dishes to thicken sauces and curries, bread fish and veggies for pan drying and in one of our favorite meals, Bhajis with Rice. Chickpea flour also adds a nice bit of protein and fiber to our cooking, so that's a great bonus. My stab at converting a basic white bread recipe into a chickpea loaf was encouragingly successful. '

Here's what I did:

Chickpea Sandwich Bread

3 Tbsp. brown sugar
4 oz. warm water
1 Tbsp. active dry yeast

8 oz. chickpea flour (also known as besan or garbanzo bean flour)
4 oz. cornstarch
4 oz. white rice flour
8 oz. tapioca flour
3 tsp. xanthan gum
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. granulated garlic (can use garlic powder)
1 tsp. dried basil

3 eggs, beaten
4 oz. warm water
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Vegetable shortening

Grease a 9x5 loaf pan and set aside.

Mix brown sugar, 4 oz. warm water and yeast together and let stand in a warm, draft-free place to proof for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl and whisk until completely blended. The flours are pretty fine, so keep the whisking motion low. And using a deep bowl helps keep the flour cloud down a bit.

In another bowl. blend eggs together with remaining water and oil. Add in yeast mixture and blend well. Add to dry ingredients and combine until blended and smooth. Scrape into greased loaf pan.

Heat oven to 170 degrees F and then turn off. Place loaf pan inside a clean plastic bag (I use a shopping bag from grocery or store) and loosely tent it. Close oven door and let rise until mostly doubled, about 1 hour.

Take loaf pan out, turn oven back on to 375 degrees F and remove plastic bag. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until top is nicely golden-brown. Let cool in pan for several minutes, then carefully tap it out onto a cooling rack and let finish cooling.

When completely cool, slice, wrap and stick it in the freezer to use as necessary.

Makes one loaf.

Looking forward to seeing what the other creative and talented GF Ratio Rally bakers will be pulling out of their ovens tomorrow! Be sure to check over at Karen's blog to see links to all the other blogger's bread recipes. And come back next month to see some gluten-free cracker and breadstick recipes when it's my turn to host the GF Ratio Rally.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The United States of Radish Leaves, I Mean Arugula, for Cook the Books Club

It's Cook the Books time once again and for this round of the online foodie book club, our host Johanna of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food picked a great book: The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation, by David Kamp. It's a very funny, well-researched look at how American cuisine came of age in the 20th century and he shares numerous anecdotes, foot notes and social history to show all the players that have influenced the American way of cooking, eating and dining out.

Kamp pays particular attention to the troika that are most well known for getting American food out of the canned, processed, instant, Jello-ed doldrums of the post World War II era: Julia Child, Craig Claiborne and James Beard, though there are many gossipy accounts of the minor players that had a hand in it too. I liked Kamp's descriptions of the kitchen hijinks at Chez Panisse, with doyenne Alice Waters lustily ripping through lovers and chefs with great rapidity and the story of Mexican food goddess Diana Kennedy tossing a young, creepily intense Rick Bayless out of her car after he stalked her down in Mexico and pestered her relentlessly with questions when she was having a bit of a crisis during the building of her home.

I really enjoyed reading through this book and it has earned a permanent place in my home library, where it will reread and consulted with a great deal of relish, I'm sure.

For the Cook the Books club, participants not only read and discuss the book selection, but then we get creative in the kitchen to come up with a dish that is inspired by our reading. I had hopes of picking some arugula from plants that went to seed last year, and picked a bunch to saute with olive oil and garlic and then incorporate in some sort of delicious pasta sauce. Fresh arugula is a wonderful, peppery green, but it is meltingly soft and delicious when cooked, a technique which I first tried in this terrific recipe by Mario Batali for an earlier round of Cook the Books.

I went out to the ol' Crispy Garden and picked a mess of arugula leaves. They tasted a little spicy, but they were much, much hairier than the arugula I remembered. I rinsed them off and spun them dry and they were much harder to get clean of dirt specks than the arugula I remembered. All those hairs kept trapping little dirt bits. I looked closer.

D'oh!  This wasn't arugula. These were volunteers from a red radish plant that went to seed and I let flourish in my autumn 2011 garden, thinking it would attract nice flying pollinators to my garden. Luckily, all was not lost, because I remembered reading somewhere that radish leaves were edible and actually made a good soup. I checked it out with my cookbooks and true enough, radish leaves are edible and so I cooked them up with a bit of garlic and olive oil and they were peppery, if not meltingly soft like the arugula. They had tougher stems and a more forthright peppery taste. Spring tonic and all.

This my contribution to this round of Cook the Books. I am delighted that Johanna was able to secure Mr. Kamp himself as our book club judge so you can check back at the CTB website to see the roundup and what our esteemed author thinks about our literary and culinary comments about his work at this link. 

