Happy New Year! 明けましておめでとうございま!

Today we celebrate the beginning of a new year and our hope for good things to come.  Japan, unlike many other Asian countries, celebrates the new year according to the Western calendar, so today my family and I headed over to the nearby Japanese market to watch mochi-tsuki and listen to taiko drumming.  We concluded our festivities with homemade sushi.

From My Japan by Etsuko Watanabe

From My Japan by Etsuko Watanabe

In honor of the new year, I offer the following stories by Ying Chang Compestine and their accompanying recipes.  Set in China the first two are original stories for the new year.  Boy Dumplings would be perfect to tell around Halloween and the last two offer the author’s imaginings on the history of chopsticks and noodles.

The Runaway Rice Cake     Baked Nián-Gão
                                                        Steamed Nián-Gão
The Runaway Wok                Festive Stir-Fried Rice
Boy Dumplings                        Boy-Free Dumplings (i.e. Potstickers)
The Story of Chopsticks     Sweet Eight Treasures Rice Pudding
The Story of Noodles           Long-Life Noodles
Happy reading and happy eating!
May 2013 bring health, happiness and prosperity.

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Cupcakes and More

I recently read two middle grade books about girls whose parent’s recently divorced.  Eggs Over Evie by Alison Jackson, has Evie adjusting not only to her parent’s divorce, but her father’s new wife, who is expecting twins, her mother’s first date since the divorce and the fact that her father took custody of her dog.  She finds comfort in cooking.  (Her father is a local TV chef and Evie feels closer to her father when she’s cooking.)

I enjoyed the story and drooled over the recipes; I am sure it will appeal to middle grade girls, but I couldn’t help but come at the story with my critical adult brain.  Take Evie’s parent’s for example: they’ve only been divorced a year, but dad’s already remarried and expecting twins (who will be born by the end of the story) with his new young wife.  All I’m thinking while reading is that the creep was having an affair with this homewrecker before he even moved out of the house.  Either that or he works really fast.

As the story progresses, Evie starts to adjust to her new normal with the help of her cranky old neighbor (who is really just lonely) and the cute boy in her cooking class.  Another example of my nit-picky brain at work:  the cooking class must be really short because all they do the first week is boil eggs.  And then they put them in the fridge till the next class a week later when all they do is make egg salad.  Really??  The class can’t be extended another 1/2 hour so they can make some egg salad sandwiches?  Another week they peel apples for pie, but don’t make the pie!

Each chapter begins with a quote from a famous chef and ends with a recipe.  A recipe from Eggs Over Evie can be found on the author’s blog at http://www.alison-jackson.blogspot.com.  (And you have a chance to have your original recipe featured in the sequel.  How cool is that!)

The other book, Save the Cupcake, the first in a new series by Lisa Papademetriou features Haley who after her parent’s divorce has moved, along with her mother and sister, into her grandmother’s apartment above her tea shop.  Although Haley misses her lifelong friends (and neighbors), she is happy to have space in her grandmother’s shop to indulge her hobby of creating new cupcake recipes.

Like Evie, Haley’s dad has already moved on and has a young girlfriend.  In addition, Haley is dealing with the usual middle school drama and changing friendships.

Recipes for most of Haley’s cupcake experiments can be found in the book.  One cupcake that really intrigued me was the Country Breakfast Cupcake, described as “a delicious blend of bacon, egg, and pancake with maple-syrup frosting.”   But, alas, no recipe.  Many of the recipes from the story can be found on the author’s website at http://lisapapa.com/recipes.  Can’t wait to try the French Toast Cupcakes.

Happy reading and happy eating!

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Eggs, etc.

Laura Child’s latest series,* Cackleberry Club Mysteries  (Did you know cackleberry is slang for egg?  I didn’t.) has three middle-aged women opening a breakfast/lunch restaurant that morphs into an afternoon tearoom and also sells books and knitting supplies on the side.  I guess this makes sense as I can’t imagine that as stand-alone shops any one of these ventures would succeed in a small Midwestern town.  These three friends have definitely cornered the niche market; all they need to do is do is add a small boutique or jewelry shop to appeal to all the women in town.

