Sunday, November 15, 2015

Book Review: Michael Symon's 5 in 5 For Every Season

I'm a big fan of Food Network shows (and cookbooks...but, I think that's obvious by my growing cookbook collection). I have learned quite a bit just by paying attention to some of these incredibly creative chefs. Putting many of the reality-type cooking shows aside, I have learned so much about basic knife skills, how to put certain flavors together, and simply create an elegant dish for any occasion.

However, one chef I haven't seemed to have followed quite as much is Michael Symon. I've seen him on Iron Chef America and known him as the guy with this crazy, infectious laugh who can turn deadly serious in an instant (particularly, when it comes to tasting and presenting food). But, other than that, I haven't had a chance to really experience his style - on TV or via a cookbook.

Until now.

Symon is co-host of a popular chef-driven foodie talk show, The Chew. Alongside, Mario Batali, Carla Hall, Daphne Oz, and Clinton Kelly, Symon cooks up all sorts of madcap food and fun in this popular daytime series. It sounds like a hoot!

But, I'll be honest.

I've never even seen the show.

It's not that I haven't wanted to, but really, how much time is there in a day? But, I know one thing for sure: Michael Symon can cook.

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Blueberry Salad
That's why I chose this new cookbook to check out. It's full of fun, easy, fast dishes based off a segment on The Chew - 5 in 5. Five ingredients, five minutes. Done!

However, let's be honest: no one has a line of prep cooks and kitchen staff waiting with all your ingredients in the wings to get your dish done in five minutes flat. Or do you?

My kitchen staff runs around on four legs with a furry tail who refuses to even do the dishes. So, prep, cook, clean - I get to do it all!

Having said that, Symon is the first to agree - this book is meant to make mealtime fun, easy, and affordably healthy in the shortest amount of time possible. Cooking for the seasons and eating what's ripe at its top peak of freshness. From farm to table. So, prep staff or not, these meals may not be done in five minutes flat, but they can be prepped, cooked, and assembled in less than 20 minutes. From what I perused, most in less than that.

Lots of delicious, simple, and easy recipes, categorized by season, including a holiday category! This book gives you 165 ideas to make fast, easy, healthy foods that require very little effort. Sounds good to me!

Kielbasa with Apples and Onions

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Book Review: The Time Garden by Daria Song

I have fallen for this adult coloring book craze. One of my last book choices was Daria Song's second coloring masterpiece. This is her first.

What a beautiful book.

The exquisite drawing, the sweet storyline, the amazing creation of things that make you want to color them. Or not.

The beauty of Daria's drawings and charming storylines is that they are equally beautiful in black and white, as they would be filled in with the colors of my choice.

The beauty of this book charms me. And while the storyline is sweet and equally charming, it isn't really necessary and falls a little short (where is the red-haired fairy that starts the whole fall-into-the-clock thing?). But, above all, the artistry supersedes everything else.

However, I am still slightly befuddled by one thing: in the back of Song's books there are visual indexes. I am not sure the purpose of these. I have looked on the publisher's website, the artist's website, and various other places - there doesn't seem to be an explanation. I like the idea - I'm just not sure what it is for. Visual reference? Maybe. Either way, it's a great way to enjoy more of the art that comes from the brilliant mind of Daria Song.

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Book Review: Happy Cooking by Giada De Laurentiis

I have a heart-felt space in my life for cookbooks. Cookbooks of any kind. Old, new, used, gifted. I love them all. I think I love looking at how people get creative in their cooking, even the fundraiser cookbooks. It's amazing what people come up with or re-invent.

I am so happy I got this book. I wasn't sure because I passed up the last few of Giada's books - not because they weren't great with amazing recipes, but because I wasn't sure I would actually make any of them. I look at all the pretty pages and I think, "I would eat that." But, will I make it? Meh. Not always.


I think when it comes to cooking, we have to feel inspired. At least, I do. I have to feel that I can play with it, get a great deal of joy out of it and plenty of leftovers. Particularly, if I am going to be in the kitchen for hours. I love the experience and the outcome - not one over the other. And, sometimes, I feel lackluster about recipes.

But, Happy Cooking, Giada's new cookbook, inspires me. At first, I was leafing through and I just wasn't so sure. I thought, "Beautiful. Delicious. Yum." But, I couldn't find the inspiration. And then, some recipes stood out.

Superfood Fudge Torte

Giada has been the queen of Italian cooking since her first cookbook and her first show on Food Network, Everyday Italian. Pasta, sauces, culinary comfort that meets California fresh. She's done it all and we've watched her transformation.

