Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book Review and Easiest Pumpkin Pie-Chia Pudding Recipe: Supermarket Healthy by Melissa d'Arabian



I have been eyeing this cookbook for a few weeks on Blogging for Books. For some reason or another, I chose a few other books (which were all quite excellent in their own right), but this one kept catching my eye, time after time.

I finally ordered a copy. And it was worth the wait.

This is a really fun, simple, yet delicious cookbook. The concept comes from cheap-eats-becomes-gourmet genius, Melissa d'Arabian. Winner of The Next Food Network Star and host of the ever-popular Ten Dollar Dinners, Melissa has a knack for bringing delicious food to your table that anyone can afford - all it takes is a little creativity, some simple staples, and a meager budget.

According to her new book, Melissa d'Arabian regularly feeds her family of six on a modest budget, something she did long before she became a Food Network star. And since moving from Seattle to California, she has discovered a gluten-intolerance in one of her children and regularly feeds vegetarians and those with lactose-intolerance in her extended family - so all of her new recipes include easy adaptations or come naturally free of whatever allergen. Bonus for those of us already eating this way!

Supermarket Healthy is a complexly simple book that guides you through the supermarket with tips, advice, and know-how to feed yourself and your family wisely. It's chock-full of recipes that focus on healthy, lean cuts of meat and fish, tons and tons of vegetables, and a few modest desserts. Even though she is the queen of cheap-eating-well, she is a front-runner for health-full eating too (her book could almost be the poster-child for any ailment that would benefit from healthy eating - diabetes, heart conditions, adrenal overload, etc.). I could eat very well if I spent a year just eating from her book alone.

The book has all sorts of smart-tips for substitutions and easy shopping ideas, but what surprised me the most by her healthy cookbook is that it didn't completely feel like a healthy cookbook. You know what I mean. The ones that says only eat boiled chicken, steamed veggies with a small side of brown rice. No butter, faux or otherwise, maybe a drizzle of olive oil. Melissa doesn't put this into her book at all. She just makes you feel like it's a cookbook by an adorable mom who wants to feed you as well as she feeds her own family. I think that's her genius. It's like eating with your adorable mom, if your adorable mom looks like Melissa d'Arabian.

There are a lot of interesting recipes like Cinnamon Popovers with Cream Cheese Glaze (a healthier version of a cinnamon roll), Kale and White Bean Caesar (that's dairy-free and vegetarian), Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad with Smoked Trout and Olives (which sounds complicated, but it's super easy), Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Pine Nuts, and Penne, and Flatiron Steaks with Quick Cauliflower Kimchi. All of these are intriguing, simple to make, with easy ingredients to find, and won't take forever to prepare. That's what makes this cookbook so fun.

The downside of any cookbook is that oftentimes, they don't add enough pictures of the finished dish. This is a big thing for most of us that love cookbooks. This one does not have enough. I love the ones they do include, even the few of Melissa staring off at things in the distance as she makes her dishes, but the end product would be so much better. However, with the size of her cookbook and the places the editors did add photos, if they added more, the book would have been a lot thicker. There are a lot of recipes in this book. And if they all had a coinciding picture, it would be about a third bigger. I suppose all cookbook editors must make choices. However, I am still a fan of lots of dish pictures.

Another gripe I have would be some of the name choices for the dishes. One dish is called Almost Raw Asparagus Soup. There is really nothing raw about this soup, except maybe the salt. The asparagus is roasted, the almonds are toasted, and the finishing touches include chicken broth (which better not be raw) and yogurt (which you can find raw, but the recipe requires the soup to be heated). I'm not sure why they called it almost raw at all. Does this make it sound healthier? It's asparagus soup! It's already healthy and looks delicious.

The only other weird thing for me was the blueprints they included. The blueprints are a DIY guideline included next to certain recipes that can be made as you would like them. So, for instance, there is a trail mix blueprint that gives you the baseline options for making your own trail mix (and a recipe that Melissa made, as well) with steps to achieving whatever version of trail mix you might like. Clever idea, but they aren't consistent throughout the book. They all look the same, but I found some of them to be kind of confusing and the details didn't always match Melissa's complimentary recipe. The frittata blueprint had different instructions than the recipe. The recipe and the blueprint called for exactly the same amount of ingredients, however, in the recipe, Melissa tells the reader to cook the eggs on the stovetop for 3-4 minutes until set, then bake in the oven at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes until finished. The blueprint skips the stovetop cooking and goes right to baking at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. I wouldn't have minded the skipping of the stovetop, nor the temperature change, except that 10 minutes will more than likely not be long enough if you don't set the eggs first on the stovetop. The Salad In A Jar blueprint was equally perplexing. I've made a few jar salads and they are an awesome way to take salad with you, but you have to do things in a certain way (dressing must be on the bottom) or you'll get a soggy salad for lunch. The blueprint had all the ingredients, but I didn't think they made it clear in what order to put them in your jar. Melissa's recipe does, but the blueprint just has arrows pointing from one set of ingredients to the next with no mention of which way to put the ingredients into the jar. When I read it, I sort of thought it was a blueprint like the rest (all the other blueprints have arrows that point from the first ingredient to the last, as you cook along). These arrows point from the toppings to the greens to the veggies/meat/beans/grains to the dressing, so it looks like you are making a salad, just like any other. However, if it is going in a jar, the dressing goes in first, next to the meat/veggies/pasta/beans, so it doesn't wilt or soggy up the greens. I just think that if you are going to include a blueprint, they should be consistent. First ingredient first, etc. The blueprints were lacking for me.

However, overall, I love this book. I want to spend everyday eating from here. I feel healthier just thinking about it. It's smart, it's clever, and some of the recipes are just a really healthful approach to a classic dish. She doesn't try to showcase some sort of culinary expertise, as much as offer the reader a way to make delicious food that's healthy, just like your mom. Only these are beautiful, easy, and elegant dishes that require nothing more than a willing to try something new.

Happy Eating! 

***

Here's the recipe I tried and I would highly recommend it to you. It's a great starter for the day or as a snack, which is my preference. Lots of fiber, protein (those chia seeds are packed with protein, vitamins and minerals), and it's simple, fast and easy. You can even make it the night before, so it's ready for breakfast or to take with you. Or great for a dessert-time snack.

Enjoy!

EASIEST PUMPKIN PIE-CHIA PUDDING



From Supermarket Healthy by Melissa d'Arabian

Serves 4
Preparation time: 35 minutes (plus 1 hour to set)
Cooking time: none

Ingredients: 

1/2 cup chia seeds
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 cup pumpkin puree (not sweetened pie filling)
2/3 cup light coconut milk (canned or carton)
2 cups unsweetened almond milk or soy milk
1 tbsp maple syrup or honey, plus more for serving (optional)
1/4 cup raw pecan halves, roughly chopped (almonds and cashews work, too!)
1 medium banana, peeled and thinly sliced

Directions: 

1. Place the chia seeds and pumpkin pie spice in medium container with lid. Cover and shake to distribute the powder among the seeds. 

2. Whisk the pumpkin puree with the coconut milk in a separate small bowl, until smooth. Pour over the chia seeds and add the almond milk and maple syrup. Cover and shake vigorously. Place the pudding in the refrigerator to thicken, shaking it after 30 minutes, and letting it set up for at least 1 hour, or up to several days. 

3. Divide the pudding among bowls and serve sprinkled with pecans, bananas, and a drizzle of maple syrup (if using). 

Per serving: 255 calories / Protein 8g / Dietary Fiber 14g / Sugars 12g / Total Fat 16g



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


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Book Review: The Adrenal Reset Diet by Alan Christianson, NMD


My latest choice from Blogging for Books is a bit outside of my normal cookbook routine. However, I have a love of non-fiction self-help books from long ago. I debated about this one for quite some time because I am not a diet book fan. I don't like the latest crazes, easy fixes or some book that is going to fix everything and everyone in your life with three simple steps.

