Books and Cooks

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What's_Baking_BadgeThis month’s theme for What’s Baking? – baking bread – was chosen by Heather at Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks. I definitely debated about whether to use this as an excuse to make a warm, crusty baguette. I contemplated a dinner of fresh bread and cheese, maybe a little fresh fruit and olives… but I bet my hubby would tell me that’s not an acceptable dinner. After all, he scoffed at a box of Girl Scout cookies for lunch. Apparently 6+ months pregnant isn’t an excuse to indulge. Anyway, in the end, I decided that with the cold weather we’ve been having, I’d make a hearty dinner of chili and made-from-scratch traditional cornbread.

This recipe is super easy – it took only a few minutes to put together and surprisingly little time to bake. My oven runs a tad hot, so I ended up with a slightly crispy edge that I couldn’t help but eat first. :-)

Skillet Buttermilk Cornbread

Skillet Buttermilk Cornbread

Adapted from Fine Cooking No. 107 (p. 37)

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 c. stone-ground yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. table salt
  • 1 c. buttermilk
  • 1/2 c. sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into a couple of pieces

Ensure that a rack is placed in the center of the oven. Place a 9-10 inch cast-iron skillet in an oven and heat to 425°F. Allow skillet to sit in the oven until the oven is completely preheated, if not longer.

In a large bowl, whisk together remaining cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a small pot, bring 1/2 c. water to a boil. Whisk in 1/2 c. of the cornmeal until a thick mush has formed. Whisk in buttermilk, sour cream, and eggs until smooth.

When oven has been properly preheated, about 20 minutes, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir together with a wooden spoon until smooth and no clumps remain. Switch to a whisk if a few stubborn clumps remain.

Remove hot skillet from oven and add butter pieces, swirling pan to spread the butter and coat the bottom. Immediately pour cornmeal mixture into pan. Return to oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, until top is golden and bread begins to pull away from the sides.

Remove from oven and turn out onto a wire rack. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Serve hot.

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Snitch{Book Review}

Snitch

By Brooker T Mattison

One night while driving his normal bus route, Andre Bolden, aka Dre, witnesses a murder. In a town where nobody talks to the cops, Andre calls in an anonymous tip and tries to move on with his life.

However, that night changed his life. His tip to the cops results in him losing his job. While Andre only saw the killer’s eyes, his presence that night marks him as a target. Andre’s life is a mess – he has no job, is locked out of his apartment for failure to pay rent, and is unable to make amends with the woman he loves. He’s anxious, severely depressed and struggling to find the good in the world when he feels like he’s been dealt such a bad hand.

Review/Recommendation: I read a good bit of mystery and suspense novels. You might say that I’m a mystery junkie. I love a good quick read, with very little thinking, to take my mind off the long day. I’d say that Snitch, filmmaker Mattison’s second novel  published in 2011, falls into this genre.

However, Snitch stands out from its peers in the mystery-suspense category in several ways. First is the writing style. The prose is slightly poetic – something that could be attributed to the main character’s passion for poetry and creative writing or to the author’s own writing style (I’ll have to read his first and only other novel to find out). Secondly, unlike many other novels I’ve read in this genre, almost every character in this book truly had his or her own voice. There was no rereading a page of dialog because I lost track of who was speaking. Each character’s upbringing and lifestyle was reflected in their voice. Finally, the depth and development of the characters, Andre in particular, was unparalleled to many other books in this genre. Their spiritual and emotional conflict and angst  was truly apparent and genuine-feeling, although the story still read like a quick mystery novel.

Snitch was a breath of fresh air compared to so many of the suspense novels I read. Great, quick story but with so much more depth that it’s hard not to appreciate it.

Grade: A

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When I had my daughter, several friends highly recommended a join a new mom’s group. I was originally uncertain, but so many different people gave me the recommendation that I couldn’t ignore it. I joined a group run by a local hospital, and it was one of the best decisions this new mommy could have made. I gained not only a support system for those few months but a group of amazing friends that still gets together on a regular basis, two years later.