Next round of Cook the Books will feature the first book in Laura Child's great Teashop mystery series, Death by Darjeeling, which will end on July 30th. Feel free to join in the fun by seeking out this book and then reading it and cooking up something inspired by it. Until then....

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Broccoli and Cheese Sauced Pasta with Spring Herbs for Presto Pasta Nights

Looking for a crowd pleasing supper dish that's easy to make and beautiful to bring to the table? Well, I found one, thank heavens, for my finicky family and just in time too. I'm guest hosting Presto Pasta Nights #265 this week and needed some some gorgeous carbs to share with you all. 

For the uninitiated, Presto Pasta Nights is a weekly celebration of the world of pasta started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast many moons ago. Each Friday roundup showcases interesting varieties of pasta: macaroni, noodles, spaetzle, pierogies, gnocchi and many glorious other species, prepared in traditional recipes or in intriguing new flavor combinations. You can check back at Presto Pasta Nights to research some of the archives for new recipe ideas or come back here this Friday to see what some great cooks are concocting in their pasta pots.

As my regular readers know, this is a gluten-free blog, so wheat-based noodles don't get center stage. However, there are a wealth of other corn, quinoa, rice, buckwheat and other pasta varieties available in today's markets and of course, homemade gluten-free noodles are fun (if messy) to whip up. I used bright yellow corn noodles for my dish, which began with a couple of heads of broccoli, a wedge of smoked gouda and a trip out to the herb garden.

One of my family's favorite pasta dishes is a simple bit of steamed chopped broccoli bathed in a garlic butter sauce. It's quick to make for those busy weekday dinners and it suits all of my vegetarians and non-vegetarians, gluten-free and gluten-full eaters alike. I was thinking about that smoked gouda that had been hanging around my fridge, though, and thought that since steamed broccoli with cheese sauce is such a proven winner, pasta with a cheesy broccoli sauce would be a natural pairing.

After perusing some of my cookbooks and prowling the Internet, I see that this idea has not only been dreamed up before, it's sort of a standard. Well, it was new to me and my family, and with the addition of fresh spring herbs generously strewn on top, it was gobbled down mighty quick at Chez Crispy.  The smoked gouda really lends a rich flavor to this pasta sauce and the delicate onion taste of the snipped chives and chive blossoms just makes everything sing. You could substitute in another kind of cheese, but I think the smoked gouda was the key ingredient here.

Broccoli and Cheese Sauced Pasta with Spring Herbs

1 lb. of your favorite pasta (I used corn spaghetti)

2 broccoli crowns, chopped into florets and stems cut into small cubes
3 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. white rice flour
2 cups milk

1 cup grated smoked Gouda cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes: Parmesan cheese shavings, snipped fresh chives and chive blossoms, snipped dill

Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and rinse in hot water to remove starch and keep from sticking. Keep warm.

Bring 1 cup salted water to a vigorous boil in another large pot. Add in broccoli and steam until just crisp-tender, about 4-5 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water to keep green color bright. Set aside.

While pasta water is boiling, whip up your sauce:

Melt butter in large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add rice flour and blend together well. Gradually add in milk, stirring constantly to keep sauce smooth. When sauce starts to bubble and thicken, add in grated cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste. When cheese is all melted and blended in, add cooked broccoli.

Dress pasta with broccoli and cheese sauce. Lay on a blanket of shaved Parmesan cheese, snipped chives and chive blossoms and a wee bit of dill and serve hot.

Makes 6-8 servings.

I love when my chive plants are blossoming and will be strewing these lovely lavender blooms on my salads, pastas and stir-fries as long as they keep coming (and the bumble bees allow me in to harvest them). Incidentally, fresh chives are ridiculously easy to put up for eating out of season. Just rinse, pat dry and snip. Pack them into freezer containers or bags and you can just pull them out whenever you need a bit of chlorophyll over the winter. They will be a darker green color and a bit limper when they thaw, but they are very welcome bit of greenery and spring flavor in the heart of winter.

I'll be accepting Presto Pasta Night submissions through early Friday morning (May 25), and plan to post the roundup later that afternoon, so please feel free to send me your awesome pasta blog posts until then. I've already received some really tasty entries that I am excited to share with you later.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Gluten Free Coconut Blondies

The March baking challenge at the Gluten Free Ratio Rally was brownies, as selected by our host, Frannycakes. The Gluten Free Ratio Rally tackles a different recipe each month using ingredients measured by weight rather than volume and in ratios of liquid: egg: flour: fat: sugar, etc.

I already have a good workhorse recipe for gluten-free brownies in my copy of Elizabeth Barbone's Easy Gluten-Free Baking cookbook. The Betty Crocker GF brownie mix also makes good chewy brownies in a hurry and I use them in this shortcut recipe for a crunchy, cinnamony Mexican Brownie which is really a winner with my crew. So the upshot is, for this Rally I wanted to try a chocolate-less brownie, a blondie.

