Category Archives: Cookbooks

Review: Vegan Indian Cooking

vegan_indian_cooking_coverI’ve added yet another vegan cookbook to my collection. This time Vegan Indian Cooking. I have a few Indian cookbooks, but sadly hardly used. I haven’t spent the $ that’s needed to buy all the spices that are required. On top of that, a lot of the recipes in those books are too complicated (exception: Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking. See review).

You do need a few spices to get the right taste. I’ve accepted this as a necessary part of Indian cooking and I’ve begun buying spices on an as-needed basis. I find if you start skipping a lot of spices, the end product becomes bland.

The recipes here are simple to prepare and flavourful. I made the tofu curry and I recommend baking the tofu first to boost the texture. The curry was easy to make and if you’re not vegan/vegetarian, this is a good base for meat like chicken. I knew this dish would turn out spicy so I omitted the teaspoon of cayenne which would have been suicide for me.

The sweet and sour potatoes even though the ingredient list is short, it doesn’t come off as bland.

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Chickpea poppers. I think the oven took longer to preheat than the actual bake time. The prep work is nearly zero and it’s healthy because it’s baked, not fried. I did find the original recipe makes a large batch so next time I’ll halve it. Singla, has the chickpea popper recipe posted on her blog.

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The Ripe Banana Curry is another easy one to prepare. It’s a nice change from using those over-ripe bananas for banana bread to make something more savoury.

As someone who can’t really tolerate spicy food, I found I had to tone down the recipes quite a bit. If you’re spice averse, I’d only use a fraction of what’s suggested or omitting some items completely (e.g. if a chile pepper is needed, you might not need the cayenne pepper as well). The index is a little frustrating to use and could be laid out better. They’re sorted by their title name and that makes it harder to find what you’re looking for. The banana curry, for example, wasn’t under banana or curry. It was listed under the Indian name and the title (which was a person). I’m not too familiar with the Indian names so I’d often have to flip through the book to find what I was looking for. Another thing I’d like to see is the serving size. The yield is stated, but serving sizes are my lazy way of seeing how many people it can feed. I do like how the author has included weights for some ingredients. I’d like to see more cookbook authors do this as a “large” potato is open to interpretation.

I’ve bookmarked more that I need to try (baked samosas, anyone?) and I really like how it’s health-focused without sacrificing taste.

Thanks to Agate Publishing for sending me a review copy. As always, reviews are my own opinions and I did not receive monetary compensation.

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Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts: Review and interview!

Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts

If I had to name one of the most influential people in my baking life, it would be Alice Medrich. Before her I didn’t know how to cook, let alone bake something edible. So when I had the chance to meet and interview her, I was afraid I came off as a creepy fan girl when I gushed about how instrumental she was in changing my life.

Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts would have been a great book for me to start my baking journey. Baking is all about precision and technique and the recipes here are more forgiving for those who are more carefree in their cooking style. If you’re a more experienced baker, don’t let the title put you off from buying it. It’s not just about composing different ingredients together, the book dives into more complicated recipes like souffles and tarts.

Note: You have a chance to win a copy of this book!

Continue reading

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Pumpkin Crunch bars

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I’m being forced to tell you about these pumpkin bars. Ever since I made them, R has been telling me to put the recipe up. He will drop not-so-subtle hints like “You should post those pumpkin bars for U.S. Thanksgiving.” I also had people at my work request the recipe so it’s only fair of me to share it with you as well.

Like a pumpkin pie, you need to make the crust first and then the filling. The bars are easier because it’s just a press-in crust and it’s a better option for parties because you can eat it out of hand and cut the bars small.

The secret ingredient to these guys isn’t really a secret at all. It’s a lot of butter, cream cheese and sugar — ingredients that make almost anything irresistibly tasty. In the recipe you use one pound of icing sugar in the filling and I thought my teeth would fall out from eating one. It actually isn’t overly sweet, but you can always cut back the sugar if you want.

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Review: Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies

Goeey Turtle Bars

The busy holiday season has passed and I am no longer elbow deep in cookie dough.

Here’s a summary of my holiday baking:
6 pounds butter + 1 kg of flour + Slightly over 1 kg of chocolate = Resulting in a little over 26 dozen cookies

Every year I like to mix it up a bit and try a new cookie recipe. This year I tried Alice Medrich’s Gooey Turtle Bars from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich. True to the name, these are so-gooey-it’s-messy. But messy messy heaven. The only description I could give for these cookies were, “They’re really friggen awesome.” The combination of a shortbread crust (I’ve decided I only like shortbread as a vehicle for other much tastier things), pecans, caramel and chocolate is a winner. Turtles are one of my favourite holiday chocolates so it’s no surprise that I love these cookies.

Back to the book.

