Bring on the Dishes!

I have never had a dishwasher. Growing up, my sister and I WERE the dishwasher in our house. When I flew the nest, I opted for extra storage space in my little kitchen over having another large appliance in the room. And to be honest, I don’t mind washing dishes. I’m not a huge fan of drying (usually my husband does that chore) but washing dishes, not a big deal at all.

Having a small kitchen, you learn to be efficient and organized in meal prep. An “A type” personality, I can quite happily make a roast beef dinner with all the trimmings and bake a dessert at the same time without my limited counter space and single sink teeming with cookware, bowls etc.

I don’t know if it’s because of being able to neatly “juggle” or something else entirely but I’ve just never been drawn to crockpots, instant-pots or one-pan meals. I know they are super popular all year round and must be quite handy in the hot days of summer, especially with those who do not have a/c at home. Perhaps if I had a big family to feed I’d be more welcoming to anything that is dish-saving and time-saving but I don’t, so while instant-pots seem to be in every home, there isn’t one in mine which means I’m unable to review any of those specific cookbooks at WPL. On the heels of the Instant-pot craze, though, it seems that one-dish cookbooks have regained their popularity. That I can do.

The first one I borrowed was One Pan, Whole Family : more than 70 complete weeknight meals by Carla Snyder. There were a number of interesting recipes between the covers and for the most part the instructions looked straight forward. The majority of the recipes take 45 minutes or less to prepare. The down side, the recipes I was most intrigued by would require me to make a return trip to the grocery store for key ingredients. So, I made a few “notes to self” and may revisit this book at a future date.

The second was 13 x 9 The Pan That Can : 150 fabulous recipes by Better Homes & Gardens.  As they describe it, the 13 x 9 (or 9 x 13) pan is “… the star of the kitchen, able to produce just about any dish from one-pan dinners to an easy big-batch dessert.” and the cookbook reflects this with recipes for all sorts of dinners, pizzas, breakfast bakes, bars and more. Nutritional information is provided for each recipe as well as ideas on making the recipes more healthy plus make ahead tips and “flex it” advice which is practical suggestions on how to make the recipe meatless, incorporate leftovers and more.

I tried two recipes from “13 x 9 The Pan That Can”. First up, Lemon Chicken With Potatoes. One of my favourite recipes of all time is the “Barefoot Contessa” Ina Garten’s roast chicken with lemon and lots of garlic. It’s a winner…always delicious and juicy. So, this seemed similar but different. The only change I made to the recipe was eliminating the olives (my husband is decidedly anti-olive) and it turned out quite good. Not as good as Ina’s if I’m honest, but tasty enough to make again. For dessert I tried the Bananas Foster Bake. Bananas, rum, oat streusel topping. What’s not to like? Wellll…we had a mixed result here. My husband absolutely loved it and went back for seconds. Me, I wasn’t impressed with the flavour or the mixture of textures and didn’t even finish my portion.

Odd as it may sound, in the end I’d be more likely to recommend One Pan, Whole Family with its many mouthwatering-sounding recipes over 13 x 9. The recipes in 13 x 9 just didn’t wow me and the results of my test recipes were mixed. But you borrow them from the library and be the judge.

— Sandi H.

Lemon Chicken and Potatoes

4 chicken breast halves, fresh or thawed
1 lb fingerling or baby Yukon potatoes
3 lemons, halves crosswise
1/3 c. pitted green and/or black olives
6 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp honey
6 c arugula or mixed salad greens

Preheat oven to 450F.

Place chicken, potatoes, lemons and olives in ungreased 9 x 13/3 quart casserole. Drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil and toss to coat.

Rearrange chicken in a single layer, skin side up, and lemons cut-side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and rose uncovered for 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Remove from oven. Remove lemons from casserole. Cover chicken/potatoes/olives with foil to keep warm.

When lemons are cool enough to handle, squeeze juice in to small bowl. Remove any seeds. Whisk in 4 tbsp olive oil and honey. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve chicken and potatoes over greens. Drizzle with lemon dressing.

It’s Genius

I recently borrowed Food 52’s latest cookbook, Genius Desserts : 100 recipes that will change the way you bake. After reading it through and trying 3 different recipes, I can’t say it has changed the way I bake BUT the recipes are certainly genius. Each one was awesome and I’ve already made a list of others that I want to try out.

