Stuff & Nonsense: cookbook club


Showing posts with label cookbook club. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cookbook club. Show all posts

04 February 2019

The Great Burlington Baking Club: Artichoke Dip

This week I joined a cookbook club. Yes, I do run a club for my library, but running one doesn't provide the same experience as being a participant and I want to be a participant. Let someone else tell me what to make. Let someone else steer the discussion. Let someone else do the set up and take down. And if I get to make things I've been wanting to, but haven't had a reason to or an audience for, well that's just gravy.

Burlington Library started offering a cookbook club last autumn. Inspired by The Great British Bake Off, The Great Burlington Baking Club is open to all bakers and cooks -- just make a dish that fits the monthly theme and bring it in to share on the appointed night. Previous themes included layered desserts, desserts featuring fruit, and chocolate desserts.

This month's theme is dips. While I considered making Taste of Home's "Slow-Cooker Cheeseburger Dip" or Martha Stewart's "Easy Red Pepper Dip," I ultimately decided to go with America's Test Kitchen's "Artichoke Dip" from Food Processor Perfection: 75 Amazing Ways to Use the Most Powerful Tool in Your Kitchen.


I really like Food Processor Perfection -- like most ATK books it is very attractive, with beautiful pictures, detailed but clearly written recipes, and lots of helpful operating tips (I had never thought to clean my bowl by processing water and a little soap together). Based on my experience with this cookbook -- I'd already made the "Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies," "Quick Tomato Salsa," and "Classic Hummus" with very delicious results -- and my prior experience with other ATK cookbooks, I knew the artichoke dip was likely to turn out well.

It was dead easy to put together -- just process the cheeses, artichokes, garlic, and seasonings together and then let them chill in the fridge until needed. Really, it couldn't have taken more than ten minutes to put together. I probably spent more time washing up! And, yes, I tried the water and soap trick and it worked. (This trick also works with the Ninja Master Prep).

17 January 2019

Cookbook Club: Cake


I probably shouldn't have chosen cake as January's library cookbook club theme, considering "everyone" is "dieting" this time of year, but I tried veg*n cooking last January and no-one really liked that so I thought I'd swing for the opposite pole.

Anyway, five cooks came with cakes and we all had a good time and that's all that matters. Several bakers complained their cakes were not up to scratch -- the walnut cake baker simply did not like the flavor or texture of her cake, while the butter cake baker was embarrassed her cake fell in the middle after it came out of the oven and was afraid there was something very wrong with it. As is often true, we can be our own worst critics, for everyone else liked their cakes very much.

To be fair, the cookbook club members are a compassionate, optimistic bunch who never have anything but nice things to say to each other. Even when a dish is awful, everyone is supernice about figuring out how it went wrong or could be fixed. If you're feeling down about the world and think that humanity is pretty awful, cookbook club will make you feel so much better.

Cakes:
  • "Basic Yellow Butter Cake" from Yvonne Ruperti's One Bowl Baking: Simple, from Scratch Recipes for Delicious Desserts
  • "Chocolate Zucchini Cake" from Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove cookbook
  • "Lemon-Fig Cake" from Martha Stewart's Cakes: Our First-Ever Book of Bundts, Loaves, Layers, Coffee Cakes, and More
  • "Lemon-Poppy Seed Pound Cake" from Better Homes & Gardens' Baking Step By Step: Everything You Need to Know to Start Baking Now!
  • "Spiced Walnut Cake" from Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough's All-Time Favorite Sheet Cakes & Slab Pies: Easy to Make, Easy to Serve
  • "Supermoist Applesauce Quick Bread" also from Yvonne Ruperti's One Bowl Baking: Simple, from Scratch Recipes for Delicious Desserts

25 June 2018

Cookbook Club: Quick & Easy

Since I launched the library’s cookbook club, I’ve required patrons to make dishes from library cookbooks, but I’ve received a little push back about that at every meeting. I know there are a few patrons that are just dying to bring their favorite recipe -- source be damned -- but this is, officially, a library book club, and we need to utilize library materials or it’s just a potluck that happens to be held at the library and I don’t really know how to justify its continued existence as a library program.