Do you know why I don't like these books? Because I've used them and they don't work. There is no easy fix. In fact, I'm convinced now, more than ever, that no fix is ever needed. And really, that comes from my presumption that we are truly whole already, we just don't always know it and we don't always practice the walk that creates the experience of that wholeness. Thus, I'm not really a lover of self-help fix-it books, but I do like books that provide introspection and a new perspective on who we are, why we choose what we do, and how we can alter those choices.

This is one of those books.

In the world of diet and self-help books, fix-it sells. So, there's a small amount of that present in this book - in the marketing. By reading it thoroughly and at a leisurely pace, I can clearly see and feel that the author has the best intentions. The marketers scream, "Lose weight!" But the naturopathic physician - the true identity of this author - is all about health, wellness, and resetting the many premises that have lead us to feeling overwhelmed, frazzled, overweight, and overdone. That is clarity I can appreciate.

I chose this book for a few reasons, mostly personal, but for some time, I have known that my adrenals are incredibly sensitive to many things and a few times in the past, I have overworked them. However, after reading his book, I realize that most of us have overworked adrenals just from the lives we live that include daily stress and pressures, poor food choices that include processed foods or even home-baked goods, and eating either too much of the wrong kinds of proteins or not enough. I have read many of the slightly scientific health books like the Zone Diet, the Genotype Diet, the Blood Type diet, the Hormone cure, all with a grain of salt. What I wanted was a more in-depth analysis of how our bodies work and what we can do to make all of that function at its peak. I'm not interested in the drop-ten-pounds diet, the look-great-naked diet, or the stop-eating-this-eat-that diet. However, they all sort of coincide. It just depends on what you are looking for, what your body might need, and if you like the science of symptoms. I do. I follow Dr. Sara Gottfried for this reason. She's an MD that writes extensively about the co-mersion of Western medicine and Eastern philosophies, as well as hormonal balancing. In truth, after having read many, many books about health and wellness, they all pretty much say the same thing, but with slightly different premises (and I'm not talking about the quick-fix diet books here): eat whole foods, primarily vegetables and some fruits, eat whole grains, listen to your body, eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full, avoid allergens. And sometimes, they include breathing exercises, meditation, journaling, affirmations, etc. To me, our food and body issues have arisen because we stopped listening to ourselves and our bodies. My interest has always been about understanding the body better and the choices that I make that either feed it's brilliant ability to self-heal or prevent that. The Adrenal Reset Diet is just another piece of that.

The book's premise lies in an easy set-up: understand what the adrenals do for your body, figure out where you are on the adrenal spectrum (Thriving, Stressed, Wired and Tired, Crashed), then understand how to reset yourself back to a state of Thriving where your body's cortisol levels, adrenal function and overall hormonal balance comes back into a balanced state. Dr. Christianson's concept comes from years of being an adrenal and thyroid specialist. His practice led him to question how we could reset adrenal function to a point where the body can do all that it needs to do in order to maintain harmony. He experimented on himself first, then a few willing and aware patients. From there, he expanded out to more clients willing to try simple and easy things that might reset their adrenal overload. He met with great success. When he started with personal experimentation, he tried to opposite of his diet strategy plan and found that it created an increase in cortisol and adrenal production (which he tested at specific intervals), as well as weight gain, sleep issues, and a myriad of other problems. This, along with patient trials, convinced him of the overall effectiveness of this Adrenal Reset Diet (ARD) plan.

The basics of the ARD premise is simple: eat more protein, choose healthy fats, and cycle your carbs throughout the day in a specific way.

Simple. Basic. Yet, with the interesting science behind this theory, intriguing.

(The complexities of each level of adrenal function and the coinciding chapter offer many more ways to reset your adrenals including herbs, breathing exercises, light therapy, outdoor/nature experiences, sleep patterns, specific foods, etc. It's up to you how in-depth or how simplistic you want the ARD to be.)

I took this book with me on a recent vacation back to see my family. I wanted to do a little experiment of my own. If we made just a couple of changes, would we see or feel anything akin to what he describes? Would our adrenals become more supported and thus, decrease our cortisol levels and all the problems that go with high cortisol? Well, there's no way to fully know the latter of these two without adrenal and cortisol testing. We didn't do that, like Dr. Christianson does with patients. Instead, we went solely on sleep and feel, as well as potential body aches, pains, blood sugar, brain fog, and other assorted adrenal spectrum ailments. In fact, this is how Dr. Christianson suggests readers accomplish this. Follow the ARD, then retake the ARD test every few weeks or monthly until you are Thriving.

Here's what we did: we added the protein shake or a protein-based breakfast with organic veggies and minimal carbs for breakfast (according to the ARD). We added more carbs as the day went on, as per the ARD suggestions. We did nothing else because it was too hard to coordinate three people and their light needs, their sleep patterns, etc. I just wanted to see if what Dr. Christianson suggested to one of his patients - three simple changes: add 25 mg of protein to breakfast, diffuse some of the stress patterns, and turn off all artificial light, except a reading light, by 9pm - if only a few things would make a difference. It's all about changing the circadian rhythms to balance the adrenals. I was able to consistently make meals that increased the protein and vegetables, as well as the fiber content, while cycling the carbs (less in the morning, more in the evening) and for myself, I increased the natural light exposure early in the morning. We also made sure to eat within one hour of waking. And for one week, we followed those simple parts of the ARD.

What came of it all?

I noticed I slept better, as did my family members. One family member in his 70's wakes up repeatedly at night. He tends to be a night owl and late riser, as well as a restless sleeper, which remained the same, but during nearly the entire week, he stayed asleep throughout the night. And he didn't nod off as much throughout the day. I also noticed the emotional energy was softer. We have a lot of big personalities in my family and oftentimes, when the stress gets high, the emotions grow too. They feed each other. This seemed more minimal overall, as though everyone was better able to deal with the stressful situations. The situations didn't really change, but our response to them did, for the most part. (A definite cortisol reaction.) I also noticed that my mind felt clearer most of the day. We all noticed we wanted to eat less (felt full more of the day), craved carbs and sugar less, and everything we ate tasted really good. We still ate sugar and treats, and went to bed late, but I did see changes. And incorporating more veggies and proteins into our meals turned out to be rather easy.

The tiny experiment makes me want to know more and go a little deeper into the ARD suggestions. Dr.Christianson has more specifics for each adrenal level and I am planning on incorporating more into my day. Long before I knew about the Adrenal Reset Diet book, I started to make some of the changes he suggests because I could feel how they changed my body's response to certain experiences - shut off computers and tablets a few hours before bedtime (turns out they speed up brainwaves and trigger cortisol); eat carbs in the evening (turns out slow-release carbs raise blood sugar slowly which makes us sleep better, but cortisol should be low in the evening or we get too ramped up to sleep well);  licorice root tea  in the morning and chamomile at night (supports the adrenals in the am and calms them at night); rely on whole foods (self-explanatory). He has a lot of other suggestions to support the body and the hormones that it uses to maintain itself. I found this book intriguing, not too overly wordy or science-y for those who aren't looking to become doctors, and a good source of information to understand the delicate endocrine system. By reading the book, I can tell he isn't a strong-and-fast stickler about all that he suggests. It's about balance, not discipline. And maybe the very things that are haunting us can be balanced with much greater ease than we think.

Author's note: There's a lot more to this book than in this review. He has some pretty great insight into what makes us gain weight, unable to lose weight, hormonal imbalances, etc. For me, these books are best reviewed based on personal experience because there are tons of books out there with the same sorts of information. That's why I just chose to dive right in. I want to see if this works for me or if I can incorporate pieces into my life that make sense. If you feel stressed, frazzled, overwhelmed, overworked, tired, worn out, angry, emotional all the time, or can't seem to lose weight, I would suggest you at least take a look into this book to see if it fits for you. Talk to your doctor or naturopath. There are no prescriptions in here or huge life changes - it's about listening to yourself, hearing your body, eating foods that make sense, and learning to simplify so you can feel better. There's nothing radical here. Just a return to simplicity in our world of overexposure to pretty much everything. Some things are going to resonate; some are not. It's not a quick-fix because whatever life-long patterns you have built that created where you are will continue to create where you are until you change them. Starvation doesn't work; extreme diets don't work; life changes do. And it's not about giving up everything. It's about finding peace in yourself and finding out who you truly are.

