Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Short Gustatory and Artsy Atlanta Vacation

I was let out of the bookstore for a short trip to Atlanta to check out Emory College. The young' un has been dreaming of an education at this fine academic institution, despite my entreaties that it is way too far away, out of our budget, too much of a change from our hobbity rural life, etc. She insists that this is her dream college, so off we went for a four-day trip to investigate.

After a three-flight extravaganza that began at 3 am, followed by a white-knuckle rental car drive up I-85 during rush hour, in which I was consistently in the wrong lane, we flopped at our hotel for a quick break. The plan was to freshen up, drive over to Emory to scope out how to get to our scheduled tour the next morning, shop quickly at a used bookstore and then seek out some delicious Southern barbeque.

I had thought that Emory was located in a northern suburb of Atlanta, but it's really part of the urban area, replete with lots of traffic congestion, so our introduction to Emory was not as auspicious as it could have been. We sat in a big traffic jam past the Center for Disease Control and Emory Hospital and saw people walk, push strollers, and limp past with three-pronged canes overtaking us in our rental car. We finally inched past our intended target, the Admissions Building, and then headed out of the gridlock up Clairmont Avenue to catch the last half-hour at Atlanta Vintage Books.

What a treat!  We pulled up to the curb and saw a young man feeding and petting a covey of long-haired cats on the sidewalk. He welcomed us and when I told him we were looking forward to meeting one of our bookstore colleagues, whisked us into the shop and introduced us to more cats and Bob Roarty and Jan Bolgla, the husband and wife owners. Jan was embroiled in phone discussions with customers during our visit, but Bob was so kind and generous with his time, leading us both through the labyrinth of wonderful book rooms, each more interesting than the next. I love that different subjects get their own rooms and we had a grand time talking shop, examining some of the gems in his rare books section (a signed Finnegan's Wake! a signed Gone with the Wind! Tasha Tudors in jackets!). Every once in a while, his delightfully exuberant employee Mallory would whoop or snort from her corner cubby to punctuate our discussion, and that made me laugh every time.

I wish I had more time to browse, but with hungry teen in tow and mindful of the 7 pm closing time (which we exceeded by far) my perusal was limited to the American history section. I am always looking to replenish our colonial history and Revolutionary War shelves, as well as our upstate New York history selections, so I did leave with an armload of books that filled up my airline suitcase to its 50 lb. limit.

Bob probably would have kept the lights on all night for us, so generous was he with his time and kindness, but after providing us with a short linguistics lesson to help us in our travels ("all y'all" is the plural of "y'all", "the great Unpleasantness" refers the Civil War) and some detailed instructions to get us to Fat Matt's Rib Shack for dinner, we reluctantly left. Bob also practically adopted my daughter into the family should she end up at Emory, so I am very grateful to everyone at Atlanta Vintage Books. Talk about the fabled Southern hospitality!

Fat Matt would have to wait until another night as I ended up getting us hopelessly lost in the dark, so the kid and I got some room service back at the hotel and flopped wearily in our beds that night.

Day Two turned out to be another great day, and thanks to perusal of a more detailed street map, we ended up avoiding the eastern edge of the Emory campus with all its attendant traffic snarls, and shot straight down Briarcliff Road to our information session and college tour. I watched my daughter fall head over heels in love with this school as we toured the immaculately kept buildings and grounds. They have a jewel box of an ancient art museum on campus, the Michael C. Carlos Museum, and we were able to go back for a visit later in the day. The lighting design and architecture frame each artifact and sculpture just right and I was amazed at the number of unusual artworks. Don't miss this gem if you are a museum freak like I am.

There are other wonderful sculptures and artwork adorning other buildings throughout the campus,

from Egyptian pharaoh sculptures to James Joyce's death mask (on the connecting corridor between the undergraduate and graduate libraries).

