The Perfect Cookie

Gingerbread. No, peanut butter. No, oatmeal. No, shortbread. Okay. Really there are so many “perfect” cookies out there. I’ve hardly ever met a cookie I didn’t like and my waistline is proof of that. But seriously, I take cookies seriously and am actually quite picky when it comes to what cookies (and cookie recipes!) that I would score a perfect 10.

Do you chase perfect recipes? For some things, I do. It took me years, after coming oh-so-close on a number of occasions, to find what I felt was the “perfect” brownie recipe. Same with gingerbread cookies, oatmeal chocolate chip and shortbread. Peanut butter was easy as a neighbour shared an awesome recipe with my Mum back in the early 70s and it is the PB cookie every other is measured by…and usually are found wanting.

Recently America’s Test Kitchen came out with a 400+ page book dedicated to cookies, brownies and bars. Drop cookies. Sandwich cookies. No bakes. Gluten free. You get the idea. If it’s a cookie, it’s in The Perfect Cookie.

As is usual with ATK books, it starts out with a few chapters to help readers prepare to make those perfect cookies properly. Mixing, baking and cooling methods. A list of “essential” equipment. I put “essential” in quotes as I have been baking a variety of cookies for more years than I want to tally up and have never needed to invest in a stand mixer or food processor to have success. The rest of the items on the list though I agree with, all necessities for a happy baking experience. They also offer insight into selecting and storing ingredients and even cookie troubleshooting. These people take cookies seriously too which means we should be a match made in heaven.

The very first recipe in the book is The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie. As they say, it’s “…the most iconic American treat.” While chocolate chip cookies aren’t my #1 favourite, a chewy one with just the right balance of chips to cookie dough are pretty darn irresistible. I decided to give this recipe plus the Trail Mix Cookies a try.

For the chocolate chip cookies, the method was a little unusual, melting and browning the butter instead of just creaming it with the sugar. The dough came together quickly and they looked good coming out of the oven. As for the trail mix cookies, they were chock-a-block with oats, whole wheat flour, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, pecans and chocolate chips. When baking, they smelled heavenly and looked wonderful, holding their shape.

Instead of asking my husband to be the taste tester (as is tradition) I instead tested the cookies on the Waterloo Wolves Major Midget AAA Hockey Team. These 16 & 17 years old players train and play hard and when they leave the ice, are HUNGRY. That doesn’t mean that they are devoid of tastebuds.

So, can you guess the results? The team was presented with 24 of each cookie. At the end, there were 7 chocolate chip cookies left…and ZERO trail mix. The trail mix cookies easily beat out the “Perfect” chocolate chip cookies.

I did try both myself (of course I did!) and I have to agree with the players. The chocolate chip cookies are definitely good. Would I say they are perfect; the best I’ve ever had? No. Just a good, run-of-the-mill homebaked chocolate chip. The trail mix cookies though had great chew, wonderful flavour and were filling. That recipe will definitely be made in our household again in the future.

Flipping through The Perfect Cookie, I did see lots of recipes to try including Noche Buena Sandwich Cookies with decadent dulce de leche, Key Lime Bars, Applesauce Cookies and Gingerbread Brownies. If the beautiful photos are anything to go by, they should be pretty tasty.

If you’re looking for a good (I won’t say perfect though, because that result is up to the baker) cookie recipe, this is definitely a book worth borrowing.

– Sandi H.

Trail Mix Cookies

1 c old fashioned rolled oats
½ c whole wheat flour
¼ c all purpose flour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp baking soda
5 tblsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 c brown sugar, packed
½ c dried cherries, dried cranberries or raisins
¼ c toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds
¼ c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare baking sheets.

In medium bowl combine oats, flours, salt, cinnamon and soda. Set aside.

Whisk butter, egg and vanilla together in large bowl. Stir in sugar until smooth. Add in oat mixture, stirring until just combined then stir in fruit, seeds and chips.

Working with 1 tblsp of dough at a time, roll into balls. Place on baking sheets 2” apart.

Bake for 12 to 16 minutes or until edges are set but centres are soft and puffy.