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Book Review: In Her Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from Grandmas Around the World by Gabriele Galimberti



I ordered another cookbook from Blogging for Books. Yep. Another cookbook. I know...how many does one person need?

Well, the truth is, they are all just so different. And I love each and every one.

This book is different than the rest for so many reasons. The basis of the cookbook started as an idea by the author, a photographer by skill, study and trade. Gabriele Galimberti took on a self-induced magazine assignment to couch surf his way around the world. Two short years, a camera, laptop, some journals, and a free couch wherever he could get it. The assignment wasn't specific to finding recipes, but to relate his experiences in weekly magazine articles. The idea for the cookbook came from...his grandmother.

After explaining to his small-town Italian grandmother what he was doing, unconvinced, she simply asked, "Who is going to feed you?" This inspired the author to reassure his grandmother that there would be other grandmothers out there in the world who would feed him, just like she had his entire life.

Now, grandmothers can be very protective of their grandchildren and the food they eat, especially if they cook that food themselves in the most loving way. I doubt that Gabriele's grandmother was all too convinced of his exploits just by this mere admission alone. But what that concept has created is something really beautiful: a cookbook dedicated to the grandmothers of our world - the many cultures, the many foods, and the many ways to prepare and serve truly loving meals to the families that we love. Every one of these recipes is as unique as the woman herself, even if they are staples for that country. Fifty-eight grandmothers of every age in every corner of the globe. And with recipes as equally as varied. Tiramisu from Italy; Coffee from Colombia; Bison from Canada; Moose from Alaska; Injera with Curry and Vegetables from Ethiopia; even Honduran Iguana with Rice and Beans from the Cayman Islands.

Yes, you read that right. Honduran Iguana. Apparently, iguanas are edible. Or you can substitute rabbit, if you prefer. I don't see a lot of iguana at Whole Foods or at my local butcher's, so I would have to choose rabbit. I live in Washington - we don't have a lot of roaming iguanas.

Boonlom Thongpor - Thailand - Kai Yat Sai (Stuffed Omelet)

But that is part of the fun of this clever book. Aside from iguana dishes and the most astonishing - Finkubala (Caterpillars in Tomato Sauce) from Malawi - the book itself has beautiful images of the dishes alongside lovely captures of the women and their kitchens (mostly). The images are the highlight and a little bit of the disappointment of the book. I wanted to be with them in their kitchens, but many of the images weren't taken in the kitchens for unknown reasons and I would have loved more of a chronicle of his experiences in the cooking experience. The author cooked with each of the grandmothers, helping them make their chosen dish, spent time with the families, even living with them if that's where he was couch surfing. There is one image of the grandmother with her preparations laid out in a lovely array, then right next to it, one image of the prepared dish looking down from the top. The images are consistent and beautiful in many ways, but I wanted more. I wanted to know them more - the food, the women, the culture.

Each set of images is followed by an introductory paragraph that describe the grandmother, maybe some about her family, sometimes a little bit about her dish. They were tidbits. Some really captivating and others less so. He wrote about his experience with Regina Lifumbo, the grandmother from Malawi. He wrote about what they ate (mice, snakes, caterpillars and cockroaches), about her life and her family, and finished the small section about her by saying cooking with her was one of the most emotional experiences of his life, changing him forever. Why? There is no explanation here. I couldn't find the connection. And to me, this book is all about the connection.

Is it really a recipe book? Mmm, kinda. Most of us aren't going to make Caterpillars in Tomato Sauce. There are plenty of recipes that I would make in there, such as Bat Bot from Morocco (which I did make gluten-free with mild success). But this is a migration of recipe book to cultural photographic tome. It is neither and yet, it is both.

Normita Sambu Arap - Kenya - Mboga and Ugali (White Corn Polenta with Vegetables and Goat)

The paragraphs describing the grandmothers are a mixed bag for me. In some, he lavishly praises the grandmothers (his own included), but then others feel disconnected and trite, like he wasn't sure what to say, sometimes just saying a mildly pedestrian version of their life. In one experience, the author describes Laura Ronzon Herrera as having a kitchen that was a real mess and delicious meals that aren't beautiful. I thought the image looked enticing and interesting, in it's own way. It's a Vegetarian Tamale laid on a banana leaf that is was steamed in. It seemed unnecessarily harsh. Some of the paragraphs seemed a little mediocre when this - as the reader, not the traveler - is our only connection to the grandmothers beyond their images and recipes. I suppose some editorial influence would have benefited the book greatly here.

Overall, it was a lovely concept filled with images of beautiful women who cherish their grandchildren and the food they provide, if they can. The recipes are intriguing, even the caterpillar dish. I would keep this book more as a cultural collection rather than a standard go-to cookbook, but more than likely I will follow in the tradition of what these grandmothers cherish most - sharing the bounty with others.

*I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review: Blue Ribbon Baking from a Redneck Kitchen by Francine Bryson


As you can probably tell by now, I have a great love for cookbooks and Blogging for Books (thank you!) keeps me in supply.

This time around, I chose an unlikely book for me in some ways because a traditional Southern kitchen is bound to be loaded with butter, milk, cream (hint: dairy products), flour and wheat derivatives, and all sorts of Crisco, something I tend to not use. However, in the spirit of my sister who lives with her beautiful family in the deep South, I chose this book, Blue Ribbon Baking from a Redneck Kitchen by Francine Bryson.

Turtle Cake Roll
I watched about half of the inaugural (and only, I think) season of American Baking Competition hosted by Jeff Foxworthy and set with a hefty panel of baking judges, including the famed Paul Hollywood. I distinctly remember Francine Bryson from the show. Her personality was as big as her apparently amazing baking skills. She just shone bright and she was willing to take a risk without compromising herself or trying to tear someone else down - outside of just plain fun. I appreciated that in a contestant on a reality cooking show. There's always one who is bound to make you shake your head at their antics and Francine was not that one. She was strong, vocal, funny, and clearly, talented. She landed in the top three and impressed everyone.

And now, she has a new cookbook, right from her self-titled redneck kitchen.

The book is a really wonderful compilation of new and old recipes, either passed down to her from one of her grandmas or something she created due to a baking competition or just to please her family. Francine is a skilled baking competitor. She started baking at a very young age with her grandmas (both lived right near her for most of her youth), then went on to experiment on her own. She started entering into baking competitions in her teens and, to her astonishment, won. She began collecting recipes and cookbooks, amassing a mere 3,000 books in all. (I would love to see her library or kitchen, wherever she has them stored.) And from all her years of competitive baking, she began to truly hone her skills and learn the ins and outs of true baking...under pressure.

World Famous Chocolate Bacon Peanut Butter Pie

As I pawed through her book, the first thing I noticed was the ease in which it was written. Each recipe starts with a story about Francine, where the recipe came from, or simply the love of baking that particular thing. There are lots of mentions of Granny, Nana, and Mama, her mentors in the world of baking; plenty of nods to her hubby and how she won his heart with her baking; and many stories about why she loves to bake. Her passion is clear and evident and so is her skill. Many of the recipes include a Blue Ribbon Tip about how to make each recipe come out just right and there are eight different pie crust recipes and that's just for a start. There is plenty of wisdom for new bakers or experienced bakers wanting to tap into her many years of baking knowledge and prowess that comes from twenty-some years of competitive baking, which requires a whole other level of expertise and creativity. No ordinary cherry pie is going to cut it, not unless it knocks your socks off.