Her new book is more than that. Giada lives in California, the land of makeovers, make-betters, and make-mores. And, while her background will always lie in traditional Italian cuisine with California flare, her newest book is starting to transcend some of the California kitsch.

Happy Cooking includes many of her most popular things like pastas, sauces, and Aunt Raffy recipes, but there is an element of searching and creating true health that is inspiring to me. Giada is surpassing the typical "We have to eat this way to be healthy and perceived popular" California attitude and going straight to "Here are some great ideas for things that taste great, are easy to make, and some ideas about feeling great."

Yep. I said great three times in that last sentence.

Banana Tea that promotes restful sleep and calms the nerves
There are quite a few collaborative recipes in this book, including Alex Guarnaschelli, her daughter Jade, sleep experts, and other chefs and physicians. As most of us do, we spend our lives running, creating, doing, and being - when we have time - and, eventually, it catches up to us. I think this book is Giada's newest offering to help counteract that in her own life, as well as her readers' lives. There are recipes for detox soup, green smoothies, banana tea (helps promote sleep - who knew?), and more veggie-inspired recipes than I have ever seen her put in one book. Of course, there is no lack of meat, fish, and holiday meals, including a fabulous-looking Persimmon-Pumpkin Pie. But, as she says in many of her tips and suggestions dotted throughout the book, there's an overall theme: Be Good To Yourself.

I'm excited to start making and baking from this new delight. Beautiful imagery, pictures galore (a must for me), well-written recipes that always turn out, and choices upon choices upon choices. Giada is showing the world that it is not about sacrifice, it's about choices. And she's giving them.

A delectable sampling of some of the delicious divinity included in Happy Cooking (and things I plan to make): 

  • Spring Pasta Timbale
  • Superfood Fudge Torte
  • Banana Tea
  • Smoky Candied Carrots
  • Citrus-Chile Acorn Squash
  • Lemon-Roasted Fennel
  • Bacon Bourbon Brussels Sprouts Skewers
  • Peas, Pancetta, and Prosecco
  • Smashed Root Vegetables
  • Polenta Plank with Frank's Bolognese
  • Raffy's Polpettone Two Ways (braised in milk and marinara)
  • Persimmon-Pumpkin Pie
  • Old-Fashioned Buttercrunch

Smoky Candied Carrots

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. I loved it. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book Review: The Time Chamber by Daria Song

The coloring book craze.

What an amazing thing this has become.

I love to color. Who doesn't?

Like most four-year-olds, I find the greatest pleasure in just applying whatever color I choose to a host of black and white characters begging to be filled in. I can use crayons, colored pencils, markers, watercolor pencils or markers, or even plain old acrylic paint, if I so choose. It's a bevy of choices.

But, adults are returning to their childhood fancies, not to make choices, but to escape from them. Our lives are inundated with choice after choice after choice. And there is something so simplistically wonderful about just picking up a green pencil and filling in some lines.

Meditative, they call it.

I call it splendor.

My newest selection from Blogging for Books is The Time Chamber by Daria Song. This beautifully illustrated coloring book comes with a short, albeit full, magical story - a sweet fairy trapped inside a clock is freed when the clock's keeper, a sweet little girl, goes to bed.

Fanciful, artistic, colorful - and yet, the pages are only black and white. It's amazing how art can transform. There is a small part of me that really doesn't want to color any of the images. But, the louder four-year-old beckons otherwise.

The book tells a sweet story with plenty of places to add your own sweet tune (by way of whatever color you choose and the many places to apply it), including a colorable coverlet. Ingenious. This coloring book has taken the craze one step further - you become the author, illustrator, and reader - all in one, even though the story has been told. Again, ingenious.

And, lastly, the author and editors have included a visual key at the end of the book, presumably for reference and detail in miniature. Ingenious. A whole new perspective.

Absolutely a fun find. Highly recommended for soothing nights, cups of tea, and four-year-old fancies.

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Book Review: Martha Stewart's Appetizers

Apps. Mmm...

Not the kind that you download to your phone and use to stare at all the gorgeous foods that you can make, like Pinterest.

No. Straight-up appetizers. Or appeteasers, as some might call them. Something to whet the appetite and get you going, wanting more.
Pan Tomate

We all know Martha Stewart as the queen of TV, home entertaining, and pretty much everything else crafty and delicious. She's a mega-queen. Some of her most ingenious ideas are simplistic and beautiful. Now, she has a team of experts helping her dream up the impossible. And this time, that team headed by the big Gouda herself, created a new book - all about appetizers.