Food52 is an award-winning kitchen and home brand. Established almost 10 years ago, their mandate is to help followers “…eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.” They have an extensive team behind the scenes led by CEO and Co-Founder, Amanda Hesser. She herself has written a few books including Cooking for Mr. Latte : A Food Lover’s Courtship, with Recipes, The Cook and the Gardener, and The Essential New York Times Cookbook. The Food52 website won a James Beard award and with over 4 million followers on social media, I think I am not alone in being pleased with the look of their books and online presence as well as being very satisfied with the recipe results.

The content shared in print and online by Food 52 is a mix of food, cooking, design, culture, and travel. The recipes shared are from talented home cooks as well as celebrity chefs like Nigella Lawson, Jacques Pépin, and Madhur Jaffrey.

food 52 004The first recipes I tried were for cookies: Dorie Greenspan & Pierre Herme’s “World Peace Cookies” and Julia Moskin’s “Peanut Butter Sandies”. I decided to bring them to the library for staff to taste test. While both plates emptied quickly, the World Peace Cookies were the hands down winners. Comments included “Those chocolate cookies are the best!”, “Nice texture and not over-the-top chocolatey.” and “The World Peace cookie was very good. I didn’t find it too sweet and the addition of chocolate chips was a pleasant surprise.” That recipe is a keeper!

Next up was “One Step, No Churn Coffee Ice Cream” by a favourite of mine, Nigella Lawson. I do have a Pampered Chef Ice Cream Maker (which is amazing, btw) but I was intrigued by this no-frills recipe. There are just 4 ingredients and the only equipment needed is an electric mixer and a freezer. Basically, you just beat the ingredients together until airy, place the mixture in a container with an airtight lid and freeze overnight. The resulting ice cream is SUPER rich and decadent which means you don’t need to eat very much to be satisfied. I’d definitely try this again with some other flavours.

I have plans to make the Guinness Stout Ginger Cake next although I will be skipping the Parsley Cake on the page that precedes it. Parsley Cake aside, there are plenty just begging to be tried: Pistachio Millionaire’s Shortbread with Coriander Butterscotch, Weird & Wonderful Banana Cake (which sounds just that!) and Butterscotch Budino to name but three.

Embrace your inner genius. Borrow this book. Give the recipes a whirl. You won’t be disappointed.

  • Sandi H.

P.S. after writing this post I did make the Stout Spice Gingerbread and it was out of this world. It’s going to become a staple in our household.

World Peace Cookies

1 ¼ c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ c plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 c. packed light brown sugar
¼ c. granulated sugar
½ tsp. fine sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla
¾ c mini chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more. Turn off the mixer.

Pour in the dry ingredients and mix at low speed just until flour is mixed in.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 ½  inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — let it warm just enough so that you can slice the log into rounds and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease baking sheets. Remove dough from fridge. Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.

Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be.

Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Perfection is Hard to Live Up To

I recently borrowed a book from the library called The Perfect Cake. It’s part of a series from America’s Test Kitchen which includes The Perfect Cookie, which I reviewed already. Four hundred pages of cake recipes, some simple, some rather more involved, and all looking divine in the many (many, many) photos.

Like other ATK books, The Perfect Cake starts out with some fundamental information on baking. Among other things there are handy tips on preparing the pan properly (nothing worse than baking a wonderful cake only to discover that you can NOT get it neatly out of the baking tin), checking for done-ness, types of frosting and advice on essential utensils and equipment for a baker’s kitchen. There is also a chapter on “Cake Building Blocks” which walks new bakers through basic ingredients.

As they say in the beginning of the book, “Like all baking, cake making is a science but it doesn’t have to be intimidating.” Personally I have always never found baking intimidating. Baking relaxes me, it brings back wonderful family memories and it makes me happy. A colleague once commented that they could tell when my stress level was up because I brought in lots of baked goods to work. Let me be clear, they weren’t complaining about being the recipients of home-baked goodies, they were just kindly concerned with my blood pressure. To me, the most stressful thing about baking is narrowing down what recipes I’m going to try next. That all being said, this cookbook did cause me some stress.