Francine's book is filled with pie recipes, cake and cookie options, cheesecakes, candies and other assorted dessert treats. Some are simplistic and others have a twist that make them intriguing and clever. There are too many recipes in the book to mention that aroused intrigue (of which I spent 20 minutes describing in detail to a friend on the phone just awhile ago). So, I will mention two: Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Cake and Upside-Down Apple-Pecan Pie. Holy moly. These two are something out of this world. Both won competitions and by the looks of them, I can see why, if not for just looks and creative design alone.

The Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Cake is a four-layer moist pumpkin cake with a sweet cream cheese frosting and chocolate glaze, however, there is an interesting twist to this cake. A couple of interesting twists, in fact. One is that she uses lemon-flavored Greek yogurt in the cake batter. Fantastic. The other, however, is truly where the magic lies. In between the cake and frosting layers, she has added a layer called cookie crunch. She starts with butter, Oreos, a can of salted mixed nuts and some brown sugar, adds them to the food processor, then pulses. She layers this into four 9-inch buttered pans, then adds the pumpkin cake batter on top and bakes it. The result is this beautiful four/eight layer confectionary cake that is truly outstanding just to look at. I can only imagine how delicious it tastes. I might just have to try it one of these days. Part of what I love about her book is I'm pretty sure I can adapt just about any of her recipes. This one, for sure.

Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Cake

The Upside-Down Apple-Pecan Pie is the next in my short list of her amazing desserts. (And the list could go on - Slap-Ya-Mama Fudge Cookies, Good Ol' Raisin-Oatmeal Pie, Pretzel Pie, Keep-The-Hubby-At-Home Cake, Black Tie Strawberry Pie, Coconut-Pecan Sweet Potato Cheesecake, German Upside-Down Cake, and her World-Famous Chocolate Bacon Peanut Butter Pie.) Back to the apple pie. This pie is something of an ingenious creation. It's a pie, that's for sure. But it's also something a whole lot more. She takes your standard American apple pie and turns it on its head, literally. She starts by adding whole pecans, round side down, on the bottom of a deep pie dish, then up the sides. She spreads brown sugar all over the the pecans, then adds one of two pie crusts on top of that. Yep, she just sealed pecans and sugar into the bottom of a pie dish. She then adds all the apple filling and another pie crust on top, just like a standard apple pie. She bakes it all together, then flips it over. The inverted pie becomes a masterpiece of shiny, sticky, caramel-pecan goodness on top of an apple pie. Ingenious. And something I definitely want to try.

Upside-Down Apple-Pecan Pie

If I had to say one thing to her publisher and to all cookbook publishers everywhere, it would be, add more pictures, please! The pictures they did use are fantastic, but they are few and far between. I would love to see more images of what I might be making and this book has far too few for my taste. Nonetheless, this book has stolen my baking heart.

When I chose this book, I wasn't sure that I was going to keep it. I had thought I might send it down to my sister for her own redneck kitchen. However, I think she may be getting a copy from me via Amazon. This one is going on my shelf.

Happy eating!

To check out more about this book, check out my adaptation of Francine's Doughnut Muffins (recipe to come). I'm so glad I did. Yum. A gluten-free, dairy-free delight!

*I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Chunky Apple Snickerdoodle Bars - an gluten-free, dairy-free adaptation


Thank you, Pinterest. I am a big fan of Pinterest. Hours and hours of immersion into worlds of creation and positive challenges. I love it. How can you not? Unless, it sucks you in and you find you get nothing else done.

The lure of Pinterest.

However, in moderation, it can be a super fun experience. Just as I had when I came across this amazing recipe for Chunky Apple Snickerdoodle Bars.

Let me tell the story:

I was on the hunt for something exciting and intriguing to make. A good friend and neighbor was hosting a Pictionary night filled with a homemade taco bar and cookie potluck. We were all told to bring our enthusiasm and some tasty cookies or bars for sampling - and for potential winning. My friend was going to dream up some wonderful prize and a few of the attendees would be selected to taste and choose a winning cookie.

Hmm. This is always a challenge.

See, my friend and most of her friends aren't gluten-free. I am. I knew I was going to bring something that I could eat, but I wanted others to enjoy too and not be wary of the gf cookie. I planned on making it dairy-free too, but that's a gingersnap with cookies. Vegan margarine or Spectrum shortening always do the trick. That's never been a issue. And I think my gluten-freedom has become fairly inspired and quite tasty, but not everyone is so willing to try something gluten-free or once they learn it is, they begin looking for the differences. And she has kids. Kids are the hardest to please.

Oh, well, I thought! I am going to find something I like and the rest will be history. Her family has responded well to my gluten-free offerings in the past, but you just never know what everyone will like. So I decided to find something I wanted to eat and just dive in and do my best.

I started flipping through Pinterest one night and came across a this recipe for Chunky Apple Snickerdoodle Bars. As I looked through the ingredient list, I realized I had everything I would need already in my tiny kitchen. So alright then! Cookie challenge accepted!

I got up early on the day of the game night, started baking and by mid-morning, my whole house smelled of apples, cinnamon, and delicious cookie yummy-ness. Mmm...they smelled so good.

As you will see, the recipe states that you let them cool in the pan - completely - or they will have a tendency to fall apart. With gluten-free baking, this is more than a good chance.

So I let them sit.

And sit.

And sit.

Oh, the waiting!

I scooped out a corner. I had to try them. Quality control. Yeah, that's it.

Mmm. They were so good. Soft, moist, dense, appley, cinnamony. Good.

Hurry up and cool!

It took a few hours and I could tell when I tried to pull them out early that the original creators of this recipe weren't kidding. Let. Them. Cool. They are already a soft cookie with a tendency to fall apart. Just let them be. You'll be glad you did.

When I finally pulled them out, I cut them into tiny squares because I knew they were headed to a cookie sampling night, so I didn't want them to be too big. The small two-inch squares were perfect.

When I made them, I chose to use an apple called Elstar that I found at one of the orchards just north of Seattle. It's a sweet, small apple with an intense flavor burst! A few weeks prior, I had purchased a variety of the apples they offer (they produce a paltry 19 different varieties!) and had an apple tasting with some friends. It's amazing how different each apple variety is. Soft, sweet, tangy, tart, moist, dry. And that's just in one apple! (I'm kidding. But only kinda!)

I had two Elstar apples left that were best to be made into something baked, so a cookie recipe was perfect. I knew the apples would provide a ton of apple flavor and wouldn't get lost in all the cinnamon Snickerdoodle goodness. The Elstar is also a slightly meatier apple variety, so I thought they would work best in a recipe I hadn't tried yet by keeping the moisture level down. This was supposed to be a cookie, after all. I decided to dice them small and left the skin on for the extra texture and fiber (which by the way, seemed to melt right into the cookie).

The cookies turned out perfect. And I guess the judges agreed because my little apple cookies won the contest unanimously. On a funny little side note, there were five different cookies brought by various individuals and couples that night and four out of the five happened to be gluten-free! One was vegan and gluten-free, one had dairy, and the other was sort of an accidental gluten-free - it was a no-bake cookie that is naturally gluten-free. It was a surprise to all of us how many gluten-free cookies there were, but they were all delicious in different ways. It's such a treat to go to a gathering and find out that you are no longer in the food minority.

Enjoy this recipe adaptation! Happy eating!


Chunky Apple Snickerdoodle Bars - the gluten-free, dairy-free adaptation



Original recipe by Shelly of CookiesandCups.com

Makes 12 big squares or about 24 minis

Double recipe and bake in a 9x13 for more goodness and some to share! 

Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup butter or dairy-free margarine, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup gluten-free flour plus 1 tsp xanthan gum (I used 1/3 cup each millet flour, brown rice flour and cornstarch) 
  • 1 cup diced apples
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions: 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
2. Line an 8x8 pan with foil and spray slightly with cooking spray. 
3. In a large bowl, combine melted butter and brown sugar with a wooden spoon. Once mixed, stir in egg and vanilla until smooth. In a separate small bowl, combine salt, baking powder and gluten-free flour, making sure no clumps are left. Add flour mixture to egg and sugar mixture. Stir until combined and dough forms. 
4. Stir in apples and spread in pan. 
5. Combine granulated sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle on top of batter. 
6. Bake for 25-30 minutes until edges are golden brown and center is set.
7. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares. Can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Product Review: Dua Dua Coco-Caramel Syrup and Topping


I went dairy-free many years ago. It took some effort because as most people do when they transition into a something-free lifestyle, they lapse. I lapsed into various cheeses. Then cream cheese. And on occasion, ice cream. But above all, I love caramel. I love it. It's soft, sweet, tantalizing, and goes with all sorts of things. It's sweet and a little bitter, rich and robust. And a truly delectable caramel is hard to stop eating.