From Snacks like broiled feta to Stylish Bites like mini quiches, Martha and her team have created more than 200 mouth-watering recipes that catch your eye and your desire to entertain. From family affairs to tailgating parties, this book has tips, techniques, simple instructions, and beautiful photos - all with recipes just waiting to be concocted. Simple, elegant, fast to prepare - this book has it all and will please even the most picky eater.

Puff Pastry Cheese Straws
Some ideas to just get you started:

  • Pigs in Blankets - simple gourmet-style: puff pastry and sausages cut at an angle with mustard dipping sauces
  • Hot Artichoke Dip - artichoke hearts, cheese, herbs, and more cheese
  • Antipasto - a simple, yet elegant spread of all things Italian
  • Chicken Wings - four different flavors complete with dipping sauces
  • Mezze - a Mediterranean smattering of delicious spreads, whole grain salads, and dolmades
  • and Deviled Eggs - the all-American ubiquitous version of finger different flavors. 

And the list goes on...

            ...even cocktails.

A beautiful book with a delectable array of dishes, small plates, and tiny tastes. Fun for everyone!

Fried Macaroni-and-Cheese Bites. Yum.

**This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. I chose to be honest because they can't really make me. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

It's always fun to do book reviews. The fun is in the reading, not necessarily the review. Although, I do enjoy writing as much, if not more, than reading. So, either way - it's an immense pleasure for me.

I typically pick cookbooks from Blogging for Books, but this time, a new novel caught my eye. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is a quaint story about a book seller who owns a book barge, his pride and joy. Jean Perdu has been selling books for most of his life and has learned to prescribe whatever book might be the cure for the reader's ails.

Sweet, romantic, and full of lyrical lines, The Little Paris Bookshop is a lot of fun. The book has been translated from French without so much as a hitch, but, for me, the storyline falls far from the title and the premise.

The book promises the story of Jean Perdu, a loner who finds solace in books and gives out a dole of prescribed wisdom to customers who think they want one thing and really need another.

This enchanted me.

Kind of like Chocolat for book lovers.

I love the idea of a man who has found wisdom in books and as people fall into his life, they walk away with the assistance of literary wisdom, not always knowing what they need, but getting it all the same.

However, The Little Paris Bookshop is about 10% bookseller-wisdom-saves-unsuspecting-throngs-of-people and about 90% interesting European love-lost-until-you-find-yourself story.

The book begins with Perdu prescribing books to customers and neighbors and a mysterious letter from a long-ago lover. Once Perdu is finally willing to look at the past and his unmended heart, it takes him on an adventure to seek the love he once lost. By his side, a quirky novelist and a random host of international characters, Perdu sets sail on his book barge to find the truth about what he gave up years ago.

The writing is lovely, the premise is great, my only problem with it is the title and jacket cover description that really don't cover what the true story tells. The bookshop is simply a side character, as is Perdu's gift at prescribing books that heal. The primary story is of a love that is lost, complicated relationships, and a journey to figure out why we do what we do.

I think the marketing team is doing a great dis-service to Nina George. Her writing and the compelling storyline speak for themselves - there was no need to romanticize the idea of a sweet, little bookshop in Paris. Sure, that will draw people in. But, the story is what will keep them there. And Nina George has no problem doing that.

Favorite lines from The Little Paris Bookshop

"With all due respect, what you read is more important in the long term than the man you marry, ma ch`ere Madame."


"Books aren't eggs, you know. Simply because a book has aged a bit doesn't mean it's gone bad." There was now an edge to Monsieur Perdu's voice too. "What is wrong with old? Age isn't a disease. We all grow old, even books. But are you, is anyone, worth less, or less important, because they've been around for longer?"


Personal questions, but not too personal. He had to ask these questions and then remain absolutely silent. Listening in silence was essential to making a comprehensive scan of a person's soul.


"...Any request for forgiveness. Maybe you've got used to feeling guilty for everything you are. Often it's not we who shape words, but the words we use that shape us."


Monsieur Perdu observed how the words she was reading gave shape to her from within. He saw that Anna was discovering inside herself a sounding board that reacted to words. She was a violin learning to play itself.

