Monthly Archives: February 2013

My Cookbook Obsession

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I am cookbook obsessed.

I have a bookcase full of them. My Barnes & Noble wish list is loaded with them. Through the years I have tried to pare them down, getting rid of the ones I never used or didn’t like, donating them to friends and libraries and shelters, yet I still have dozens and I still want more!

Apparently I am not the only one. In the bookselling world – you know actual books, you can touch and feel and bend and that, yes, require the sacrifice of a tree – book sales are down, but COOKbook sales are up!

Makes some sense when you consider the success of reality TV shows like Top Chef (my fave) on Bravo TV and the popularity of Food Network and Cooking Channel. Chefs are household names now so it does seem natural that when a celebrity chef writes a book the masses will buy it. Even food bloggers have turned cookbook writers with great success, think most recently Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen fame.

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I do find it a bit interesting though since all you have to do in this day and age is google any recipe or even ingredient and you instantly have dozens of recipe variations to choose from.

But consider that cookbooks are way more than recipe books now.

No longer are they just lists of ingredients followed by instructions and if you are lucky a photo of the completed dish.

Photos fill nearly every page and in some books you get to see all the various stages of the making of a dish, not just the finished product. The photos are no longer bound into one or two sections in the middle of the book with maybe a couple dozen recipes represented and a note referring you from the recipe to the photo section of the book to see if what you made looks like what they made.

Modern cookbooks are worthy of the coffee table.

Recipes are no longer just recipes. They have a story, a history, a connection to the chef who created it. They read like wonderful biographies or mini novels.

I love food, so I have always loved reading about food. But I never imagined I would take a cookbook with me to bed at night to read like it is the latest book from Gillian Flynn.

But a couple of years ago when I got New York Times’ writer Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite that is just what I found myself doing, completely engaged in her stories about the food and how they affected her life and ultimately how to cook them.

Even technique driven books like Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty are a great read, of course that is a tribute to Ruhlman’s talent as a writer. Ruhlman again gets a lot of credit for my other favorite cookbooks – all of Thomas Keller’s books, which he helped write. These are gorgeous, lush books full of recipes with exquisitely detailed – often daunting instructions – that you doubt you will ever try, but they are oh-so-fun to read about and drool over.

Then one day you decide to take the plunge, wipe the drool off the page and try one out, and low and behold, you followed the instructions and it worked beautifully. All it took was some time and patience and you probably learned a new trick or two along the way!

I do love Keller’s books and Keller’s food and ideas about food, he is a master. I’m not going to say his are the first books I reach for to find a recipe, but they are often the ones where I find the most inspiration.

I have stared at my bookcase at times and had the idea to take a page – pun intended – out of Julie Powell’s book Julie & Julia and cook my way page-for-page through one of the books, as she did with Julia Child’s, and see what the journey is like. We’ll see.

For now I’m just going to enjoy adding to the Red Apron library, curling up with a good cookbook and getting inspired to create wonderful food!

I urge you to do the same!

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Satisfy Your Thin Mint Craving Early!

Gluten Free Thin Mints

Gluten Free Thin Mints

It’s Girl Scout Cookie time!

All my friends have placed their orders for multiple boxes of thin mints. Since going gluten free just more than a year ago, I don’t have that option. Last year at this time I spent at least one day a week in a baking frenzy trying to recreate my favorite things gluten free. Even before I went gluten free, I’ve always been one to think if I can buy it, certainly I can make it at home.

One of those early experiments was thin mint cookies.

It was amazingly easy to find a recipe online. The one I opted to try was from www.bakingbites.com.

The first time I made them I used that recipe exactly, including the Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All-Purpose Flour.

I have nothing against Bob’s Red Mill and they are certainly a Godsend to the GF community, I use many of their products, but through many of my baking escapades I have found that the bean-based flour has a smell and taste that is less than pleasant to me and doesn’t always bake off enough. I have since switched to King Arthur GF multi purpose flour.

