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.

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

Bake It Better

The Great British Bake Off has spawned a LOT of cookbooks, from judges (Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood), from winners, and others. GBBO’s Bake It Better : Puddings and Desserts is written by food stylist Jayne Cross.

The Bake It Better series, which came out in 2016, is a new addition to WPL’s collection. The “Puddings and Desserts” volume (#5) with a beautiful trifle gracing the cover caught my eye and, yes, traveled home with me from the library that night.

It guarantees the recipes are tried and true. There are more basic recipes for newbees as well as “show stoppers” for those more seasoned bakers or for those looking for a challenge. I have to say I thought that, although not overly impressive on first glance, the book was interesting and I confess I did find it difficult to decide on which recipe to try so I left it in the hands of my chief tester: my husband.

He took a quick look through, lingered over a couple of recipes (one of which sounded particularly good but I didn’t have the ingredients for…it happens) before choosing the Coconut Lime Rice Pudding.

The pudding was very easy to make and the flavour was good. I chose to add some raisins (what is rice pudding without raisins??) as well as a bit of dried coconut which I think complimented the lime perfectly. I also like a less creamy pudding, so chose to add a bit more rice. The recipe made quite a lot of pudding so we’ve ended up reheating and it was scrumptious. The lime came through even a bit stronger second time round.

In my opinion, this cookbook is definitely worth borrowing but perhaps not worth buying, but you borrow it from the library and be the judge.

— Sandi H.

Coconut Lime Rice Pudding

For the Pudding
2 tblsp butter
½ c rice
¼ c white sugar
1 – 400 ml can coconut milk
400 ml homogenized milk
Grated zest of 2 limes
For the Sauce*
¾ c fresh or frozen raspberries
¼ c white sugar
Juice of 1 lime

Preheat oven to 275F.

To make the pudding, put the butter in a heat/oven proof casserole. Set over element on low to melt. Stir in rice, then sugar. Stir for 5 minutes or until the sugar melts.

Add in both milks, stirring. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Stir in zest. Cover casserole with foil and bake for 1 ½ hours, stirring every 30 minutes.

While the pudding cooks, make the sauce. Put raspberries, sugar and lime juice in small saucepan over low. Heat, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved and the raspberries start to soften.

Serve the pudding with warm topped with the sauce.

*Option : if you don’t want to make the sauce, serve the pudding plain, or with raisins mixed in or with a dollop of high-quality red jam on top.

IMG_20181109_213915

Boil, Boil, Toil, and Trouble

Preserving the Harvest Without all the Hassle

I grew up on a farm and by this time of year the shelves in our cellar were filled with colourful rows of canning jars while bushel baskets brimmed with apples, pears, potatoes, turnip and squash. Upstairs, our freezer was filled with family-sized bags of beans, peas, carrots and corn from the garden. My parents (and kids once we were old enough) worked together to make our harvest last longer. I loved hearing the “pop” of mason jars as they came out of the canning kettles and cooled on the counter, and watching cucumbers change into the pickles seemed like magic. However, preserving all these fruits and vegetables also seemed like a lot of work! Thankfully, WPL has a large selection of books that make canning, preserving, freezing, fermenting, and storing fruits and vegetables manageable and foolproof.

The canning books at WPL explain everything involved in food preservation, such as pectin, acidity levels, the equipment you need, and the steps to follow to prevent bacteria from ruining your efforts. Each of these books have different tips and recipes. Here are my favourites:

  • Ball is a huge brand name in canning supplies. Their book Ball Canning: back to basics: a foolproof guide to canning jams, jellies, pickles & more explains the whole canning process in simple terms. The book also includes chapters on fruit, fruit butters and sauces, and tomatoes. Each chapter begins with a list of what you will need, tips, and the steps to follow. There is also a “problem solver” and a chart for metric equivalents.
  • Preserving: the canning and freezing guide for All Seasons by Pat Crocker is a beautiful book containing over 500 pages of recipes and information. I especially like that this book is divided by season. You might think the season for many fruits and vegetables is over but there are more than 200 pages for fall and winter produce!
  • The Canning Kitchen: 101 simple small batch recipes by Amy Bronee has a colourful picture for every recipe. I really liked how the author explains the whole canning process in the first few introductory chapters.
  • Foolproof Preserving: a guide to small batch jams, jellies, pickles, condiments & more by America’s Test Kitchen is full of colourful pictures showing you exactly how the food should look at different points throughout the process.
  • Canning & Preserving: 80+ simple, small-batch recipes by Good Housekeeping also includes some recipes to use with their preserved items, such as “Sour Cream-Vanilla Pound Cake with Rhubarb Compote” or “Reuben Macaroni and Cheese.”
  • For those who prefer to watch someone else does canning before trying it themselves, check out the DVD Homestead Blessing: the art of canning. The West Ladies teach the basics of canning equipment and storage, offering advice, tips and tricks.

Freezing is another way to preserve your harvest. The Best Freezer Cookbook by Jan Main provides general tips for freezing, as well as what types of packaging to use, how long items keep, and how to better organize your freezer. It also teaches you how to freeze fresh fruits and specific types of vegetables. This book includes a chart for a whole month of meals, and all the recipes are included.

Fermented vegetables are not only another great way to preserve food but they are full of probiotics and nutrients, help digestion, and support our immune system. Fermented Vegetables: creative recipes for fermenting 64 vegetables & herbs in  krauts, kimchis, brined pickles, chutneys, relishes & pastes by Christopher and Kirsten K. Shockey teaches the science behind fermentation and the tools needed. The Shockeys also wrote Fiery Ferments: 70 stimulating recipes for hot sauces, spicy chutneys, kimchis with kick, and other blazing fermented condiments.

Karen Solomon’s Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It : and other kitchen projects goes beyond preserving just fruits and vegetables. Solomon’s chapter entitled “Spoon It” includes recipes for cornflakes and puffed rice. The “Stock It” chapter has recipes for vanilla extract and Worcestershire sauce.  And another chapter, called “Bake It”, has recipes for bagels, pizza dough, and cakes in a jar with “Stalk It” chapter shows you how to make corn tortillas and chips.

WPL also has books for keeping your harvest in cold storage. Root Cellaring: natural cold storage of fruits & vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel explains what types of fruits and vegetables keep well and at what temperature and humidity levels. The authors describe the different types of storage that are possible, how to plan your own root cellar, and how to prepare the items to help prevent spoilage. Recipes at the back of the book will help you use the inventory you’ve stored. The Everything Root Cellaring Book: learn to store, cook, and preserve fresh produce all year round by Catherine Abbott covers the same topics as Root Cellaring and also has lots of recipes. However, this book also includes information on how to dry foods and herbs, as well as chapters on canning, preserving, and freezing.

If you didn’t have time or space for an edible garden this year, don’t despair!  St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market always has plenty of delicious fruits and vegetables plus visiting the market is a great way to support our local farmers. I encourage you to take your favourites from the garden, market or store, and browse our collection to find the preservation recipes you will enjoy in the cold months to come.

— Sandy W.

 

Weddings: read all about them

Each week the CBC Toronto afternoon drive show does a feature where they pick a topic and request that listeners call in to suggest songs along that theme.  Gill Deacon – the host – reads an email or plays a listener voicemail that introduces the song and it is one of the highlights of my week each day as I drive home from the library.  It’s called “Gill’s Jukebox” and they post complete song lists on Spotify.

Recently the Jukebox theme was “Songs That You Would Play at a Wedding” and it got me thinking about the fabulous weddings I have attended and the endless great books we have at WPL about weddings.  We have so many as they come out every year at this time to take advantage of our passion for the wedding season.  I like to read wedding books throughout the year, just as I will read a Christmas-themed murder mystery on a blazing hot summer afternoon, but if you have a wedding in your future then I have some glorious books to help get you in the mood for a spin around the dance floor.

downloadGrant Ginder’s 2017 novel, The People We Hate at the Wedding, could have been a little bit more like that scene from Steel Magnolias where one character says to the other, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about anyone then come sit by me.” but other than that small criticism I loved this book.  It was a solid drama with several members of one family traveling to London to attend the wedding of perfect, elegant, well-educated Eloise in a small town in the southwest of England.  Memories of Four Weddings and a Funeral were flooding into my mind as I read some of the scenes of the pre-wedding preparations.  The actual wedding day is filled with extravagant touches which is so much fun to read about but members of Eloise’s extended family have some longstanding grudges to work out before they can make their way to the celebration.  It’s a bit of an outrageous journey, certainly, but one that works for a book with this title and cover.  You pick up this book expecting some chaos and can’t help but be pleased when things work out.

