Monday, December 8, 2014

My Grandma's Lemon Chiffon Pie, Gluten-Free Version

 My maternal grandmother came of age in the 1930s, when ice-boxes were the norm in the kitchen, before refrigeration. She was always interested in cooking while growing up, and as the eldest child, was responsible for many domestic chores at the family home. I have many fond memories of cooking along with her during the annual summer vacations I would spend with her. We'd spend a day cooking and then bring picnic lunches along during our walks along the Hudson River Aqueduct, picking wildflower bouquets, stopping at the little library for our books, collecting shells and stones along the shores of the Hudson River and window shopping along the downtown of her historic village, Dobbs Ferry, New York.

One of the treats she taught me how to make was Lemon Chiffon Pie in a graham cracker crust. The vogue for gelatin desserts seems to have reached its crescendo during my grandma's youth, but we both loved its sweet and sour taste and light texture, which seemed just right for muggy summer days. My grandma's original recipe called for a graham cracker crust, which I needed to adjust for our gluten-free kitchen. We also used to use a whisk to beat the egg whites and heavy cream into submission, which required quite a bit of bicep strength. Thank goodness for my electric mixer!

I recently had a hankering for this pie and for savoring the memory of my delightful grandmother, so this recipe was trotted out and fiddled with to make a gluten-free version for my family's Thanksgiving feast. My kids were disappointed that this showed up in place of the traditional pumpkin pie, so I suppose I'll have to produce some when they are home visiting (ransacking) my house for Christmas. However, husband Dan and I loved this elegant dessert.

Grandma's Lemon Chiffon Pie (makes two 9 inch pies)


1 (8 oz.) pkg. gluten-free graham crackers, crushed into crumbs (I used Kinnikinnick's S'moreables, which are gluten-free but a bit grittier than wheaty graham crackers)
1/3 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. softened butter


1 Tbsp. unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
4 eggs, separated into yolks and whites
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (two large lemons)
1/2 tsp. salt
Grated rind of one lemon
1 pint heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla
Extra sugar for sweetening whipped cream

Make the crust first by crushing graham crackers into crumbs. You can use a paper bag and a rolling pin like grandma and I used to do or whizz them up in a food processor like I do now. Add 1/3 cup sugar and softened butter and mix well. Press into two glass 9 inch pie pans and bake in preheated 375 degree F  oven for 8-10 minutes. Let cool.

Dissolve gelatin in cold water and let soften 5 minutes.

Beat egg yolks well and add in 1/2 cup sugar, lemon juice and salt. Beat until foamy. Place in top of a double boiler and cook, stirring constantly, until they are thickened, about 5 minutes. Don't let the mixture go and return to have scrambled eggs instead. Vigilance is the key here. Let cool.

Add lemon rind and gelatin mixture to thickened egg yolks.

Beat reserved egg whites with remaining 1/2 cup sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold into yolk mixture, taking care not to do so too vigorously so as to destroy fluffy egg white texture. When thoroughly mixed, fold into graham cracker crusts, cover with plastic wrap and let chill until set, about 2 hours.

Beat heavy cream with vanilla and extra sugar to taste. Serve each slice of pie with a generous dollop of whipped cream, or alternatively, spread whipped cream over each pie and chill another hour before serving.

Makes two pies.

As a final serving, I leave you with a vintage poem for this vintage dessert by Edgar Guest:

Lemon Pie

The world is full of gladness,
    There are joys of many kinds,
There's a cure for every sadness,
    That each troubled mortal finds.
And my little cares grow lighter
    And I cease to fret and sigh,
And my eyes with joy grow brighter
    When she makes a lemon pie.

When the bronze is on the filling
    That's one mass of shining gold,
And its molten joy is spilling
    On the plate, my heart grows bold
And the kids and I in chorus
    Raise one glad exultant cry
And we cheer the treat before us
    Which is mother's lemon pie.

Then the little troubles vanish,
    And the sorrows disappear,
Then we find the grit to banish
    All the cares that hovered near,
And we smack our lips in pleasure
    O'er a joy no coin can buy,
And we down the golden treasure
    Which is known as lemon pie.

Edgar A. Guest, Just Folks (Chicago: Reilly and Lee Co., 1917)

I am sharing this post with Weekend Cooking, a weekly blog event hosted by Beth Fish Reads, where cooks gather to swap food-related -sometimes food-book-related- posts. Please stop by to see what others have written about this week.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"It's the Sicilian version of Ratatouille; trust me, it's good."

Our newest Cook the Books Club hostess, Debra of Eliot's Eats, picked a very sensual book for us to read, Marlena de Blasi's "A Thousand Days in Venice".  It's a lushly written memoir about the American author's visit to Venice during which her future husband, Fernando, (aka The Venetian, the Man with the Blueberry Eyes, the Stranger, the Technicolor Anchovy, among other endearments) pronounces that she is the love that he has been waiting for his whole life. There are some language and cultural barriers to hurdle over, but Marlena accepts her fate and moves to Venice to become his bride, after first selling her share of her St. Louis, Missouri cafe and her opulently appointed new house.

I enjoyed this tale very much. Marlena seems a larger-than-life character and has a bit of bravado, after suffering a tortuous first marriage and a "grim childhood, scattered here and there with the hideous". As a fellow romantic, I rooted for her to make things work with Fernando and sighed with pleasure when they did. It was not a shudderingly violent sort of love affair, but one that was quiet and sure: "Now all the doors are open, and there is a warm yellow light behind them." Ah.

At Cook the Books, I and my fellow readers not only read and comment on our bimonthly foodie book selections, but we cook up a dish (sometimes a whole feast) that embodies our literary selection. While de Blasi's book provided some great recipes (Fresh Pasta with Roasted Walnut Sauce, Traditional Tuscan Tomato Porridge, Lemon Gelato with Vodka and Sparkling Wine, among others), I went to my late summer garden to gather up ingredients for a Caponata, that great eggplant concoction from Southern Italy. My harvest of tender white eggplants, parsley, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and basil just needed a few pantry ingredients to come together for a party dish to share with some friends.

My host had not ever tried caponata and I tried to describe the recipe to him to his ever-furrowing brow. Finally, I just said "It's the Sicilian version of Ratatouille; trust me, it's good." and that did the trick. I took my bowl back home in a scraped-clean state.

Here's my contribution to this month's Cook the Book Feast:


2-3 small, tender eggplants, chopped (if they are small and fresh-picked, you do not need to peel them or salt and drain them in a colander first)
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (can use canned, but drain first)
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted
Handful each of fresh Italian parsley and basil, chopped
1/4 cup raisins
Salt and pepper to taste

Give all of the vegetables a rough, but uniform chop.

Heat olive oil in large frying pan.  Add onions and garlic first and lightly cook 1-2 minutes. Add eggplant and celery and cook, stirring often, another 10 minutes, until soft. Remove vegetables from pan and reserve.

