Blondies vs Brownies…What Did Santa Prefer?

In thinking about this year’s Santa plate, my son decided that Santa would like brownies.  My daughter said she didn’t want to have dark chocolate (this is always a debate at our house).  I settled the score with making both brownies and blondies.  Nevermind that I had been baking gingerbread, sugar cookies, candy cane cookies, etc.  We needed to make more.

Luckily I also have a stack of cookbooks to review.  Two are really fun and I know I’ll be using them a lot throughout the year.  The first is Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt in Your Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich.  The second is Food Fest 365! : The Official Fun Food Holiday Cookbook by Yvan D. Lemoine. 

 

Chewy Gooey is great for those with a sweet tooth who need more ideas and inspiration (pictures are mouth watering).  I like that the cookies are divided by mouth feel and texture.  Each recipe even has a suggestion to make “upgrades” to create variations and new flavors.  There’s also a veriety of diets and allergies in mind with an index of dairy free, wheat free and low fat recipes.  I made the blondies from this book.  And yes, they were chewy and gooey – my daughter had her first blondie and it’s become a fast favorite.  Next time we make them we’ll try one of the updgrades.  But which one?  Nutmeg, cinnamon or peanut butter blondies?  Perhaps a tasting of all three.

Food Fest 365! is a bit different, but very fun.  It celebrates all the quirky food days established by politicians over the years.  Did you know March 16th is artichoke hearts day?  Of course I love the idea of celebrating the everyday.  The tough part about this book is the arrangement and order is by the calendar.  So if you’re menu planning, you’ll need to consult the index to find what you’re searching for.  Of course it’s also just fun to look up dates and see what food day it is.  For instance my birthday is Cheese Sacrifice Purchase Day (after the Mayans of course) with a recipe for Sundried Tomato Cheese.  I can see someone going through a la the movie Julie and Julia and blogging about making each day’s recipe.  You’ll find everything from Hot Toddy Day to Lobster Day to Angel Food Cake Day, with hundreds in between.  December 8th is where I found Chocolate Brownie Day.  My son was very pleased with the gooey, rich flavor and they were quick and easy, like a brownie should be.

So what did Santa like?  Well Santa (I believe) was so tired since one of the children at our house stayed up to try to see him (and made it to 2:30 a.m.), that he broke off an equal piece of each and then left crumbs on the fireplace. (Note.  Besides the blondies and brownies and milk for Santa, there were of course carrots for the reindeer.  Plus my daughter also made a beaded collar for Rudolph – see photo above)

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Cookbook Review – Raw Food for Real People

I have to admit while I like a challenge in the kitchen sometimes I am indimidated by certain kinds of foods and cookbooks.  This was the case when I received Raw Foods for Real People; Living Vegan Food Made Simple by Rod Rotondi.  Raw foods are not new, it’s what most humans ate for centuries – nuts, fruits, vegetables, grains etc.  Basically whole foods not cooked above a certain temperature (118 F). 

My family eats vegetarian and even vegan sometimes, but when I think of raw I think of salads and veggies (good of course as a snack or on the side, but not a regular diet).  There is a thoughtful foreward for people like me that are not quite comfortable with the whole co cooking thing.  I mean I write cookbooks, not non-cookbooks.  He talks honestly about his road to raw (living and traveling all over the globe) as well as the health benefits and history of raw foods.

Of course I can do anything in moderation, which is Rod’s point.  He doesn’t necessarily set out to change everyone’s diet to raw, he’s giving the info and recipes and hopes you incorporate more raw food in your meals.  So I started off by making a few of the smoothies.  The Tropical whip with bananas, dates, pineapple and coconut milk was declared by my son as “the best smoothie I ever made”.  And we make a lot.  Some other things weren’t so off our usual like vegetable slaw and guacamole.  I made the Hale Kale salad to varying criticisms, but mostly a problem with texture (my daughter) and sour (my son).  I rather liked it and will experiment next time by adding tomatoes and olives and maybe feta, and less lemon juice. 

I like having this book in my collection.  It gives me some good inspiration and also rounds out my books to be something for everyone.  You never know when a raw enthusiast is coming to dinner.  And it may be the perfect gift for someone thinking about a diet change or in need of more healthy inspiration.

Pros: Healthy recipes and good diet information.  Some quick and easy such as dressings, salads and smoothies.  Using whole and organic foods, not only good for the body but for the environment as well.

Cons: Some recipes just too time consuming and not simple, such as soaking nuts to make “cheez” and require some unique pantry items such as “nama shoyu”.  Also can make more recipes if you have the right equipment such as a hydrator (I don’t have). 

