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! 

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!


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! 

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. 

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!


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. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review: Little Book of Book Making by Charlotte Rivers


This fun little find came to me via Blogging for Books and it was a little surprise. I picked it because I love books, I love writing, and I love the idea of making books. Always been sort of fascinated by the concept of creating a book from start to finish, including the pages, the binding, the actual book. Clearly, I am not the only one.

Charlotte Rivers' tome creates a world of bookmaking artists, designers, and hobbyists who desire the same thing: to create a book from start to finish. It's a fascinating journey between many pages where one artist creates a book with simple accordion pages and another creates a complex book with creative covers, experimental page dyes, and specialized stitching to bind them all together. Either way, it is artistry encapsulated on every page.

As I mentioned earlier, I was a bit surprised when I flipped open this book. I expected a book on how to make books, which this one does include. However, the first four chapters showcase different artists around the globe and their conceptual creations. The final chapter has all the how-to info about how to create your very own creation.

I was a bit perplexed as I thumbed through the pages. Wasn't this book supposed to show you how to make your own book? It is a book about making books, after all. Each book creation is beautiful, but they seem incredibly complex for a beginner to even attempt. These designers have spent years mastering their craft and I'm just looking to possibly create a simple book with some pages in it. I love the idea, but I haven't put in my 10,000 hours of skill mastery yet.

And then I hit page 121 and nearly fell in love. It was then I realized that this book is all about inspiration with a bit of extra guidance at the end. It's meant to share the love of this work (and the journey you must go on to create them) with those who may not understand the depth of creative wells that each bookmaker must go to in order to create such lovely and extraordinary bound pages. Now, I understand. Bookmaking can be about holding a bunch of pages together or it can be about holding together the possibility of what might be contained inside. The inspiration is all up to the creator. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Product Review: Vegan, Gluten-free Ice Cream Sandwiches by The Cookie Counter


It was an happy accident. I was stumbling along the trail of the Hopscotch Festival in Central District on a Saturday afternoon and came across the cutest little VW van I've seen in awhile. Converted and adorable, the owners Chris and Chelsea were seated inside the blue van behind, yes, you guessed it! A cookie counter! With Chris' smiling face and Chelsea's deft hands, this team is so well suited for a mobile culinary adventure.

Chris and Chelsea in Ice Cream the Van

The brains behind the cookie scheme, this Seattle duo made a culinary confection come to life. With flavors like Snickerdoodle with Chai "ice cream" (all the "ice cream" is a coconut milk-based frozen treat), Cookies n' Cream, Chocolate with Coffee Ice Cream, PB&J, Earl Grey with Lemon Zest, S'mores, Chocolate with Mint Chip, and more, these little frozen goodies are something you want to stand in line for. Go hunt down that blue van. 

Ice Cream Options

Chris and Chelsea came up with the concept for The Cookie Counter three years ago and through rigorous creation and product testing (how bad can taste-testing be?), they have completed the circle with help from a whole lot of friends on Kickstarter by converting their blue van into a mobile gourmet ice cream truck unlike anything else in Seattle. With all vegan ingredients, most of them organic and natural (read: no artificial or animal anything), and a mix of traditional wheat cookies and gluten-free options too (read more about their kitchen here), Chris and Chelsea have turned the ordinary ice cream sandwich into a culinary delight. Traveling to fairs, street festivals, one-day events, and even to someone's very own home, these guys are worth the find. 

Now, what about the tasting? How good are these? Well, I certainly wanted to find out. Chris tipped me off to a little deal they had going with the store they were parked next to, Two Big Blondes - a plus-size consignment shop and one of their Kickstarter supporters. Buy something inside and get a free sammie! Now, that's a deal! Kind of like a two for one! 

After finding a really great deal inside the store (they had discounts of up to 95% off!), I got my coupon for my free sammie and proceeded to Chris and Chelsea's van. They had four gluten-free options to choose from and four or five wheat cookie options. I chose their GF special of the day: Cookies n' Cream. Chris handed me (with his signature smile) a cute little wax paper package sealed with their logo sticker. I unwrapped the treat and headed to my car, ice cream happiness in hand. The Oreo-ish cookie was crunchy and cold with a nice chocolate flavor, very much like an Oreo. The cookies n' cream vegan ice cream was creamy, smooth, with a nice mouth feel and little chunks of cookie embedded all through. It was yummyness. 

A little package, a little van

Wiping my face and hands as I walked, I enjoyed each very cold bite (they store the goodies on dry ice), letting it melt just a bit so I could feel the textures and enjoy my sammie. I got to my car and kept thinking about the GF Snickerdoodle with Chai Ice Cream. How can you make a proper review only trying one thing? More product testing would make for better accuracy, wouldn't you say? 