In same pan, add tomatoes, vinegar and sugar and cook down about 10 minutes. Add olives and raisins and cook another 5 minutes. Add in reserved cooked vegetables and cook until everything is heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add parsley and basil and remove from heat.

Let cool to room temperature before serving.

Caponata is great served at room temperature or chilled. It is wonderful on crackers or served in small endive or bell pepper "cups".

Please join us in the next week back at Cook the Books for the complete roundup of all the posts and recipes celebrating A Thousand Days in Venice. Our next book selection is "That Old Ace in the Hole" by Annie Proulx, and new participants are always welcome. The deadline for the next round of Cook the Books is December 2, 2014, so there is plenty of time to buy or borrow Proulx's book and read and cook along with us.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Gluten Free in Denver and Colorado Springs and Giveaway Winner Announcement

I just returned from a short trip to Colorado, visiting the cities of Denver and Colorado Springs.  My vacation was filled with lashings of green chile, that wonderful sauce/stew that is a Colorado/New Mexico food specialty made from roasted green chiles cooked down with onions, garlic, tomatillos, tomatoes, and a pork bone. I just wanted a bowl of that mildly spicy awesomeness for every meal, but sadly, it is considered a condiment and not a main course.

Green chile adorned two of my breakfasts, a ginormous breakfast burrito that my Denver hotel offered, and then Chilaquiles (pronounced chill-uh-killez), eggs scrambled up with broken corn tortillas, beans, tomatoes, peppers and whatever other appropriate leftovers you might have handy. That's my over-exposed photo of Chilaquiles (and some avocado Eggs Benedict) from Cozy Cottage, 4263 Tennyson Street in Denver, which is a terrific breakfast restaurant. Lots of gluten-free options available, including pancakes.

I also had a Green Chili Burger for dinner at Mead Street Station, 3625 West 32nd Avenue, Denver, which was amazingly good. The restaurant also had gluten-free bread upon request for its menu items and carries GF New Planet beer, so they get double points for that.

I spent much of the week eating cafeteria food while attending the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, (where they had some green chile available for breakfast one morning!), so I only had a few outside dining opportunities. In general, I found Denver and Colorado Springs to be very gluten-free friendly eating cities. And I am now obsessed with green chile. Somebody send me or point me to a great green chile recipe so I can recreate here in upstate New York.

I did want to also mention the Everest Nepal Restaurant, 28 E. Bijou Street, in Colorado Springs, where a large party of Book Seminarians descended quite late at night after book hunting at two used bookstores. The owners were quite kind to agree to serve us at such a late hour and both carnivores and vegans found lots of great fare. I tried out some yak (tastes like beef) dumplings, not gluten-free, but a first for me. There were many other items on the menu which would be naturally GF, as is the case with many other Indian-Nepali-Tibetan restaurants, but it would be wise to discuss this with the server in detail before ordering.

And now to announce the winner of the recent Vegetti giveaway here at the Crispy Cook. 

I had previously reviewed the Vegetti, a handy little gadget that takes zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, squash and other vegetables, and spins them into thin strands that are perfect for fresh salads and to be cooked as vegetable pasta. The randomly generated winner of the Vegetti Gift Package Giveaway, which includes a Vegetti and $25 gift card from Ontel, is Amanda. Congratulations Amanda, and thank you to all who entered.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Some New Vegetables in the 2014 Crispy Summer Garden

We've got a few new varieties we've been trying out in the garden this year.

Watermelon Radish

I couldn't resist buying a packet of seeds at the hardware store for a watermelon radish. It's a beautiful vegetable inside and out with pale green skin and a sunburst of magenta and white inside. Just a gorgeous little root vegetable, easy to grow like all radishes and perfectly lovely for an appetizer with a little bit of kosher salt on the side and a nice glass of cold beer.

Friends of ours have had lots of success growing okra in their garden. It's a strikingly ornamental plant with big yellow and brown blossoms. I've not had a lot of experience eating okra after a slimy experience in my youth, but picked fresh from the garden, dusted in rice flour and fried they are good.

Taxi tomatoes and Okra
Those lovely yellow tomatoes are another first timer in our gardens. The Taxi variety is very early, so we are enjoying them in our July salads and tucked into all kinds of other meals. Still awaiting my meaty Brandywines and Cherokee Purples to ripen up.

Pattypan and Spaghetti Squashe
To keep company with  our lone zucchini and yellow crookneck squash plants (I've learned something about gardening over the last twenty years) we picked up a couple of Pattypan and Spaghetti Squash plants. Both have been prolific producers, and we're enjoying the Pattypan very much. It's got a tender skin and sliced up and sauteed with tomatoes, basil and topped with some fresh mozzarella slices, it's a real treat. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Jacques Pepin's Venison Revenge

Our June/July book pick at Cook the Books has been Jacques Pepin's memoir "The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen". While I was familiar with Chef Pepin's smiling face, easygoing manner and uncomplicated, but awesomely tasty, recipes from his many appearances on public television cooking shows, I was not familiar with his personal story. "The Apprentice" tells his remarkable tale, from his childhood in France during the darkest days of World War II, his years of apprenticeships at various hotels and restaurants, his emigration to America and various experiences at fancy restaurants, and his remarkable friendships with Craig Claiborne, Julia Child, Pierre Franey, Howard Johnson, Barbara Kafka and James Beard.

Through it all, his down-to-earth style and personal warmth shines through. I have always thought Pepin was an admirable TV chef because he never cops an haute cuisine attitude about cooking, but instead deconstructs recipes and techniques so that his audience can replicate the dishes he makes on screen. After reading his autobiography, I am even more impressed and endeared by his manner. Despite being a foodie superstar he always stresses the importance of cooking good food for your family and friends in order to share time and love with them, not show off.

I am looking forward to trying Pepin's recipe for Smoked Trout a la Gloria, named after Madame Pepin, an expert angler who brings home fish for her husband to smoke in a roasting pan on the stove. Sounds delicious and while I am not the fisherman in the family, I am willing to smoke up the trout that Dan loves to catch.

For my Cook the Books Pepin-inspired dish, I looked over the two dozen recipes that stud each chapter of this memoir. They were tempting, but I decided to create something with venison, in reference to the most harrowing incident related in the book: Pepin's nighttime car accident with a deer that left him with a broken back, two broken hips, a broken leg, cracked pelvis and a left arm that was so badly fractured that his surgeon considered amputating it. What an ordeal! But Pepin doesn't dwell on that incident, and segues into his subsequent experiences in teaching cooking classes, working with corporate clients and writing cookbooks. But I feel Jacques should have his revenge against that kamikaze deer with a venison dish, so I pulled some venison stew meat that we had in the freezer care of Dan's hunting cousin and put together a delicately seasoned venison stew.