So, you can imagine my horror when I went dairy-free.

Now, I went dairy-free the first time when there was little to no selection of dairy-free options. There was no Daiya cheese company; no vegan cream cheese substitutes; no dairy-free sour cream. Only rice milk and in limited options. That was it. That was a long time ago.

We now have so many, many options for those of us who eat no dairy in our lives, but caramel was still somewhat elusive. It usually takes some butter, depending on the recipe, and a healthy dose of heavy cream to round it out. The heavy cream has been the hardest to replace with true accuracy.

I've tried many different kinds and ways to reproduce the effectiveness of heavy cream in caramel. It's a challenge. Making caramel is a challenge. It requires patience and patience and more patience. If you are making a true caramel. It can take up to half an hour to get the sugar to caramelize properly and then, if you add the cream or cream substitute in and it's not just the right temperature, the sugar will seize. Most caramel recipes just have you add all the ingredients together and use the cream and butter to give the caramel all its flavor, but once you've had the deep rich beauty of truly caramelized sugar, you won't want anything else.

I've made my share of different versions of vegan caramel sauces. Some I really liked, some were sort of bland (which the richness of heavy cream usually adds this beautiful depth to caramel sauces), some just didn't thicken properly. And above all, they take time. And did I mention patience?

Most dairy-free recipes suggest the use of coconut cream, the nice, thick, rich, and heavy cream substance that rises to the top of a true can of whole coconut milk once chilled. Which, by the way, makes a lovely, soft whipped cream if chilled long enough, then whipped into a fervor. The very same stuff (which Trader Joe's carries in a can with very little water/milk and is awesome!) is what Dua Dua Coconut Products uses to make their vegan coco-caramel topping.

I found this little gem at a meat store (strange, right?) that happens to carry a large number of dairy-free and gluten-free items. Who knew? I grabbed it off the shelf and eagerly ran home to dip some of my orchard-picked honeycrisps right into it.

The first thing I noticed was the separation. I wasn't sure what to do with this, but on the label is says separation is normal. No other instructions. So, I just stirred it up and hoped for the best. And the best sure did come. On the separation note, once I stirred it all together, just like organic peanut butter or almond butter, and put it in the fridge between eats, it stayed combined. That was great! I didn't think too much about having to stir it, but it sure was nice to have it stay combined for all the later ingestions.

Dua Dua uses pretty simplistic ingredients to make their coco-caramel sauce - brown sugar, 100 % coconut cream, corn starch and soy lecithin (which seems to be a new addition based on the little sticker that's added over the top of the original label). When I put my spoon in (I wanted to taste if solo before adding the sweetness of the apple), I noticed it was thick and creamy. Not quite the same as a typical dairy caramel sauce, but it had a great texture to it. The coconut flavor was apparent, but I haven't had a coconut cream-
added caramel that wasn't. It added a nice tang to the flavor. But what impressed me most was the richness of the caramelized sugar. I don't know if the makers take the time to make a true caramel by caramelizing the sugar first or if it's the richness of the molasses in the brown sugar they use, but either way, this was a full-bodied caramel. Not too sweet, yet really deep and rich and caramely. Very nice flavor. I ate this with the apples, placed some in a peanut butter swirl for peanut-butter-caramel apple dip, and on occasion, would just take a small amount on a spoon for a snack. So good.

This is a great find for anyone who loves caramel and doesn't mind the flavor of coconut added to it. It makes me think of goat's milk confections - the basis of the recipe is the same, but it just adds this whole other dimension to the flavor and texture. I love that the ingredients are simple and for those who are seeking a dairy-free caramel sauce, but don't want to take the time, effort and patience to make it, this is a worthy companion to apples, vegan ice cream, or just a silver spoon.

Happy eating! 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review: Sweet: Our Best Cupcakes, Cookies, Candy and More by the Editors of Food Network Magazine


For those who know me, I'm a huge fan of Food Network. I watch it all the time and try to learn as much as I can. It's amazing how much you can glean from watching educational TV.

I learned the basics of food prep, handling, and basic techniques from my mom. We used to bake in the kitchen all the time and she showed me some of the most useful things I've ever learned about cooking. The basics of a good sauce, how to clean and store cast iron skillets, the fundamentals of baking bread. All these things from my sweet mama. She's a whirlwind in the kitchen.

However, her expertise only took me so far. Once I ventured into gluten-free and allergen-free baking, I had to branch out on my own, taking her advice and many years of practice with me. Thank goodness for that foundation because from there, I've been able to build quite the cute little cooking cottage.

And all around inside this baking essentials cottage, I've decorated and flared it out with the help of many cooks and chefs on Food Network.

Back in the day, Food Network was just that: a network all about cooking, preparing, and eating food. The basics and the highlights of being food-friendly. Everything from kitchen essentials, to lifestyle, to a few simplistic competitions. Nothing like the Food Network now.

I still love Food Network. And on occasion, I enjoy some of the competition shows. But my first love of Food Network will always be how they taught me so much. I know many home cooks that feel the same way. And even though they are rolling with the market and the television atmosphere, they still add in the basics of cooking whenever they can. Or you can just tune into their sister channel, Cooking Channel, who is sort of like the Cinderella of the food television world - the one who puts her nose to the grindstone and cooks and cleans and mends and teaches all about the world of food. Food Network has become sort of the atmosphere of the ball - all about entertainment. But there's room enough for both.

Caramel Apple Cake (Fake-Out Cakes)

Add to that glorious repertoire, the little mice helpers who keep everything running behind the scenes and you'll find Food Network Magazine. I love getting that rag in the mail. It's colorful, insightful, interesting, and chock full of ideas and cooking intrigue. So, when I saw Sweet: Our Best Cupcakes, Cookies, Candy and More by the Editors of Food Network Magazine as a choice on Blogging for Books, I couldn't hit the purchase button fast enough.

This book did not disappoint. It's full of beautiful pictures, exciting creations, and all sorts of tantalizing sweet treats. I've seen many of these recipes in the magazines I've gotten over the years, but it is so nice to have them in one place. The choices the editors made are exquisite. The twelve sections which include Cupcakes & Whoopie Pies, Cookies & Bars, Candy & Snacks, Pies & Crumbles, Fake-Out Cakes, Show-Off Cakes, Frozen Treats, and Holiday Desserts each have a gathering of treats that range from simple to advanced in terms of preparation and expertise. A wide range to choose from! I was impressed that each section had a nice variety of different desserts, but not too many, preventing the overwhelm factor. It was a lot like reading one of the magazines, just a heftier tome.

Each recipe includes a picture (something I treasure in a cookbook) and sometimes a layout of how-to pictures, if the recipe is a little more complex. And just as with the magazine, the first few pages are dedicated to pictured recipe indexes that make finding what you'd like to make fast, simple and easy.

This book is a delight! I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves making treats, wants to eat treats, or just loves to look at photographic art of treats. It's a stunning book that is just as functional as it is beautiful.

Sea Salt Chocolate Caramels (Candy & Snacks)

For those with allergies to the most common ingredients in desserts (wheat, casein, lactose, gluten, and nuts), there are many, many treats in here that would be very easy to adapt. Most of the recipes are simplistic enough that a simple one-to-one ratio ought to be enough. As I try some of the recipes in the near future, I will post my suggested substitutions for various allergens.