Medrich has divided her book by textures: crispy, crunchy, chunky, gooey, flaky and melt-in-your mouth. Sound familiar? Martha Stewart did something similar in 2008 with Martha Stewart’s Cookies. I like that Martha Stewart has photographed each cookie with the table of contents so you get a nice visual. I wish there were more pictures in Medrich’s book, there’s about 1/4 of photos which seems so little with most cookbooks providing many more photos now. That being said, it’s not a deal breaker for me. I have plenty of cookbooks sans pictures that I reach for all the time. I like the addition of a “smart search” in the back of the book where you can quickly find recipes that are wheat-free, dairy-free, quick and easy and low-calories treats. The low-calorie treats section (named Less Fat and 2-point Treats) tells you exactly how many cookies you can have that equals 2 points. Medrich makes sure that the cookies listed packs serious satisfaction so you get the most bang for your buck.

I’m also happy to say to say that several of her cookie recipes from her previous books are in here. My absolute favourite is her Bittersweet Decadence Cookie. Absolutely sinful and rich, this was the cookie that was the catalyst for all my baking. I saw the recipe online and instead of making the recipe from the online source, I purchased the book not knowing a thing about baking. Several years later and I’m regularly baking up a storm.

Since my 2011 food resolution is to bake more cookies, expect to see more of this book.

Gooey Turtle Bars Note: I found the cookies easier to slice when put in the fridge for a bit.

For the sweet tooth: salty and sweet, crunchy and creamy all together in one decadent bar. Divine-but-easy-to-make soft vanilla caramel atop a buttery shortbread crust with loads of toasted pecan halves and chocolate shards. Sinful but celebratory. Might as well make a big batch. This shortcut caramel with sweetened condensed milk is fairly foolproof if you follow the directions and use a silicone spatula to keep the sides of the pot clean. Salt fans will want to top these with extra tiny pinches of flaky salt. Be my guest.

Note: There was an errata in the book. It should be 350F for the shortbread.

Makes thirty-five 1 3/4-inch bars

Ingredients
1 recipe Shortbread Crust (recipe below)
1 3/4 cups (12.25 ounces) packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey or light corn syrup
3/8 teaspoon salt (1/2 teaspoon for coarse or flaky sea salt)
1/4 cup water
4 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups (7 ounces) whole pecan halves, toasted
6 ounces milk chocolate or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, or 1 cup milk chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips

Equipment
A 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan, the bottom and all 4 sides lined with foil
Silicone spatula
Candy thermometer

Prepare the shortbread crust as directed.

To Make the Topping In a heavy 2- to 3-quart saucepan (about 8 inches in diameter), combine the brown sugar, honey, salt, and water. Set on medium heat and drop in the chunk of butter. Stir constantly with a heatproof spatula, scraping the corners and bottom of the pan as the butter melts. From time to time, scrape the mixture off the spatula against the top edge of the pan and scrape the sides of the pan clean. Bring the mixture to a medium boil and continue stirring and scraping the pan for about 3 minutes, dissolving the sugar. Stir in the condense milk and return to a boil, stirring constantly, scraping the sides, corners, and bottom of the pan. Adjust the heat so the mixture boils actively but not too furiously. Continue stirring and cooking until the mixture registers 235°F. Total cooking time will be close to 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Scrape the hot caramel over the warm crust.

Tilt the pan to level the caramel. Scatter the toasted pecans and chopped chocolate over the surface and set aside until the caramel is cool and the chocolate is set.

Lift the ends of the foil liner and transfer to a cutting board. Peel the foil away from the edges on all 4 sides. Slide a knife or spatula under the crust to detach the foil. Holding the bars in place, slide the foil out from under it. Use a long sharp knife to cut 35 bars. May be kept in an airtight container for at least 1 week.

Shortbread Crust

Tender, buttery, crunchy; this is a great base for cheesecake bars, pudding bars, and more.

Makes one 9-by-13-inch or 8-by-12-inch crust

Ingredients
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups (9 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line the pan as specified in the individual recipe with foil.

In a medium bowl, mix the melted butter with the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and mix just until incorporated. Don’t worry if the dough seems too soft or oily. Press and smooth the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is a rich golden brown with well-browned darker edges. Let cool on a rack before proceeding as directed in the recipe.

Excerpted from CHEWY GOOEY CRISPY CRUNCHY MELT-IN-YOUR-MOUTH COOKIES by ALICE MEDRICH (Artisan Books)
Copyright 2010. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

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A Zombie Ate My Cupcake!: Review

Shattered Glass

Looking for something spooky to make this Halloween? These cupcakes will fit the bill.

I was excited to receiver my copy courtesy of Thomas Allen & Son. These recipes are from Lily Vanilli who sells her wares in London. The book is full of awesome ideas that range from not-so-spooky to creepy (bleeding hearts anyone?).