More Atlanta fun to follow in a later post..., including that fantastic Fat Matt's BBQ!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Anna Roundup: Cabbage Soup, Pampushky, Pierogi and and a Giveaway, From Belarus with Love

As noted here in my post last month, my creative mother, Carol Marie Davis, recently published a book about her maternal grandmother, Anna: Heart of a Peasant.

It tells the story of our intrepid ancestor as she made a new life for herself in America after being banished by her family in her small village in Belarus. Anna's story is not a tragedy, however. She emigrated to a new home that she cherished, married, raised a family of her own, and nourished and healed them with vegetables and herbs grown in her garden. There are some beautiful illustrations and even a few heirloom recipes at the back of the book

As a surprise Christmas present for my mom, I sent copies of her book to five of my blogger friends from Cook the Books, our online foodie book club, to read and review, and they very kindly obliged with great posts about the book as well as their forays into some pretty tasty Russian cooking.

My Australian expat buddy Alicia blogs in England at Foodycat. Alicia is always an adventurer in the kitchen and like our heroine Anna, is expert at putting up the garden harvest. Her Anna post led to a glorious pot of borscht studded with chunks of vegetables and short ribs, accompanied by some pampushky, a sort of savory doughnut rolled in garlic and salt. Where's my spork!

Traveling halfway around the globe, we find ourselves next in Hawaii at Claudia's blog, Honey from Rock. Claudia felt a bit of kinship with Anna and her gardening, preserving, wine-making ways, and notes "Peasants rule!" She took up the challenge of making Potato and Cheese Pierogis and they came out quite splendidly, bathed in a little emerald green parsley butter.

Heather the Girlichef is a blogging dynamo with a big heart and a great writing style. She immediately said yes when I approached her about reviewing this book and her phrase about resonating with Anna's "hands in the earth growing food" is just beautiful prose. Heather set about making a pot of Garlicky Chicken Soup and reports that this foodie medicine may have warded off a few colds that were brewing around her home.

The rest of our book reviewing band fell in love with Anna's Cabbage Soup, though all three pots of soup came out quite differently:

Simona of Briciole, is an Italian-born California resident, and used Savoy Cabbage and home grown Red Russian Kale (how appropriate) topped with a dollop of homemade kefir in her rendition of this hearty vegetable soup. Simona writes that she may be inspired to start recording some of her father's many stories and I can enthusiastically second this idea! Perhaps we will have another interesting memoir to read soon?.....

My Cook the Books co-founder and co-host, the effervescent Deb of Kahakai Kitchen in Honolulu, also tried out a cabbage soup recipe a la Anna, though her version was a little less sugary, a little more lemony and enhanced with a scoop of brown rice. Deb may also be providing us with some future recipes and/or memories of her Scandinavian immigrant forbears at her blog. I sure hope so!

Finally, there's my version of Anna's Cabbbage Soup from the recent archives of The Crispy Cook. Like Deb, I cut down on the sugar, lessened the cooking time (I like my "kapusti", or cabbage, more al dente) and made up a pot of love at my own little dacha.

Thanks to all my wonderful friends who helped celebrate the publication of my mother's new book. I offer you my heartfelt thanks and am glad that you enjoyed Anna's stories and recipes. My mom has been excitedly reading all your posts and even stirred herself to learn how to leave comments on your awesome blogs, no mean feat!

Giveaway Announcement: 

To keep the book party going, I will be offering a copy of Anna: Heart of a Peasant to one of you now. Just leave a comment below (for an extra entry LIKE The Crispy Cook on Facebook ) and leave a comment below telling me about your action, and I'll  randomly pick a winner and send out a copy of my mom's book to you, anywhere in the world. I will pick a random winner from the comments below after a deadline of Feb. 29, 2012.