Remove from oven. Let cool on baking sheet 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

You Had Me at Profiteroles

Profiteroles. When a cookbook arrives at WPL all shiny and new, promoting 450 foolproof recipes AND it features a stunning cover image of beautiful pastries filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate well, who am I to resist? That book, even though it weighed a tonne, HAD to come home with me.

Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book is the latest in their series of comprehensive cookbooks. Cook’s Illustrated is a popular American bi-monthly magazine founded almost 40 years ago and known for its carefully tested recipes and very detailed instructions.

I must say the Baking Book is impressive. At the beginning there are 20 pages dedicated to giving absolute baking beginners key information on basic ingredients, the correct way to measure and kitchen equipment options. This is followed by 15 (yes, 15) chapters on everything from muffins to pizza, angel food cake to quiche.

Each recipe is accompanied by black and white method illustrations (which fans of the magazine will be well used to) as well as background info on the baked good. Most also have a beautiful colour photo. A feature I enjoyed was the alternatives/options listed beside the regular recipe just in case you’d like to switch things up a bit. The notes with answers to the “whys” of a recipe are interesting.

One thing I have to say I personally found very annoying is listing the measurement for butter/margarine in tablespoons. Who would measure out 24 tablespoons of butter? Why not just say 1 ½ cups? I’ve noticed this in a number of American cookbooks and, yes, it is a pet peeve of mine.

Anyhow, I tried two recipes from the Baking Book and no, not the profiteroles although I was tempted. The first was Classic Cream Scones with currants. My Mum has a wonderful recipe for sweet scones that has been a family favourite since the early 70s so this recipe was really going to be tested. It was an easy recipe and the dough came together quickly although I did have to add a bit more cream than listed to get the right consistency. Out of the oven they looked identical to the photo in the book. They were tasty and went very nicely with a cup of tea…but…my family’s recipe is safe. Mum, I still prefer your lighter, fluffier scones!

cooks illus 002The other recipe I tried were Thin & Crispy Oatmeal Cookies but I used one of the options offered and went with the oatmeal-coconut blend. Once again, the recipe was very easy. They did recommend using a stand mixer (as many new cookbooks do) but a wooden spoon worked just as well for me. I rolled the dough into balls and pressed to flatten to the advised thickness before baking. They smelled wonderful but didn’t really flatten or crisp up at all. The cookies had stayed thick and chewy and were really tasty. I would definitely make them again.

Will I be buying my own copy? No, but for a beginner baker Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book would be an excellent resource and most certainly worth borrowing from the library or buying from a favourite bookstore.

— Sandi H.

Thin & Crispy Oatmeal-Coconut Cookies

1 c. all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
14 tbsp (or ¾ c. plus 2 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
¼ c. light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups oatmeal
1 ½ c. sweetened flaked coconut

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350F. Prepare baking sheet.
2. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
3. In standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and sugars at medium-low speed until just combined, about 20 seconds. Increase speed to medium and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute longer. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula.
4. Add egg and vanilla and beat on medium-low until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl again.
5. With mixer running at low speed, add flour mixture until just incorporated and smooth, 10 seconds. With mixer still running on low, gradually add oats and coconut and mix until well-incorporated, 20 seconds.
6. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no flour pockets remain and ingredients are evenly distributed.
7. Divide dough into 24 equal portions, each about 2 tablespoons (I did smaller cookies…about 1 tbsp each), then roll between palms into balls. Place cookies on prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2 1/2 inches apart, 8 dough balls per sheet. Using fingertips, gently press each dough ball to 3/4-inch thickness.
8. Bake until cookies are deep golden brown, edges are crisp, and centers yield to slight pressure when pressed, 13 – 16 minutes
9. Cool cookies a minute or two before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

Back to Basics

Not to be conceited but my baking skills are beyond basic. That being said, I am far (far) from being a professional baker and am always ready to learn something new and try something new. When I saw Rose’s Baking Basics on the new book display with a beautiful meringue-topped pie on the cover, I tucked it away in my book bag along with 3 other new cookbooks.

Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of 12 cookbooks, blogger, award-winning food writer and baker, is also known as the “Diva of Desserts”. She is a 3-time winner of a James Beard Award, had her own TV series on PBS and has a line of cookware. This is all super impressive but as many readers know, just because an author/book wins an award doesn’t mean the book will be a winner with us!

At first her name wasn’t familiar to me but as I did a little research for this review I recognized the covers for “Rose’s Christmas Cookies” (c1990) and “Rose’s Pie & Pastry Bible” (c1998). So I actually revisiting recipes by Rose Levy Beranbaum and it was a triumphant return.

With all the sweets popping up lately, first over Christmas and New Year’s and now with Valentine’s Day on the horizon,  I was ready to make something less sugary. The first recipe I tried from Rose’s Baking Basics was the Butter Biscuits. I’ve made biscuits before of course and they were okay-to-good but nothing to write home about, if I’m honest. This changed on the weekend when I tried Rose’s recipe.

In “Baking Basics” there are detailed, step-by-step instructions along with lots of photos of the process as well as the finished product. As I looked at the list of ingredients for the biscuits I was puzzled by the first on the list: 3 large eggs, hard cooked, yolks only. Hardboiled egg yolks? In biscuits? I read the recipe again. These are biscuits, right? Yes. Then I took the time to read the intro to the recipe:

“These biscuits are exceptionally soft, tender and velvety. The secret ingredient is from James Beard, with whom I studied fifty years ago: hard cooked egg yolk.”

rose_biscuits_003Who am I to argue with James Beard and Rose Levy Beranbaum? I followed the recipe, cutting the amounts by 50% to make just a half batch. The dough came together with hardly any kneading at all. I cut out my biscuits and popped them in the oven. Fifteen minutes later I had fresh, warm biscuits that looked exactly like the photo in the book. My husband could hardly wait for them to cool. They were fantastic! The first one I tried with some butter but really they are absolutely delicious on their own. This is a recipe to keep forever.

I also made the Peanut Butter & Jelly Thumprint cookies. They were easy to make and pretty tasty. I must say though that I have used the same peanut butter cookie recipe for my entire life and although Beranbaum’s recipe is a good one, I think next time I’ll use my cookie recipe but steal her idea re: the jammy thumbprint.

This gorgeous cookbook is a wonderful addition to the WPL collection and would also be a great addition to a personal collection, whether you’re a newbie to baking or a seasoned baker.

— Sandi H.

Butter Biscuits

3 large eggs, hard cooked, yolks only
1 ½ c. all purpose flour
¾ c cake & pastry self raising flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¼ c white sugar
6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3/4 c heavy (whipping) cream

Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly grease baking sheets.

Press egg yolks through mesh strainer (I used a tea strainer) into small bowl. Set aside.

In large bowl, combine flours, powder, salt and sugar. With a pastry blender, work in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cream until the flour is moistened and coming together in a ball.

Empty dough onto a lightly floured counter or baking board. Knead a couple of times until it feels smooth and not sticky.

Pat until 3/4” thickness. Using cutters (I just use a glass tumbler), cut into medium-sized circles. Place on baking sheet and put in oven.

Increase heat to 400F. Bake for 5 minutes then lower the temperature back to 375F. Bake for 10 more minutes or until golden.

Remove from oven. Transfer to cooling rack. Serve plain, or with butter or jam. They are best served warm from the oven or eaten within a day or so of baking.

NOTE: this is a condensed version of the instructions. If you would like more details and information on freezing the biscuits, or info on baking with soft sides vs crisp sides, borrow Rose’s Baking Basics from the library.

Hay! It’s Worth a Look.

I’ve never borrowed a cookbook by Australian food stylist Donna Hay before. I’ve admired them in book stores and at the library of course but for some reason never picked one up. That is until I spied the latest one, Modern Baking : cakes, cookies and everything in between, on the new book display at the Main Library.

Hay became a food stylist when she was still in her teens. A handful of years later and she was appointed the food editor of marie claire magazine. She launched her own magazine in 2001, a housewares line in 2009 and a TV series in 2011. Besides these accomplishments, she has written 26 cookbooks with over 6 million copies sold. WPL has just two at the moment, Modern Baking and Basics to Brilliance Kids : a healthy book for big and little cooks.