Then there was this bag of Coconut Powder that caught my eye at the Asian market and has been idling in my baking cupboard for many moons. I have used coconut flour in baking before and enjoy the results, though coconut flour is one thirsty ingredient, requiring a lot of extra liquid in a recipe. I also think it's expensive ($6.49 for a 1 lb. bag at my local health food store). The 2 lb. bag of Coconut Powder cost me $4.99 at the Asian market. The texture is different between the two products: Coconut Flour is silky fine, whereas the Coconut Powder is chunkier and reminds me of panko bread crumbs. I also needed to fish out some bigger chunks of coconut from the Coconut Powder that must have escaped the grinding blades when I was sifting my dry ingredients. Given the price difference between the two products, though, I definitely wanted to play around a bit more with the Coconut Powder.

On the face of it, Coconut Powder seems to be a dessicated, ground up bit of unsweetened coconut meat (and one blogger uses it to make homemade coconut milk) that I thought would add some fiber to my intended blondies. I also wanted to use up the last bit of coconut oil in my pantry and thought that adding in toasted, sweetened flaked coconut would make an awesomely good Triple Coconut Blondie, enhanced with a little bit of chocolate chips.

That was my vision, anyway. When I baked up my first blondie batch, inspired by this toothsome sounding recipe, augmented by even more fiber in the form of ground flax seed and rolled oats, the end result was dry, heavy, and a bit TOO much of a colon cleanser.  They were kind of flat too. We ate them, but they were not decadent and moist like a good sweet treat should be.

My second coconut blondie batch left out the oats and flax seed, subbed in a chick pea/tapioca starch/brown rice flour blend and used butter instead of coconut oil and things did improve, but the texture of these coconut blondies still screamed 1970s era health food. Plus all the chocolate chips still kept sinking to the bottom of the blondies instead of pleasantly inserting themselves throughout.

Time to rally back by tinkering with the ratios and ingredients once again.

For my third try, I upped the brown sugar, subbed out chocolate chips for chopped walnuts and added in more toasted flaked coconut. That did the trick; these Double-Co, Double-Nut Blondies were chewy, richly flavored and awesomely good paired with a cold glass of milk.

Co-Co-Nut-Nut Blondies

Vegetable shortening

100 grams coconut powder (feel for lumps of unground coconut and fish them out)
100 grams brown rice flour
25 grams tapioca starch
25 grams chick pea flour (all together you will have about 2 cups flour)

1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1/4 tsp salt

300 grams brown sugar (about 1-1/2 cups)
75 grams butter (about 1/3 cup)

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup water

1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts

Grease an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with shortening. Set aside.

Place flaked coconut in an ungreased frying pan. Adjust heat to medium high, and stay right there, stirring continuously, until it toasts to a nice golden brown, about 5-7 minutes. Don't let your coconut burn! Let cool and reserve a couple of tablespoons of the toasted coconut to sprinkle on top of your blondie batter before baking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix coconut powder, brown rice flour, tapioca starch, chickpea flour, baking soda, baking powder, xanthan gum and salt together until blended.

In a pot on the stove, melt butter. Add in brown sugar and heat, stirring, until it is melted together. Let cool for 5 minutes. Stir in vanilla, eggs and water.

Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients just until blended. Add nuts and toasted coconut and mix just until blended. Spoon into prepared baking pan, top with reserved toasted coconut and pop in the oven for 30 minutes or until top looks dry and edges have separated from the pan.

Let cool in pan on a rack. When completely cooled, cut into squares.

Makes about 16 blondies.

Be sure to check over at Frannycakes to see all the other inspired brownie and blondie variations made by other GF Ratio Rally bakers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pizzoccheri: A Sublime Gluten Free Buckwheat Noodle Dish

I recently finished an intriguing novel about Amsterdam, the South Seas, bizarre sexual rites and sculpture, the operation of a restaurant, and spices, entitled Mangoes and Quince, and found out that the author, Carol Field, is a seasoned cookbook writer. Wanting to make her better acquaintance, I bought a copy of her cookbook, In Nonna's Kitchen: Recipes and Traditions from Italy's Grandmothers, and pored over all the great recipes, biographies of various grandmas (nonnas) and food lore.

Most everything in all of the thrifty nonnas' kitchens contained the dreaded wheat: soups poured over slabs of toast, bread crumbs extending various meat and vegetable dishes, wheat and semolina in most every pasta. Then I got to Nonna Esther's recipe for Pizzoccheri, a specialty of the mountainous northern region of Lombardy, that makes use of the native buckwheat flour. Buckwheat, despite the second syllable in its name, is not a member of the gluten-ous wheat family, but is instead ground from the seed clusters of a plant more closely related to rhubarb.

Buckwheat flour has a hearty, nutty flavor and it's always in my baking cupboard to add to various gluten free flour mixes (it is really a hero in pancakes and muffins). Checking to see that I also had chickpea flour (for savory flavor), tapioca starch (for elasticity) and brown rice flour (to extend it all), I put together a gluten free flour mix, heavy on the buckwheat, for some homemade pasta.