As the most common excuse for bringing a non-library recipe is that it is too difficult to find a good recipe in our cookbook collection, I’ve widened the criteria to include magazines and ebooks. My coworkers rightly pointed out to me that it can be quite difficult to print from an ebook or emagazine, but I reckon it will work itself out. Some patrons will stick with print materials, others will move to digital. Some who move to digital will figure out printing for themselves. Others will need help and get it from me. And, doubtless, some have been saying it’s too hard will still bring their own non-library recipe!

Anyway, June was “Quick and Easy Cooking.” This theme seemed to go over well with everyone and all recipes were library recipes -- two patrons even tried out printing recipes from the library’s emagazine collection, agreeing that was a “pretty okay” experience overall. We had six dishes in total and they were consumed with great gusto. Indeed, this is the first meeting we’ve had where an entire dish was consumed -- usually there are leftovers. Speaking of leftovers, several patrons took disposable coffee cups from the coffee cart and turned them into impromptu takeout containers so they could bring an assortment of deliciousness home with them! (For food safety/CYA reasons I can’t provide takeout containers or encourage patrons to take home leftovers that aren’t their own, but I’m not going to stop them, either. Everyone attending is an adult and can weigh the risks for themselves).


The food:
“Turkey Tea Sandwiches” from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten. Very pretty little finger sandwiches made of date-nut bread spread with scallion cream cheese and layered with smoked turkey and fresh basil. The patron made these the day before, as the recipe said she could do, and they kept very well. It was agreed the fresh basil leaves were a brilliant touch and really made these sandwiches something memorable. There was a lot of talk about when was the last time anyone had actually eaten date-nut bread and how good it was and we should all go out and buy some on the way home. There were no sandwiches left by the end of the evening.


“Sheet-Pan Mushroom Frittata” from the May 2018 digital issue of Rachael Ray Every Day. An easy, 30 minute oven frittata loaded with mushrooms. If you don’t like mushrooms, this is not the dish for you. Patron who brought this said she’d wished the recipe had been available for our brinner meeting, because it would have been perfect for that. She also didn’t know where to get watercress, so substituted an equivalent amount of baby arugula as the Internet told her they had a similar peppery flavor. All the mushrooms lovers enjoyed it, saying it was brilliant with arugula, and leftovers definitely went home with them.


“Ree Drummond’s Mediterranean Orzo Salad” from the June 2018 digital issue of Food Network Magazine. A light and refreshing pasta salad that is easy to make, but still has a ton of flavor going on. The patron who brought this added three tablespoons of fresh basil in with the parsley and replaced the red onion with sweet white as he felt red onions were “too sharp.” This is the perfect summer salad and may patrons expressed in interest in bringing it to their next picnic. One patron recommended turning it into a meal by adding grilled shrimp or chicken.


“Hearty Alfredo Potatoes” from Taste of Home Fresh & Easy. An eight ingredient recipe that makes use of frozen vegetables, jarred sauce, and cooked meat to speed things along. Patron admitted she changed things up by substituting diced ham and peas for the cubed cooked turkey and chopped broccoli as she just didn’t feel like turkey or broccoli. Group consensus was that you couldn’t ever go wrong with potatoes and cheese.


“Fiesta Taco Pie” from Gooseberry Patch Almost Homemade Cookbook. A crescent roll crust is filled with a taco meat filling, covered with sour cream and cheese, and then baked until yum. When garnished with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, and sliced olives it looked quite welcoming. Everyone at the meeting was familiar with some variation of the dish and recognized it as pure comfort food. Patron who brought it said it took about 30 minutes to make and, if you skip the garnish, it’s only seven ingredients. (But why would you skip the topping? The topping really makes this dish).


“Crunchy Sesame Chicken Salad” from Betty Crocker’s Fast From-Scratch Meals. A simple salad composed of shredded rotisserie chicken, bagged coleslaw mix, sugar snap peas, shredded carrots, ginger-sesame dressing, scallions, and chow mein noodles. This was my dish and I was quite pleased with how it turned out considering how basic and “no cook” the recipe was. Seriously, the hardest part was trimming and halving the sugar snap peas (halving was not called for in the recipe, but the photo of the salad in the cookbook clearly showed halved peas) and not eating all the wasabi almonds. As with the “Fiesta Taco Pie,” this recipe was a variation on a dish many patrons recognized from potlucks and picnics. Paper cups were filled with leftovers and very little remained for me to take home!