It feels like just yesterday that we were a group of women with our new babies, and so many questions. Today, this group is moving on – several of us are taking the leap to a family of four (and wondering what we were thinking, as our little ones start the Terrible Twos). To celebrate the first new baby to join our group, a friend and I hosted a nautical-themed baby shower brunch for the mom-to-be this past weekend. We had a blast surprising our friend and being a bit creative.

Below you’ll find the brunch menu we put together for a dozen women (and a couple of hubbies). I didn’t make everything on the menu, but when I could recommend a similar recipe, I linked to it for your convenience.

Nautical Baby Shower Brunch, Food

{Menu}
Nautical-Themed Baby Shower Brunch
Serves 12

Single-Serving Italian Frittatas
Deviled Eggs
Fresh Fruit, Yogurt, and Pecan Granola
Assorted Muffins: Blueberry, Almond Pound Cake, Spiced
Whole Wheat Banana Bread (recipe to come)
Pico de Gallo and Tortilla Chips
Vanilla and Chocolate Cupcakes
Coffee, Tea, Juice, and Sangria

Nautical Baby Shower Decorations

Since this was a shower for a second baby, we kept it simple – we gave prizes to the winners of a couple of games but skipped the favors. However, I couldn’t resist making “Catch of the Day” goldfish bags for the few kids that were present.

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Have I ever told you that I’m a terrible breakfast eater? I didn’t start eating breakfast regularly until a few years ago. Before that, throughout all of my years of school, it was maybe a granola bar mid-morning, to tide me over until lunch. When I did eat breakfast, it wouldn’t be the healthiest or most filling – bagels and bacon were my favorites. Just about everything else, I could ignore and hold out until lunch.

Over the past few years, I’ve taught myself to eat relatively nutritious breakfasts so that I’d have more energy in the mornings and in general, lead a healthier lifestyle. I still prefer bagels and bacon but those days are few and far between. Today, I still need an hour to wake up in the morning before eating, but I pack my bag with something healthier. The breakfasts most frequently found in my lunch bag (because I eat it at work as I read email in the morning) are fruit with either a whole wheat English muffin, toasted, with turkey bacon and avocado or yogurt (Greek or traditional) with granola.  The combination of carbs + protein keep me full throughout the morning.

Pecan Granola

While life with a toddler keeps me out of the kitchen more than I’d like, homemade granola is one item that I try to make on a fairly routine basis. If you’ve been reading Books n’ Cooks for a while, you’ve heard me say how much better it tastes than the store-bought stuff. It’s softer and so much more flavorful. And the combinations are endless. If you haven’t given homemade granola a shot, I strongly recommend it. You won’t regret it.

Pecan Granola

Adapted from Fine Cooking No. 75 (p. 34)

Yields 5 Cups

Ingredients:Pecan Granola, Fresh from the oven

  • vegetable oil spray
  • 3 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/2-2 c. pecan halves, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine oats, pecans, cinnamon, and salt.

In a small sauce pan set over medium heat, combine 1/4 c. water with brown sugar. Stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in canola oil and vanilla extract.

Pour brown sugar mixture over dry ingredients. Stir well to combine. The oats should be completely coated.

Spread over prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, stir, and return to oven, alternating the trays on the oven racks. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, until oats are golden and nuts look like they’re beginning to brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets (oats will crisp up as they cool).

Store in an airtight container for up to a month.

Like this recipe or looking for something more to your liking? Try one of these great alternatives:

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I was really bummed to have to cancel our annual party last month due to heating issues and sickness. More than half of the food was prepped or prepared. We’ve gradually been eating through the cookies and appetizers that I stashed in the freezer, but these almonds got forgotten about in the pantry. It’s a good thing they have a long shelf life.

I love to have some sort of roasted nut as a munchie for the holiday party, and these would have really stood out from other recipes I’ve tried. Sweet, savory, and slightly spicy, I have a hard time staying away from them… which is why the container got put in a corner of the pantry and forgotten about. They’re a little messy to eat, but try them. You won’t regret it.

Espresso Dark Chocolate Almonds

Spicy Espresso Dark Chocolate Almonds

Adapted from Bell’alimento

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbs. ground espresso (I like Starbucks Via)
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 lb. whole raw almonds
  • 1/4 c. cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 250F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Whisk together egg white and sugar until combined. Whisk in espresso and cayenne. Stir in almonds until evenly coated. Arrange in a single layer on prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 1 hour. Flip almonds and return to the oven for another 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool. Toss in cocoa powder.