This would make a great holiday gift for pretty much anyone you know who likes sweet things. Wrap it up with something you made from the book and you would be set for a gift that will keep on giving!

Happy baking!

*I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream Cone Cake


*Original recipe from Sweet: Our Best Cupcakes, Cookies, Candy and More by the Editors of Food Network Magazine. Allergen-free adaptations included - many of the ingredients can be purchased at Whole Foods or another natural grocer or ordered online. 

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:
  • Unsalted butter or dairy-free margarine, for the pan
  • 14 pizelle (thin Italian waffle cookies) or thin butter cookies (here's a recipe for making your own gluten-free/dairy-free pizelles) 
  • 3/4 cup chocolate fudge sauce
  • 1 qt vanilla-caramel swirl ice cream (use dairy or vegan), slightly softened
  • 1 qt chocolate ice cream (use dairy or vegan), slightly softened
  • 1/2 cup dulce de leche or caramel sauce (use dairy or vegan version) 
  • 1/2 tsp flaky sea salt
  • 5 sugar cones (use gluten-free/dairy-free sugar cones)
  • 1/4 cup toffee bits (use dairy-free or make a vegan brittle)

Directions: 

1. Cut a 24-by-6-inch strip of parchment paper. Butter the sides of an 8-inch springform pan, then line the sides with the parchment; the paper will extend above the rim of the pan so you can build a tall cake. 

2. Cover the bottom of the pan with half of the cookies, breaking them into smaller pieces as needed to cover the surface. Spread 1/4 cup fudge sauce over the cookies. 

3. Pack about half of the vanilla-caramel and chocolate ice cream into the pan, alternating scoops of each flavor, until the bottom is covered. Drizzle with 1/4 cup dulce de leche (or vegan caramel sauce) and sprinkle with 1/4 tsp sea salt. Top with the remaining cookies, pressing gently to pack in the ice cream and create an even surface. 

4. Spread 1/4 cup fudge sauce over the cookies. Top with scoops of the remaining vanilla-caramel and chocolate ice creams. Drizzle with the remaining 1/4 cup dulce de leche (or vegan caramel sauce) and fudge sauce and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 tsp sea salt. Arrange the ice cream cones, point-side up, on top. Freeze until firm, at least 6 hours or overnight. 

5. Remove the sides of the springform pan and the parchment. Press the toffee bits into the sides of the cake. Serve immediately or freeze for up to 2 days. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Book Review: The Kitchn Cookbook by Sarah Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand


Based on a very popular blogsite, The Kitchn (and the accompanying Apartment Therapy), this just-out cookbook is really an interesting piece of art in the food world. The first half of the book consists mainly of how-tos, whys, and what-fors. All encompassing with a plethora of knowledge, these sections of the cookbook really will leave a beginning homecook breathless and ready to get started!

As I read the first part, as the book was offered to me as part of Blogging for Books, I have to admit, I picked it up, then put it down. I picked it up again, then put it down again. And I really love to cook. On the one side, there are some incredibly gorgeous photographs of different kinds of kitchens, features of the owners of those beautiful kitchens, and a whole array of layouts of what to put in any kind of kitchen, how to organize it, why you should have it and what to do with it. I think I had a hard time getting into it because it was a little more than someone like me would need, as an experienced homecook. My kitchen is well-stocked – maybe a little too much for my tiny 7x7 kitchen; I have quite a bit of cooking experience under my apron belt; and I know what grains require what amount of water, by heart. However, I would say this vast array of tidbits and knowledge would come in handy for someone just starting their own kitchen or really wanting to get into the culinary experience deeper. I found this part a little pedestrian for anyone with any kitchen experience. At this point, I almost thought the title would have been better suited as, The Kitchn's Cook’s Book, as I had yet to have seen a recipe and I was more than 100 pages in.

Not having been familiar with the blogsite prior to this, I wasn’t really sure what The Kitchn was all about. It’s an amazing website. I spent quite a bit of time reading, perusing, and enjoying page after page of foodie wisdom. There are articles about new trends – like the oldie, but goodie shrub coming back onto the scene – and recipes galore, tips on shopping and space-saving, and features on different cooks around the world. The first half of the cookbook fits this perfectly. Now, I understand why they created it that way. It’s a skillful homage to their beautiful website and some of the fantastic knowledge they spread every day.

After flipping through the many pages of information, I finally got to the meat of the matter – my favorite section…the hands-on application. RECIPES!

Yeah. That’s really why I get cookbooks. I love the pictures, the temptation, the creativity of creating something new. I love the idea of just making something!

And here is where this book sold me.

Not knowing what to expect since I wasn’t very familiar with the website except as of recent, the recipe section was just as vast as the information section. Cocktails, spreads, soups, meats, foods beloved around the world. Fascinating selections of different concoctions ready to be made, pretty much in any kitchen with very little effort.

I’m not really sure what to make of the way the book is laid out. It is organized and categorized, mind you. And I can see the method to the really-not-so-much madness. But it surprised me a little to flip through the large main dish section finding pastas, pizzas, meatballs, steaks, then pho and pad thai interspersed. Sort of like a trip around the world in one section without a specific order.

I suppose none of that really matters if the recipes stand on their own, regardless of how a book is organized. That’s really about personal preference and editorial handiwork, anyway. But as a reviewer, I do like to offer my thoughts about my experience with each book. What I like, what strikes me, what makes me drool and run to the kitchen with a must-have, must-cook look in my eye.

(I must say, the Green Papaya Pad Thai just about did this to me. The beautiful picture, the mouth-watering recipe, and the ease of the written instructions…hang on…I’ll be right back.)

Smack-smack. *Finger-lick*

Okay, ready to write again.

Let me explain partially why the Pad Thai caught my eye, beyond the obvious of it’s Pad Thai. I’m a sucker for Pad Thai, but oftentimes, the sugary-sweet sauce is too much for some or it’s bland or lacking in anything, but noodles and bean sprouts. I’ve tried my share and yours at most of the Seattle restaurants. And sometimes, it’s just easier to let the professionals cook delicate and intricate Asian cuisine. Sometimes, that is true, sometimes, it’s not. With this particular recipe, the simplicity outranks any fear of making the notorious hard-to-find multi-ingredient recipes. The sauce is a simple three-ingredient make; the rest of the ingredients you most likely have in your kitchen or at the neighborhood market; and they offer substitution suggestions if you can’t find what they call for; and above it all, it’s incredibly healthy – there are no true noodles in it. They call for green papaya noodles made from shredding a green papaya (which can be found at pretty much any Asian market), but in substitution, you could use standard rice noodles, rice itself (which is technically no longer Pad Thai, but would still be tasty), or something like zucchini noodles, if you want to keep it low-carb or Paleo. All of that sounds great to me!

And the majority of the recipes seem to follow this formula: simplicity meets gourmet. Nothing is strikingly complex, albeit, the recipes sound complex. Intriguing enough for a foodie, but simple enough for a beginner cook. Brilliant.

I have now seen The Kitchn light. They are bringing the beauty of amazing food to pretty much any homecook or chef – no fear, no cowering, just brilliant delivery. Makes you feel like glamorous Williams-Sonoma, but in truth, you are functional and radiant Sur-la-Table. Ingenious.

Speaking of Sur-la-Table, another thing I love about this book belongs back to the information section – that hefty first-half. The geniuses who created The Kitchn and its cookbook want people to feel comfortable, confident, and inspired in their own home kitchen, so they often suggest where to find ingredients (or suitable subs) and equipment, including places like IKEA. I love that they keep it in perspective. IKEA may not be in every corner of the world, but the authors are trying to make each item they suggest for a home kitchen easy to find and affordable, helping people understand that cooking at home isn’t always a pricey choice.

This book is for the every cook. Beautifully written, easy to follow recipes, fun ideas with great sounding names to impress your friends (if that’s what you are into and why not? The dinner party sounds great when the food has a fun name), and delectable diversions through the cascades of information and knowledge that you can fall into for a lifetime in either the book or on their site. A definitely interesting read!

Happy creating!