Jacques' Venison Revenge Ragout

1 lb. venison, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3 stalks celery, medium dice
3 carrots, peeled and medium dice
2 cloves roasted garlic
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. chopped fresh sage
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
3 Tbsp. sorghum flour
1/2 cup dry white wine

Pat venison dry with a paper towel. Mix flour with salt and pepper and dredge venison in this mixture.
Heat 2 Tbsp. of oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Brown venison in batches over medium-high heat until browned on all sides and a nice crust forms. Remove and set aside.

Add remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to pan along with celery and carrots. Cook five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in potatoes and cook another five minutes.

Add wine and bring to a boil. Return venison to pan. Cover and simmer until vegetables and venison are tender, about 30-35 minutes. Add herbs during the last two minutes of cooking.

Serves 4-6.

This is a very delicate, aromatic venison stew. A couple of turnips or parsnips would be nice additions in here too.

Please join us after the July 31 deadline for Cook the Books to see the roundup of dishes inspired by our reading. 

I am also linking this post to Souper Sundays, a weekly celebration of soups, stews and sandwiches at Kahakai Kitchen.

The next book selection at Cook the Books will be Marlena de Blasi's "1000 Days in Venice". Deb of Eliot Eats is hosting and notes that the book is one of her favorites. Submissions due September 30, 2014.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Great New Mystery Series with Wonderful Characters, an Exotic Setting and Terrific Food

I have been enjoying Tarquin Hall's wonderful mystery series featuring Vish Puri, a portly but vain, bombastic but decent-hearted, Punjabi detective in modern Delhi. (His mother, Mummy-ji, also knows a thing or two about sleuthing, but is careful not to let her hidebound son know about her own investigations until they are all neatly sewn up.) Vish pampers his containers of blisteringly hot pepper plants, surreptitiously avoids his doctor's advice to avoid rich foods and is the head of a crack team of undercover associates which all have Vish-supplied nicknames: Tubelight (a morning-averse safecracker and car thief), Face Cream (a beautiful female mistress of disguise), Door Stop (the extremely lazy office boy), Handbrake (Vish's chauffeur), and Flush (an electronics and computer whiz who was the first to have a flush toilet in his village).

The books have humorous dialogue and Hall helpfully supplies glossaries at the end of each novel to explain all the unfamiliar words. I found that it was easy to tune my reading "ear" to the rhythm of Delhi-speak, or Dilli. Tarquin's plots offer a great introduction to the history and culture of modern Delhi and each book delves into a mystery that explains one or more social issues, from the caste system to the lingering effects of Partition on Indian-Pakistani relations.

The series is now up to four wonderful books, and Tarquin Hall will hopefully continue to entertain me and many other readers with the foibles of our flawed detective with future installments. My favorite book so far is the the third novel,  The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken. While the titular dish is something I do plan to try, I was actually intrigued by Chicken Frankies, a street food dish that Puri scarfs down throughout the series. I originally thought he was just inhaling chicken frankfurters, but after reading about them over and over in the books, a quick Internet search revealed that a Chicken Frankie is a roti slathered with spicy chicken bits, chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro and hot peppers and then rolled up to be eaten out of hand.

Chicken Frankies are marvelously flavorful things, but they are not the most caloric food item in the world, so I do wonder why he is badgered by his wife Rumpi about eating them. He is on the rotund side, and he does seem to deserve her nickname for him, Chubby, gauging by his Alfred Hitchcock-like profile on each of the hardcover dust jackets.

Here's our version in a gluten-free roti. Dan makes these handmade rotis in a variation of this stove-top pizza crust recipe using 1/4 cup chickpea flour (besan) and 1/2 cup white rice flour for the Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Gluten Free Mix called for in the original recipe. I actually prefer my Chicken Frankies roti-less, with the filling ingredients served over over basmati rice, but Dan must have Vish's favorite snack in the traditional manner.

There are many Chicken Frankie recipes out there, but the variation I like the best is to cut up some chicken breast into small cubes and slow cook it in tomatoes that have been simmered with browned garlic, fresh ginger, coriander, cumin, chili powder and garam masala. You then lay your spiced chicken along one side of the roti, add some diced fresh onions, hot peppers, parsley, cilantro and other seasonings (I threw in some very un-Indian sour cream in there, which Vish would find horrendous, being a good Hindu). Then roll up and eat. Don't forget the napkins!

I am linking this post to Novel Food, a blog event at Briciole, which rounds up posts about food inspired by participants' reading selections. Please consider adding your own entry to this round of Novel Food, which ends June 23rd.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Sharing our Family Recipe for Grandma Nellie's Chicken

When I married my husband Dan, I not only joined a warm and loving family, but I became privy to the heritage that he and his relatives shared. I got earfuls of family lore and albums of photographs of long dead ancestors posing with their town baseball teams, classmates and in one case, a taxidermied ostrich! (that was some strange photography studio where that shot was taken). I inherited cool cousins that were of my same vintage to go to softball games with and carouse.

And then there were the wonderful new-to-me things that my new extended clan ate: New England-y classics like scalloped oysters and baked beans, fresh garden peas (they are a different species than the canned and frozen peas my family was used to), manly delights that Dan's father made in his newfound gourmet phase of his retirement like Veal and Peppers and fork-tender barbecued chicken slathered with his famous, long-simmered barbecue sauce.

One of the family classics was Grandma Nellie's Chicken, a favorite handed down from the Irish side of the family. It's a simply seasoned baked chicken casserole covered over with sliced potatoes, celery and green peppers and is always a hit with our family and friends.The chicken gets tender and moist in its olive oil and butter basting and the vegetables roast down to make a fantastically tasty "gravy". All you need is a salad on the side and some rice to soak up the luscious chicken and vegetable juices and your meal is complete.

I usually add in fresh herbs (dill and thyme are good)  when I make this dish, and sometimes I add in sliced mushrooms if they are threatening to turn brown from too much time in the fridge, but I don't tweak this dish too much because I imagine its creator shaking her rolling pin down at me from On High and muttering about the cheekiness of the interloper that is trying to change up a classic recipe that doesn't need any gussying up.

Here then, is a great chicken recipe from the Crispy Cook heirloom recipe vault:

Grandma Nellie's Chicken

4 chicken breast halves, cut in half across the muscle (leave skin on)
5 potatoes, peeled and thick sliced
3 onions, sliced
4-5 sliced red and green peppers
5 stalks celery, sliced
 1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2 Tbsp. soft butter

Grease a 9x13 glass baking dish. Place chicken inside, skin side up. Layer potatoes, onions, peppers and celery in a mound over chicken. Dab on softened butter and drizzle with olive oil.

Season with salt, pepper and paprika to taste.