24 May 2018

Exploring Mexican Made Easy for Cookbook Club


For May's library cookbook club, I made "Maria Cookie & Lime Cream Trifle" from Marcela Valladolid's Mexican Made Easy. When I hear "trifle" I think of the English dessert made with fruit, sherry-soaked sponge, and custard. Well, this trifle is nothing like that, but it's still fabulous -- a creamy, sweet-tart no-bake treat that goes together in minutes, keeps well, and can go straight from fridge to table.

Maria cookies are a very mild, slightly sweetened cookie more similar to a British rich tea biscuit than a traditional American "cookie." They're usually easy to find in the "ethnic" aisle of most grocery stores although Valladolid writes graham crackers can be substituted for the Maria biscuits, if you prefer. I stuck with Maria cookies, because the recipe only uses four ingredients and so substituting one just seemed wrong.

I tried my best to make the recipe exactly as instructed, but ended up doubling the number of layers as I still had a lot of biscuit and cream left after following the instructions (it was either that or make two trifles ... which, in hindsight, I realize might have been a grand idea as I would have had my own private trifle). Proportionally, to get the number of layers Valladolid calls for, I think you'd need to halve the amount of ingredients.

The recipe says it makes six to eight servings, but I would say closer to ten to twelve. No-one stinted in their servings, but there was still plenty left for my coworkers. Honestly, it's a very bright, zesty pud -- rather like deconstructed key lime pie -- and I'm not going to complain about having had too much of it!

When I whizzed the milks and lime juice in my stand mixer, the liquids did thicken up a bit but were still worryingly soupy. However, when I went to serve the trifle seven hours later, the liquid had set into a thick pudding. The biscuits had softened up considerably, but still retained their shape and enough firmness to add a pleasing texture to the trifle.

In addition to the trifle, I've made two other recipes from Mexican Made Easy -- "Red and White Kidney Salad" and "Corn and Zucchini Sauté" -- and they were both easy and flavorful. While I imagine the sauté will be even better with in-season ingredients, it was still very satisfying as it was. The crunchy bacon added a delicious smoky savoriness to the dish that pushed the salad from very nice to "I'm going to eat the whole pan on my own."

The bean salad was also pretty wow. Bright and refreshing with just the right about of zip. A lot of bean salads I've made go the "more ingredients are better" route, but this simple combination of ingredients reminded me that more isn't always better. While I made a significant attempt to eat all the tasty beans the first night, there were leftovers and they kept very nicely in the fridge until the next day when I let them come to room temperature before tossing them with baby spinach and eating them as a main.


Overall, I'm very pleased with my experience cooking from Marcela Valladolid's Mexican Made Easy and look forward to trying out her other cookbooks soon.

17 May 2018

Cookbook Club: The Flavors of Mexico

May's cookbook club theme was "The Flavors of Mexico" -- a fun opportunity to try out a new Mexican or Mexican-inspired recipe. It might have been smarter to save the theme for summer when tomatoes, chiles, cilantro, and corn are in season here, but I didn't really think about that when I planned out my calendar. Anyway, participating cooks did not disappoint, bringing in a impressive range of tasty dishes:

  • "Creamy Chicken Chipotle Salad" from Simply Mexican by Lourdes Castro. Fresh, bright take on the traditional Cobb salad. The creamy, smoky chipotle sauce was just fab.

  • "Cubiletes de Requeson (Individual Cheese Pies)" from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson.
    Light, slightly sweet cheese filling with lots of nice citrus flavor nestled in a flaky, slightly sweet empanada dough crust. (The cook who made these could not find Requesón and so substituted ricotta, as the book described Requesón as falling being somewhere between ricotta and pot cheese in constancy and flavor).

  • "Dulce de Frijol (Bean Candy)" from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson. These soft, pinto-based sweets had a consistency similar to marzipan, smelled strongly of cinnamon, and tasted mildly of orange. If we hadn't been told they were made of beans, I doubt any of us would have guessed. (It took much longer to make than the recipe indicated, the cook said, and there was a ridiculous amount of stirring needed).