And here’s a link to a TV interview / cooking demo (kale salad) that Rod did about the book when the hardcover came out last year:  http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=view_from_the_bay/food_wine&id=7077899
Note: the author is also a dad and has stuck to his prinicipals by feeding his daughter only raw foods – she’s 4.
(Hopefully he’s working on an interesting follow-up book once she starts going to school functions and birthday parties.  Those outside influences are tough.)
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Vegetarian Cookbook Review with Cheese Fondue Recipe

When I was offered a look at the new cookbook, The Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Over 200 Delicious Recipes by Judith Finlayson, I was intrigued.  As you may know I’ve been toying with the idea of purchasing a slow cooker.  Read about my hesitations in my blog.  My family is also doing Meatless Mondays and I am always looking for new vegetarian dishes.  And my sister is vegan and while many of the recipes use dairy, there are some which note how to make them vegan, which I find helpful.  Anyways the cookbook arrived and the recipes looked great.  I wanted of course to make something, but still am not sure I want another appliance (especially to store).  The great thing is, I can and have made some of these recipes without a slow cooker with great results.  Of course some dishes (those with beans) need extra work (soaking) not required of the slow cooker, but it can be done.  Also some of the dishes can be cooked in a braising pot for a few hours (which I already have) – but no I wouldn’t leave the house.  The convenience isn’t there without the slow cooker.   The author does give info about various slow cookers and use, which is helpful if I do buy.

So while I didn’t buy a slow cooker I did buy a retro 70’s fondue pot.  Why?  Because it is lovely and orange.  Seriously my friend put a photo of this fondue pot on her blog and I immediately bought it on Etsy.  Who knew Etsy had kitchenware?  I’m in trouble now.  I’ve had it over a month and it’s only been a display item on the open shelf in the kitchen.  The slow cooker wouldn’t have such a prominent place.  Not sure what I was waiting for to use it.  However the perfect opportunity came with the arrival of the The Vegetarian Slow Cooker.  There are some inspiring dishes that are from all kinds of food flavors and origins and then I saw the section on fondues.  One in particular is a new favorite at my house… Kid’s Fondue.  This is like a bowl full of rich gooey pizza.  I am not kidding.  So while the recipe said to cook in the slow cooker for 1 hour, I simply heated and cooked low on the stove and then poured it into my fondue pot.  Super simple.  My family loved it.  My son was quite skeptical at first.  He likes fondue and is not a huge tomato lover.  When he saw it he said he wasn’t going to eat it.  However after dipping a piece of baguette and red pepper he exclaimed “This is the best fondue I’ve ever had!” 

And really I think the whole book is straight forward and pretty simple.  It may end up putting me over the top to buy a slow cooker…  But for now I’m enjoying the book without it.  I think making a recipe your own is what cooking is all about, and me wanting to use the book not as intended means the book is interesting.  So whether you are vegetarian or not, or have a slow cooker or not you can make this book yours too.  Here’s the recipe…

Kid’s Favorite Fondue

(page 108, The Vegetarian Slow Cooker)

Need: small (max 1/2 quart slow cooker)

fondue forks

1 can 28 ounces tomatoes (I used Pomi)

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

3 cups shredded cheddar cheese

sliced baguette, celery sticks andsliced red pepper to serve and dip

Process tomatoes with juice.  Transfer to cooker.  Add spices and cook on high for 1 hour, until hot and bubbly. (I used a pan on the stovepot on low for about 30 minutes)

Add cheese in handfuls, stirring to combine.

Reduce heat to low and serve.  Dip bread and/or veggies into fondue.

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Get Cooking Light…New Cookbook

So funny, that when you write about food and recipes and cooking people from all over contact you to try their product (food, book, sandwich wrap).  Most of these requests and things that people want to send me just don’t apply.  There’s way too many offeres for alcohol related recipes and products – obviously not in touch that I write about kids and family foods.  (or maybe they are and know parents sometimes need a drink).  Anyways when I was offered a chance to review a Cooking Light cookbook, I was quite pleased. 

Cooking Light, Cooking Through the Seasons is really how I like to cook.  Simple recipes with key ingredients and seasons in mind.  Choosing what to prepare is easy as you go to your season, in this case spring and list your ingredients to be able to buy at the local farmer’s market.  Not that I didn’t jump ahead and see some great summer and winter recipes too.  The book may replace my Better Homes and Garden Cookbook as a true cookbook staple and my new go to guide for making fresh seasonal food.  There’s easy steps of cooking methods for those unfamiliar (braising, blanching, etc).  The book also highlights ingredients from the seasons that may or may not be familiar.  Never being one to do much with rhubarb, I jumped right in, learned how to choose and made a refreshing sorbet.  Fava beans are also something I don’t use very often, but embraced a wonderful warm salad.  (And when I tired of peeling fava beans and didn’t buy enough, I substituted with spring peas.)