Bake 1-1/2 hours at 400 degrees F., stirring at least twice to get the chicken pieces evenly browned and to keep vegetables from sticking.

Serves 6-8.

This recipe also works well with chicken thighs or a cut up whole chicken, but be sure to keep checking the chicken pieces for doneness and adjust cooking times accordingly.

I am sending this recipe over to Weekend Cooking, a weekly roundup of food blog posts at Beth Fish Reads. You'll find lots of other recipes, cookbook reviews, and other delicious posts by the other contributors at this weekly blog event.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dipping my Culinary Toe into Persian Waters with Funny in Farsi

Firoozeh Dumas’ first memoir, Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America (NY: Random House, 2003), is a collection of lighthearted essays that illuminates her childhood experiences growing up as an Iranian transplant in Southern California. She and her family arrived before the Iranian hostage crisis and Revolution, and she clearly shows how she and her family were treated before and after this great divide.

There were two reasons that I picked this book for the April/May selection for the online foodie book club, Cook the Books, that I and my wonderful blogger buddies, Deb, Simona and Debra, organize. First, this book offered me an excuse to explore the beautiful, fragrant Persian cuisine that Dumas describes in her book. Lucky Californians that get to dine out in numerous Persian restaurants started by Iranian-American immigrants!  

Second, I picked this title because I feel like too often Iranians (and Iraqis, Aghanis, Pakistanis and now, Russians - yet again) get demonized in the press because of the actions of their political leaders. As Dumas so expertly shows in her anecdotes about her goofy relatives, her own culture clashes at school and as a young teen, there are universally human traits that we all share around the world, no matter our ethnicity, religion, etc., and I wanted to have others read about her experiences. A little extending of the olive branch, or rather, a bowl of olives, out into the world, if you will.

The best parts of Dumas’ book were her descriptions of her father, Kazem. He is such an interesting mixture of intellect and childish enthusiasm. He was a petroleum engineer back in Abadan, Iran, and later earned a Fulbright Scholarship to continue his graduate education in the U.S. It was during his American sojourn that one of his professors took him on a road trip to Princeton where he met (and flummoxed) Albert Einstein. After launching into a endless monologue of his American experiences, Einstein was rendered somewhat speechless. Or perhaps he took a mental vacation to hone his Theory of Relativity during Kazem’s "year's allotment of conversation". 

I didn't have any cookbooks at the bookshop, or in my home library about Persian cooking. The local library's few volumes were out on loan, and I ordered a copy of "Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States: A Dinner Party Approach to International Relations" by Chris Fair (NY: Globe Pequot Press, 2008) but it arrived after I'd made the meal I was planning for this post. Fair's book is so wonderfully witty, educational and droolworthy all at the same time, so I'll be featuring something out of its pages here sometime soon. 

I was rescued in my quest for Persian culinary education by the wonderful Persian food bloggers out there. I spent a few rhapsodic hours perusing their recipes and food memories until I finally settled on the meal I would make for my family. Since we are Persian food newbies I didn’t want to make anything too wild or for which I would need to purchase endless amounts of exotic ingredients. I was struck by how fragrant -or perfumed might be a more descriptive word- the Persian food palette is; there's a heavy emphasis of great bunches of herbs and complex combinations of spices, and rosewater enters the scene too. It also seems like presentation is very important. As is copious amounts of available cooking time, for as Dumas explains in Funny in Farsi, ingredients are seasonal and require special attention: 

"Summer meant eggplant or okra stew fresh tomatoes, and tiny cucumbers that I would peel and salt. Winter meant celery or rhubarb stew, cilantro, parsley, fenugreek, and my favorite fruit, sweet lemon, which is a thin-skinned, aromatic citrus not found in America. There was no such thing as canned, frozen, or fast food. Everything, except for bread, which was purchased daily, was made from scratch. Eating meant having to wait for hours for all the ingredients to blend together just right." (p. 25)

I finally settled on meatballs spiced with sumac (already had it in the spice cabinet) and a dried rose petal-less advieh, that Persian spice mixture that contains cardamom, cumin, and coriander, all of which I did have on hand). I got the recipe for the fragrant meatballs at Silk Road Diary, and then made up a pot of rice seasoned with sauteed garlic and cumin seeds which I shaped into the traditional Persian dome shape and decorated with radish roses and curling parsley springs. Our Iranian feast was rounded off with pitcher of cold mint tea, a chilled cucumber, tomato and herb salad and some fresh fruit. 

You can still join us at Cook the Books by reading and blogging about this wonderful book by the June 1, 2014 deadline. I will have a roundup of posts up a few days later so that we can all enjoy our various takes on the book and partake of our virtual Persian feast. 

Our next Cook the Books selection will be The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, by Jacques Pepin. Deb of Kahakai Kitchen will be our CTB host and deadlines for posts are due July 31, 2014. Come join us in reading, blogging and cooking up this great book!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Chicken Riggies: An Upstate New York Specialty

I thought I knew all about the local food specialties in my corner of the world, but then I had a peek at this blog post at All Over Albany. I can't say that I have every had -or desired- mozzarella sticks with raspberry sauce, or know why mini hot dogs made the list, and I lived in Albany for over ten years. As a Saratoga Springs resident for two decades, I can attest that potato chips were allegedly invented at Moon's Lake House in Saratoga Springs and for the last twenty years a local candymaker has been putting out a purportedly traditional Victorian holiday treat, the Peppermint Pig (complete with miniature hammer for smashing it to bits for consumption).

A map of New York state foods subsequently was posted on All Over Albany, which I reproduce below:

food regions new york state shannon glazer

I have had the delectable spiedies of the Binghamton area, those marinated grilled chicken sandwiches, and of course Buffalo chicken wings are the best. And I must say no one really eats bark in the Adirondacks, except for the wildlife.

But I had no idea about Utica's Chicken Riggies. It seems that the Italian-American community there love a very saucy, spicy chicken with rigatoni (the "riggies" part) so I had to try that. The secret ingredient is chopped up hot cherry peppers, so do yourself a favor and buy some fresh or at least buy the biggest jar of pickled cherry peppers you can find and keep it on hand to make this great recipe.

I found this recipe at The Brooklyn Ragazza blog which claims to be the original recipe as created by chef Joe Morelli (one of Stephanie Plum's love interests in Janet Evanovich's comic mystery series is named Joe Morelli, so that was another propitious sign inspiring me to make this dish).

I cut down on the hot peppers called for in the recipe and had a slightly more judicious hand with the meat, and dairy products, and served up our Chicken Riggies over gluten-free corn rigatoni.


And husband and child number 2 tell me it must now be part of our regular menu rotation.

Here's my version of Chicken Riggies, made Gluten-Free and a bit lighter on the old stomach.