Pizzoccheri is a layered dish of buckwheat noodles, sage, potatoes, cabbage, melted cheeses and a garlic-butter sauce. It was a worryingly monochromatic palette as I assembled my ingredients, but with the dark green addition of some spring chives from the garden, things looked a little less like a whiter shade of pale. Nonna Esther's recipe also called for Savoy cabbage, which would have added a darker green than my regular cabbage substitute, but I was too cheap to spring for the three times as expensive Savoy.

My pasta flour was easy to roll out but was fairly brittle, so I wasn't able to make the traditional four inch long tagliatelle strips. Instead, I made stubby little rectangles about 2 inches long by 3/4 inches wide and let them rest, well-floured, on a couple of cookie sheets.

This Pizzoccheri really made a luscious supper. I cut back on the amount of butter by half, substituting a drizzle of olive oil, but even so, there was enough oil to glisten up the whole bowl. I would even add more frizzled chives, garlic and sage the next time, and definitely some more cabbage. These herbs and vegetables not only added a welcome bit of color but the crispiness of the fried dried sage was a nice contrast to the softness of the rest of the ingredients.

Pizzoccheri is just sublime - fun to pronounce and lovely to eat. It's a wonderful rustic pasta dish to add to your repertoire. It takes some time to roll out the pasta dough and get everything chopped and ready for the cooking and assemblage, so it's something to make on a luxurious weekend afternoon, but I have been advised to add it to our Crispy Crowd menu rotation.

Here's the recipe, adapted from Carol Field's In Nonna's Kitchen (NY: HarperCollins, 1997).  


1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup chick pea flour
2 cups buckwheat flour

1 large egg, beaten well
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cups water

3 red potatoes or other waxy boiling potato, peeled and cut into walnut-sized chunks
8 oz. Savoy cabbage, leaves separated and cut into long, thin strips (I used regular white cabbage, with thick cores and ribs trimmed away. And next time I would double the amount of cabbage)

1 stick butter (the original recipe called for 1-3/4 sticks butter, but this would have been too rich for our palate)
Olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled and slivered
2 Tbsp. dried sage, crumbled (or use a few leaves of fresh sage, roughly torn, as called for in the original recipe)
1/3 cup snipped fresh chives (I would use even more next time)

2 cups Fontina cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and Black Pepper to taste

Put a large soup pot of water (about 4-5 quarts) on the stove over high heat and bring to a boil.

While the pasta water is heating up, mix flours and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add egg and water and blend together well. Dust your work surface and rolling pin with extra flour (I used brown rice flour) and pinch off one quarter of the pasta dough to roll out. Cover the remainder with plastic wrap or a damp towel to keep from drying out.

Roll out dough as thin as you can while having it still hold together. I got to almost a 1/4 inch thickness. Cut dough into short rectangles, about 2 x 3/4 inches, using the edge of a thin spatula. Let pasta rest, dusting with additional flour, on a baking sheet, while rolling out the rest of the dough.

Melt butter in a frying pan. Add in a little bit of olive oil to raise the frying temperature of the butter-oil mix without having the butter burn. Add the garlic slivers. Stir constantly, until garlic and butter is lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. Do not let things burn or you will get an acrid, instead of mellow taste. Add in sage and chives. Let things frizzle up until the herbs are CRISPY. Remove from heat.

When pasta water has reached a full, strong boil, add in a handful of coarse salt and watch that bubble up. When it has come to a second boil, throw in potato chunks. Let them cook about 2-3 minutes, until they are just beginning to get tender. Throw in cabbage strips and cook another 3-5 minutes, until they are on the way to being tender too. Then add in pasta and bring to another boil, skimming off the foam that keeps rising to the top of the pot. When pasta is al dente, about 4-5 minutes, turn off heat and drain your pot in a colander.

Put some olive oil in a big pasta serving bowl to coat the bottom. At this point, Nonna Esther speaks of layering pasta separately from the cabbage and potatoes that it has been cooked with, but I don't see how that would be possible, since they were all mixed together. Perhaps a step was left out in the original instructions about removing the potatoes and cabbage with a skimmer before adding the pasta, but in any event, put a layer of your pasta-cabbage-potatoes in the bottom of the oiled serving bowl.

Top with half of the cubed Fontina and grated Parmesan. Drizzle a little of the garlic-butter-herb sauce on, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and then repeat a second layer of everything. Serve immediately with plenty of napkins to wipe your buttery chins.

Makes 4-6 hearty supper servings or more "primi piatti" smaller servings.