  • "Pan de Elote (Corn Bread)" from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson. This is not corn bread as we are used to seeing it. No, this was creamy and custard-like -- kind-of like a chess pie in consistency -- and tasted like the best of summer on a plate.

  • "Stacked Torte" from Quesadillas by Donna Meeks Kelly. A layered quesadilla made of ground turkey, red enchilada sauce, salsa, corn, black beans, flour tortillas, and cheese. Very Tex-Mex, very comforting and hearty.

  • "Tortilla Soup" from Simply Mexican by Lourdes Castro. Just ... see below.

  • "Maria Cookie & Lime Cream Trifle" from Mexican Made Easy by Marcela Valladolid. Marvelously zesty. Kind of like eating deconstructed key lime pie. It's my dish, so expect a post about it later.

¡Que delicioso!


Fany Gerson's My Sweet Mexico proved a popular recipe source and we were all really smitten with the dishes prepared from it. The creamy "Pan de Elote" was very morish, the "Cubiletes de Requeson" a nice balance of textures and flavors, and we just could not stop talking about the "Dulce de Frijol," because Bean. Candy. Just a fascinating (and delicious!) concept.

And now, a little weirdness: I am 99% sure the cook brought the "Tortilla Soup" passed off a completely different dish as Castro's. We certainly ate a soup, but it does not resemble the one in Castro's recipe. The one served was full of corn, beans, and shredded chicken while Castro's sounds much more vegetal with a thinned roasted vegetable puree base and lots of fresh toppings. It's not even as if she just added in extra ingredients -- it seems like a completely different soup. The one served was good, but I don't know why she tried to pass it off as Castro's. If she'd tried Castro's recipe and it failed ... well, why not say? We've all had failures before. No-one judges. Indeed, some of the failures people have shared have yielded the liveliest and most pleasant conversations.

All I know is, curiosity demands I make Castro's "Tortilla Soup" as soon as possible to see what it's like!

20 April 2018

Cookbook Club: Brinner (Breakfast for Dinner)

April's library cookbook theme was brinner (breakfast for dinner). I thought this was a fun, quirky topic that would appeal to many different kinds of cooks. Apparently, I misjudged, because only seven cooks registered for the meeting ... of which, five turned up. I'm a little frustrated by the low turnout, because -- while there certainly seems to be a lot of interest in the club -- it is nearing its one year anniversary with attendance numbers lower than when it launched.

Anyway, the cooks who came were very excited to share their dishes:
  • "Amish Breakfast Casserole" from Taste of Home's Brunch Favorites: 201 Delicious Ideas to Start Your Day. So much cheesy potato goodness. Hearty, but not heavy. Very morish.

  • "Baked Cinnamon-Apple French Toast" from Gale Gand's Brunch! 100 Fantastic Recipes for the Weekend's Best Meal. Crunchy on the edges, moist and custardy in the middle, and so wonderfully redolent of cinnamon and apples. The honey butter topping sounded like too much, but paired wonderfully. Just thinking about this dish makes my mouth water.

  • "Breakfast Scramble" also from Taste of Home's Brunch Favorites: 201 Delicious Ideas to Start Your Day. The cook who made this used canned potatoes (to save herself 20 minutes), but there's no way we'd have been able to tell if she hadn't mentioned it. A nice, meaty hash.

  • "Syrupy Banana-Nut Overnight French Toast" from Good Housekeeping The Great Potluck Cookbook: Our Favorite Recipes for Carry-In Suppers, Brunch Buffets, Tailgate Parties & More. Creamy, custardy french toast a top a layer of gooey caramelized banana goodness. Very reminiscent of bananas foster and totally yum.

  • "Three-Meat Quiche" from The Perfect Egg: A Fresh Take on Recipes for Morning, Noon, and Night by Teri Lyn Fisher & Jenny Park. A fluffy, creamy, cheesy quiche filled with smoked ham, bacon, and sausage. We ate it closer to room temperature than warm and it was still delish -- and the crust was still crisp!


Everyone enjoyed talking about the cookbooks they'd used and the recipes they'd made. We were all very complimentary about each others' dishes and seconds (quite possibly thirds) were taken. I'm pretty sure everyone left with the intent of making their own dish of "Baked Cinnamon-Apple French Toast" as soon as possible.