Chicken Riggies (adapted from The Brooklyn Ragazza)

1 pound of Rigatoni
1 lbs. of boneless chicken breast, cut up into  1/2 inch cubes
2  large roasted red peppers, medium chopped ( I used jarred roasted peppers)
4 hot cherry peppers, roughly chopped (fresh is traditional, but pickled peppers worked great too)
1 (28 oz.) can of whole plum tomatoes, broken up into chunks (your hands work well for this- just get in and get squishy)
5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped (divided)
1/2 c. of grated Pecorino Romano cheese (plus more for topping)
1/2  c. dry Sherry wine
4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (divided- half for sauté, half for sauce)
2 Tbsp. butter
¼ c. heavy cream
½ tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. salt

In a large pot heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil on low heat with 4 of the garlic cloves. Be careful that the garlic doesn’t get brown or burnt. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes and Sherry. Simmer for a few minutes.  Add the butter, dried basil and the sea salt.  Allow to simmer on very low heat.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, saute the chicken in remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil. When chicken is almost browned, stir in the roasted red peppers, cherry peppers, and remaining garlic and sauté for a couple of minute so the flavors marry.

Stir tomatoes and Romano cheese together and add to chicken. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Cook rigatoni until al dente and toss with sauce mixture. Serve with additional grated cheese.

Serves 4-6.

I'm sending over a plate of this Utica, New York signature dish to the Pasta Please Challenge, hosted by Tinned Tomatoes and guest hosted this month by Slice of Me.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Of Possums, Oysters and Mark Twain

My Cook the Books Cohost Simona (the cheese-, pasta- and bread-making force behind Briciole) picked a wonderful title for our online foodie book club to savor: Andrew Beahrs' Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens. The book examines some regional foods that Twain pined for, both in terms of their historical importance and as they appear in contemporary America, interspersed with some snippets about Twain's interesting life. It's a great gumbo of a book full of food history, ecology and literary biography and a good introduction to the life and words of this multi-faceted American genius without having to snap one's wrists wielding his autobiography (Vols. 1 and 2 of an anticpated three volume set recently released on the centenary of his death and weighing in at 4 lbs. each so far).

Twain's Feast is a book that both Dan and I thoroughly enjoyed and which we kept reading out loud to each other during each of our turns flipping through it. Beahrs' starts with a list of American dishes that the homesick and hotel food-weary Twain dreams of tasting upon his return from the European tour described in his hilarious 1880 travel memoir A Tramp Abroad:
"It has now been many months, at the present writing, since I have had a nourishing meal, but I shall soon have one—a modest, private affair, all to myself. I have selected a few dishes, and made out a little bill of fare, which will go home in the steamer that precedes me, and be hot when I arrive—as follows: 
Radishes. Baked apples, with cream, 
Fried oysters; stewed oysters. Frogs.American coffee, with real cream.American butter.Fried chicken, Southern style.Porter-house steak.Saratoga potatoes. Broiled chicken, American style.
Hot biscuits, Southern style.
Hot wheat-bread, Southern style.Hot buckwheat cakes.American toast. Clear maple syrup.Virginia bacon, broiled.Blue points, on the half shell.Cherry-stone clams.San Francisco mussels, steamed.Oyster soup. Clam Soup.Philadelphia Terapin soup.Oysters roasted in shell-Northern style.Soft-shell crabs. Connecticut shad.Baltimore perch.Brook trout, from Sierra Nevadas.Lake trout, from Tahoe.Sheep-head and croakers, from New Orleans.Black bass from the Mississippi.American roast beef.Roast turkey, Thanksgiving style.Cranberry sauce. Celery.Roast wild turkey. Woodcock.Canvas-back-duck, from Baltimore.Prairie liens, from Illinois.Missouri partridges, broiled.'Possum. Coon.Boston bacon and beans.Bacon and greens, Southern style.Hominy. Boiled onions. Turnips.Pumpkin. Squash. Asparagus.Butter beans. Sweet potatoes.Lettuce. Succotash. String beans.Mashed potatoes. Catsup.Boiled potatoes, in their skins.New potatoes, minus the skins.Early rose potatoes, roasted in the ashes, Southern style, served hot.Sliced tomatoes, with sugar or vinegar. Stewed tomatoes.Green corn, cut from the ear and served with butter and pepper.Green corn, on the ear.Hot corn-pone, with chitlings, Southern style.Hot hoe-cake, Southern style.Hot egg-bread, Southern style.Hot light-bread, Southern style.Buttermilk. Iced sweet milk.Apple dumplings, with real cream.Apple pie. Apple fritters.Apple puffs, Southern style.Peach cobbler, Southern stylePeach pie. American mince pie.Pumpkin pie. Squash pie.All sorts of American pastry."
To cap off this "modest" repast, Twain also noted that he would like some fresh fruit and ice water on the table.

It's quite a list. And one would think that a food blogger, namely me, would have an easy time selecting from this cornucopia of foods to produce a dish in homage of Messrs. Beahrs and Twain, but I was unsettled about what to make.

My first inclination was to make Saratoga Potatoes, being that I live in New York's Saratoga County and these CRISPY delights are the stuff of local food legend. Saratoga Potatoes are now more commonly known as potato chips -or crisps to you Brits- and were allegedly first whipped up in anger by George C. Crum, the chef at Moon's Lake House in Saratoga Springs, for a pesky customer who kept returning his potatoes back to the kitchen. I made a pilgrimage to Potato Chip Lane, near the famous Saratoga Race Track, but was left uninspired, though I plan to try my hand at chips in a future blog post.

Twain's list referenced two American mammals, the opposum and the raccoon, which are given a chapter's treatment by Beahrs' as he attends a southern Arkansas coon roast. I don't understand why the locals bother cooking up 600 POUNDS of coon meat, when the stench from the fat makes the meat nigh inedible until it is boiled and rinsed and sauced to death. Then it takes like sauce. Must be just the novelty or the tradition of the thing.

I almost took it as a divine portent when unbelievably, we had a day time visit from a young opposum two weeks ago during the one day it was sunny and above freezing this calendar year. This possum was a real cutie and stayed around our house for almost six hours snacking on wild cherries that had fallen (and no doubt fermented) on the ground. At dusk, it made its way painfully slowly across our well-trafficked road to resume hibernation in our neighbor's barn. (Don't tell her, she's not a marsupial fan).

I ended up inspired by Beahrs' chapter on oysters, once so plentiful in the U.S. that they were sold by the barrel. I usually make my late mother-in-law's Scalloped Oyster recipe at the holidays, though my last several versions have been soupier than desired since we now make a gluten-free version. Here I was almost ready to go back to the drawing board again, as every supermarket and fish market I tried did not have them in stock. Apparently oysters are now considered only a holiday item. I did end up with one container of shucked oysters from the Saratoga Springs Price Chopper (they weren't in stock the other two times I tried) which were cleverly hidden away in a refrigerated case next to the organic vegetable section, so clutching this in the crook of my arm throughout the rest of my shopping trip, I got it home and tinkered with the family recipe to make this rich and delectable side dish.