This book gives enough information and great photos for a novice cook, but also enough interesting ingredients, inspiration and delicious recipes for those more comfortable in the kitchen.

Here’s a few of the yummy foods I’ve made so far…

asparagus with brown butter sauce
chicken, edaname (sub for spring pea) and potato salad
rhubarb sorbet
vegetable fetuccini
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Dad’s Birthday and the Burger Bar Cookbook Experience

burger

As promised, I’m reporting back on the cookbook, Burger Bar: Build Your Own Ultimate Burgers by Hubert Keller.  Sorry to keep you waiting.   I can’t weigh in an opinion on a book until I’ve at least made a few recipes.  There’s nothing more frustrating than people who have comments and criticism based on the look, weight or photos of a cookbook.  Make something then tell me what’s it’s like.

 

Anyways it was my husband’s birthday and he requested making a burger recipe from the new book – Blue Cheese Stuffed Bacon Sliders.  I’ll put the burger and accoutrements together and my husband will grill it outside.  Easy enough, I thought.  However the first challenge was when trying to buy the coarsely ground sirloin at the Whole Food’s meat counter.  They did not have ground sirloin (that’s what makes the burgers a stand out and the price in a restaurant, or so I’m told) and when I asked the gentleman behind the meat counter he said too much of the meat would get stuck in the grinder.  What?  He was looking over me at the long line and his watch.  Instead of holding my own and telling him to grind it anyway, I went with the best quality grass fed beef.  I should’ve gone to a local butcher.  Next time.

 

I was annoyed with myself when I got home, but tired and wanting to focus on the other elements of the birthday dinner and of course dessert.  The cake requested was a flourless chocolate cake.  Easy and yummy enough.  Something I can mix up in about 20 minutes, then another 20 to bake.  My usual sprinkle of powdered sugar or cocoa wasn’t going to cut it for my kids.  They think all birthday cakes should have writing.  So we whipped up a bit of royal icing and served the cake with mint ice cream (my husband’s fav) – it’s rich, quick and perfect.

 

Flourless Chocolate Cake
Flourless Chocolate Cake

Back to the burgers.  I have to say they were yummy.  However there were some elements or steps that were not really necessary.  Stuffing the burgers with blue cheese didn’t add much except for time to make and worry whether they were going to break open on the grill.  Adding it to the top of the burger would’ve yielded the same flavor and not made the burger so high.  These were so tall, there was not way to get your mouth around.  We made them full size and they were messy and awkward to eat at home.  If we had made true sliders and wanted to have them at a party, they would’ve ended up on the floor (or guests would’ve been too intimated to eat).   See photo.  It also wasn’t necessary to add bacon to the meat mixture.  It was plenty on top as opposed to pieces in the meat.

 On the plus side, the sugared pears were great.  This combo with the burger and blue cheese was great and yielded a bit of moisture.  My kids loved these on the side too.  Who wouldn’t?  I’m going to remember these for salads too.  Another plus from the book was the Marinated Vegetable Salad I made to accompany.  This was easy, crisp and refreshing.  This will be a new side dish at our house for just about anything.  Even a good potluck or picnic dish.

 

marinated salad
marinated salad

I’m looking forward to making more of the recipes.  However like I do with most recipes, I will read and make a few changes if too complex, to edit the ingredients and steps and make more convenient.

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I Met a Master

There are only a handful of television shows I watch each week.  Once of them is Top Chef.  I’ve blogged about my love of the show before.  But what trumps Top Chef?  Top Chef Masters!  I was so excited to watch each week and especially root for the home team chef (Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys in SF).  No I had never been to Fleur de Lys (hopefully some day soon), but this chef was so nice and down to earth and french.  How could I not like him?  He didn’t win.  But I liked Rick Bayless (Frontera, Topolobampo, Chicago)  too.  Another seemingly nice person with a genuine passion for food.

When I heard Hubert Keller would be at the Tyler Florence Shop in Mill Valley, I responded immediately.  We in the Bay Area are so fortunate to have the Florence family here as a family,  business, and generous community supporter.  Hubert was promoting his new cookbook Burger Bar Build Your Own Ultimate Burgers, along with his new restaurants (opening in Macy’s in Union Square SF on Oct 16th).  I was so pleased to see this friendly and talkative “master” in person.  It was also very moving to hear a man thank him for Fleur de Lys and the experience he had dining there when he proposed to his wife.  It was also wonderful to hear that he has raised so much money for Make-A-Wish foundation because of his Top Chef Masters appearance.

Hubert and I
Hubert and I

 

The cookbook looks wonderful – everything from burgers (beef, fish, veggie, ostrich) and veggie sides (fries, pickled veggies) and shakes/floats (spiked and non).  I’ll report back with a recipe once I’ve tried something.

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