If you would like your wedding reading to seem like it was lifted directly from a movie you might see on the W Network then you have got to read The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory. This book was pure entertainment reading – great for a dock or hammock.  Alexa meets Drew in a hotel elevator when she goes to LA to celebrate her sister’s promotion.  Of course the elevator gets stuck and they are forced into a lengthy conversation while they share snacks from Alexa’s stylish purse.  Naturally they are attracted to each other and Drew (you must suspend disbelief here) asks her to come with him to the wedding of his ex-girlfriend the very next day because he just can’t imagine walking into the room alone.  Their single date turns into a second date and they find themselves carving out time to be together in the following weekends.  He is a pediatric surgeon and she is the chief of staff for the Mayor of Berkley so it isn’t easy to find moments that match up in their busy schedules.  They make it work.  This is a fake romance that turns into something real and it all began in a stalled elevator – an overused romance novel trope but author makes it fresh and believable.

Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements is a wonderful summer read with a wedding at the centre – bonus points.  Right from the start you feel like you are on a vacation because you are traveling to a gorgeous family retreat on a fictional New England island called Waskeke.  You feel the sunshine, smell the breeze, almost want to dip your toes into the water and also feel a tiny bit smug that you aren’t involved in the kind of shenanigans that some of these people are dealing with or considering that they might become involved in.  Family patriarch Winn Van Meter has a good marriage, wonderful children, and a life of privilege. Although he should be enjoying the wedding of one of his daughters, he is obsessed with outward shows of status (like being accepted in a country club) and what people think of him.  His wife – Biddy! – has the wedding weekend planned down to the last minute. Daughters Daphne and Livia don’t really seem like they deserve the kind of devotion their mother shows them.  If the author didn’t have such a way of making the situation funny it might be impossible to like many of the characters in this novel but it is enjoyable to watch them all – talking about their Ivy League educations and wearing their preppy clothes – until this unique celebratory weekend comes to an end.

There are scads of wonderful YA books where weddings are featured so please come to the desk and we will tell you about some of our favourites.  Come to think of it there are a several solid junior titles as well, I can suggest the Penderwicks series and dear Richard Peck’s The Best Man.  Weddings are such an integral part of life that they feature prominently in many novels and are a natural fit for any list of favourite books.  One of my top teen titles, Always and Forever Lara Jean, by the incredible Jenny Han, is actually the third in her series which features three sisters – Margo, Kitty and Lara Jean – and their widowed father.  He has decided that he can start to consider a romantic future with someone again and finds love with their wonderful neighbour Ms. Rothschild.  This book is a window into Lara Jean’s senior year as she makes decisions about where she wants to go to college and what her future will bring but the strength of these books has always been their family unit.  It’s the lure of the sisters and how they relate to their father that sets this series apart from others on the YA bookshelves.  Jenny Han’s first book has just been made into a film for Netflex (you can see all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Twitter @jennyhan) and I’m excited to see it. I just really hope that they stay true to the wonderful family scenes that Han depicts in her books.  That is part of what made the wedding in this book so meaningful as the sisters have worked hard to be kind to each other, to take care of their father after the death of their mother, and welcoming Ms. Rothschild into their lives is a big step. This YA book is worth a read and includes a sweet wedding that will make you cry.