51v9Qmq53aL._SX260_The first couple of recipes I tried were very good. The Easy Chocolate Snack Cake was just that. One bowl + basic ingredients + simple instructions = Tasty Moist Chocolate Cake. I also made the Lemon Bundt Cake for my mother-in-law’s birthday. I hadn’t made a bundt cake in years (I can’t really say why) and this one have given me reason to make them more often. Very lemony and with a rich texture similar to a pound cake. It came out of the pan easily and, once cooled, I decorated it with the lemon buttermilk glaze and zest. Two thumbs up from the entire family.

I was thinking, “Wow. This book really IS about perfect cakes.” when things went south with the Strawberry Cupcake recipe. I was taking part in a bake sale in support of the local humane society. The recipe sounded wonderful, using the juice from actually strawberries (reduced to a syrup) for flavouring rather than cheating with artificial products.

I followed the recipe and everything seemed to be going well although the batter was very thin. I triple-checked the recipe quantities and then noticed in the recipe there was a special notation the “…mixture will look soupy”. Fair enough. I divided the batter evenly into the cupcake liners and popped it in the oven for the recommended 15 to 20 minutes.

Nothing happened. No rise. Nothing. When removed from the oven, the cupcakes were flat and with a texture that resembled a sodden sponge. I took a tiny taste and, to be frank, spit it out. And there went my cupcakes, into my green compost bin. Major fail. And on the night before a charity bake sale!

A few bad words and a deep breath later and I quickly whipped up a Hot Milk Cake. This old school recipe used to be in every community cookbook and is one my Mum has used for many years. A short while later I had a baker’s dozen of light, fluffy, vanilla cupcakes. I topped my cupcakes with a strawberry mousse and was able to sell them the following day…and help my colleagues raise over $300 for the KW Humane Society!

In spite of the cupcake fail, I’m still impressed by this cookbook, especially given how delicious the snack and bundt cakes were. I certainly won’t be buying The Perfect Cake but it’s worth a borrow. Just go with your gut instinct if something looks a bit off because it might be time for some improv!

– Sandi H.

Dorothy’s Hot Milk Cake

½ c milk
1 tbsp butter
2 eggs
¾ c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350F.

In small saucepan, melt butter in milk. Set aside off heat.

In mixing bowl, beat eggs until thick. Add sugar & vanilla and beat again.

Alternate adding the milk mixture and the dry ingredients, mixing to combine.

Divide between 2 – 8” round cake tins (greased) or 12 cupcake liners. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cake passes the toothpick test.

Cool for 5 minutes in the pan before removing to a rack to cool completely before decorating.

Oven to Table

I love a good cookbook and the library is the perfect place to ‘test drive’ a new cookbook!

In order to be a ‘must have’ in my kitchen a cookbook needs to be loaded with recipes that I can make for my family – recipes that fit our tastes, are doable, use ingredients I can find in my local food store and don’t leave me elbow deep in sudsy water all evening.  With Oven to Table, Jan Scott gives readers 100 easy to make, tasty recipes, complete with beautiful and enticing colour photos, that use only one pot, dish or pan.

Scott’s writing style is approachable as she describes different pans, required utensils, foods to keep stocked in your kitchen and her tenets for ensure successful one-pot cooking. She clearly identifies vegetarian, gluten-free, kid-friendly and make-ahead dishes as well as those that are better suited when you have more time and don’t have to quickly feed your small humans before shuttling them to evening activities.

I made a few of the recipes in the book and all were fantastic. They included:

  • Smokey Corn and Cheddar Chowder with a side of Honey, Thyme and Cheddar Skillet Cornbread
  • Goat Cheese and Dill Hash Brown Quiche
  • Roasted Red Onion Party Dip

Overall, this is an impressive cookbook that I look forward to using often. One pot/pan recipes speak to the mom in me who doesn’t want to spend a lot of time cleaning up after a meal. I love cooking but washing dishes? Not so much. With its enticing colour pictures and clear instructions, this cookbook will inspire home cooks to whip up these delicious one-pot dishes for the important family meal.

— Laurie P.

NOTE:  I’ll be discussing this cookbook (and several more – including my favourite fiction and nonfiction reads) in my upcoming Books and Baking program on Monday, May 13th at 2:00pm at the John M. Harper Branch. Registration for this free program opens online May 6th.

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.

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.