I'm linking this post with Presto Pasta Nights, a weekly blog event that focuses on the infinite glories of the world's noodle varieties, founded and hosted this week by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. Ruth will have a no doubt tasty roundup of all these Pasta blog posts this Friday night.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Adventures in Lickable Wallpaper with Roald Dahl and Charlie Bucket

It is time to Cook the Books once again with the best darn tootin' online foodie book club, and this time round we are reading that childhood classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I have seen a couple of different illustrated versions of this book but I think Quentin Blake's artwork invokes the playful spirit of Dahl's words just right.

 I zipped through all of Dahl's juvenile novels as a youngster and freshly enjoying reading them aloud to my daughters when they were small. We all especially loved The Twits, his book about a thoroughly obnoxious, smelly man and wife who get their comeuppance from the children, monkeys and birds they torment.

It was a pleasure to dip in again with little Charlie Bucket and his sprightly Grandpa Joe as they explore the wonders of Willy Wonka's amazing Chocolate Factory with a bunch of rotten kids and their equally revolting parents. The kids represent several vices:  Augustus Gloop is a glutton, Mike Teavee embodies rudeness and lack of imagination (he watches TV all day long), Veruca Salt is the eptitome of the spoiled brat (and veruca means wart, I just found out, ha!) and Violet Beauregarde is pushy.  I would recommend this witty book to anyone looking for a wacky, slightly sardonic romp, old and young alike.

With Cook the Books, we read our selected book and then come up with some kind of dish inspired by our reading. The book is full of all kinds of fantastical sweets, but I was most taken with Wonka's description of his Lickable Wallpaper for Nurseries:
"Lovely stuff, lickable wallpaper!" cried Mr. Wonka, rushing past. "It has pictures of fruits on it - bananas, apples, oranges, grapes, pineapples, strawberries, and snozzberries..."
"Snozzberries?" said Mike Teavee.
 "Don't interrupt!" said Mr. Wonka. "The wallpaper has pictures of all these fruits printed on it, and when you lick the picture of a banana, it tastes of banana. When you lick a strawberry, it tastes of strawberry. And when you lick a snozzberry, it tastes just exactly like a snozzberry..."
"But what does a snozzberry taste like?"
"You're mumbling again," said Mr. Wonka. "Speak louder next time. On we go! Hurry up!" (pp.104-105 of my copy)
 I'm not sure what I think a snozzberry would taste like. I keep seeing an extra "h" in there and thinking "schnozz-berry" and that conjures up awful suggestions of nose boogers. So I wasn't going to go the snozzberry route.

However, I also possess another wonderful book, Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes (by Felicity Dahl and Josie Fison), which is a cookbook that brings to life many of the wild foods discussed in Dahl's oeuvre (with the bonus of featuring Quentin Blake as illustrator again). There is a beautiful rendition of lickable wallpaper there made with an apple-gelatin puree, which, after being rolled out and dried, is like a sticky sort of fruit leather that can be decorated with various fruits and edible garnishes.

Continuing on with my exploration of lickable wallpaper, I found a web link to a BBC show featuring chef Heston Blumenthal and his creation of a Chocolate Factory Feast in which celebrity guests got to lick up some tomato soup and prawn cocktail flavored wallpaper. That was getting more interesting to me, though I do have some hygienic concerns.

First, unless you tear off the sheets of this lickable wallpaper or have some sort of crazy conveyor belt to keep fresh spots of wallpaper available for new lickers, there will be sodden, bacteria-laden patches that someone else may inadvertently plant their lips on. I just keep thinking of petri dishes or flypaper.

Then I thought about licking wallpaper and then tearing off a strip to eat. I thought about those homemade flyers that have strips at the bottom with people's phone numbers to rip off, and then that got me thinking about making edible wallpaper using nori, those sheets of roasted seaweed that one uses to roll sushi. With some inspiration from these Internet recipes: here and here, I set off to experiment with some toasted nori as my lickable wallpaper base.

Nori is certainly handsome enough to hang as edible wallpaper on its own, but I thought about painting it with all sorts of condiments from the inexhaustible supply that festoons my larder and fridge and then toasting it to a crackling, CRISPY-edged goodness. I get these bags of Japanese seaweed snacks at Albany's Asian markets and they are so addictive. They come in Tom Yum, Tomato, Wasabi, Spicy Squid and Plain Salt flavors and I am hooked.

Surrounded by a counter full of sauces, seeds and spices, I set to work on my

Lickable Nori Wallpaper Snacks:

First, I preheated my oven to 250 degrees F. Then I painted, drizzled or sprinkled on my nori wallpaper adornments and baked each batch for ten minutes.

Experiment One: I mixed a little Thai green curry paste with soy sauce and painted that on two pieces of nori. One also got a sprinkle of sesame seeds.  Result: Too salty, though I was pleased to see that the sesame seeds adhered to the nori after baking.

Experiment Two: I beat up an egg white and brushed it on two pieces of nori. One was sprinkled with Five-Spice Powder and the other was dusted with Smoked Paprika. Verdict: Good adhesion of spices, both flavors good.