And what did I make? I made "Chili and Cheese Crustless Quiche" from Taste of Home's Casseroles, Slow Cooker & Soups: 515 Hot & Hearty Dishes Your Family Will Love. As this was a quick-cooking slow cooker dish, I assembled and cooked it at the library before the club met. I'd fully intended to try the recipe at home over the weekend -- to make sure it worked -- but didn't have the time. Happily, cooking the quiche at work turned out fine and everyone seemed to enjoy it.


Some of the cooks that come to cookbook club aren't keen on very spicy foods, so I only used two cans of chiles rather than the three called for. Both cans were diced, as well, as I couldn't find whole canned chiles that weren't pickled. I didn't know what brand of chili con carne was best, so just went with Hormel's turkey chili without beans as it had fewer calories and less fat that other chilis on the shelf at the grocery store. The finished quiche did have a little kick, but the cheese and egg helped balance that. Overall, I feel it's something I'd make for myself.

This is not the first time I used Taste of Home's Casseroles, Slow Cooker & Soups for cookbook club -- I made the "Slow-Cooked Shepherd's Pie" back in February, when the theme was "Pies: Sweet & Savory." I've also made a few recipes from this cookbook just for myself -- the "Mexican Beef Stuffed Peppers" and "Chicken Merlot With Mushrooms" -- with good results. This is not the most exciting, cutting-edge cookbook out there, but its recipes are reliable and family-friendly (and almost always accompanied by very attractive photographs).

17 March 2018

Cookbook Club: Mediterranean Flavors

March's library cookbook theme was Mediterranean flavors -- dishes from Italy, Spain, Turkey, Greece, and such. I thought this was a broad enough topic that cooks who wanted to push the boat out and try something new -- like a Turkish dish -- could, while those who wanted to play it "safe" with more "common" cuisines like Greek and Italian, could as well. And that's pretty much what happened! In addition to a slew of delicious Italian dishes, we also had succulent buttered apricots with walnuts from Turkey and savory pan-fried chorizo in cider from Spain.


And what did I make? "Classic Hummus" from America's Test Kitchen's Complete Mediterranean Cookbook! Hummus is one of those things I disliked for years and then, abruptly, changed my mind about and now can't get enough of. I've often thought about making my own hummus, but 1) tahini is expensive and 2) I am lazy.

But I actually had tahini in the fridge (leftover from September's beet hummus) and there are always chickpeas in the cupboard so ... hummus! Who knew it could be so easy? The most persnickety part was during prep when I had to mix the lemon juice with water in one bowl and the olive oil with tahini in another. I don't understand why I couldn't just whack everything into the food processor and give it a whirl, but who am I to question the gods? Anyway, this is really good hummus -- smooth, creamy, and garlicky with a subtle lemon tang -- that I wouldn't want to mess with it.

I like this hummus so much that I've made it twice since the March meeting! It's so easy & inexpensive (yes, tahini is $$ upfront, but a jar lasts a long time) and there are enough recipe variations provided that I think I shall be happy making it for quite a long time.


Mind you, I did not intend to bring hummus! I intended to bring the lemony "Olive Oil-Yogurt Cake!" Tuesday was a snow day, so I thought I'd try the bundt cake out on The Husband and, if it worked well, I'd bring it to the meeting. Alas, it worked too well! The cake was so delicious, there was no way The Husband was going to let me part with it (admittedly, I was also loathe to give it up), but I didn't have quite enough time to bake another. So ... hummus!

But this cake. So tender. So moist. So lemony. And easy! Definitely going to bake another one soon. This was the first time I'd ever baked with olive oil and I so pleased with the experience that I went and borrowed Lisa Sheldon's Olive Oil Baking: Heart-Healthy Recipes That Increase Good cholesterol & Reduce Saturated Fats through my library system.


While I've told myself I ought to dial it back on Amazon purchases this year (Prime is the devil), I must admit I ended up purchasing a copy of America's Test Kitchen's Complete Mediterranean Cookbook. In addition to the hummus and the bundt cake, there were simply so many other recipes I wanted to try ("Braised Oxtails with White Beans, Tomatoes, and Aleppo Pepper," you're next!) that it seemed better to own a copy than keep the library's out on near permanent loan.