Modern Baking is a hefty 400 page tome. It contains over 250 recipes with chapters divided by ingredient e.g. chocolate, fruit & berries, milk & cream etc. Many pages had very dark backgrounds and the text in white which was a little difficult to read. I persevered as the recipes sounded wonderful and the photos were just beautiful.

I saw many (many!) recipes I’d love to try but the Ginger Molasses Cookies from the “Sugar & Spice” section won out. Now. Confession time. I did take a few liberties with Hay’s recipe. I’m not a fan of peel or crystalized ginger so chose to omit that. I also used pureed ginger (store bought; not done by my own fair hand) instead of grated fresh.

untitled-2As I read through the directions, they seemed unduly complicated for cookies so went with my seasoned baker’s instincts and used a more basic methodology which is included below. If you prefer lengthy instructions just borrow Modern Baking from the library and you’ll get details and then some.

The Ginger Molasses Cookies were absolutely scrumptious! Buttery, with a nice crunch and lovely ginger flavour. Not overpowering at all. Two thumbs up from my household! And actually, they tasted even nicer the next day.

So, will Donna Hay’s “Modern Baking” make it into my own personal collection of cookbooks? Perhaps. I will definitely borrow it again from the library and a try out a few more recipes (the peanut butter fudge sounded awesome)  but on the strength of the Ginger Molasses Cookies, I’d say the odds are good.

  • Sandi H.

Ginger Molasses Cookies

1 c butter, softened
1 c light brown sugar
¾ c white (granulated) sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
2 tblsp molasses
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp water
2 c all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
½ c crystallised ginger, chopped (optional)
½ c Demerara sugar

In large bowl beat butter and sugar with electric mixer on medium until well blended. Beat in egg, yolk and vanilla. Beat for 2 minutes or until creamy.

In little dish stir together powder, soda and water. Add to batter along with the fresh ginger and molasses. Stir to combine. Add in flour, salt and ground ginger. Blend in gently.

Cover mixing bowl and chill the dough for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325F. Lightly grease cookie sheets and set aside.

Roll dough into 1” balls, roll in Demerara and bake for 15 minutes. Leave room on cookie sheets as they will flatten and spread. Let cool slightly on baking sheets before transferring to cooling racks to cool completely. Enjoy!

NOTE: it says that this recipe makes 15 cookies but I ended up with almost double that amount in what I’d say were medium-sized biscuits.

Mary Berry Everyday

Mary Berry. What can you say about Mary Berry? Although a food writer and TV presenter since the 1960s, many people (here, at least) have only come to know her more recently as co-judge with Paul Hollywood on the runaway British hit, “The Great British Bake”. Each week on the show (known as The Great British Baking Show in North America) home bakers are pitted against one another, taking on a variety of challenges in order to win the grand prize: a much-coveted crystal cake plate.

I love food shows and this is one of my favourites. My husband, who is not a baker, watches as well…and enjoys the home baked treats somewhat inspired from my watching.

Mary’s bare bone bio is:

  • she trained at The Cordon Bleu in Paris and ran a cookery school at her home
  • in the 1960s she was the cookery editor two major magazines in the UK
  • her first television series came in the 1970s
  • since 1970, she has written 75 cookbooks…and counting

I recently borrowed her new book, “Mary Berry Everyday”, which accompanies the television program of the same name. Having a flick through, there were many recipes that I was tempted to try but in the end I went with the biscuits featured on the cover. And they ARE cover worthy! Melt-in-the-mouth, buttery and with a lovely citrus flavour thanks to fresh orange peel and juice in the glaze. Oh, and easy to bake too.
Two floury thumbs up from me. Borrow “Everyday” and get baking!

— Sandi H.

Mary Berry’s Orange Oat Cookies

Dough

1 c butter, softened
1 c white sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 ¾ c self-raising flour
¼ c oatmeal

Glaze/Icing

1 c icing sugar
¼ tsp orange oil (optional)
2 tblsp freshly squeeze orange juice

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream together butter and sugar. Mix in egg, oil and 2/3 of the zest. Stir in flour and oatmeal.