This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. I have been honest. Honestly. :) 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Recipe: Huli Huli Burger Wraps

A friend of mine is in love with Hawai'i. She and her husband head there nearly every year, sometimes twice. They take their kids, their grandkids, their friends, and pretty much anyone they meet because they both love it so much. If they had it their way, they'd retire right on the beach of some lagoon in the Hawaiian islands.

Beyond the beauty of the Pacific, one of her favorite things about Hawai'i is the food.

Hawaiian food has lots of specialties and their own unique cuisine. From spam musubi to Kalua pork, Lau Lau to chicken katsu, and of course, their infamous Hawaiian BBQ.

Spam Musubi and Kalua Pork
What is Hawaiian BBQ, you ask? It's a fabulous blend of Asian and American flavors, a bit more on the sweet side (as most Hawaiian food tends to be), but marvelous. Traditional Hawaiian plates come with two perfectly rounded scoops of rice, a heaping side of macaroni salad, and whatever entree is being served. It's not a lunch or dinner for the weak - most of the time, there's plenty for the next meal or two. Or maybe three.

For those of us who live on the mainland, a family-run chain of restaurants has brought all those flavors to shore. L&L Hawaiian BBQ has brought us fresh varieties of some of the most famous Hawaiian dishes. It's a great way to experience some of the food right where you live until you can catch that cruise or plane ride to your vacation getaway.

My friend and I were talking about Hawai'i, as we often do while we are busy making cookies. She raved and raved about one of her favorite sauces - Huli Huli sauce. Huli Huli Sauce was the invention of an islander, Ernest Morgado, who needed to marinate and baste his chicken in a teriyaki sauce while he was grilling for a farmer's meeting. He used his mother's teriyaki sauce recipe and the chicken became an instant hit. After nearly 30 years of competitions and fund-raisers, he began bottling his special sauce. You can buy it in most stores, but homemade is the way to go, especially if you can't eat soy or gluten. It can be used as a marinade, a basting sauce, a dipping sauce, or pretty much any way you can think of. Burgers, chicken, kabobs - you name it. Delish.
Huli Huli Chicken

This sweet, tangy, slightly spicy sauce, is a perfect family pleaser.

A week after my friend gave me her recipe, she asked excitedly, "Have you tried it yet?"

I hadn't.

And part of the reason I hadn't was the addition of soy sauce to the recipe. I don't eat much soy sauce due to the wheat content, as well as the soy. Neither does well in my body, so I had to find an alternative. So, I headed to the kitchen and decided to try it with my No Soy Soy Sauce.

And it is as wonderful as she claims. Sweet, tangy, slightly spicy from the ginger. All the sugars caramelize into the most amazing crusty sauce. It's fantastic, as well as versatile.

I think Ernest would be proud.

Happy eating!

Huli Huli Burger Wraps

Recipe collaboration: Sauce by L. Dolan (with my adaptation); the rest of the deliciousness by Michelle L. Hankes
Serves 4 hungry people (can be easily doubled, tripled, quadrupled, or quintupled)

For the Huli Huli Sauce:
(makes about 2 - 2 1/2 cups of sauce)

1 cup packed brown sugar or vegan cane sugar
3/4 cup ketchup (organic preferred)
3/4 cup soy sauce or No Soy Soy Sauce (just triple the recipe)
1/3 cup chicken broth, veggie broth, or warm water with two large pinches of sea salt
2 1/2 tsp fresh minced ginger root
1 1/2 tsp fresh minced garlic

Pour all ingredients into a medium bowl, then whisk to combine. Reserve 1 cup for the burgers. Place remainder in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days or freeze for later use, up to 2 months.

For the burgers: 

1 1/2 lbs. good-quality ground beef
sea salt, to taste
8 lettuce leaves, rinsed and patted dry
1 cup Huli Huli Sauce, divided

1. Place ground beef in a medium bowl, add a bit of sea salt (to taste), then mix with fingers just until combined. Divide the beef into 8 equal portions. Form each portion into a flat log-shape so they will fit easily into the lettuce leaves. (Don't put them in the lettuce leaves, yet!) Set aside.

2. Heat a cast-iron skillet on medium (or grill, if you prefer).

3. While the pan is heating, place 1/4 cup of the Huli Huli sauce in a small bowl and set aside.

4. When the pan is hot, place the "burgers" on the skillet (or grill) and allow to fully cook on one side about 2-3 minutes to get a good sear. Flip; then using the remaining 3/4 cup of Huli Huli sauce, baste the burgers either using a basting brush or a small spoon. Let cook for a minute or two, then repeat allowing to cook for another minute. This should create a lovely caramelized sauce on the burgers. Yum. (For safety, discard the rest of the basting sauce.)