Store in an airtight container. (Mine kept for a month.)

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Labyrinth{Book Review}

Labyrinth

By Kate Mosse

Labyrinth features two story lines of women both destined to play critical roles in a secret society created to protect the Grail.

As the Crusaders threaten Carcassonne, in the Pyrenees mountains, southern France, a Guardian of the Grail worries that he won’t be able to protect the secret of the Grail. To ensure that that these obligations are met in event of his death, he shares the secret – along with a small book and ring – with his daughter, Alias. The Guardian’s fears come true and he dies during the Crusaders’ siege on Carcassone. Alias loyally takes up her father’s duties to protect the Grail.

Eight hundred years later, Alice, a British archaeological volunteer at a dig in southern France, stumbles onto the secret society when she discovers a cave with two skeletons and labyrinth on the wall. From that point forward, she starts having strange dreams, believes like she’s being followed, and feels threatened due to a series of events that take place around her or against her. Alice begins researching, putting together the pieces of the mystery that she fell into. Finally finding a few people to trust, Alice unfolds the mystery of the Grail…

Review: This book sat on my shelf for more than a few years (it was published in 2005 and I have a hardcover copy – that should give you an idea of just how long it’s sat) before I picked it up just before Christmas. I was in desperate need of a book to read and I couldn’t chose an e-book, as the little one steals my iPad every chance she gets. I’m glad I finally picked this one up. A little history, a little mystery and action, Labyrinth kept my attention from start to finish.

I think that the only thing that kept me from really loving this book was the discontinuity as Mosse flipped between Alias’s story and Alice’s. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed both story lines. However, because I became engrossed in each woman’s tale, I was always a little disappointed when it was time to flip to the other story. In the beginning, this was much less noticeable. That was in part because the tales were just beginning, but also because the flip-flopping was less frequent.

Grade: B+

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What's_Baking_Badge

Ok, so I was terrible with keeping up with the 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats this year. Call me lazy if you’d like. I’ve been super busy and frankly, exhausted over the past few (the first trimester does that to me, apparently!). It’s a wonder I’ve been able to get any posts out over the past few months.

Now that the first trimester has past, I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. If you’re still looking for a holiday cookie for a party, some care packages, or just to have around the house, then this week’s post, something “gingerbread,” to satisfy the What’s Baking? theme chosen by Catherine of Pursuing Domestic Goddess-ness, will work for you. I’ve never been particularly interested in gingerbread flavored baked goods, but I did have to stop myself from eating these. The flavor was fairly subtle and the cookies were super soft, just the way I like them.

Enjoy!

Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread Cookies

Adapted from All Recipes via One Little Project At A Time

Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

  • ¾ c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 c. + 4 Tbs. granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbs. water
  • ¼ c. molasses
  • ¼ c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.Gingerbread Cookies

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and 1 c. sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Lower speed slightly and one at a time, add egg, water, and molasses. Scrape down sides of mixer and add all remaining ingredients (except for the 4 Tbs. sugar), mixing until just combined.

Use a cookie scoop to form 1-inch balls, shaping them between the palms of your hands as needed. Roll in remaining sugar. Place on the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until edges are browned slightly. Allow to cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

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Unlike some people, I never really had any strong Christmas traditions of watching a particular movie. When my brothers and I were little, we would watch Christmas specials that my mom recorded (on VHS!) – the Smurf’s Christmas Special, Frosty the Snowman… the homemade movie had all of those amazing Coca Cola polar bear commercials (seriously, why did those every go away?).

But at a certain point, we got too old for the Christmas specials. I don’t know when we stopped watching – junior high? High school? It wasn’t until college that those Christmas specials were replaced with a movie. Elf.

I remember coming home from college and talking about the movie. My mom rolled her eyes at me, but my brother jumped right into the conversation about what a great movie it was. Needless to say, Mom had to watch it with us. Several times that Christmas vacation. Thus began my newest Christmas movie tradition.