Experiment Three: Some leftover pesto spread on one sheet of nori. Some chili-garlic-black bean paste spread on the other. Verdict: Both tasted good, but they result in soggy nori centers.

Experiment Four: Drops of liquid smoke on one sheet of nori and splash of hot pepper sauce on another. Both spritzed with Dr. Bragg's Liquid Aminos (it's like soy sauce in a spray bottle, very handy). Verdict: Liquid Smoke nori is inedible. Hot pepper sauce version okay.

Experiment Five: Two sheets of nori brushed with egg white and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Quick shot of Dr. Bragg's to serve as fixative. Verdict: Best tasting and looking version. Not too salty, but pleasantly so.

Ultimately, this experiment with lickable, edible wallpaper proved that the simplest adornments proved the best. Just a simple spritz of Dr. Bragg's or a painting of beaten egg white and a sprinkling of sesame seeds made the CRISPIEST, tastiest toasted nori snacks, though for visual beauty, I must say I fancy the nori with chili, garlic, and black bean paste. And while I thought about making my family line up to the kitchen wall to chomp off a portion of these nori snacks, I ended up snipping them into strips with kitchen shears and offering them up a bit more elegantly.

Though I sped through a full ten-sheet pack of nori, this would be a splendid way to use up leftover nori sheets after a bout of sushi-making.

Our Cook the Books hostess for this round, Deb of Kahakai Kitchen, will be back after the March 26 deadline to post a roundup of all the great dishes. You still have time to join in the fun, or you could wait until the next round of Cook the Books when we will be reading "The United States of Arugula" by David Kamp.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mushroom Salad Hunting, Russian Language Tips and an Expedition to Dnipro Deli

One of life's simple truths is that it is a magical thing to memorize a few words in another language before venturing out into new territory. Knowing how to say hello, thank you, yes, no and please really seems to be a passport into people's hearts. That simple act of cramming a little foreign lingo (aided by some hammy pantomiming) brings a lot of smiles and assistance in my experience.

This truism worked its usual charm when I recently shopped at a wonderful Ukrainian deli and market in Albany, Dnipro. Armed with my meager yet potent arsenal of Russian stock phrases, and accompanied by my friend Lisa, we sallied forth for exotic provisions for a party that night.

Shopping at Dnipro was so much fun. There is a large selection of cookies, teas, canned goods, spices, and other foods from Croatia, Israel, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, and other Eastern European countries and just scanning the colorful packaging and Cyrillic lettering is a graphic design treat. Most all packages I saw had ingredients lists in English, which is essential when shopping gluten-free and overall, I thought the prices were quite modest.

There's a refrigerator case in the back of the shop where customers were purchasing slices of luscious, cream-laden cakes and a dairy case full of interesting kefirs and cheeses. Lisa and I were lured into line by the deli counter, though. We both share a love for pickled fishes and vegetables and a taste for gustatory adventure so we were quite literally drooling by the time we were at the head of the line.

We were there on a Saturday afternoon, when the store was quite crowded, so we were mindful that we didn't want to hold things up when we began ordering. After mumbling the magic phrase, "zdravstvujjte" (which means hello, pronounced along the lines of zuh-razz-wheats-yuh), the lovely blonde woman behind the counter started offering sample after sample to us both, prodded on by the customers behind us who also directed her to give us slices of their favorite deli meats. We were the only ones who seemed to be trying to hurry things along, and it was very gracious of both the staff and customers to stuff us like the sausages behind the glass.  It was also certainly fortuitous that I remembered how to say good (haroshaw) and very good in Russian (aw-chin haroshaw) in those interludes when our mouths weren't busy chewing.

We left with a whole bag full of delicious things, from Polish cookies to spicy carrot salad, but what really captivated me was a simple tub of creamy mushroom salad. I hope to return soon to see if the Dnipro folks will part with this awesome recipe, but in the interim, I had such a hankering for it that tried to recreate it in the Crispy Cook test kitchen.

The salad had small cubes of mushrooms in what I believe was a mayonnaise dressing, with a delicate hint of onion. I really didn't detect any other clues about other ingredients, and am intrigued that such a simple combination of items could produce such a delectable treat. I did a little research in my raft of cookbooks and at the public library, but couldn't find a recipe for a traditional Russian Mushroom Salad made in this style. There were recipes for pickled mushrooms, mushrooms with potatoes and cucumbers, raw mushrooms tossed with lemony vinaigrette, mushrooms and tomatoes and so on, but nothing quite like what I had purchased.

I experimented in the kitchen and came up with this very nice recreation of the earthy, yet delicate-tasting Dnipro salad, though it wasn't exactly the same. I shall have to return soon for another container of this mycological manna, but in the interim, this version makes an excellent treat for the table, slathered on some sturdy bread or eaten plain as a side dish.