And finally, if you are in the market for a wedding shower gift then you must have a look at the latest offering from the editors of Martha Stewart Living.  They have pulled together valuable tips and tricks and gorgeously photographed recipes in Martha Stewart’s Newlywed Kitchen and it is a superb resource.  The book is divided into three stellar sections.  The first one helps the new couple get organized by sorting out their pantry, buying supplies, and choosing spiffy new tools.  The second section includes recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner for two people, and then the third section is all about entertaining.  That final section is called “Gather Round” and is divided into events that a couple might find themselves hosting, including the dreaded Thanksgiving meal.  Really, this could be considered a welcome resource for any cookbook shelf and not just those recently wed.  You could give it a try first for three weeks – just borrow it from your friendly neighbourhood library.

As for Gill’s Jukebox, I didn’t get a chance to call in and make a request but in case you wondered, the song that I always choose at weddings is Jim Croce’s Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.  A classic since 1973 – just try not to dance when you hear it.

— Penny M.

 

 

Eat A Little Better

When a book promises a behind-the-scenes look at something I find it irresistible. If the author is telling me that the secrets they will provide will be about 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue then I never miss reading that book. It’s a tempting mix – the White House and secrets. One of my favourite cozy mysteries is top of this list partially due to the way that the author made her series seem authentically set in an atmosphere that is notoriously hard to get any information about. It’s just too good.

The White House Chef series by Julie Hyzy is one of the most enjoyable cozy mysteries on our shelves. Her books are action-packed, funny, with a supporting cast of sous chefs, fussy West Wing staffers, and gruff secret service agents who make the White House feel like a real community you want to return to in each book, despite constant murders and kitchen chaos. Hyzy includes recipes for a “complete Presidential menu” at the end of each book and the details about the high pressure life serving the First Family make this one of my favourite choices to read or recommend.

However, I was truly thrilled when I read that a real White House chef for the Obamas, Sam Kass, was publishing his own cookbook. A chance to really learn about the daily work life of one of the White House chefs? Sign me up!

This cookbook, Eat a Little Better, is more than just recipes – it is inspirational. Sam Kass is gently encouraging us to try and eat better, adjust the way we shop for food, arrange our pantry and think about how this will change our world. And the very best part of his message is that he writes the whole book without using guilt or making it seem like his suggestions are easy to accomplish. I was relieved that Kass acknowledges that very few families can quit eating brownies altogether and that he, as a former advisor to the First Family, couldn’t make that happen. Even Michelle Obama wasn’t able to make her kids listen to her so how can we be expected to make magic happen when people walk into the house after school and work, claiming that they are ‘starving’? Instead Kass suggests that there be a balance between the healthy choices and less healthy choices for everyone and outlines how that can happen in his book. It’s the idea that we can all eat a little better that is so appealing.

t1larg.elmoThe recipes in the book vary in difficulty but there weren’t many that seemed overly daunting. Kass is realistic in his expectations of us. I like Sam Kass. He even spent time with the gang from Sesame Street – you can look this up. He did forget to include a chapter on desserts in Eat a Little Better which I found disappointing. He mentioned that Barack Obama was a fan of pie but neglected to include many stellar recipes for that favoured choice. Do you remember how Barack’s performance in the first presidential debate in 2012 was a little lackluster but in the second he seemed to turn up the heat on Mitt Romney? It seems that it wasn’t the days of reported prep work in Virginia that gave him the extra fire. According to the story in this book, Kass asked Obama what he wanted to eat (and he was ready for anything, having packed a variety of ingredients to take along and cook in a tiny kitchen on Air Force One) and made him exactly the right meal for crushing the competition. He liked it so much that he cooked it for him again on election night making it “lucky pasta”. If there is one recipe you try from this cookbook it has to be this one – not to mention it is chock-a-block full of wonderful stuff – garlic, spinach, basil, pine nuts, chicken – and then it will be your family’s lucky pasta. It also makes a tasty leftover so you can take it to work the next day and impress your friends by saying you are eating President Obama’s favourite pasta.

The real highlight of the recipes for me was the last grouping, where he organized beans and grains into different seasons in an attempt to encourage families to add them into every meal of the year. His inventive suggestions for using up pantry staples will make so many busy weeknight meals (and lunches!) easier. I know that I am going to be checking this practical cookbook out so many times over the next few months and will love it even more when September hits.