*I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Book Review: The New American Herbal by Stephen Orr



This newest gift from Blogging for Books is a gem. It's a rare find in so many ways. Beyond our world of fiction books, romance paperbacks, YA literature, and non-fiction biographies, there's still a desire for good old-fashioned reference books, kind of like the dictionary (which I more than secretly love). Which is only partially why I adore this book so much.

The other reason it's a great find is that packed between pages of beautifully photographed images of herbs and flowering plants lies a plethora of information. Everything from the safety of a plant to how it's harvested and why, this tome reduces the internet equivalent to dust. It really sheds just the right amount of light on each plant and the reason, including historically, why we use the plant and how to get the most benefit out of it. 

This is not a light book, but the presentation of the information makes it appear that way. There are scads of tidbits on understanding herbs and how to propagate and harvest them; extraction processes for essential oils made from herbs and the best way to use them; creating your own garden; and a whole section on kitchen essentials that showcase recipes for adding herbs to spice blends, beverages, oils, and vinegar. Follow this up by a little sprinkling of different herb usage from around the world, as well as other cultures including Native American and older traditional herbs. I'm in heaven! 

The book is laid out with information preceding the glossary of alphabetical herbs followed by a substantial resource section. Tucked between those herby pages are recipes using the said herbs in sweet and savory dishes. I love this. It's not a full-on recipe book, but it adds a little panache to your dinner by potentially trying something new. How about a little lavender in your cake? Yum! 

I did find that I would have liked more information crammed into this already over-filled book. I would have liked more details, but that's the point. It's a reference book to get you started. Reference it, then dig deeper using the many tools we have all around us. 

Nonetheless, what a splendid find! It will sit happily next to my beloved dictionary, ready for reference at a whim's notice.

*I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Book Review: Martha Stewart Living's One Pot: 120+ easy meals from your skillet, slow cooker, stockpot, and more



Martha Stewart. Who doesn't know who she is? Culinary goddess, home-trending leader, magazine and television mogul. A leading expert in all things home-oriented, she's truly one of the first go-to's in the world of cooking, baking, or any kind of DIY thing.

I am a fan of her work. She bakes, she makes, she cakes, she's a lifestyle genius. And so is her team of experts that creates Martha Stewart Living (the magazine, just in case you're new to the world of Martha Stewart). Probably the smartest thing Martha has ever done is surround herself with people who know what they are doing, just as well as she does. I've been a fan of Martha Stewart Living for awhile; it's a pleasure to read and I do not question for one moment how all that awesomeness gets into less than a hundred glossy pages. She's got people who know what they are doing right by her side.

So, as a reviewer for Blogging for Books, as soon as I saw a copy of Martha Stewart Living's One Pot up for review, I snagged it. I pounced. I leaped with glee. I think we all know by now that I love to cook. I love to make and create and be a creative maker. An opportunity to review (which means try out, eat, and love!) a new Martha and Martha's team cookbook, I was all over it.

I pushed the order and send button. Done.

And then I waited.

      And waited.

           And waited.

A few more days of waiting and the book arrived from the publisher. Finally!

What was I so excited about, really? A new cookbook? Oh, yeah, definitely. Or was it that it's a cookbook that's all about tasty simplicity? Just as much the latter.


Now, I am a kid in a candy store when it comes to new books. For sure. I love a good book, I love getting books, I love writing books, I love reading books, and I love reviewing books. Love books. Did I say that enough? Well, I do!

And this golden opportunity to review and try out some new Martha recipes was nearly too much joy for me to handle. Okay, not really. I can handle some Martha joy. And some delicious something - all made in one pot.

First, I have to say that this book is really, really well-written. As would be expected, the team of experts at Martha's magazine have kept the meals simple, easy to read, easy to make and filled with beautiful pictures that make your mouth water.

Secondly, I love the extreme simplicity of this book. Most of the recipes require only a handful of ingredients, things you would typically find in an American kitchen. And they really are one pot only. A few require you to brown things first, but they suggest you brown and remove, then add the next ingredients all using the same pot. There might be an extra bowl here or there, or even the occasional plate, but when does cooking not require you use dishes? The recipe I chose to make happened to be the Fruit Skillet Cake which I adapted to be gluten-free and dairy-free and had it tossed together and baked up in less than an hour. Super easy, super fast, and incredibly delicious. (The cake was really outstanding and came right out of the skillet.)

A finished Skillet Fruit Cake made with local plums

And my final reason to love this book was the helpful advice. That's kinda Martha's specialty. Most of us know that. And of course, a major focus of Martha Stewart Living. The One Pot book includes recipes that are cooked in stockpots, skillets, slow cookers, roasting pans, pressure cookers, and more. Each section has a how-to guide on buying/choosing a pan or skillet, why some work better than others, the difference between a saute pan and a skillet, how to use a pressure cooker (and not be afraid), what makes for a good slow cooker or stockpot, and on and on. Tips, advice and simple guides on the first two or so pages of each section prior to the recipes is just as helpful as a full-length guide. It's simple and yet, perfect.

I just fell in love with this book. The simplicity, the delicious recipes, the convenience of one pot (and truly one pot). Everything from it is a genius idea that requires so little effort, the greatest achievement will be getting to the bookstore to buy it before they are all gone.

Happily enjoy!


*I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Review: Let Us All Eat Cake: Gluten-Free Recipes for Everyone's Favorite Cakes by Catherine Ruehle with Sarah Scheffel


Sitting down to eat my second to last piece of Boston Cream cake that I made inspired to me to get around to writing this review. The slightly bitter contrast of the dark chocolate ganache to the buttery, creamy, and just-the-right-amount-of-sweet pastry cream that sits layered and filling every crevice of the moist yellow cake.

So good.

It took me a few days to find the right words.

This cake is moderately time-consuming to make, as many layered cakes can be, if they are filled with more than just the buttercream you will use to decorate the edges and top. Not particularly complex, but just a lot of steps and layers that require time and energy to complete. But worth every last minute of energy it requires. 

But, first, let's talk about the book. I received this book as part of the book world of reviews and freebies called Blogging for Books and I chose it because, well, who doesn't love cake? Yes, there are a few people out there. And sometimes, even that person is me. But a gluten-free book by a trained pastry chef (and originally a self-taught baker) with a beautiful caramel cake on the front? Who could resist? I had to know what was inside and if I could replicate with Catherine Ruehle's expert instructions.

When I got the book, I admired it. It's a beauty. The hardback book contains beautiful images and easy to read recipes, some expertise in certain places and a bit of shared knowledge by someone who understands the letting go of gluten and dairy products (and learning to replace them with equal deliciousness). I paged through the tome with ease and grace and found some of my favorite cakes in the book: Boston Cream, Triple Lemon, Texas Sheet, Caramel Cream, and even coffeecakes. There are sections on breakfast cakes and snack cakes, layer cakes, filled cupcakes, little cakes, special cakes (with a few advanced techniques), frostings/fillings/glazes, and a few pages on tips and techniques. Love this book!

And I was excited to get into it. A beautiful book is one thing, but can it deliver? Well, I was about to see. I chose the Boston Cream Cake for several reasons. I love Boston Cream (Bavarian Cream is specifically my favorite, but finding and creating whipped cream that truly compares and holds up to dairy whipping cream is a challenge. I once used Mimicreme, but have found it incredibly hard to hunt down now. And you gotta have whipping cream to make true Bavarian cream-style anything). Boston Cream is probably one of my absolute favorites of all time. My whole family loves Boston Cream cake, donuts, pie (which is really the cake, but for some inexplicable reason, we all call it pie). And I happened to have nearly everything on-hand. Two short store trips later (and only because I insisted on going to Trader Joe's for their chocolate and coconut milk merely out of preference - plus it was an excuse to buy some Inner Peas) and I was ready to bake.