Grandma Millie's Scalloped Oysters

1 cup gluten-free crackers, crumbled (I used Glutino original premium rounds – 4.4 oz. They are most like the saltines Millie used in the original recipe).

1 cup gluten-free bread crumbs (from 3-4 slices of GF bread, not those Sahara dry pre-packaged GF crumbs)

1 stick butter, softened

1 pt. oysters, liquid reserved

1/4 tsp. black pepper

milk or cream

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce (check to make sure GF)

Use 1-2 Tbsp. butter to grease a 1-1/2 qt. casserole dish. Melt remaining butter and mix with cracker and bread crumbs.

Roughly cut up oysters to break up large pieces (I used kitchen shears in the oyster container so I wouldn’t lose any of the precious oyster liquor).

Place 1/3 of the buttered crumbs on the bottom of the casserole dish. Spoon half of oysters over the crumbs. Repeat layers once, reserving last third of crumbs.

Add enough milk or cream to oyster liquor to make 1 cup. Add in salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to mix well and then pour over oyster casserole. Top with remaining cracker crumbs.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, uncovered.

If you don't need to dine gluten-free, replace GF crackers and bread with an equal amount of saltine crackers, like Grandma Millie used to. This dish is lovely served with a green salad and roll on the side or as part of your New England holiday table.

Please join us after the March 31st deadline for this round of Cook the Books to see the other parts of Twain's Feast that my compadres have cooked up. And please also consider joining us in reading and cooking from our next Cook the Books selection, Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas. Deadline for that next round of Cook the Books is June 1, 2014.

I am also sending a scoop of this rich and decadent oyster treat to Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly roundup of links to foodcentric posts across the blogosphere.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Broccoli Salad with Sun Dried Tomatoes, A GF Product Review and Giveaway

Through this relentlessly cold and snowy (and recently icy) winter season, I have been diligently trying to empty my chest freezer of several seasons' worth of chopped, pureed and oven-roasted garden tomatoes. I have been so diligent that I have in fact, run out of my homegrown tomato "gold", so I was delighted when Mooney Farms sent me a sampler box of some of their Bella Sun Luci sun-dried tomato products.

Mooney Farms is a family-owned company located in California, and has a wide variety of plain and seasoned sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil and resealable pouches of julienne-cut sun-dried tomatoes. Dan and I popped the lid off the Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto with Pine Nuts the same night we received our package and mixed it over our warm pasta. The sauce is nicely acidic and we made sure to mop up all sauciness with the heel of our accompanying bread. Delicioso!

We also broke into a jar of Bruschetta and added a dollop to our omelets one morning. Very tasty once again.

A few days later, I added a couple of tablespoons of the julienne-cut sun-dried tomatoes with Italian herbs to a batch of Broccoli Salad, and it added just the right notes of brightness and zing to an already delightful mix of salty, sweet and fresh flavors. My friend Nancy brought a batch of this great vegetable salad to a summer party last year and I pestered her for the recipe. Here it is below, with the addition of these Bella Sun Luci additions:

Nancy's Broccoli Salad

1 large head broccoli, cut into small flowerets (Nancy says: "I cut it very small and also the stems but skin them first or I buy a bag of broccoli slaw and just add the cut up broccoli crowns. I also  steam the broccoli just a tad sometimes.")

1/2 to 1 lb of cooked crisp bacon- chop or break up into small pieces (I used 1/2 lb.)

Red onion rings, chopped or diced (about 1/2 red onion)

1 cup shredded cheese ( Nancy says "I use sharp Cheddar, use what you prefer.")

Handful of radishes- sliced (Nancy says ":I tend to cut them into little "sticks")

1/4 cup raisins

2 Tbsp. julienne cut Bella Sun Luci sun-dried tomatoes

*Nancy says you can also add in diced apple, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds - all optional

Dressing Ingredients: 

1 cup mayonnaise

4 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup sugar

Combine cider and sugar until dissolved, add mayonnaise and stir until smooth.

Mix with rest of the above ingredients a few hours ahead of serving to mix flavors thoroughly.  (Nancy says: "I make the day before. It keeps well covered in fridge.")

Makes 8-10 servings. 

You can check out a slew of other recipes using Bella Sun Luci's line of sun dried tomato products back at the Mooney Farms website, or create your own and enter to win a $2,500 cash prize in the company's recipe contest by July 1st.

Now for the giveaway part:

Mooney Farms has generously offered to provide a giveaway of some of their Bella Sun Luci sun dried tomato items to a Crispy Cook reader. To enter the giveaway, you must leave a comment below by the deadline of April 2, 2014. You can also earn an additional entry by liking the Crispy Cook on Facebook. If you have already liked the Crispy Cook, just note that in your comment below and your comment will count twice toward the random drawing for this giveaway. Giveaway limited to U.S. shipping addresses only. 

Buon Apetito!

I am sending a virtual bowl of this toothsome Sun Dried Tomato Studded Broccoli Salad to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for her Souper Sundays event, where each week a sampling of soups, salads and sandwiches are rounded up from great home cooks around the world. 

**Note: I received a box filled with 5 jars of Bella Sun Luci Sun Dried Tomatoes and 2 bags of julienne-cut Bella Sun Luci Sun Dried Tomatoes from Mooney Farms, but I was not compensated for this post or obligated to post a review. As always, my comments are completely my own. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Old-Fashioned Date-Nut Bread Made Gluten-Free and Giveaway Reminder

During the course of my holiday food shopping, I picked up a package of dates and meant to use them in something for the Christmas feast, but just didn't get to it. They've been stashed away in my kitchen cupboards since but after skimming a charming antique children's book, The Corner House Girls on a Tour, by Grace Brooks Hill, I was inspired to get cooking with them.

**As an aside, a used bookseller skims a lot of books-partly to figure out where to shelve them and partly, because we are magpie readers, visually attracted to all kinds of books that we want to place strategically around our bowers. I read 1-2 books a week but I estimate that I skim parts of at least 100 books a week.

Anyway, this picnic preparation passage from this 1917 volume caught my fancy: 
"Ruth, the eldest and most sedate of the sisters, was filling sandwiches at the dresser—and such a variety as there was of them!
Chicken, with mayonnaise and a lettuce leaf; pink ham cut thin and decorated with little golden dabs of mustard; peanut butter sandwiches; nut and cheese sandwiches, the filling nestling in a salad leaf, too; tuna fish, with narrow slices of red, red Spanish peppers decorating it; and of course sardines, carefully split and laid between soda crackers. What picnic lunch would be complete without sardines?"
It all sounded like such a delightfully old-fashioned repast, and made me have a hankering for a nut and cheese sandwich, most specifically a slice of date-nut bread spread thickly with cream cheese. 