Sam Kass began cooking for the Obama family long before they moved into the White House. It’s really hard to say which is a more challenging meal to cook – one for a family with a parent who is the leader of the free world or a meal for one who is working 24-7 trying to get that job. This cookbook is actually an opportunity to learn a bit about how the food that they ate and how they connected over meals was a part of what kept that family strong during challenging times. He started on the journey of being more conscious of the impact of food when he worked as a senior policy advisor for nutrition in the White House and as the executive director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative and he includes that journey in this book making it a little bit like an autobiography.

Kass was an important part of the work that Michelle Obama did when she created a kitchen garden on the South Lawn. This was a controversial decision at the time but it allowed them to invite thousands of children and adults into the space and let them see how food is grown instead of seeing it come in glossy packages from the local supermarket. They chose to go even further by using that produce in state dinners, advancing to add honey production to the garden and eventually creating more than one White House beer while they were in office. Since leaving the White House Kass has continued to work on initiatives with Michelle and Barack Obama. If you wanted to fall into an inspiring Internet rabbit hole you could check out what he is up to now – he is hard to keep up with.

We might not all have kitchens with the same accoutrements as Sam Kass, have the opportunity to entertain heads of state (or Elmo) but we can all try some of his recipes, learn from his research, and enjoy reading about the real life of a White House Chef.

— Penny M.

It’s All About Pi(e)

We live in a great city for celebrating Pi Day (March 14). I’m not entirely sure when the idea to full-on celebrate the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter began but any celebration is a good thing and I love this one.

Each year we are surrounded by celebrations of 3.14. The University of Waterloo marks the occasion in multiple faculties as do groups at Wilfrid Laurier University, Conestoga College and our Main Library’s neighbours, the Perimeter Institute. It’s everywhere and it’s so much fun.

There’s no shortage of people in Waterloo who might feel inclined to get involved in the classic “How many digits of Pi can you recite?” contest and I’m sure that they don’t need to be convinced to enjoy sweet or savoury pies in a tribute to the day.

When I think of Pi I must confess that I think of pie and this in turn gets me thinking of some of my very favourite music. On the WPL shelves we have one of the most beautiful CDs from American singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles. It’s full of gorgeous songs that she created for the 2015 Broadway musical, Waitress. Just put it on repeat. Once you get started you won’t be able to stop singing along and thinking about friendship, family, love, heartache and baking. Great news too! The Mirvish theatre schedule includes a production of Waitress for summer 2019.

You can also borrow the 2007 movie that the musical is based on. The film has a fabulous cast – Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion – and seems like a standard Southern rom-com (one character is even named ‘Earl’) but it has so much more depth. Treat yourself to a generous slice of pie and some time watching The Waitress.

Should you actually want to learn how to bake your own delicious pie, we have many books to offer you recipes and guidance. You could select a classic cookbook like Joy of Cooking or pick something a little more modern like Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli’s The Home Cook: recipes to know by heart. I have read that she includes a personal favourite in there called “dark chocolate rum pie”. Oh. Yum.

So, whether you want to sing, eat, bake, or learn more about the magic of Pi, we will be happy to help you celebrate – and maybe we’ll sing you a song too.

— Penny M.

Best school year ever

I’ve stopped actually saying these words out loud, “this is going to be the best school year ever”, but I still secretly think them.  And every year I start planning for making it the best school year ever by looking at books from the library that will help me to better organize our home or cook the perfect meals and snacks that will  help to tamp down the chaos.  This year we will have two kids in high school so you would think that I have either pulled my act together by now or raised the white flag and given up.  I have not.  Every July I begin again with fresh enthusiasm and new books – I just don’t say the words aloud any longer as I have teens at home and they make fun of me.