Lightly dust a work surface with small amount of flour. Roll the dough into balls about the size of a walnut. The flour will make this easy; stopping them from being too sticky.

Set on prepared cookie sheets, about 8 per sheet as they do spread. Flatten each ball with the bottom of a glass until ½” thick.

Bake for 13 minutes or until just golden at the edges. Watch closely as they burn easily!

Cool on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack to cool completely.

To make the glaze, whisk together the icing sugar with approximately 2 tblsp juice.

When the cookies are completely cool, spread glaze on top of cookies or drizzle with the glaze. Sprinkle with rest of the orange zest.

Makes 2 dozen.

Lookin’ Not Cookin’

There are thousands…hundreds of thousands…millions probably…of cookbooks out there. And while we don’t have millions of cookbooks at WPL, our collection is impressive and highly popular. Just take a walk down the cookbook aisle at the Main Library (Harper and McCormick have excellent selections too) and you will see just how wide-ranging they are.

Need to learn how to boil water? We have a good selection of very basic cookery books for adults…and for kids too. Have you jumped on the Instant Pot bandwagon? WPL has cookbooks to make the most of the newest small appliance in your home. Does your New Year’s resolution include the Keto diet? We have Keto cookbooks. Making your own pad thai? We have just the cookbook for you.

Like most book selections, picking the right cookbook is a personal affair. A book that catches the eye of one person will be passed over by another. Confession. I will not borrow a cookbook that doesn’t have photos. This being said, beautiful photos does not a great cookbook make.

Recently I borrowed 3 gorgeous new cookbooks. However, when I had time to sit down and actually go through them, I wasn’t particularly inspired by any. In my mind they were cookbooks for lookin’ and not for cookin’.

Coco Cake Land : cute and pretty party cakes to bake and decorate” by Lyndsay Sung has an adorable cake on the cover and many inbetween. Sung is a “…baker, blogger and mama from Vancouver, BC.” and is self-taught. While I admired the cakes, my own cake & cookie decorating skills are rather more basic and my aspirations minimal. Although I wasn’t tempted to try Sung’s recipes I did thoroughly enjoy browsing through her book.

The Little Library Cookbook” was an obvious choice for me to take home. The book, by award-winning food writer, Kate Young, is about the pairing of food with literature. This was Young’s first book and it won a World Gourmand food writing award. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book quotes, notes from the author, and seeing what food items she had selected from which book. Again, I wasn’t compelled to try the recipes. It’s a beautifully put together book and worth a look. If you borrow it and make something, I’d love to hear about it.

IMG_20181216_1514001Finally, “Baking All Year Round” by Rosanna Pansino. I bake all year round so thought this should be right up my alley. Pansino is a YouTube star whose baking videos have been viewed over 3 billion (yes, billion with a “B”). In 2017 she was named Forbes’ Food Influencer of the Year. With 4 million followers on Instagram and almost 1 million on Twitter, how did I not know about her?

Back to the book though. Baking All Year Round is organized by celebratory occasion and Pansino has some super-cute decorating ideas especially for Halloween. However, be prepared to buy or rent cake moulds, work with a lot of fondant and set aside a chunk of time in which to assemble these goodies, which are guaranteed to greatly impress your family and friends.

Not a “fondant person”, I chose two of her simpler recipes to try. From the Father’s Day chapter, Salted Whisky Caramels and, from Christmas, Snowball Cookies. Both were pretty easy to make. A candy thermometer is a must for the caramels and the cookies should sit longer before dipping them in their snowy coating (icing sugar). I’d give the caramels a 6/10. The texture is good, they are buttery and chewy but the flavour of the whisky does not come through. The Snowball Cookies, a pecan shortbread, are delicious. I used ground pecans and the cookies just melt in your mouth. Something I would definitely make again.

So while none of these books will make it into my personal collection, they are worth a flick through. As are hundreds of others. Now, how to find that spare time…

– Sandi H.