So, I headed back to the blue cookie van, this time in my car, found a nice shady spot (it was a remarkably warm day in Seattle) and handed Chris my crisp $5 bill. He handed me a GF Snickerdoodle ice cream sandwich and a couple of wet wipes they keep in a jar on the cookie counter. I meandered slowly back to the car, not really wanting to waste time or potential cookie eating moments, and tore open the second bag. I hadn't had lunch, so this counted, right? 

The GF snickerdoodle was soft, yet crunchy with a slight sandy texture from the sugar-cinnamon it had been rolled in. The flavor was outstanding. Oftentimes, when you eat a frozen cookie, the flavor gets a little lost either in the ice cream or just from being frozen. But here, it stood out bold and proud. The vegan chai ice cream was soft and creamy with a beautiful chai-cinnamony-cardamomy flavor. It was perfection. 

Happily filled with yummy vegan treats, I headed back towards home in my warm car with a ice cream-cool tummy and a smile as big as Chris' on my face. 


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Nutter Butters - the gluten-free, dairy-free version


For those of you who read my review of Treat Yourself: 70 Classic Snacks You Loved as a Kid (and Still Love Today) by Jennifer Steinhauer, we are going to keep this recipe short and sweet...peanutty sweet. If you haven't, you can read my review here.

This delectable book is where this peanutty-good recipe comes from. I reviewed the book and as with all cookbooks, the only proper way to truly review them is to start cooking - or baking, as it may be. I love Jennifer's book - the concept is awesome (who doesn't love a little sweetness in their life?), the treats are beautifully photographed (we all know that makes it better, no matter if they are real or not), and to make it that perfect book, the cookies - even made gluten- and dairy-free - were amazing!

A few notes on the baking of these beauties:

~ I used two pans lined with silicone baking mats and I used them a lot. My oven isn't convection, so I baked with one pan and filled the other. When the first was done, I took it out, placed the next one in and waited a few minutes to let the cookies cool. I then placed those on a baking rack and refilled the still-warm baking sheet. Normally, this is a major no-no in baking, but there was a lot of dough and a lot of cookies to bake. I had to keep the line moving. Somehow, it didn't seem to mess with the cookies much this time. Probably because they are a crunchy bunch.

One ready for baking, one just out of the oven. 

~ You can also put these guys closer together than two inches - they don't spread much at all, which is great. They hold their shape well and as we all know, making gluten-free cookies that require being cut out can be a challenge if the dough doesn't have the elasticity of gluten in it. They tend to break, fall apart, crumble, etc. These did great! They are rolled quite thin, so I used a fish spatula (very, very thin spatula) to transfer them to the baking sheets. I also prefer the scoop and drop method (scoop with the spatula, flip over the baking sheets and gently persuade them to drop onto the baking sheet by pushing through the slots in the spatula) for cookies like this so they don't get all bent out of shape. My first few, I tried to slide off the spatula. It worked okay, but I would recommend the less moving, the better. I wanted them to look like hearts, Picasso-versions of hearts.

~ I didn't find that I needed to flour the fork to prevent sticking when making the crosshatch. Use your best judgment. Maybe flouring the spatula would have been a good idea. Either way! Also, I was surprised at how far I could push the fork down, which seemed like they would go nearly through to the mat, and still have a cookie come out intact after baking. These guys are champs!

Just rolled, ready to rock. 

~ The recipes calls for a cooking time of 11-13 minutes. For my hearts, which I chose based on what I remember the size of a Nutter Butter to be, that would have been too long. Eleven minutes was a border-line deep brown and a minute longer, they would have burned. After the first batch baked for eleven minutes, I cut down the bake time to 10 - that was perfect. Use your judgment. If your medium-size cookies is the same size as my medium-size, aim for 9-11 minutes. If you have slightly bigger, aim for 11-13. If you are at high altitude, adjust accordingly, which is usually less, but that's a whole other can of worms.

~ See my note below about peanut butter choices, but whatever you choose, make sure it's at room temperature. All ingredients for this, and most baked goods, are best at room temperature.

~ About the filling: you may consider doubling the filling recipe. I've included the recipe in the book, but based on how many cookies I made, twice as much filling would have been better. Still good, but a thicker stuffing would have been more accurate to the memory of the Nutter Butter.