I got into the dough-making process once before realizing I was out of mint extract. So I made the cookies without and while the dough was chilling, replenished my mint extract supply and used it in the ganache. This worked OK, but ultimately the cookies are way better with the double layer of mint flavor.

I also topped the cookies with a sugared mint leaf. That added a little freshness to the mint flavor, and looked really pretty! Obviously this is not necessary.

This is a darned good cookie, period! Not just a god GF cookie.

So while everyone is waiting for their cookies to arrive, I’ll already be munching on my own thin mints fresh from the freezer! Cause that is where thin mints must be stored!

FOR THE COOKIES

3/4 cup sugar

7 TB room temperature butter

1 large egg

1/2 tsp mint extract

1/2 teas real vanilla

5 TB unsweetened cocoa powder

1 3/4 cup GF multi purpose flour (I used King Arthur)

1/4 teas salt

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Mix sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Add egg and extracts and mix until combined. Add cocoa powder, flour and salt. Mix until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto parchment paper or waxed paper and form into a log about 1 ½-inches in diameter. Wrap securely in paper and freeze for a couple of hours.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Slice dough into thin rounds, no thicker than ¼ inch. If dough is too firm to slice, allow it to sit for just a few minutes before slicing. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet. These cookies do not spread much so feel free to lay them close together, but not touching.

Bake for 12 minutes. Allow to cool on baking sheet for 3 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.

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FOR THE GANACHE

12 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli)

1/2 cup butter

1/2 teas vanilla

1/2 teas mint extract

Place chocolate and butter in a heat proof bowl and set over simmering water. Stir occasionally until chocolate is melted. You can remove it from the heat when just a few chunks remain and stir until they melt. Add extracts and stir.

Dip COMPLETEY COOLED cookies into the chocolate, turning with a fork to coat, place on parchment or waxed paper to firm up.

Top with sugared mint leaves before the chocolate sets.

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SUGARED MINT LEAVES

1 egg white

2 TB sugar

fresh mint leaves

In a small bowl whip egg white with a fork until frothy.

Place sugar in a small shallow bowl or plate.

Brush mint leaves with egg wash with a brush or your fingers. Then either sprinkle the leaves with sugar or slide them through the sugar to coat.

Set aside until ready to use.

Organic, Local…why you should bother

Organic. Should you bother or not?

Through the years, since organic became the buzz word on everyone’s lips, we have been told everything from always buy organic to don’t waste your money to only things where you eat the skin to everything in between. So how do you decide?

Well here are some things to think about.

There is the “Dirty Dozen” list of products that contain the most pesticides. Updated annually, last year it became the dirty dozen plus. Included on the list are – apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, spinach, nectarines, lettuce, cucumbers and potatoes, plus new additions kale and green beans.

For more details on this check out www.ewg.org.

Recently I read something from Primal eating guru Mark Sisson that put a slightly different spin on things.

Go organic with any item on the dirty dozen that is a staple for you! If the product is something you eat all the time, then go organic. I hadn’t ever really thought about it like that, but thought that might put it in a different perspective for folks.

Get more of Sisson’s insights here http://www.marksdailyapple.com/top-9-most-important-foods-to-buy-organic/#axzz2JfB2dZ3i

I’m going to go one step further and encourage you to eat local whenever possible.

There are so many reasons to do so.

It helps the local economy. You know where the food is coming from, it hasn’t traveled far to get to you. And finally the best reason ever, TASTE! Local food that is fresh and in season is remarkably tasty! Sometimes we get so used to eating whatever we grabbed from the produce aisle in the grocery store. Something that most likely spent a few days getting here from California, Florida, Arizona with each hour and day sucking the flavor and nutrients out.

Join a local CSA, start going to the farmer’s market on the weekends. Grab a big bunch of kale that was grown less than 30 minutes away and you’ll discover something amazing, flavor! Ever had a Pungo strawberry in season? Pure bliss that those California gems, which look pretty, just can’t hold a candle to.

I could go on about the increased nutrient value in items that a grown locally in pesticide free soil and eaten in season, but all you really need to know is local stuff just plain tastes better!

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