5. Remove from pan when cooked to your liking and place in the lettuce leaves. Using the Huli Huli sauce that was first set aside (in step 3), drizzle a small amount over the burgers. If there's any left, save for a further use or use for dipping (it also makes an awesome Huli Huli mayo).

6. Serve with two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and/or a green salad! Enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2015

No Soy Soy Sauce

Ah, soy sauce...

Delicious, tangy, salty, briney. All the things you want to add some oomph to chicken, fish, burgers, sauces, and pretty much any dish that resembles something derived from an Asian culture.

But, soy sauce does not work for every body. Sometimes, it's the soy; sometimes, it's the wheat (although, you can now find wheat-free soy sauce in many stores or online). But either way, if soy sauce does not make you sing with delight, there aren't many alternatives to get the same flavor.

Until now.

That's right. I take credit for this delicious concoction created out of necessity.

Okay, nobody needs soy sauce, for the most part. But fried rice without soy sauce or teriyaki without soy sauce?? How bland! How boring! How, un-umami.

But, soy sauce in both components is not body-friendly for me. So, what's an umami-loving girl to do?

Create her own.

Happy Umami Eating!

No Soy Soy Sauce

Easy-peasy recipe by Michelle L. Hankes
Makes scant 1/4 cup


1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 tsp tamarind concentrate*
2 generous pinches of sea salt (or to taste)


Add all ingredients to a small bowl and whisk until combined. 

Use immediately one-for-one in any recipe needing soy sauce or as a dipping sauce. Store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for a week. Can be frozen for up to 3 months. 

*Tamarind concentrate is made from the tamarind fruit. It has a lovely tangy, kinda sweet, and definitely sour flavor that when added with salt makes a wonderful substitute for soy sauce. It is used in many traditional Asian dishes, including Pad Thai. I use Tamicon that can be purchased at Whole Foods or most grocery stores in the Asian food section or Hispanic food section. I use the concentrate version because it's smooth and intense in flavor, but it also comes in paste form and blocks of concentrate. I haven't tried those, but I'm sure they would work equally well. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Review: Rooted in Design by Tara Heibel & Tassy de Give

One of my favorite things about Blogging for Books is that I get to try a book that I might not try otherwise.


That isn't totally true.

I love books. I love pretty much any book.

Well...most of them.

But, that's the fun part of reading - you get to see into someone else's world and decide if that world coincides with your own.

So, the world I decided to enter was the world of indoor gardening. Now, I am not new to indoor gardening. I have thirteen indoor houseplants, a myriad of outdoor growers, and I'm always pondering (and giving away) more. At one time, I had 20+ indoor plants, but decide to send some to new homes and merge several others into bigger containers. Sometimes, there can be a limit on how many living things can live in one 650-square foot abode.

My newest read from Blogging for Books is Rooted in Design by Tara Heibel and Tassy de Give, the co-owners of Sprout Home, a modern home and garden center that tries to bring new life into homes, work spaces, and pretty much any crevice that they can fill.

Rooted in Design is a really fun book that brings a whole new meaning to indoor plant life. They have so many intriguing ideas about where to put plants, how to showcase them, and how to really add a sparkle to your home. From wall planters made of bricks to air plants wired to the wall, this book will work for pretty much anyone looking to green up their life. Beautiful planters, creative ideas, inspiring foliage, and lots of tips and ideas fill the many pages of this colorful book. A few ideas like self-watering containers and Kokedama (a free-form planting method similar to bonsai) are interspersed in the book with detailed how-to steps complete with text and pictures which really makes me want to get out into the gardening shed.

This is a really fun, clever, and inspiring book. What a great find!

Happy indoor gardening!

**This book was given to me by Blogging for Books, obviously - but with the intention that I will give it a completely honest review. I have. It was pretty good. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review: Trying Not to Try by Edward Slingerland

I tried something new. Well, it wasn't really new for me. I am a great fan of books about ancients with incredible wisdom. This is one of those books.

Trying Not to Try is a fascinating look at ancient China and the secrets many of their philosophers once shared. Lao Tzu, Confucius, Mencius, Xunzi, Zhuangzi - all purveyors of infinite wisdom.

Some fascinating passages really captivated me. The stories and metaphorical allegories were really compelling, however, I got lost in the diatribe that too resembled a textbook. The author shares personal wisdom and a relatable prose, but then it falls back into a lecture series at the University. In fact, I often felt, while reading it, that I was sitting in front of Professor Slingerland.

