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.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Send Me Gluten Free Products Box and Giveaway

Interested in trying out new gluten-free products? A fun new monthly gluten-free products subscription service is now live. Send Me Gluten Free is an opportunity to sample full-size and trial-size gluten-free foods and household products inaugurated by the Gluten Free Marketing Group. The monthly service has a flexible subscription service. You can sign up for a month to month, three-month, six-month, or one-year subscription and receive eight to twelve gluten-free goodies to test drive, plus coupons and recipe cards. Depending on the subscription type you choose, the monthly cost will range from $20-$30 (free shipping is included).

I am also able to offer Crispy Cook readers a discount code for 20% off any subscription length with the code BLOG20.

I received a complimentary September Send Me Gluten Free box full of delicious items. First to disappear was the bag of Beanfield's barbeque bean and rice chips. We were also pleasantly surprised to receive a bag of Pamela's GF pancake and baking mix, which, while not a new product, is one that is tried and true. That got incorporated into some breakfast muffins. Another great product that I have reviewed before here at the Crispy Cook, Kelapo Coconut Oil, was included in the Send Me Gluten Free box and was used to saute up some of our bumper crop of garden eggplants.

The other products included in the September Send Me Gluten Free included:

-Go Picnic Turkey Pepperoni and Cheese Meal (includes crackers, cheese, fruit and nut mix and a caramel lollipop)
-Virtuous Living Spice Blends (the Hope Spice blend is really delicious on roast pork)
-Giddy Up and Go Granola
-Soy Joy blueberry bar
-Lovely candy
-Soapbox Mandarin soap
-Schar Honey Grams
-Savory Choice Chicken Pho Broth Concentrate (and a pair of chopsticks)

Thanks to Send Me Gluten Free, I am also able to offer one of my Crispy Cook readers a giveaway opportunity to receive the October Send Me Gluten Free box. To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below. You can receive an additional giveaway entry by liking the Crispy Cook on Facebook.

The giveaway deadline is Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014,  midnight Eastern Standard Time. I will pick a randomly generated winner from the received entries. Please make sure that I have an email or other way to contact you. Winners are limited to addresses within the United States.

**I received a free Send Me Gluten Free box and giveaway opportunity from The Gluten Free Marketing Group, but as always, I was not obligated to post a review and my thoughts and comments are completely my own.  

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. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Review of the Remarkable Veggetti and a Giveaway

Is it an egg timer? No.
Is it a medical device? No.
Is it a model railroad water tower? No.

It's a Veggetti!

I received this nifty little kitchen gadget from the Ontel Company just in time for the hot and humid summer season when the cucumbers, zucchini and other summer veggies start catapulting out of the garden.

Cucumber Salad

I first tried out the Veggetti with some garden cucumbers. They went in the thin end, but were TOO thin, so I used the thick blade side and they were perfect. The Veggetti spirals through the cucumber very quickly and I then chopped up the long strands, doused them with rice wine vinegar, a splash of olive oil, some salt, pepper and chopped fresh herbs, and voila! A quick, refreshing cucumber salad for the dinner table in short order.

We were wise enough to only plant one zucchini plant in our garden this summer, so we are not being overrun by these plants (the buttercup squash is another story-what a space hog!). I made the recipe for Cold Zucchini Salad that was in the recipe booklet that came with the Veggetti. You run several zucchini through the thick end of the gadget, chop them, and then toss them with 2 tsp. salt in a sieve. After 10-15 minutes, you squeeze out the excess moisture and toss in a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice and chopped herbs. Easy and luscious! One can also toss in some chopped toasted walnuts as an option, which sounds even more decadent.

I haven't yet tried to make pasta from vegetables with my Veggetti, but I am looking forward to that for some lighter-on-the-carbs summer dinners. Also want to make some hash browns soon using potatoes in my Veggetti.

I found this kitchen gadget very versatile and easy to use. It is incredibly sharp, so cautious handling when cleaning it (I poke errant veggie pieces out of the Veggetti with a chopstick) is definitely advised. There's a spiked disk that is included that one stabs on the end of the vegetable when you are working it through the Veggetti so that protects your fingers when you are slicing things up.

Ontel has graciously offered to provide a giveaway opportunity to one of my Crispy Cook readers to receive a Veggetti Gift Package from Ontel consisting of a Veggetti, recipe booklet and $25 Visa gift card. To enter the giveaway, you can leave a comment below. You can earn an additional giveaway entry by liking the Crispy Cook on Facebook. If you already have liked the Crispy Cook, you can earn a second giveaway entry by leaving a comment on the Crispy Cook Facebook post about this Veggetti giveaway.  Deadline for entries is August 15, 2014. Contestants limited to the U.S. No Post Office box addresses allowed.

**Note: I received a Veggetti Gift Package as described above from Ontel, but I was not obligated to post and my comments about this product, as always, are completely my own.