These cookies are inspired by that movie. For those of you that don’t know the movie, stop reading right now, and check out Netflix, On Demand, whatever. Watch it, and then finish reading this post. You should be picturing the scene where Will Ferrell is making a breakfast of pasta, candy, and maple syrup for his father’s wife. These cookies aren’t as sickly sweet as I imaging that breakfast would have been.Not surprisingly, I felt like I was eating a handful of candy when I ate a cookie.

I can’t wait to turn my Christmas movie tradition into a movie + baking event with my daughter!

Buddy the Elf Cookies

Buddy the Elf Cookies

Adapted from Spoon or Foon

Makes 2-3 dozen cookies

Ingredients for the Cookies:

  • 1½ c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 14 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 c. old-fashioned oats
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • ½ c. brown sugar
  • 1 c. M&Ms
  • ½ c. mini marshmallows
  • 1 c. Sno-Caps
  • 4 S’mores Pop Tarts, chopped

Ingredients for the Maple Glaze

  • 1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar
  • 1-2 Tbs. pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper an set aside.2013_12.Weeks.Of.Christmas.Treats

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and vanilla, beating until combined. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, mixing well and scraping down sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce speed to low and add oats, Sno-Caps, Pop Tarts, M&Ms, and marshmallows. The batter will be very thick. You’ll want to finish stirring with a wooden spoon to make sure the candy is evenly distributed.
Using an ice cream scoop, portion out cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets. Bake 14-16 minutes, until lightly golden. Allow to cool for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack (set on top of a paper bag to minimize the mess) to cool completely.
Make the Glaze. While cookies are baking, whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle over cooled cookies.
Store in an airtight container.
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Apple Cinnamon Granola

I love granola and really believe that the homemade kind is the best. It’s a softer texture than most store-bought granola and the flavors are always much bolder.

Granola is not only a tasty breakfast or snack but it’s a great gift. Put it in a cute jar and tie with a pretty ribbon or make it rustic with a mason jar and a little twine. No need for a hostess gift or prefer not to give food this holiday season? Then whip up a batch and store it for a few weeks for your own holiday entertaining.

Apple Cinnamon Granola

Two Peas and Their Pod via Southern Pink Lemonade

Makes 5 cups of granola

Ingredients:2013_12.Weeks.Of.Christmas.Treats

  • 3 1/2 c. old-fashioned oats
  • 4-5 oz. dried apples, chopped small
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • dash of ground nutmeg
  • dash of ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 c. unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 Tbs. honey
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbs. vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 300F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to mix together dry ingredients (oats, apples, sugar, spices, and salt) until thoroughly combined. In a separate small bowl, stir together wet ingredients (applesauce, honey, vanilla and oil).

Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until coated. Spread evenly onto prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. Allow granola to cool completely on baking sheet.

Store in an airtight container. Granola will keep for at least a few weeks.

Serve with milk, over yogurt or ice cream, or eat by the handful on its own.

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Welcome to another week of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats, a weekly blogging event hosted by Meal Planning Magic. If you haven’t been by in the past, you probably don’t know that I love dressing up nuts for a quick, easy, and super tasty snack at parties. It’s become a staple at my annual holiday party. I’ve done Crock-Pot Sugared Nuts and Mixed Spiced Nuts in the past, but I think this recipe is my favorite. I love the sweet vanilla flavor. And it’s done in 30 minutes – a nice little recipe to keep in your back pocket for last minute guests this holiday season.

Vanilla Almonds.

Vanilla Almonds

Adapted from Taste of Home via That Skinny Chick Can Bake

Makes 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/3 c. light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla
  • 1/2 Tbs. vanilla paste (optional)
  • 4 c. unsalted almonds

Preheat oven to 300º. Line two baking sheets with Vanilla Almondsparchment paper and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together both sugars, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk egg whites until frothy, about a minute. Whisk in vanilla and vanilla paste (if using).

Stir in almonds until they’re completely coated. Pour half of sugar mixture over almonds and stir. Pour remaining sugar mixture over almonds and stir until almonds are evenly coated.

Spread almonds in an even layer on the prepared baking sheets. Bake 20-25 minutes, stirring the almonds and rotating the pans midway through baking.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on baking sheets before moving to an airtight container.

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