This would make for an amusing and fascinating semester in college, but I was really more interested in the concept and reason for creation of the book: the interesting idea of wu-wei and de. Ancient Chinese philosophers examined the human condition (which, surprisingly is not unlike today) and the spiritual aspect of different versions of divinity - each with their own perception. Wu-wei ("ooo-way") followed amongst all the traditions as the concept of effortless action or trying not to try. De ("duh") being the energy that emanates from the person - that which is felt by others, be it charismatic or otherwise.

These two concepts and their evolution, as well as the potential for the author's examination, are what drew me to the book. However, I lost interest in the classroom feel the book has - or de, as it may be. I appreciate that the author is a Professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia with a clear passion and integrity for the body of work he created. But, I think I got all I needed in just the first few chapters.

**This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. Honestly. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Book Review: Bread & Butter by Erin McKenna

I know cookbooks are not a venture from my norm, but a Babycakes cookbook is.

Why, you ask?

Well, there are a few reasons.

But, first, a little history.

Babycakes NYC is a very famous, very successful gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, vegan bakery in the heart of Manhattan. Ever since they hit the stage with their delectable treats for those of us with gluten-intolerance, -sensitivity, or full-on Celiac's, they paved the way for better tasting treats. I've yet to have had the chance to visit any of their locations, but I, like many other loyal followers who have never set foot inside, wait patiently for the chance to try their raved about baked goods.

Erin McKenna, the owner and creator of Babycakes NYC, has been in the business of creating safer treats since 2005. That's a long time in the gluten-free world. That was a time when no one else was really doing such a thing - or at least not many were. And she went so bold as to create everything gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, and unrefined sugar-free. This place converted those who feared vegan, gluten-free products into loyal followers. Crazy!

So, you can see how many of us covet the chance to set foot in that adorable pink store. But, alas, not everyone can make it to NYC for a sweet, gluten-free treat. The frustration!

Then, the most amazing thing happened.

She created a cookbook.

The first of three, Babycakes, was the first proud child of this creative parent and offered those of us who couldn't make it all the way to her cute little store, the chance to experience Babycakes all for ourselves in our own home. All you needed was the book and a list of ingredients.

Or so we thought.

The moment I looked at that first book, I was disappointed.

It included gads of soy milk, bean flours, and recipes that didn't test well. My first red flag was the ingredients. How could a book include soy when she never touched it in the bakery, if these recipes were from the famed bakery itself?

I got it. Frustrating as it may be, I got it.

I understood that anyone who creates such an epic venture isn't going to give away all the tried and tested recipes in one simple book. Who would? But I did think she'd put a book out that had decent recipes and resembled the likes of her bakery; at least the same premise. It just seemed so unfair to all of the fans who were relying on the fact that she kept so many allergens out of her baked goods. The cookbook unanimously dropped that promise.

Babycakes fell a little off my must-see NYC travel list.

Oh, but, I still wanted to go. It's just so tempting. Who doesn't want to know what all the hype is about? I would bet that the goods are just as amazing as people say they are, but the book should have been shelved in the back by all the unused dishes.

Next, Erin created another cookbook, Babycakes Covers the Classics. I never even opened this one up. I just didn't trust the book to be any good.

But then, Blogging for Books offered her newest cookbook, Bread & Butter, a gluten-free, vegan book filled with savory breads and baked goods. I wasn't sure if I should trust it, but a part of me wanted to know if the books had gotten any better. Did they still seem like a publicity ploy and a way to make more money? Or did they finally have some integrity?

I'm not asking a prized bakery to give away all her secrets. But if you are going to offer a cookbook to those who love your stuff, don't disappoint with recipes that aren't the real thing or even well-tested. Just don't bother. Or suffer follower disloyalty and loss of respect.

If you disregard my last statement, I really did try to go into the book with an open mind.

The book in its physicality doesn't disappoint. It is adorable. It's just as cute as the owner and all the 1950's outfits they wear. Pink with cute fonts and a loaf of fresh bread on the cover. Adorable. I was excited to open it. I could smell the freshly-risen yeast dough.

I began to flip through the pages, reading the foreward and the intro, looking at the pictures of the bakery. Cute. So very cute. And still tons of pink. It definitely follows the bakery's brand.