Snowball Cookies

½ c butter, softened
¼ c granulated white sugar
¼ c icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla
1 ½ c. all purpose flour
1 c finely chopped toasted pecans
Pinch salt
Icing sugar to roll cookies in

Preheat oven to 350F.

Grease baking sheets or line with parchment paper. Set aside.

In large bowl with electric mixer beat the butter, white sugar ad ¼ c icing sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla. On low speed, blend in flour, salt and nuts until combined.
Roll dough into small balls (walnut-sized). Space 1” apart on baking sheets. Bake 12 minutes or until the bottoms of the cookies start to brown.

Cool on baking sheets 5 minutes.

When cookies are still warm, roll in icing sugar to coat. Set cookies on cooling rack and let cool for another 10 minutes, then roll again.

It Really is Delish!

delish-ht-ml-181017_hpEmbed_8x9_608It’s no secret. I love baking. I love cooking. I love trying new recipes. I enjoy TV shows revolving around food but rarely have time to sit down and watch them. And although I follow some favourite restaurants, chefs and food writers on social media, I am still more old school. Yes, you’ll find me browsing the cookbook section of the library or my favourite bookstores. So, when I took home the new cookbook “Delish”, I wasn’t aware of their “buzzy” background. In case you aren’t either, here’s the barebones version of their story.

Delish is a super popular food website with a very powerful presence on social media:

  • 19 million likes AND 19 million follows on Facebook
  • 1 million + followers on Instagram
  • Over 200,000 subscribers to their YouTube channel
  • 50,000 followers on Twitter

Relaunched in 2015, Delish is all about food and fun. According to their website, they wanted to “…create a place that was as much about delicious, easy recipes as it was about food as a fun lifestyle and cultural phenomenon.” Their youthful, energized team produce almost 200 new recipes a month, which is impressive to say the least. They also share crazy food stories, videos about their fav brands, info on celebrities and their eating habits and a whole lot more via their website and various social media platforms.
I don’t have time to look at their 18,000 + images on Facebook or thousands on Insta but what I did see looked yummmmmmy (that should probably be in caps!).

crack-chickenSo, although I’m not into the super-hype surrounding Delish (and the vibe made me feel a bit old, lol) I checked it out and set about testing a few recipes. The first was Crack Chicken which is basically boneless BBQ chicken wings. They are baked, not fried, and the panko crumb crust gives them good texture. The sauce, scrumptious, although it could be made with less sugar. They were easy to make and just delicious; a 10/10 from my husband, who was very sad there weren’t more stashed away! I also tried the Creamy Chicken Broccoli Bake which was, once again, easy and tasty and comforting on a cold winter evening. For a sweet, I made the Snickerdoodle Blondies. They were moist and rich. The next time I’d only make ½ of the cinnamon sugar that they recommend for sprinkling though.

Three recipes. Three successes. I didn’t have to buy any special ingredients for any of the recipes. There are quite a few other recipes throughout the book that I want to try. Mermaid Lemonade and Prosecco Grapes are on that list, as are Chicken Enchilada Skillets and Avocado Pesto Linguine. For these reasons I am hoping “Delish” shows up under the tree on December 25th for me.

— Sandi H.

Snickerdoodle Blondies

3/4 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. cinnamon sugar (note from SH: using half this amount is plenty)

Preheat oven to 350° and grease a 9×9-inch pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat butter and both sugars until light and fluffy.

Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and beat until just combined.

Press batter into prepared pan and sprinkle top with cinnamon sugar. Bake until golden and still slightly soft in the middle, 25 to 30 minutes.

Let cool completely before slicing into squares.

Headin’ South

My Mum is a big fan of HGTV. Not that she is taking on any home renovations but she loves to see what other people are doing with theirs! As for me, I’m more apt to be watching something on BBC-Canada or a DVD borrowed from the library, so when I stopped by one day and Mum was watching a program starring Joanna Gaines, the name was new to me. Checking Instagram later, I discovered that I’m obviously in the minority as Gaines has 9.2 million followers!

In one of those funny happenstances, not long after this I was given a copy of Magnolia Table : a collection of recipes for gathering by Joanna Gaines with Marah Stets. I’d never heard of Joanna Gaines and now here she was, popping up in my life twice.