Russian Mushroom Salad a la Dnipro

2 Tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 Tbsp.)

1 lb. mushrooms, cut into 1/2 inch dice

Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. sour cream

Heat butter in a pan and add in garlic and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are translucent about 4-5 minutes. Add mushrooms and sprinkle with a little salt to encourage the 'shrooms to release their juices.

Cook another 10-12 minutes, stirring, until the mushroom juices are most gone. These cooked mushrooms will have absorbed all the seasonings and juices from the pan.

Let cool for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and fold in mayonnaise and sour cream. Chill before serving.

Makes about 2 cups.

I resisted the urge to zip this mushroom salad up with chopped parsley, dill or chives, because I was trying to recreate that particular salad, but I would think these would be great additions.
There's a great local blog review about Dnipro at All Over Albany, where you can find driving directions, read more about the array of smoked meats, and see photos of the front and back (the entrance is in the back) of the store's grey modernist architecture. (I'd like to think the building was appropriately Soviet Style ugly, but visit the SUNY Albany campus or Empire State Plaza and you'll see the same dreary design vibe, so it's more that it's just Rockefeller-esque). Aesthetics aside, just remember your spasibas and you'll be in like Flynn, or rather, Fyodor.

I'm sharing this recipe with Weekend Herb Blogging, a weekly blog event headquartered at Cook (Almost) Anything and hosted this week there as well.

**Don't forget that I currently have a copy of Elizabeth Barbone's newest cookbook "How to Cook Gluten-Free: 150 Recipes That Really Work" to offer as a giveaway until March 21st at midnight. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment after this recent post.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cooking Vanessa's Beans at Frankie's Place

Reading Frankie's Place: A Love Story, by Jim Sterba (NY: Grove Press, 2003) makes you feel like you are visiting friends at their summer camp on Maine's Mount Desert island. Sterba's book is an atmospheric account of his courtship of, marriage to and many felicitous summers spent with fellow author Frances "Frankie" FitzGerald.  Sterba is a former NY Times and Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent and FitzGerald is a Pulitzer Prize winning nonfiction writer, both of whom found love later in their busy, globe-hopping lives.

The book revolves around the slower pace of summers spent at Frankie's place, a family-and mosquito-shared cabin in the woods near the shore. It might be summer, but there is still a schedule to adhere to: Frankie is an advocate of morning dips in Maine's icy waters, calisthenics and excessively long hikes, which Sterba loving refers to as FitzGerald Survival School. There is also much writing to be done (Frankie likes a manual typewriter for that task), reading, sailing, mushroom hunting, mussel gathering and other foraging/shopping for provisions.

There's also an amusing chapter about the author's search for WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) on this island historically populated with many of these folks. He researches the subject at the library, at a private swimming club, and in other prowlings around the village of Northeast Harbor. They elude him, particularly the wily subspecies, the High WASP, until a chat with a friend clues him in to the fact that he married one. Oh.

Punctuating all the prose is Sterba's recipes - offered in somewhat slapdash prose style, with plenty of room for variations according to what the pair might have rustled up from the ocean, container garden or woods. I have festooned my copy of the book with lots of bookmarks to hold my place for various recipes, but one dish called out to me immediately. Sterba describes a warm bean salad that he first tried at a friend's wedding. He pestered the caterer like a good newspaperman until she gave up her secrets and so I offer to you my own adapted version that made us all very full and happy at Chez Crispy Cook.

Vanessa's Beans (or Frankie's n' Beans)
 -adapted from a recipe in Jim Sterba's Frankie's Place: A Love Story

1 (l lb.) bag dried small white navy beans (I used red kidney beans)

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 quartered onion
3 cloves peeled garlic
2 bay leaves

Other aromatics of your choice (I threw in celery trimmings, carrot peels, onion skins, and parsley stems from my soup stock stash in the freezer). Sterba recommends sliced ginger, bacon, rosemary and thyme branches)
2 cups vegetable broth

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley and chives)

1 cup chopped red and yellow bell peppers (I used the trimmings from chopping up pepper squares to grill on skewers during our first spring barbeque)

Salt and pepper to taste

The night before, cover beans with cold water and let sit out at room temperature to soak overnight. Change water 2-3 times.

The next day, drain beans and place in a large, heavy soup pot with 2 Tbsp. olive oil, onion, garlic, bay leaves and vegetable broth. I added in the soup trimmings as noted above to further enrich my bean broth. Bring to a boil and then simmer along merrily until beans are to desired softness (about 1-1/2 hours).

Drain off and reserve bean broth. Let beans cool a bit, and then fish out all the large bits of veggie detritus (onion skins, celery stubs, parsley stems, bay leaves, carrot peels, herb branches). The garlic should have become quite soft so you can just "moosh" that in, to use a favorite Sterba cooking term.

Mix up a vinaigrette with 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice, fresh herbs, and peppers. Add in some of the reserved bean broth (about 1/2 cup). Let stand for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Gently dress the beans and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Vanessa's Beans are some good frugal eating and I even have leftover bean broth to use in other recipes (I'm thinking about some pasta fazool later on). I have sampled and made many other bean salads, but I think the key here is that the beans are warm and infused with so many aromatic flavorings in their cooking liquid that they really melt in your mouth. 