Next up in the chapters: some simple, basic ingredient assistance (as she calls it) - outlines of basic gluten-free, vegan baking principles. Then, the help desk - a smattering of FAQs all about baking with some of Erin's requisite humor interspersed. Finally, onto the recipes: the waking hours (breakfast); breads; sandwiches; pizza and focaccia; this is for the kids (kid-friendly yummies); foreign affairs (some interesting global recipes); puff pastry and beyond; snacks, dips and dressings; a sauce, a spread, and butter (including her original "butter" recipe); bread reborn; and sweets: the bonus round.

It's not a particularly big book, so each of these categories has only a few recipes in each (some more, some less). Lots of great pictures and each recipe is well-written. No complaints there. Some even have tutorial pictures like the puff pastry recipe - which I would have to say is loosely a puff pastry recipe. Based on the ingredient list and the way the recipe is made - there's no butter block, the dough appears to be more like a simple pie crust, and it's made with oat flour and bean flours - it's probably not going to puff. Doesn't mean it won't be delicious, but I'm not so sure it's really puff pastry with the very distinct flakiness and intense buttery-ness.

On the upside: only a couple of recipes have spelt, which is technically gluten-free, but the protein in spelt is so closely related to wheat that many gluten-sensitive people react to it. This was one of the the major complaints by many about her first book - nearly all of them had spelt. This one focuses more on oat flour (preferably certified gluten-free), Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free flour blend (which includes garbanzo, fava bean and other flours made in a dedicated gluten-free mill), brown rice flour, arrowroot, and potato starch. The dairy-free milks of choice are now rice and coconut - a far cry from the soy milk-dominated first book.

And the oils of choice are still unscented coconut and canola, or you can make Erin's "butter" recipe which calls for an interesting mix of things: unscented coconut oil, canola oil, rice milk, coconut milk, agave, sunflower lecithin, salt, xanthan gum, and lemon juice blended together, then refrigerated into a solid form.

I am intrigued by the "butter." I haven't made this yet, so I chose a recipe that I had pretty much everything for. If I didn't have it, I followed her substitution list of things that should be equal substitutions.

I chose to make bagels. I've made gluten-free bagels before from Carol Fenster's book and loved them. They were slightly chewy and I loved the baking soda/boiling water concoction that creates the crusty exterior. Even if making bagels (wheat or not) is a time-consuming activity, those worked great.

These, however, did not.

They were...okay.

Now, mind you, I have eaten many, many, many gluten-free, dairy-free items (my standard) and consumed my fair share of gluten-free, vegan products too. The bagels turned out more like a biscuit, both times I made them.

Why did I make them twice if they were just okay?

For a very good reason.

Quality control.

In this book, Erin states you can substitute various flours for other flours. I followed that in the first test with one exception - I don't use potato starch at home. My body isn't a huge fan. Instead, I use arrowroot and cornstarch. That's what I had, so that's what I used. Most of the time, I've had no problem with conversion. However, the first batch turned out very biscuit-like. Not a bad taste, but not a bagel either.

The dough did not turn out sticky, like the recipe described. Gluten-free dough often isn't handleable like a typical wheat dough - it tends to be thinner and more moist. This was that. Oftentimes, if a gluten-free dough is the same consistency as a wheat dough, the outcome will be dense and tough. I was supposed to be able to form the dough with my hands into bagel shapes - this first dough was too thin and moist for that.

But, I persisted with the recipe. I didn't want to add more flour. I wanted to see what the outcome would be as the recipe is written in the first trial. I set it in the fridge to rise and mingle for a hour, then pulled it out and scooped it onto two parchment-lined baking sheets. Since I couldn't hold the dough to shape it, I just used a spoon to shape it into bagel-shape. I didn't think too much of this as this is what I do with my gluten-free, vegan pizza dough that I've gotten tons of compliments on. There's still hope for a gluten-free dough that looks like this.

I covered them with tea towels and waited another hour. After preheating my oven, I popped them in, baked them for the required ten minutes, pulled them out and brushed them with coconut oil (which is what she does instead of boiling them), then baked them a little longer. I let them rest the full ten minutes on the baking sheet, then pulled one off.

The first thing I noticed was they stayed together pretty darn well. That's an amazing feat with a vegan baked good. The eggs in a standard gluten-free item help everything stay together; and since the recipe lacked those, this part actually pleased me. But, I already knew what the texture was going to be like by looking at them - like a biscuit. Not a bad biscuit, but not a bagel, in my opinion. They were missing the crusty, chewy exterior and the bread-like interior.