And for all you readers who can't get enough cabbage soup, please feel free to join us at Cook the Books as we read and cook from Roald Dahl's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Deb of Kahakai Kitchen is the host for this round, in which we find our central character, Charlie Bucket, staving off hunger with his family in a cold house with meals of cabbage soup, boiled potatoes and bread with margarine (on a good payday!) before Charlie wins the lucky Golden Ticket in a bar of chocolate that allows him to tour this fabulous Willy Wonka candy factory.  Cook the Books submissions are due March 25, 2012 and you can find out all about how to join in the fun with our book club regulars over at the Cook the Books website.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Creamy Black Bean Soup with Roasted Fennel

Certain members of the Crispy household  have been having some tender tummies and medically-authorized restricted diets as of late. This has presented a bit of a challenge to the Crispy Cook, who, in addition to having the gluten-free diet to consider, has had to produce low-acid, low-fat , tomato, onion and garlic-free meals. I have even had to bone up on the liquid diet in preparation for one of us to have some medical tests.

Now, we love us our spice, alliums, acids and fats in our family, so this is new territory for me. I've been consulting my cookbook library in an effort to keep everybody happy and healthy during this new food adventure. While some of  us would be perfectly content sucking down Italian ices and popsicles 24/7, this is hardly a nutritious diet, so I've been constantly referring to the list of approved vegetables, fruits and seasonings, to try to come up with restorative and satisfying edibles.

There is good news that more and more, you can find grocery coupons for healthier foods. Enter this tasty cup of black bean soup. Not the most photogenic of potages, but this batch was so yummy, I will be making it again when we are back to eating our regular menu. It is soothing, full of vitamins and is pleasantly sweet. Though most other black bean soup recipes feature lots of spice, this variety is flavorful in a botanical, herbaceous kind of way.

The home run ingredient was roasted fennel. I chopped up a large bulb of fennel, feathery fronds, chunky stems and all, doused it with 1 Tbsp. of olive oil and a pinch of salt in a covered ceramic baking dish, and then baked it at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes. Then I uncovered the baking dish and roasted it another 10 minutes to let it brown up. We ate some of that as a side dish for our supper and then the next day was dedicated to a liquid diet, so I decided to add the leftovers in with some sauteed carrots and celery to a simple vegetarian black bean soup and the fennel joined with the fresh taste of its celery cousin and the whole thing was really sublime.

Black Bean Soup with Roasted Fennel

2 cups dried black beans, soaked in water to cover for several hours
(you could also use 2 (14 oz.) cans of cooked black beans, undrained)

1 large bulb fennel, roasted (see above)

1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped

5 cups vegetable stock

Salt to taste

Drain beans and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil and lower heat to simmer. Cook until softened, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another large pot heat olive oil. Add carrots and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add roasted fennel and vegetable stock and bring to boil. Cover and simmer while beans finish cooking.

Add cooked black beans to the soup pot. Stir together to blend and add salt to taste. I then stuck in my immersion blender to puree the soup. You could eat it like that or go further and strain out any vegetable bits if you are on a liquid diet, like we were this past week.

Serve hot. Makes 8 servings.

I am going to send a cup of this luscious black bean soup over to my blogger buddy Deb of Kahakai Kitchen, for her weekly Souper Sunday roundup and another cup over to Sweet Artichoke who is this month's host for My Legume Love Affair, a blog event created by Susan the Well-Seasoned Cook. Disclaimer: I received compensation for adding the link to the third paragraph of this post.

Monday, February 13, 2012

I Heart Raspberry Cheesecake for One

There have been several health procedures and even one minor medical emergency these past several weeks at the Crispy Casa, so no time for cooking up wondrous things for the blog. Everybody's fine now but aside from a fantastic black bean soup (tomorrow's post) there have been no spectacular Crispy Creations to pass on to you, except for this lovely little Valentine's Day edition of a raspberry cheesecake.

Once she was feeling better, my little one requested some spaghetti and meatballs for her recovery meal followed by a slice of  Raspberry Cheesecake. (Add more frozen raspberries and raspberry jam to that Lime Cheesecake recipe).