Gaines, who describes herself as “Wife. Mom. Renovator. Designer. Shop owner. Homebody.” has a number of businesses in Waco, Texas along with husband Chip. They opened their first “Magnolia Market” in 2003 but closed it later as they focused their energy on raising 5 children and expanding their construction company. In 2014, she turned her attention back to Magnolia.

The book looked just beautiful. There was a mixture of images taken around the Gaines’ farmstead and photos of delicious, traditional meals. Apparently this cookbook sold almost 170,000 copies the first week it hit bookstore shelves.

IMG_20181125_1548242I first tried the Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Cookies. They were easy to make and pretty tasty although I have better shortbread recipes, I must say. I forwent dipping them in chocolate and instead used a little leftover icing from another bake and a bit of jam to create little sandwich cookies. My husband liked them…but didn’t love them.

I decided to try a second recipe. I had chicken thawing for dinner and thought I’d use Magnolia Table to create something different. I have to say, many of the chicken recipes were either fried or seemed to require cream cheese, heavy cream or Velveeta cheese. Now, I’m not the most virtuous eater but these rich dishes weren’t what I was looking for. The Almond Chicken Tenders sounded good and I had all of the ingredients in my pantry already.

I simplified the instructions, lightened up the amount of butter and oil, and ended up with a very tasty dish. The coating was light, the flavour from the almond flour was wonderful and the lemon juice added a brightness to the chicken.

While it is an attractive cookbook, I can’t say it’s personally a keeper for my own collection. Besides real BBQ (which I leave to the masters like the folks at Lancaster Smokehouse) I’m not a big fan of southern cooking. I am sharing Gaines’ recipe for the Almond Chicken Tenderloins below but with my own twists. However, if you want to go full-on Southern with this recipe, borrow the book from WPL (there’s just a short waiting list), buy it from your favourite bookseller or you could WIN my copy.

— Sandi H.

WIN “Magnolia Table”

2018-THE-MAGNOLIA-TABLE-COOKBOOK-1_1024x1024To have a chance at winning my copy of “Magnolia Table”:

Follow WPL on Instagram @waterloolibrary

Like the post about “Magnolia Table” with the comment “I love my library.”

The random draw will take place on Thursday, December 6, 2018.

The winner will need to pick their prize at WPL. Good luck!

Almond Chicken Tenders

½ c almond flour
½ c all purpose flour
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp oregano
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp salt
1 ½ lb chicken tenders, thawed
2 tbsp salted butter
4 tbsp olive oil
½ c sliced almonds (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
Dried parsley (optional)

Combine dry ingredients and put in large ziplock bag. Add tenders to dry mixture. Seal bag and shake until coated.

In no-stick pan (I used a deep, electric skillet and set it at 325F), melt butter and add oil.

Add chicken (throw away leftover coating) and cook until done. Remove to serving platter.

Add lemon juice and almonds to pan. Cook, stirring continually with spatula, scraping everything together, for 1 minute. Pour over the chicken, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Ho-Ho-Holiday Magazines Are Here

There used to be a TV commercial featuring a mother celebrating the back-to-school season with the Andy Williams classic “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” playing in the background and that really bugged me. I understood why that mother felt so pleased about the return of her quiet time but I felt that advertising choice was a poor one. I prefer the regular routine of things – it’s comforting when things are in their correct place.

Holiday music should play in December (although Christmas CDs go out on the shelves a little earlier here at WPL so that customers can enjoy them) and should never be played in September to commemorate the sale of notebooks and pens. The malls and grocery stores stock up on gifts and wrapping paper and then, just as the holiday season starts to hit full steam, our collection of new Christmas magazines hit the shelves and this is beyond thrilling for me.

It’s the sheer diversity of the collection that makes me happy. We have baking magazines, ways to make your holiday more splendid with a crochet needle (also several magazines featuring knitting), we can encourage you to make something out of beads or you can just relax and look at Victorian homes decorated for the holidays. It’s all so beautiful and festive and each year I believe that I might actually do some of the things that the magazine editors suggest I do.