One serving of this lovely dish is being sent over to my friend Simona at Briciole for her semi-annual Novel Food event, where you will find lots of other interesting posts about various books and the recipes inspired by them after her March 18 deadline. 

A second serving of Vanessa's Beans is being sent to another blogger compadre, Heather of Girlichef, who is guest hosting My Legume Love Affair #45. This monthly blog event celebrates legumes in all their glory and is the brainchild of Susan the Well Seasoned Cook.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cooking Along with our Local Gluten-Free Celebrity Chef, Elizabeth Barbone and a Giveaway

I first met Upstate New York's own Gluten Free cooking diva Elizabeth Barbone at a celiac support group meeting back in 2007 when I first feeling my (gluten-free) oats as a GF cook. She was a guest speaker at our meeting, and she bedazzled me with her cool purple Kitchen Aid mixer, the cookies and cupcakes she made for us to sample and her lively presentation.

I bought a copy of her "Easy Gluten-Free Baking" cookbook on the spot and took it home to pore over and cook from. She kindly allowed me to reprint her recipe for Lemon Bars in a subsequent post, which are a pitch perfect combination of sweet and tart flavors over a buttery crust base.  I use that baking cookbook often, as it contains a lot of baking standards, from Pumpkin Bread to Brownies, and a few unusual recipes (Garlic Muffins, Hummingbird Cake) that are fun to try. Barbone's recipes don't make you crawl from market to health food store to food co-op tracking down oddball ingredients to make her recipes and her instructions are precise and have worked for me every time.

In addition to maintaining her GlutenFreeBaking website, giving GF cooking classes and demonstrations, and writing a weekly Gluten Free Tuesday column at Serious Eats, Elizabeth has been working on her second cookbook, "How to Cook Gluten-Free: Over 150 Recipes That Really Work", (Lake Isle Press, $27.95) which will be published later this month. Elizabeth sent me an email to ask if I'd join some other bloggers in a Cook Along event featuring several of the recipes from this new book and my immediate response was a high-pitched yipping that startled my sweet Martha dog awake from her guard position snoozing at my feet.

I was able to make three out of the four recipes she sent along and each one was great. I first tried out an Avocado and Grapefruit Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette and that was very tasty. I used a Pomelo, a grapefruit cousin, as I had one-half languishing from a recent Asian market field trip and that worked out really well. The Pomelo is both a bit less juicy and less sweet than a Red Grapefruit, as called for in Barbone's recipe. This was a really refreshing salad and we made it twice more when avocados were on sale at our supermarket.

I was intrigued by the next recipe I tried, Elizabeth's No-Rise Pizza Crust recipe. Dan is usually the Pizza Maker in our house, as he has the patience for yeasty, slow food items, but since this recipe didn't call for yeast and the need for allowing the dough to rise, I forged ahead. The dough was easy to assemble and work with. I rolled it out and patted into the rectangle shape called for in the recipe and then slathered on mozzarella, Parmesan, sauteed garlic and broccoli and some spices to make a White Broccoli Pizza.

As noted in Elizabeth's recipe text, this crust can stand up to a lot of toppings, and that was certainly true as our slices buckled but didn't break under all that cheesy goodness. The crust didn't get as CRISPY as I would have liked, even baking the pizza on a heated pizza stone, so I think next time I will divide the dough in half and make two thinner, smaller pizzas. I love the ease of this recipe for busy weeknight dining, though. You can't beat slapping some pizza dough together and baking it up what my grandpa used to call a "Hot Pie", within 45 minutes.

The final recipe I took out for a test drive was our favorite, Powdered Sugar Doughnut Muffins. These little mini muffins are nicely spiced with nutmeg and then rolled in powdered sugar while they are still warm. They are fantastic little sweet bites, paired with a tall glass of cold milk. Plus they are extremely cute.

Elizabeth will be rounding up the other posts in this Cook Along to celebrate the publication of her new cookbook, so check over at her website, later to see what other people cooked up.

I am also pleased as punch to be able to offer a giveaway of a copy of Elizabeth's new cookbook to one of my Crispy Cook readers. To enter this giveaway, leave a comment below telling me about something great and gluten-free that you have recently made. You can get a second entry in this giveaway by stopping by the new Crispy Cook facebook page and liking it and then telling me that you did so in another comment. I will pick a random winner after the deadline of March 21, 2012, midnight Eastern Standard Time. This giveaway is limited to U.S. residents.

Good luck with the giveaway!

Disclaimer: I received some advance recipes from Elizabeth Barbone's new cookbook and an opportunity to offer one copy of the cookbook to one of my readers from the publisher. However, I was not obligated to post about these recipes or the cookbook and my comments about them are completely my own.