I got a chance to try the Undead Gingerbread (which you will see in an upcoming post of Test Kitchen on SweetHome) and Shattered Glass.

Making the cupcakes was pretty straight forward with one exception: some of the ingredients were hard to come by. This is most likely due to being a UK book. I also had to go to a couple of different grocery stores to find canned cherries. I bought cherry pie filling as a stand by, but I didn’t end up using it although I’m sure it would work. I used canned bing cherries and it gave a nice dark colour. Being a UK book, the recipes come with weights for precise measurements and more accurate baking.

I thought making the “shattered glass” would be a challenge because I can never make candy right on the first attempt, but it went smoothly despite me finding a broken candy thermometer and having to judge the temperature manually. Here is the site I used on how to tell the different sugar stages. It worked and the candy was edible. Whew!

Pointers on making the “shattered glass”
– Be very careful making the candy. Sugar burns are incredibly painful with scorching temperatures of 300F. Long sleeves and your full attention is a must.
– I used the end of a rolling pin to shatter the sugar. There were a few pieces that went flying. I’m the accident prone type so I kept my distance and turned my head to avoid getting flying candy in the eye. If I were to make this again I would probably wear safety goggles just in case (yes I’m that accident prone).
– I couldn’t be bothered getting clear corn syrup so I used the golden syrup that was in my pantry. This gives the glass more of an amber colour. Maybe the shattered glass was from a bar fight gone wrong?

My kitchen was a sticky mess afterwards, but so worth it! The chocolate cupcake recipe is killer (no pun intended) and dense with a hint of coffee flavour. I felt the vanilla frosting was too sweet for my tastes, but my co-workers who love their sweets didn’t mind it one bit.

This is a fun book to have and you don’t have to wait until Halloween to try out the recipes.

I have an extra copy of this book, so here is my first giveaway!

What is your favourite Halloween treat? Mine are those yummy chewy caramels. Comment below by October 22 midnight EST. Contest is open to residents of Canada.

Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 12

1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (140g) superfine (caster) sugar
1 extra-large (US) or large (UK) egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup (115g) all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted twice
1/4 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 (80ml) sour cream
4 tablespoons strong espresso, cooled

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Line a 12-hole muffin pan with paper cases.
2. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add the egg vanilla extract, and beat until thoroughly incorporated.
3. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl.
4. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with sour cream. Then slowly add the cooled coffee.
5. Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter into the paper cases, filling them three-quarters full. Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
6. Cool in the muffin pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before decorating.

Vanilla Frosting

1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons full-fat milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (360g) confectioner’s (icing) sugar
2 tablespoons heavy (double) cream Note: I used whipping cream

1. Using an electric mixer, beat the softened butter in a bowl until smooth.
2. Add the milk, vanilla extract, two-thirds of the sugar, and the double cream, and blend until smooth.
3. Slowly add the remaining sugar, beating constantly until smooth.

Cherry Sauce
1 cup (125g) black cherries, very ripe and de-stoned or canned
1/4 cup (50g) superfine (caster) sugar
1/2 cup (120ml) water or juice from the canned cherries, if using
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch (cornflour) or arrowroot

1. To make the cherry sauce, blend the cherries in a bowl using an electric hand blender, then place in a medium-sized heavy-based pan with the sugar, water, lime juice, and cornstarch or arrowroot. Heat on medium until the cherries begin to release their liquid, and then slowly bring, stirring constantly. Reduce to a simmer and heat until the cherry mixture has thickened to the desired consistency (runny enough to pipe but thick enough to prevent bleeding into the frosting). Allow to cool.

Shattered Glass

oil spray
2 cups (500ml) water
3 1/2 cups (785g) granulated sugar
1 cup (250ml) light corn syrup (liquid glucose)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar.

1. Line a shallow tray with aluminum foil, ensuring there are no gaps (any gaps between sheets can be sealed using spray oil). Spray the mold all over with oil spray at least 30 minutes before using.
2. Mix together the water, sugar, corn syrup, and cream of tartar in an old saucepan and bring to the boil with a candy thermometer inserted. Let the mixture boil, stirring continuously, until it reaches 300F/150C. Pour the mixture very quickly and carefully into the oiled mold and let it cool.
3. Pop the mixture carefully out of the mold when it has cooled completely. I used a meat tenderizer to tap it in the center and it cracked into perfect shards.
4. Cover the top of your cakes with frosting, then insert a shard of “glass” into the center of each cake. Using a pipette or spoon, drop some cherry sauce onto the glass as fake blood.

A Zombie Ate My Cupcake! by Lily Vanilli. CICO Books, $19.95. Buy now. Recipe reprinted with permission.

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