We keep a collection of these magazines in the library throughout the year so that customers can be inspired at any time but we purchase new ones every November so that customers can stay current on the trends in the holiday world – it’s exciting to see the latest news in cooking and gifting. I love it! It’s also handy to have these magazines available throughout the year as crafters certainly need a head start (especially on those beaded ornaments, oh my goodness, where does the patience come from?) if they are going to get things done on time and, if you plan to send anything by mail, then you need to add even more time to your planning.

Many magazine publishers like Canadian Living create special issues for the season so you can also have a look at the magazines on our regular shelves for inspiration as well. Don’t miss Martha Stewart living, Good Housekeeping or Marie Claire idées for show-stopping creativity (both Martha Stewart living and Good housekeeping are available through WPL’s RBdigital subscription too). You can start on your holiday baking, crafting and decorating from the comfort of your home using your device and your WPL card.

One customer favourite is from celebrity chef Ricardo Larrivée and the December 2018 issue features everything from deserts that are easy to take along if you have to travel over the holidays, to gift ideas for someone who enjoys food and cooking, and suggestions for ways to relax by embracing ‘imperfection’ in your holiday meal. The sweetest part of this issue is the article that features his daughter, Clémence, making her first holiday meal for the family. Her article is filled with bright young touches (and her Montreal apartment is a treat to see) and the recipes that she includes are a nice mix of old and new. Absolutely everything in this magazine looks delicious in each issue but the holiday mood and nostalgia from this article added to the appeal. I’ll be trying Clémence’s holiday dumplings (because they look delicious and fairly easy to make) and I probably won’t wait until the festive season begins to get started on those.

Come on into the library and peruse this glamorous selection of Christmas-themed magazines (we also have books and an endless supply of movies and CDs you can enjoy) and you too can believe that you might possibly try a recipe or craft that these clever editors suggest. Relish in some holiday fun through these glossy pages – consider it a gift that you give to yourself.

— Penny M.

Outrageous!

I have a few confessions to make. I love cooking. I love baking. I love discovering new recipes. I love cookbooks. Perhaps the most surprising confession? I rarely will buy a cookbook.

I borrow many (many) cookbooks from the library, finding a recipe here, a recipe there. However, very few cookbooks engage me enough to want to own the book forever and try the majority of recipes between its covers.

Family, friends and colleagues regularly share recipes with me, which I love. Sometimes I use good old Google to locate a recipe, especially if I’m trying to finish up something or other that is lingering in my pantry. There is an exception to my cookbook buying “rule”, well, a couple really. One exception is the cookbooks of Ina “The Barefoot Contessa” Garten.

Ina’s recipes are absolutely wonderful. They aren’t overly complicated, are flavourful and always work. Plus, they look awesome. Her roast chicken recipe is absolutely delicious, tender and juice and it looks exactly like the photo in the book. I shared the recipe with my nephew when he was hosting his first dinner party and his friends spent 10 minutes taking photos of the chicken to share online before diving in. Not a bite was left. That’s how good it is. Her chicken salad recipe. The best! Beef Bourguignon …amazing. I could go on and on.

choc_blogThe latest Barefoot Contessa book, “Cook Like a Pro”, was published this year. I believe it’s her 11th! As I wait patiently on the holds list, I decided to go back to Ina’s first cookbook and bake a batch of her incredible, super-chocolatey brownies for a recent family gathering. It has become my “go to” brownie recipe. Always work. Always decadent. Always disappear quickly.

— Sandi H.

Outrageous Brownies

1 cup butter
1 ¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 – 1 oz squares bitter chocolate
3 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup white sugar
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a 9” x 9” baking pan.

Combine the butter and chocolate in a double-boiler. When the chocolate has melted, set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture.

Combine flour, powder and salt. Add to chocolate mixture and stir just until combined.
Bake for 20 minutes. Do toothpick test. It is VERY easy to overbake. These should be moist.

Allow to cool thoroughly before cutting into bars.

Note: the original recipe is for a much larger quantity. Although my husband would love that, I usually make 1/2 and that is the recipe that I am sharing above