Now, that's a decadent recipe we reserve for special occasions, like birthdays (see below photo for a particularly dressy example), and with the other members of our households not wanting to be tempted with a whopping hulk of a whole cheesecake lying in wait on the kitchen counter, I decided to make my honey a little single serving cheesecake.

I have had a one-cup, heart-shaped spring-form pan-- a whim purchase I must admit, because it was so darn cute--- lurking around my cupboards for a couple of years and finally put it to use. I made up a small batch of my usual gluten-free graham cracker crumb crust (handful of crackers whizzed around in the food processor with 1 Tbsp. melted butter, 1 Tbsp. sugar, handful of walnuts) patted down in the base of this cute heart pan and then baked in a 325 degree F oven for 10 minutes.

Afterwards, I approximated a single-serving cheesecake recipe by rinsing out the food processor and throwing in 4 oz. softened cream cheese, 2 Tbsp. Greek yogurt, a dash of vanilla, a few grains of salt, 1 beaten egg, 2 Tbsp. seedless raspberry jam, and a handful of thawed frozen whole raspberries, reserving a few raspberries to decorate the top.  I whizzed that up, spooned it into my heart pan and then baked it at 325 degrees F for 45 minutes (I thought it would take much less, but the filling was not really firm and set until 45 minutes). I topped the cheesecake with some raspberries, tamped down a bit into the filling, and then drizzled with some extra raspberry juice for a little decoration.

When my little heart was done, I let it cool for 20 minutes, then unsprung the outside and wrapped it in plastic wrap and chilled it in the fridge for 5 hours. My patient gobbled it down and smiled and tucked in for a cozy nap afterward.

I'm thrilled that this little experiment in single-serving baking worked so well and am sure it lends itself to other cheesecake flavors, depending on the mix-ins. Here's to a Happy Valentine's Day to all of you, full of hugs and kisses from your own dear hearts.xoxoxoxoxox

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pop on Over

Trying to make popovers proved to be a difficult challenge for me for this month's Gluten Free Ratio Rally baking project. Despite the fact that these allegedly tall, crusty and pockety muffiny things are made from only a few simple ingredients, (milk, eggs, flour, butter, a little salt and some xanthan gum), my popovers were flop-overs.

The two batches of popovers I made were edible, but they certainly didn't resemble the gloriously puffy popovers I aspired to on the cover of Nicole Hunn's great GF cookbook, Gluten Free on a Shoestring. Now that is a popover!

What I got from my experiments were sunken in the middle, height-challenged flopovers, though I switched around flours and baking cups. I don't own popover tins, but having read in several different cookbooks that popovers can theoretically rise to majestic heights in regular muffin tins, ramekins or even coffee mugs, I tried all three ways. Sadly, something was amiss with my flop-overs.

My first batch was based on Hunn's basic popover recipe, though the first time around I used equal parts potato starch and white rice flour instead of the 1 cup of all-purpose gluten-free flour called for by Hunn because I thought that might make for a really light popover that would rise and rise and rise.

This is what I got from that first batch:

 They were nice and brown and CRISPY on the outside and somewhat moist and pudding-like on the bottom, but they were definitely concave in the middle. We ate them hot with blackberry jam and enjoyed them, but they needed improvement.

Flop-over batch #2 were baked with a half and half mixture of Bob's Red Mill all-purpose gluten-free flour and corn flour (with 1/2 tsp. celery seed for added flavor) for a savory and corny tasting popover. Again, edible, but decidedly concave rather than convex in the middle. Hmmm.

So, what should I do differently? Place them in a cold oven rather than a preheated oven as some cookbooks suggest? Bake for a longer time or at a higher temperature? Go ahead and splurge on real popover tins? I am open to suggestions.

I am going to keep at it, because I love the idea of an airy, crisp popover, and I am really looking forward to seeing what my fellow Ratio Rally-ers have come up with. Mrs. R. of Honey from Flinty Rocks will have links to a variety of sweet, savory and spicy popovers back at her blog so be sure to join me in hopping over there to see what successful gluten-free popover baking is all about.