Unsurprisingly, I own quite a few ATK cookbooks and am very well aware there tends to be overlap between books, but I did not find the "Classic Hummus" recipe repeated in any other books. There are hummus recipes, certainly, but not that one. The recipe for "Olive Oil-Yogurt Cake," however, can also be found in The Perfect Cake (which I don't own, but my library does and I am, of course, on hold for).

16 February 2018

Cookbook Club: Sweet & Savory Pies

February's cookbook club theme was all things pie -- berry, cream, whoopie, hand, slab, cottage, you name it. I didn't doubt my club members would bring a fabulous assortment of sweet pies to our meeting, so I decided to go savory with "Slow-Cooked Shepherd's Pie" (let us not get into the cottage vs shepherd or gravy vs tomato sauce debates) from Taste of Home Casseroles, Slow Cooker, & Soups.


It's a very straight forward recipe and I followed it exactly as written both times I made it. Yes, both. First I tried it out on The Husband last weekend -- being British, he thinks he knows a thing or two about shepherd's pie -- and we both enjoyed it very much. I'll definitely be adding this cozy and comforting dish to my cold weather slow cooker repertoire.

The second time I made this shepherd's pie, I treated it as a make ahead dish. I prepared it through Step 3 the day before cookbook club, assembled the meat and potato layers in the slow cooker insert and refrigerated it overnight, then took it to work and plugged it in the next afternoon. And, as expected, the pie worked out really well as a make ahead dish.

Assembled through Step 3 & ready to go, with parsley and cheese for the finishing touch.

Luckily, my 3½ quart Cuisinart slow cooker fits perfectly in my old canvas tote bag.

I will revisit Taste of Home Casseroles, Slower Cooker, & Soups in April when I make the slow cooker "Chili & Cheese Crustless Quiche." (April's cookbook club theme is brinner and chili quiche seems very brinner-ish).

18 January 2018

Exploring Food52 Vegan for Cookbook Club

January's library cookbook theme was veg*n -- vegetarian and/org vegan -- cooking. January is the time of year when many people embrace new lifestyle choices and I thought veg*n cooking might appeal as plant-based diets are very much on trend. Also, I wanted to push the boat out a bit and challenge my regular participants to venture (at least a little bit) outside their comfort zones.


In the lead-up to January's meeting, I made two recipes from Food52 Vegan: 60 Vegetable-Driven Recipes for Any Kitchen by Gena Hamshaw (Ten Speed Press, 2015). It's a beautifully-packaged introductory cookbook, full of tempting photos, uncomplicated recipes, and handy little "Vegan 101" tips. If you've used other Food52 cookbooks, you'll be familiar with the look and feel. As an omnivore who occasionally dabbles with veg*nism, I didn't find any of recipes "too weird" -- by which I mean I already owned the ingredients I needed or easily found them locally.

The first recipe I tried, "Banana Chia Pudding," was ... okay. It was an easy-to-assemble mixture of unsweetened almond milk, bananas, maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, and chia. The flavor was good -- creamy, maple-y, sweet-but-not-too. Consistency-wise, I found the pudding a bit runny. In all the photos I have seen of chia pudding, it always looks thick -- like tapioca pudding -- but that's not how mine ever comse out. Could my seeds be duds? Is it possible to have old/nonreactive chia seeds?? Anyway, as I said, good flavor. Just a bit soupy.


The second recipe I tried, "Mexican Chocolate Date Truffles," was the dish I ended up presenting at the club meeting. I actually made the truffles the morning of the meeting and then, as they did not require refrigeration, left the truffles out on my desk until it was time to serve them. It took, maybe, 20 minutes to make the truffles and most of that time was just me trying, obsessively, to shape perfect orbs and then settling for orbish truffles.


While mine did not look quite as nice as the ones in the book, they were so easy to make that I know I will make the recipe variations -- oatmeal raisin, key lime, and lemon coconut -- at some point, too, just to see what they're like. The "Mexican chocolate" variation was very date-y and nutty with just a faint bloom of heat and, surprisingly, very little chocolate flavor. I'd used Hershey's Special Dark unsweetened cocoa powder and I think I should have gone for something more robust, like King Arthur Flour's Double Dutch Dark Cocoa. However, the cookbook club participants all enjoyed the truffles just as they were and there wasn't much in the way of leftovers!