~ And lastly, I used a pastry knife to spread the filling onto the cookies. It was a very thick filling (which I thought was perfect and spot-on), but I wasn't sure how it would actually go through a pastry bag. This is what can happen with different peanut butters. Not a big deal. Still tasted awesome.

All teamed up, ready to spread. 

So, without much more ado, here is the recipe that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. Yum!

Happy baking!


Nutter Butters - the gluten-free, dairy-free version

A little nibble...

Adapted from Treat Yourself: 70 Classic Snacks You Loved as a Kid (and Still Love Today) by Jennifer Steinhauer

Hands-on time: 50 minutes
Total time: 5 hours, 15 minutes

Makes 22 sandwich cookies (according to the recipe - I got 44 sandwiches!)

*Note: I used a natural no-sugar peanut butter that I buy, then add some Spectrum shortening or Earth Balance to, along with a little bit of sugar, if I'm feeling like making it sweet. If it's not fine sugar, powdered, or liquid (ie. honey, etc.), the sugar crystals won't dissolve. I'm okay with this. You can also buy natural peanut butter that has everything in it, just like the classic Skippy or Jif without the hydrogenated fats. In fact, Skippy and Jif now make their own natural peanut butters in chunky or smooth. Use smooth for this recipe. 

For the cookie: 

1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter or Earth Balance, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter* at room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups gluten-free flour with 2 tsp xanthan gum (the recipe calls for bread flour, so I used 3/4 cup millet flour, 3/4 cup cornstarch, and 1 cup fine brown rice flour)
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

For the filling: 

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) salted butter or Earth Balance, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
Pastry knife, butter knife, or pastry bag

1. Make the cookie dough: In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer, mix the butter, sugars, and peanut butter together on medium speed until just combined, about 30 seconds. Add eggs, one at a time, then add the vanilla, mixing just until incorporated.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the gluten-free flour(s), the xanthan gum, the baking soda, the baking powder, and the salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour to the butter mixture in two or three batches, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally, mixing until the dry ingredients are incorporated well. (Mix any remaining pockets of dry ingredients in by hand, but let your mixer do it's job. This is gluten-free after all. You won't be messing with the potential gluten toughness here. You don't want to overdo it or underdo it). Shape the dough into a round and slide it out onto a piece of plastic wrap (I used a small glass bowl with a lid). Wrap the dough tightly, shaping it into a 1-inch disk, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

3.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

4. Unwrap the dough and place it between two pieces of waxed paper or parchment paper. (I used natural parchment and it worked very well.) Roll the dough out to a thickness of slightly less than 1/4 inch.

5. Using a bikini-shaped cookie cutter (the top of the bikini to make a peanut shape) or any medium-sized cutter, cut out the cookies and place them 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Use the tines of a fork to gently score the top of each cookie in a crosshatch pattern. You should flour the fork first, or else the dough will stick to the fork and the cookies may well break. Bake for 11-13 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies just begin to brown. Let cool completely on wire racks. Repeat, if you have more dough.

6. Make the filling: Turn half the cookies upside down. In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer, beat the 1/2 cup peanut butter and the 1/4 cup butter together on medium speed. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla, powdered sugar, and the salt, and mix until smooth. It will be thick. Scoop the filling into a disposable piping bag/pastry bag or use a butter/pastry knife for spreading.

7. Pipe the peanut butter mixture around the perimeter of the upturned cookies first, then fill in the outlined area, using about 1 tsp per cookie; you don't want the filling squishing out the sides. (You can use a butter knife or offset spatula instead to carefully spread it.) Top each frosted cookie with one of the plain cookies to make a sandwich. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Book Review: Treat Yourself: 70 Classic Snacks You Loved as a Kid (and Still Love Today) by Jennifer Steinhauer


As part of Blogging for Books, my second book selection came in the mail about a week ago. Treat Yourself: 70 Classic Snacks You Loved as a Kid (and Still Love Today) by Jennifer Steinhauer is a fantastic collection of vintage desserts, snacks, and confectionables that most people have only been able to find in the grocery store in a little cardboard box. Think back to childhood in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, or 80s – what was more prized in your Care Bear lunchbox? A Ding Dong? Maybe a Ho-Ho. Or maybe some Nutter Butters, Raisinets, or a MoonPie? Or crunchy, cheesy, Cheez-Its? Any of the above were delicious, coveted, and easily traded, if you were truly willing to depart with it for somebody else’s lunchbox treasure.