Although I didn’t use this book for planning for the new school year it did turn out to be a real treat to have at home over the summer.  When the kids were just hanging around it was nice to have this one on the kitchen counter for them to flip through.  They never did grab a cutting board and try any of the more ambitious chicken recipes but the ones that involved ingredients we have in the pantry or fridge were popular, like DIY Hummus (so much less expensive and delicious than the one from the grocery store) and the variations on plain cheese quesadillas.  It also inspired  them to request a few trips to the store for meals that we hadn’t tried before which is what I always ache for – someone please suggest something new for dinner.  This kind of inspiration for a quick and easy meal can come in handy during the busy school season.  A book like this looks like it is made for kids but it can be a perfect choice for anyone.  Give it a try.  We loved it – maybe your kids will use it too.  Or just look at it for a few minutes and give you some moments of peace while you are cooking.

Some years I have become too caught up in making a system out of the back-to-school planning and that has been my downfall.  Well, one of the things that led to my downfall.  There are several problems in trying to make it the best school year ever and one is taking the fun out of it.   In times of trouble like this it is always a good idea to turn to Jenny Rosenstratch, blogger and author of three lovely books about food and life.  Her most recent book, How to celebrate everything, reminds us that there are little moments to treasure in the busy days of getting meals on the table, even on Thanksgiving.  She also gives great tips on how to cope with all of the regular events that come at you in a school year – bake sales, Halloween, sleepovers, birthday parties and making the perfect celebration cake.  Jenny’s book will give you the inspiration to cook beautifully when you can manage it, love your family, enjoy your home and sneak in a few treats once in a while.  And, she reminds everyone to give yourself a break during the school year so you can rest easy with less pangs about what might have been.  Good-bye guilt!  Oh, and if you are having trouble sleeping any night, just turn down the brightness on your device and spend some time with Jenny on her site right here – http://www.dinneralovestory.com

Speaking of great sites you might want to puruse here is a sensational Canadian one to love.  The Sweet Potato Chronicles authors (former magazine editors) have spectacular images and recipes on their site and came out with a cookbook in 2013 that just rocked my world.  I can’t keep track of the times I have checked out this cute cookbook with the image of a little plastic giraffe toy on the cover.  Well, just in time for the 2017-2018 school year they have given us their version of a best school year ever cheat sheet.  It is a little thin on the planning side of things but it more than makes up for it in valuable recipe suggestions broken into sections that work for most families – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and treats.  Within those sections they have been sensible enough to know that every family has challenges in a busy week so they include make-ahead meals.  Snacks are broken into two sections – one that can be enjoyed at school another for those that need to be enjoyed at home where food allergens are not a concern.  However, their Chocolate snack balls are incredible, look like Timbits but are filled with pumpkin seeds, dried apricots, sunflower seeds, oh my.  Not a nut in sight so eat them at home and at school.   It’s a colourful cookbook with practical suggestions that are relevant to the Canadian market.  I just love it.  They might be a little impractical in suggesting that we will all clean out our pantries and replace the containers with lovely matching jars but they are magazine editors so we can forgive them for thinking that we might ever find that possible.  I am trying to get through a school year here,  I don’t have time to find matching jars.

One simply gorgeous book I found when I was trying to streamline our planning for the ‘new year’ is this 2017 release from a former recipe tester from Saveur magazine.  Personally, I would like to be a taster at Saveur, but I don’t think that is a real job and I looked very carefully at their web site just to be sureIn any case she has put her skills to good use in One pan and done : hassle-free meals from the oven to your table and the title does not lie.  She provides some of the best instructions I have ever seen and, something I rarely see in cookbooks, she does this with a fantastic sense of humour.  The recipes are diverse, from cozy classics to things you would see in a hipster café, but she admits that some of the things she has included weren’t popular with her family at first or that she had to tweak them as she went to make them more family-friendly.  This sounds familiar.  We have made several of the meals in this book – including the cover recipe – and, they looked nothing like the pictures but were so popular at our house that I have actually written them onto recipe cards so that I can make them again.  Just imagine.  This doesn’t have the cachet of being a book marketed to families – there are no toys displayed on the cover – but it will make the cook in the family happy and save you time.  That makes everyone happier, I think. 

Okay, I’ve changed my mind.  I’ve read some fantastic books, I’ve made some good plans, sourced some new ingredients, tried many great recipes and I have the weight of hundreds more on the shelves to back me up.  I’m saying it – this is going to be the “best school year ever”.

-Penny M.