21 December 2017

Cookbook Club Cookie Exchange

December is a busy month and, while I didn’t want to skip the library’s cookbook club two months in a row, I didn’t want to overwhelm library patrons with additional holiday cooking. So I decided to forgo the usual potluck supper and cookbook discussion format for a cookie exchange. Everyone likes cookies, after all.


On the morning of the event, sixteen patrons were registered. Twelve excited patrons bearing trays of delicious-looking cookies turned up that evening and that was fine as I’d planned ahead for no-shows. That was why I had instructed everyone neither to portion their cookies out ahead of time nor to make a specific number of cookies. Make whatever your recipe says it makes (or close enough) and we’ll divide by the number of people who come, I said.

As I'd expected, it worked out well that way. I had pre-printed small signs that said “take __” and, after all the patrons had arrived with their cookies, I divided each batch of cookies by 12 and filled in the blank. Obviously, not everything divided evenly and there were leftover cookies, but I just let the patrons go up again at the end and take whatever they wanted. It was an friendly crowd and I wasn’t worried about anyone coming to blows over the Italian Christmas cookies. (Amusingly, they kept trying to get me to take cookies, too, but as I had not baked for the exchange I did not feel I could rightly take any).

The library had provided cookie tins for everyone who turned up. I’d found some nice, seasonal plastic ones printed with candy canes and ornaments at Stop and Shop for $2 each. I bought twenty tins and just returned the unused ones after the program. We don’t have the space to keep the extras and budgets, etc being as they are I don’t want to plan too far ahead, anyway.


Budget-wise, this was more costly than the regular monthly cookbook club meetings, but still less expense than, say, any of the Doctor Who programs I’ve done. About $75 for twenty cookie tins, seven disposable seasonal tablecloths, seasonal paper napkins, chocolates, satsumas, and a cheese and cracker tray. Coffee and water is always provided by the library, so those were not factored into my costs.


Aside from the seasonal tablecloths and paper goods, I didn’t have much going for seasonal decor and the program room looked a bit drab. Happily, I remembered the wall-mounted flat screen TV had integrated Internet so I pulled up a long-playing YouTube video of a crackling fireplace set to instrumental carols and that was that!


28 October 2017

Exploring Melt: The Art of Macaroni & Cheese for Cookbook Club

For September's library cookbook club, one participant brought "Roaring Forties with Honey Roasted Delicata Squash, Sage Butter, and Rotini" from Stephanie Stiavetti & Garret McCord's Melt: The Art of Macaroni & Cheese (Little, Brown, & Company, 2013). She'd checked out the book, completely enamored with the gooey cheesiness on the cover, but then been kind-of turned off by most of the recipes in the book as they were not "mac and cheezy" enough for her -- the cookbook is a very "gourmet" take on macaroni and cheese, using many pricey, artisanal cheeses. Anyway, she did not think much of the rotini recipe -- felt in needed bacon and a different cheese, but brought it along anyway for us all to try.

Overall, we found the dish unmemorable ... a bit dry and the flavors didn't meld together, but it wasn't bad in any definable way ... just rather meh. We all agreed the addition of something (probably bacon or pancetta) might have improved it. Admittedly, the cook had substituted butternut for delicata (couldn't find delicata at the shops) and another blue for the Roaring Forties (ditto). And the dish sat for an hour or so at room temperature before the cook book club sampled it ... so its meh-ness was not entirely the recipe's fault.


I ended up bringing Melt home with me after the meeting and kept going back to the rotini recipe, wondering if I could do better with the correct ingredients. Then I looked around on the Internet for Roaring Forties cheese and found that it was a fancy Australian blue cheese that retailed for $38/pound. Well, I thought, that's a clear nope.


Ah. But then ... delicata squash appeared in my CSA share and I decided, what the heck, I would give the recipe a try. An entire rainy afternoon lay open before me, rich with possibility, so I cracked open a bottle of red and went to work. [While no one recipe step is difficult or fiddly, so much of the dish is prepared separately, only to be brought together at the end, that it feels as if the recipe is taking an inordinate amount of time to make. Therefore, I really recommend you make this dish when you're feeling totally mellow and chillaxed about cooking, with lots of time on your hands, and (definitely) an open bottle of red to keep you company].