This recipe also intrigued me because it's mayonnaise-based. I've seen the recipes for mayo-based cakes before and I've made my share of oil or butter-based cakes, but I hadn't had the opportunity to try a mayo-based one. This was as good a time as any. How different could it really be when most mayos are oil-based with some eggs and a few other ingredients? I'm told the eggs add richness, the oils adds moisture and the cake will be delightful. And  I found this to be true. Very true.

The cake turned out moist and delicious and had one very noticeable effect: the moisture stayed for a few days. As any gluten-free baker knows, this can be a bit of an issue. No gluten, no lengthy spongyness. This is true for whole grain baked goods of any kind. The moistness was most likely a combination of the mayo, the four eggs in the recipe for the cake, and the fact that nearly three cups of pastry cream ends up sandwiched between four beautiful cake layers. Delicious multi-layered effect.

Making the cake was easy. Recipe was easy to follow, ingredients pretty standard except for the mayo, and they baked up beautifully. I really wanted to snack. But I didn't. I held out. Somehow.

Next, time to make the dairy-free pastry cream, which is basically a glorified pudding because we're not adding whipping cream. And it seems like everyone's idea of pastry cream is slightly different. Some swear it is more like a Bavarian cream where you make the pudding base, then whip up the cream and combine the two. Others say pastry cream is just a nice rich pudding with plenty of eggs, cream/milk/half-and-half as the base (not whipped, then added), and finished with butter. I say, to each their own. Without the whipping cream, dairy-free pastry cream is a breeze. And the flavor of this recipe was outstanding. I could barely contain myself. I just wanted to lick the whole bowl, spoon, pan, book. Really. It was that good.

Now, this book is not all the cake roses I have promised so far. I have found a few trifling issues. And here's where the first one came in. The recipe said you could make the pastry cream while you bake the cakes. Great. Keeping it all flowing. However, it never states that you will need to let the pastry cream set in the fridge. There's a lot of eggs in this pastry cream with a bit of cornstarch and if I hadn't let the eggs set up, there is no way the cream would have stayed in the layers. It would have run out, just like pretty much any pudding does before it sets. It is thick, but not thickened. The setting process can take 1-4 hours. There is no mention of this in the cake recipe, nor the pastry cream recipe. The author makes it sound as though you can just set it on the counter and wait until the cakes are cooled, then spread away. I did not find this to be the case and after years of making puddings and pastry creams, I would have been surprised had this one set right away. I think this would be basic info to add to any recipe book. We're not pastry chefs (although, I probably have cooked enough pastries over the years, so maybe) and a book like this will gain the attention of new gluten-free, dairy-free bakers. This may not be a gluten-free issue, but different types of alternatives milks will behave differently. Catherine Ruehle calls almost exclusively for coconut milk, so there is consistency in most of those regardless of the brand, but if you can't use coconut milk, almond, hemp, or cashew will work just as well. But they require slightly different amounts of time to set. Rice is tough to get to thicken properly without adding more thickening agents. Aside from the different kinds of milk and how they behave, it would have been a good idea to add some guidelines for letting the pastry cream set, unless the author doesn't let her pastry cream set up. This would have been useful information too, either way.

Once the pastry cream was nestled into the fridge, onto the chocolate ganache. I love that this cake has a very simple and elegant chocolate ganache on top rather than a sweeter chocolate glaze. The contrast is decadent and yet, just right for the entire cake. So perfect.

Ruehle's chocolate ganache recipe is towards the back of the book in the section on frostings, fillings, and glazes and seems equally simple to most ganache recipes, except she suggests using coconut milk instead of cream. I've made ganache before, but I don't make it all the time. It's a great, simple easy addition to just about any dessert recipe from ice cream to cake to truffles. There's only two ingredients: chocolate and cream or coconut milk. However, here's where the second issue came about. The ratio was off or something was. Two ingredients in the wrong ratio make for a lovely, yet unsweet hot chocolate. I had chocolate soup. Two cups of chocolate chips to two cups of milk product is what the recipe called for. I had a feeling it was too much when using coconut milk, but I did it anyway and the result was a soupy mess that required me to run to my neighbor's house to borrow more chocolate chips in order to salvage it at 10 o'clock at night. I'd come this far. I didn't want to leave my cake without its happy ending, or topping, as it may be.

Once I did a quick internet search and checked out Ina Garten's ganache recipe along with a few others - just to make sure - I found out the ratio should be 2 cups chocolate to 1 cup milk product in Ina's case, but other recipes suggested an even 1:1 ration. Once I had this knowledge (and had inked it into the book), the ganache came out great. However, again, some ganaches require a little bit of time to set, particularly if you are using coconut milk versus something denser like heavy cream. Once the ganache set, which took a little bit of time, I was pleased with the texture. Ruehle states that if you refrigerate the ganache before using it (you can make the pastry cream and ganache up to two days in advance), then just make sure to bring it to room temperature before using. These instructions turned the ganache out great. I just wish that the author had specified that maybe using coconut milk instead of heavy cream might make it a big soupier unless you have a very dense coconut milk, which I have yet to come across. I even used some coconut cream which is the closest substitute for heavy cream I've found and it still came out soupy until I added the extra chips.

The author is a well-respect pastry chef having worked under some heavy hitters in the restaurant world and has been on Food Network as a challenger in the cake competitions, but she is most likely not a writer-specific. The book is written in conjunction with Sarah Scheffel, an extensive editor and writer of many, many cookbooks, as well as being a chef herself. So, I'm just going to chalk the second error up to simplistic oversight, as oversights do occur. However, there seemed to be some basic culinary knowledge missing, such as the setting time for the pastry cream. Yes, you could use the cream right away, if you wanted it to be on the thin side. And even the ganache, same thing. If you were in a competition, I suppose you'd have to use it that way. But this is for home cooking and it seems some things are just better fully explained. Had I not the many years of pudding-making or ganache-making experience (less on this, for sure), then I would have thought they were supposed to be used that way. I might have even thought the ganache should be soupy. A new cook might not know and I do see cookbooks as the resource (among many) that we go to learn about techniques.

Overall, I loved this cookbook. I am eager to try out a few more of the recipes and see how the cakes turn out. And, well, eat them because some of the pictures made the cakes look so amazing, I just wanted to lick the pages.

I suppose this is my last issue with this book: the images. The ones that are included are arty, thoughtful, beautiful, and scrumptious. However, it seemed that many of the places where a picture should be added, there was none. It's more commonplace now to buy a cookbook that doesn't have a picture for every single recipe. Photography costs a lot, makes the book much bigger, and sometimes, they aren't always needed. However, in this case, I think some of the recipes would be better off with an included picture simply because this a cake book and most of the cakes (not all) are layered cakes with some advanced technique. Now, you can slather on buttercream any way you like, but most of us would like the cake to resemble the original or something close to it. Not required, but presentation is part of the package.

The places where a picture made sense, such as the Texas Sheet cake, was aptly placed. Not everyone knows what a Texas Sheet cake is. And the photo made me want to make one right away. I could smell the chocolate wafting from the page. But the Two-Tiered Whimsy Cake, which includes making and cutting out white chocolate modeling paste, had no picture at all. I could see this if you were running out of space. However, in the previous recipe for the Camo cake, there are four pictures included. I'm not sure why the Camo cake rated high enough to get a four-picture deal and the Whimsy cake none (particularly when the recipe is nearly four pages long). It would be helpful to me, the presumed baker, to see what I am going to make so I know what I'm getting myself into. Many will probably not even attempt the Whimsy cake because it seems rather complex and advanced and there's no picture to assure the baker that this cake is totally doable. Well, maybe the Whimsy cake just didn't want to sit still long enough to get her picture taken. I'm sure that's what happened.


I would recommend this book for the moderately experienced baker. I'm not sure I would suggest it to a new gluten-free baker unless a second edition comes out that alleviates some of the basic technique flaws and potential oversights. But if you have some experience with gluten-free/dairy-free baking, by all means, delve right in. I can assure you, which is really what it all comes down to, the end product is truly delicious and worth every potential oversight, ounce of knowledge and moist, little crumb.

*I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.