My trusty Betty Crocker Cookbook (1996 version) had a quick recipe for Date-Banana Bread, which I halved, switched around and made gluten-free into a tasty loaf that was moist and substantial. 

Here's what I did:

Gluten-Free Date-Nut Bread

1 Tbsp. vegetable shortening
1/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup chopped dates
2/3 cups sugar
1/4 cup softened butter
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup white rice flour
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Grease one loaf pan with shortening.

Pour boiling water over dates to soften. Meanwhile, mix sugar and butter in a large bowl. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Mix dry ingredients in another bowl and well blended and then toss in the nuts to coat them. Mix dry ingredients into the butter-sugar mixture. Stir in soaked dates and water and mix everything well.

Spoon batter into greased loaf pan and bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for one hour, checking with a toothpick to see that it comes out clean. If batter clings to the toothpick, keep checking at 5 minute intervals to test for doneness.

Makes 1 loaf. 

I am sending a slice of this luscious tea loaf over to Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly roundup of food-related posts.

I also want to remind everyone of the giveaway that I have of two new gluten-free books back at this post. Deadline to enter the giveaway is March 5th. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cooking from Babette's Feast: A Movie Review and some Easy Aioli

Every month the hosts at Food 'n Flix pick a movie and participants then cook up something in its honor. This month the film is truly wonderful: Babette's Feast, an Oscar-winning 1987 Danish movie based on an Isak Dinesen short story. I won't give away any plot spoilers (a great synopsis and film commentary can be found here), but it is a fantastic film on so many levels. The acting is superb, the cinematography makes even the most desolate Nordic shoreline or humble kitchen scene seem fascinating and inviting, and the costumes and sets of the 19th century Danish estates and humble cottages are splendid. Babette, the French live-in servant to two elderly Puritan spinster sisters, has the most fabulous hooded cloak designed by Karl Lagerfeld, which shields her from raging seaside storms and adds a mysterious allure to even the most mundane of her household chores.

It is a period drama and yet full of humor. The Danish sisters Martine and Philippa that take in the French Civil War refugee Babette seem to subsist on reconstituted outdoor-dried flounder and a horrendous concoction, Ale Bread, that involves more reconstituting, this time of dried bread hunks, into a unappealing porridge. The household cuisine gradually takes on more flavor and variety when Babette enters the scene, a change which is most eagerly welcomed by the shut-ins that Martine and Philippa bring food to as one of their charitable good works. When Babette leaves for a short time at the end of the film, the look on one of the invalid's face when he sees Ale Bread back in his house is priceless.

And then there is the metaphor of food and feasting as a way of celebrating life and good friends and even honoring God, as the sisters and their fellow elderly congregants find out at the end of the transformative meal that is the centerpiece of the film. I loved the change in the diners' faces as they go from grumpy to positively ecstatic (certainly the multiple glasses of fine wine helped) by the end of the meal. One of them, a pink-cheeked, bright-eyed woman named Solveig, steals the scene in this regard, taking a sip of water to refresh her palate before knocking back another glass of burgundy, taking care to lick every drop from her lips.

Scene stealer Solveig is third from the left

For my culinary tip of the hat to this outstanding film, I wanted to make something French. Babette is the wise heroine that has found peace in her new homeland and with gentle Martine and Philippa, and wants to give them the gift of a fine meal to honor their dead father and religious leader. She spends all that she has to give them this present, brushing aside the sisters' protestations when they learn of it, with a simple declaration: "a great artist is never poor."

Husband Dan has recently discovered an insanely easy way to make homemade aioli, which we have been slathering on our sandwiches, dolloping on top of salads, and love alongside steamed artichokes.

Dan makes it in a drinking glass using an immersion blender. The trick is to choose the right glass. You want something with tall sides and that is just a little bit wider than the immersion blender so the tool can go up and down easily and you can see that the aioli is emulsifying and getting to the right creamy consistency. Here's his recipe:

Dan's Easy Homemade Aioli

1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp. water
Juice of one small lemon (about 2 tsp.)
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 cup canola oil
2 cloves roasted garlic (peeled)
Salt to taste

Place all ingredients except salt in your glass. Blend with immersion blender moving slowly up and down the glass until all ingredients have been mixed together and it is a creamy consistency. This takes a minute at most. Season with salt to taste.

Makes 1 cup aioli. Store tightly covered and use within a week or so. Not a problem in our house.

That's it!  A remarkably easy recipe and one which adapts to other mix-in flavors, like Chipotles in Adobo sauce (that's the red in the photo above) , roasted red peppers, curry powder or fresh chopped herbs.

Many, many bravos to Babette's Feast! Thanks to Culinary Adventures with Camilla for picking this great film for Food 'n Flix. Stop by later this week to see the roundup of other Babette's Feast posts.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

An Indian Inspired Vegan and Gluten Free Feast

The North Wind just keeps on blowing this winter here in upstate New York, but rather than feeling housebound here at the Crispy Casa (and watching too many icy sports in the Sochi Winter Olympics) we've warmed up with books, films, music and foods focused on more sultry climes.

The subcontinent of India has beckoned with the wonderful travel memoir by Tahir Shah "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" about his days learning the tricks of magic and illusion in Calcutta. I've also devoured two of the four witty mysteries by Tarquin Hall featuring chubby Delhi private investigator Vish Puri and his motley gang of operatives.

India was the theme of a recent dinner and a movie date with one of our favorite couples, Joe and Lisa, last week. Joe's a vegan and Lisa, like my husband Dan, must dine gluten-free, so there was some planning involved in getting a menu for a delicious feast for us all. I consulted with my cookbook library (Madhur Jaffrey was most helpful, as was Isa Chandra Moskowitz) and found some great recipes and inspiration. We had recently had a trip to the Asian markets in Albany to stock up on edible supplies, so our menu came together very nicely:

A Vegan and Gluten Free Feast

I buy these packaged chickpea (or gram) flour disks and then puff them up individually in the microwave for about a minute and a half, rather than frying them in oil, as the package instructs. They come in a variety of flavors and brands, but be sure to read the ingredient labels to make sure no wheat flour is added.

Spicy Eggplant in Tomato Sauce
I adjusted a great recipe I found in beautifully illustrated coffee table cookbook. "The Food of India" (Bay Books, 2002) which called for fried wedges of those cute little round Indian eggplants simmered in a tomato sauce redolent with ginger, garlic, fennel, and coriander.

Steamed Basmati Rice
I sauteed a handful of curry leaves in oil for a few minutes before adding them to the rice cooker.

Punjabi Cabbage
Another riff off a recipe from "The Food of India", very similar to this recipe link here. Basically, you saute chopped cabbage with your whole spice cabinet.