First, you make the sage butter by heating butter, fresh sage, sea salt, and honey over low heat. Then you pour it over the chopped delicata squash and toss it until everything is coated and roast the squash for an hour. (The recipe said to use a 8-inch square baking dish, but no way were my two chopped squash going to fit in that pan. And then, since there was extra room in the 13x9, I added one large diced sweet onion).


Then, you cook the pasta until al dente and set it aside. (I used 100% whole wheat rotini, because I hoped -- rightly it turned out -- the firm texture and nutty, grainy flavor would benefit the finished dish. I also tossed the cooked pasta with a little unsalted butter before setting it aside, because butter is flavor and dried-out noodles are just sad).

Then, you toast the pecans in a skillet until fragrant and set aside. (I have a horror of burning nuts so I may have under-toasted mine, but they were still delicious).


Then, you add the pasta and blue cheese (Litehouse Simply Artisan Reserve Blue Cheese Crumbles, because I wanted an affordable mild, creamy blue) to the squash pan and give everything a good stir, garnish with toasted pecans, and eat ... except I was like "To hell with garnishing!" and stirred the pecans in with the pasta, squash, and cheese. It might not have been so photogenic, but I liked that the pecans became coated with the melting cheese and pan juices.

Eaten straight from the baking dish, this rotini was really good. The onion and extra butter definitely helped, I think, as did using a soft blue that mostly melted into the dish. The flavors really came together and I loved the sweet caramelized delicata squash. Definitely didn't need any bacon! 13/10 would make again.

Next, I think, I'll try Melt's "Pastitsio with Kefalotyri and Lamb," because I love a good pastitsio/pastichio. But, yeah, it's going to be even more time consuming. Wine will help, no doubt.

23 September 2017

Cookbook Club!

A few months ago, I started a cookbook club at my new library. My supervisor suggested I start a nonfiction book club and a cookbook club seemed like a natural fit, considering my own interests and the patron base I was working with. I'm not sure cookbook clubs are quite on trend, anymore, but registration has maxed out every month and everyone who actually turns up has been really happy to be there and shown great creativity with their dishes.

The requirements are simple:
  1. Make a dish fitting the month's theme using a library cookbook
  2. Make copies of your recipe to share
  3. On the appointed day, at the appointed time, bring your dish and copies to the library
  4. Discuss your dish and the cookbook you used with fellow club goers
  5. Eat
The club started in July and so far we've done "Fresh Cooking with Local Produce" in June, "Cool & Refreshing Summer Salads" in July, and "Picnic Foods: Dishes to Make & Take" in August. September is "Fall Flavors," but with the hot weather we've been having and the general weirdness of the growing season, I really think it's a bit early for fall flavors. Well, that's what I get for setting the schedule three months in advance!

"Spring Coleslaw" from Cooking from the Garden: Best Recipes from Kitchen Gardener

Since I'm working, I need dishes that can be prepared in advance and then happily left alone in the fridge or on the countertop until serving. So far, I've made a spring slaw, a Middle Eastern vegetable salad, and a tray of s'more brownies. I think the slaw was the best of the three, but the brownies did not last the evening so clearly dessert is something to bring more often.

"Middle Eastern Vegetable Salad" from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa, How Easy Is That?

However, I am not bringing dessert this month. No, I found the perfect way to use some of my scarily huge beets! I made beet hummus from Cara Mangini's The Vegetable Butcher. It's a really simple, straight-forward recipe with only five ingredients. Just wrap the beets in foil and roast them, scrape the skin off when they're cool enough to handle, and blend with salt, lemon juice, tahini, and olive oil until smooth. Adjust the seasoning to taste -- this is important as the recipe as published is a bit bland, imho. The finished hummus keeps in the fridge for five days and is simply beautiful to look at. If you like beets, I really recommend giving this recipe a try.


Roasted beet "hummus" from The Vegetable Butcher

Can't wait to see what everyone else brings to the meeting -- "Cool Weather Comfort: Soups, Stews, & Bread" in October!