After mulling these over for a few hours, I wondered if the potato starch would really make that much of a difference. There is a slight difference in consistency and potato starch tends to be a little more hydrophilic that cornstarch. Cornstarch also tends to seize up and dry out a good faster than potato starch - but not by much.

So, I ran to the store, bought some potato starch and started again. This time, would it be more like a bagel?

In some ways, I thought they would be akin to my Bread. Wonderful Bread. recipe that I adapted from a Living Without article several years ago. That bread has a fabulous texture, a crispy, crusty exterior and is a great baguette. The ingredients and their quantities are quite similar in both recipes. But, a bagel is meant to be chewy on the outside with a nice, soft bready inside - baguettes are a little too crunchy for that. There would have to be some differences in preparation.

Babycakes DisneyWorld location - see the bagels on the middle shelf all the way to the left? 

The second batch was prepped, set, and baked, just as before. Overall result: a slightly more structurally tight bagel-shaped biscuit. The first batch fell apart more quickly. The second held together better overall. But, I just didn't see how they were bagels, except in shape. I ate one, and it wasn't bad; the texture was nice, like bread. Donut-shaped bread. Which, I suppose technically is all a bagel is. But it really missed the essential parts of a bagel. And the texture of my bread recipe has a better mouth-feel (and it's vegan too) than these bagels in terms of similarity to a soft, squishy bread center. I'm sure that recipe could easily be adapted to make bagels. Or I can just use Carol Fenster's recipe which turned out great - and those can be made vegan too.

Overall, I would venture to say that this book is better than the first - by leaps and bounds. The ingredient list is consistent with the bakery's mission, the recipes do work for the most part, but I am going to venture to say that the actual bakery store products are probably made from different recipes than these.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Until I fly to NYC for a little shopping and sightseeing, I won't know for sure. But, for now, I think I will keep using my other gluten-free baking books - my favs have vegan substitutions for those who need them and the products turn out awesome. In some ways, cookbooks made by high-profile eateries remind me of bestselling books that become movies - they are just never quite the same. Something gets lost in translation (or outright changed) which leaves the audience either uproariously happy or walking away wanting more.

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. Honestly. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Review: Inspiralized by Ali Maffucci

This is a really fun cookbook. When I first came across it, I thought every dish would be raw, as most spiralizing recipes are. I bought my spiralizer several years ago to add some new textures to raw dishes and a new way to eat veggies and fruits - something fun and different. I had seen zucchini "noodles" at a holistic expo and was so captivated by how tasty they were, I went and ordered one on Amazon almost as soon as I got home.

Those "noodles" were raw and intended for a raw, vegan audience. This is what I was expecting from Inspiralized. But what I found was so much more. There isn't much that Ali Maffucci won't spiralize - zucchini, butternut squash, potatoes, celery root, cucumbers, kohlrabi, apples, even broccoli stalks (something I just tried last night and it worked great)! The list goes on and she has probably tried just about every different fruit or veggie to spiralize, making the workload easier for all of us. And it's all in her new cookbook.

Vegan Buffalo Cauliflower with Sweet Potato Noodles

The book includes a little bit of her story, how to set up your kitchen, detailed instructions on how to spiralize different kinds of fruits and vegetables, options for healthy ingredients, and oodles of noodles. She wanted to keep the recipes as healthy as possible, so she has eliminated milk, butter, sugar and most of the gluten. She specifies which meals are completely gluten-free and the level of difficulty in creating them. Her correlating website,, is chock-full of videos, more recipes, instructions, and the infamous spiralizer that she created that's now for sale.

The most fun part of her book is that many of the "noodles" or "rice" dishes are cooked. I hadn't seen this before and when I had tried it in the past, the veggies fell apart. Still delicious, but no longer a noodle. I love that Ali has mastered this part and is sharing it with all of us. And yes, it works. My broccoli stalk noodles came out awesome.

Spicy Spiralized Shoe String Jicama Fries

I am definitely inspiralized by her this book and can't wait to try more of the dishes. If you want to add more fun to your meals, as well as health and vitality, this book is definitely worth a try. As it turns out, spiralizing has been commonplace in Asia for quite some time to add beauty, texture, and interest to dishes. I completely agree. It's a lot of fun and the product comes out delicious. After you decide what kind of spiralizer you'd like (which to me is about size and storage - as they are both easy to use and get the job done), get to it and have some fun!

Happy spiralizing!

*This book was given to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.