Tamarind Lentils
I used the recipe from Moskowitz's epic "Veganomicon", linked here. The recipe recommends that the regular brown lentils not be used as they might get too mushy, so I used horsegram, which is a kind of legume popular in India that is lentil-y but remains very firm after cooking. My guests liked this recipe a lot, remarking that it was sort of like Indian Baked Beans.

Chopped Cucumbers with Coriander, Salt and Lime

Mango Pickle and Apple-Raisin Chutney
Mango Pickle was store-bought and extremely salty. Just need a little dab on the plate. Apple-Raisin Chutney was homemade from my recipe here.

Baked Curried Tofu
Veganomicon's recipe used here. Very easy to make with the added bonus, that unlike with a meat marinade, one can pour off the marinade from the tofu before baking to reuse as a  base for another sauce or salad dressing.

Chopped Fresh Mango Cubes

I wish I had remembered to take a picture of our beautiful feast as it lay unmolested on our dining table, but alas, I was in full entertainment mode, and only remembered to snap a photo of our leftovers. Just imagine some brightly colored table linens, bhangra music in the background and the smell of exotic spices wafting over us.

To cap off our "trip to India", we all snuggled into the couch to watch a DVD of "Today's Special", a charming foodie flick about an impatient young first generation Indian man who learns how to cook great food, not from being a sous chef in a fancy Manhattan restaurant but from learning how to passionately appreciate life when he helps his ailing father reinvigorate their Indian restaurant in Queens.

I am linking this post up with Weekend Cooking over at Beth Fish Reads, where each Sunday great cooks share their foodie musings and recipes.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Eating our Way through Albany, New York on a Cold Winter's Day

Playing tourist in our own backyard during this interminable winter is one way to beat the cabin fever blahs. It was also the perfect cover for my ruse to lure my husband to a surprise birthday dinner with his favorite loved ones.

The epic journey started with two hours of snow shoveling at home and wrapping up orders at the bookstore, but then finally got our day underway around 1 pm. I told the old man that I would have a bunch of surprise events all day long, nothing expensive, or wild like hot air balloon ride, so he wasn't too suspicious.

We started with lunch out at Casa Dominica (260 Central Avenue), which offered just the sort of soul-satisfying food that rewards a morning of snow drudgery. The restaurant is bright, clean, and welcoming. We didn't speak Spanish like most of the other patrons that day, but we warmly welcomed and then each item in a steaming hot lunch counter was explained to us, always a good thing when you must dine gluten-free. I had cautioned Dan that I had made dinner reservations to cap the day but both of us couldn't help ourselves as we nodded when the proprietor heaped our plates with pork chops, baked and stewed chicken, rice, sweet plantains and roast pork. The latter was particularly wonderful with a wonderful CRISPY crust, all served with a spicy garlic and cilantro sauce on the side.

Leftovers were cheerfully wrapped up (we knew spoilage was no problem in our refrigerated car) and the owner was most gracious to offer his tips about making the roast pork at home: 400 degrees F for three hours covered with foil and then uncovered for an hour more. Water should be added to the roasting pan and replenished as needed to keep it moist. We plan to be back again and again to try all the other tasty-sounding things on the menu (Alcapurrias (Stuffed Plantains), (Mofongo de Pollo (Mashed Plantains with Chicken), Majarete (Corn Custard). Two big thumbs up for Casa Dominica!

Then it was time to walk off some lunch. We headed over to the Historic Albany Foundation's Architectural Parts Warehouse (89 Lexington Avenue) and spent a great time perusing buckets of old doorknobs and porch spindles, bathroom fixtures in a range of styles and hues, tons of old doors and windows and some other intriguing bits of old buildings.

A lot of the most beautiful and unusual items already had SOLD stickers on them, including a magnificent, wall-sized wooden commercial ice box, circa 1910s-20s with great old brass fittings, an entire Victorian interior staircase with ornate carvings, and great chunks of old carved stone.

The Parts Warehouse also offers

but I settled for a kiss from my beloved near some buckets of stair parts.

Our next stop on the Albany Tour was going to be Dnipro Deli, a Russian-Eastern European market on Central Avenue in Colonie that I have shopped at and reported on before, but they were closed and I've since discovered that they have moved to yet another location in Latham. So, we redirected our efforts to checking out Parivar Spices and Food (1275 Central Avenue), where we had never shopped. We stocked up on a ten-pound bag of basmati rice, curry leaves, besan (chickpea flour), and some packaged snack mixes of roasted beans, chickpea "straws" and spices that we like to sprinkle on our curries and rice dishes. The produce selection is not as great as at the nearby India Bazaar, but the owners were helpful and friendly and noticed that I had picked out basmati sella (a yellowish parboiled short-grain rice product) instead of regular long-grain basmati, so I was pleased that they were looking out for me. There's also a cafe in back which we hope to return to in the future. We were there in mid-afternoon, so there were only a handful of folks knocking back the delicious-looking and -smelling plates of food, but it is apparently a local hot spot for Indian food.

The Asian Supermarket (1245 Central Avenue) was the next stop to replenish our supplies of fresh tofu, kimchee, peanut oil, various kinds of gluten-free noodles and other ingredients. Dan was super-psyched to find some gluten-free ramens and we always have fun perusing the massive selection of fruits and vegetables. They had pomelos as big as my head, squeaky fresh bags of snow peas, beautiful round Indian eggplants, and my favorite roasted seaweed snacks. We always buy a few new things, and the prices are so reasonable that it isn't a problem if we don't like them. I got a bottle of gluten-free dumpling sauce in hopes that Dan will whip up some of his great Thai veggie wraps soon and we will be trying to cook up a chayote and some yu choy soon in the Crispy Kitchen.

It was time to lure my husband out to dinner at New World Bistro (300 Delaware Avenue) where our surprise crew awaited. I had to kill some time by pretending I needed to use the restroom at a fast food joint and then insisting we stop at another store to stock up on the GF corn pasta that Dan really likes, so I was thinking fast on my feet. Our Chevy's dashboard lights are in an intermittent state these days too, so I couldn't keep tabs on the time there, so I had to keep surreptitiously flipping open my cell phone to monitor the countdown to surprise time. This is highly suspicious in my case, since I hate my cell phone--AKA pay-as-you-go electronic ankle monitor-- but Dan was oblivious to my actions and to the New World Bistro hostess who announced that our party of 8 was waiting at the bar when we checked in (Argh! This despite my instructions over the phone).

But it was all worth it to see my Dear One's face light up when he saw his buddies. We all had a grand time and enjoyed our meals (okay, my daughter didn't realize a garland of beet cubes would be draped over her scallops) and the cozy ambience and service. They also have an extensive gluten-free menu.

So here's to Staycations in Albany in mid-winter!