As time has gone on and we have become adults, these confections are still coveted, by us and the children around us, but with the rising concern about health and the food we consume, many of us want to find a better alternative to the saturated, trans-fats, excess sugar and salt, and oftentimes, lower quality ingredients that most of these desserts and snacks are laden with. Enter Jennifer Steinhauer.  Her unique book filled with fun facts, baking tips that parallel America’s Test Kitchen-quality knowledge, and beautiful pictures is not only filled with 70 mouth-watering recipes, but the actual writing is quite delectable, as well.

Jennifer has been writing for twenty years at The New York Times (where else can you truly earn your chops?), as well as a weekly food column for Food52.com called Weeknights with Jenny (where she actually writes about chops). But this is only part of what makes her book so special. The food, the pictures, the writing, the ever-so-desired treats and snacks that we all love, but no one wants to eat without feeling guilty. Not anymore.

Now, I’m not a fan of eating with or without guilt. I say, eat what you want. Everything has its place, unless you are literally living on Twinkies. Your shelf-life may end up being as long as the Twinkie’s itself, as long as you’re preserved and full of cream. But there is an alternative…and Jennifer Steinhauer is releasing it to the world. Cupcake lunches, here we come!

Okay, enough sweet treat soapboxery. We all know that sweets in moderation might prove to be okay, as long as you balance them out with a long list of healthy other-things. And Jennifer is the first to point out in her introduction in Treat Yourself that some of the recipes have less calories/sugar, some have more. This isn’t about making these treats healthy by hiding fruits and veggies in them (unless the original did), but the book is all about deconstructing and reinventing the beloved classic snacks from Pinwheels to Ritz Crackers to the ever-loved-by-nearly-all-children popsicle. Now you can rest assured that life is good and so is your food when you bake a little sweet something right in your own kitchen. And in my kitchen, that means gluten-free and probably dairy-free.

So, here is where the true test begins – how are the recipes?

Jennifer’s recipes aren’t gluten-free, nor dairy-free. But over the years, I have mastered the art of gluten-free baking, for the most part. Yeast doughnuts are tricky. So are cinnamon rolls. But as I pawed through her new cookbook, I could tell most of these would easily translate to gluten-free (the trickiest part), and dairy-free has become pretty much a piece of cake. I had so many that I wanted to try (can you say, Chicken in a Biskit?!), but I chose something where I already had everything on-hand – Nutter Butters.

Oh, I used to love a Nutter Butter every now and again. The peanut-shaped cookies sandwiched with a soft, yet firm peanutty filling. Just like an Oreo, I’d peel the two cookies apart, lick or roll the peanut filling off the inside, then eat the two cookies separately or with milk. They were as much fun to eat as they were to taste. I haven’t had a Nutter Butter in years.

Until yesterday.

Now, here is how I can tell a cookbook is truly legit. If the gluten-free version is as good as the Nutter Butters were, the glutened version will be equally outstanding. The texture, the taste, the quality was just like eating a Nutter Butter right out of the package, gluten and all. I was truly amazed. I never really know how a recipe is going to turn out (although usually I can tell by the ingredient list ratio); most of the time, you just have to give it a try. The recipe will tell you what it’s worth. And this one is worth about a million bucks. Okay, maybe more like $19.99, or probably less on Amazon.

The cookies were crisp and peanutty, but not like a peanut butter cookie exactly. And I used a combination of gluten-free flours, xanthan gum, and natural peanut butter to boot. They reminded me exactly of a Nutter Butter. Even if I haven’t had one in a long time, the memories came flooding back. And who cares, anyway? These cookies were outstanding! I’d eat the cookie by itself.

But then, there’s the filling. A soft, peanutty, slightly salty flavor with just the right amount of rollability. Because that’s important. The one downside to this whole baking experiment: the recipe says it makes about 22 medium sandwich cookies (to which she used the top part of a bikini cookie cutter – I used a heart cutter) with enough filling to fill them. I made 44 medium-heart-shaped sandwich cookies. And no, it wasn’t 44 individual cookies, hence the 22 sandwiches – I had 44 sandwiches when I was done. Great! Some to share. This made not quite enough filling and it would have been an easy double, but I ran out of peanut butter. Not complaining. They were still freakin’ awesome! But double-filling is so good too. Just look at the Double-Stuf Oreo. Twice the trans-fatty goodness. Unless you make Jennifer Steinhauer’s.

Back to the Nutter Butter. These cookies were spot-on. The texture was great, the flavor was incredible, and I adore them. So far, no complaints from friends either – gluten-free or not. That’s how I can tell this is a great book. Gluten or no gluten, the cookies rock. I am excited to try a few more recipes. Maybe every single one.


Happy eating! 

Finished product with a little heart-y bite. 

Check out the Nutter Butter recipe here