So far, I have read the first two books in the series, Eggs in Purgatory and Eggs Benedict Arnold.  As mysteries, they are average.  The stories ramble on with lots of suspects, but then seem to hurriedly come to a conclusion and especially in the second book, the murderer seems to come out of left field, but all the recipes sound delicious.  I haven’t yet made anything from Eggs in Purgatory, but I want to try several including Cherry Pie Muffins, Chicken and Wild Rice Soup, and Easy Sour Cream Biscuits.  I’ve tried two recipes from Eggs Benedict Arnold: Chicken Croquettes and Frozen Lemonade Pie.  I would consider the Chicken Croquettes to be more like crab cakes than croquettes.  Any croquettes I have ever eaten have had either a white sauce or mashed potatoes as a base with meat or vegetables mixed in, then were rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried.  These had no white sauce or mashed potatoes, had the bread crumbs mixed in and were pan fried.  But name quibble aside, they were quite tasty and the family all agreed they were worth making again.  Next time though I’d add more cheese and use a heavier hand with the seasonings.  The Frozen Lemonade Pie was very easy to make with just four ingredients, but was a little too sweet for my taste.  (I don’t like things as sweet as most people.  When I bake, I generally cut the sugar by 1/3.)  If I make it again, I’d probably cut back on the sweetened condensed milk.  The next recipe I want to try from the second book is Blueberry Breakfast Squares, which is a simple cake with a blueberry filling.

The verdict: average mysteries but worth reading, mainly for the recipes.

*Her earlier series are Tea Shop Mysteries and Scrapbook Mysteries.

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2012 Cozy Theme Reading Challenge–Finished!

Well, it took until the very last day, but I finished the Goodreads Cozy Theme Reading Challenge and I was able to complete my personal challenge of reading cozies that contained recipes as well.

Here’s what I read:

#1 British – English – Books that take place in the United Kingdom countries of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I read Aunt Dimity and the Duke for this, but I also read an Aunt Dimity book for the paranormal category and it felt a little like cheating to read two books from the same series, so I kept looking.  It took until the day before the challenge ended to find another book that was not only set in Britain, but also had a recipe.  Sweet Revenge by Andrea Penrose actually has 25 chocolate recipes—one at the beginning of each chapter. Most of the recipes contain either liquor or coffee, neither of which I drink, so won’t be trying them, but there were a few recipes I might try: Salted Chocolate Caramels, Cacao Shortbread, Chocolate Angel Food Cake and Spiced Hot Chocolate.  Sweet Revenge could also have worked for the historical category as it is set in 1813.  Lady Arianna Hadley sneaks back to London years after her father escaped to the Caribbean. She is determined to revenge her father’s banishment and death.  When reaching her goal gets her tangled up with the poisoning of the Prince Regent, she joins forces with government agent, Lord Saybrook to help solve both their mysteries.  The story had mystery, adventure, romance, history, and humor (some of it on the bawdy side) as well as chocolate history and recipes.

#2 Historical/Period – Any book that takes place prior to 1940.

The Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Witting Albert which I talked about in a previous post.

#3 Animals – Any book with an animal as a main character, subject of the book, book takes place in a pet shop, stable, etc.

Actually, I read four books in the Jane Stuart and Winky (Jane’s cat) series by Evan Marshal for this one so I could could count the fourth one, Icing Ivy for the challenge.  Why four?  I wanted a cozy with a recipe and I like to read series in order and it took till number four to get a recipe for Trinidadian Curried Cascadoo (a fish).

Though the series is billed as Jane Stuart and Winky, the cat really was a minor character who would just happen to sit on the one clue Jane needed.  Really?  I should have used this for the professions category as there were a lot of details about Jane’s job as a literary agent.

#4 Culinary/Cooking – Food themed mysteries.

Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames is the second book in the Cheese Shop Mysteries. Besides the expected recipes for fondue and quiche there is one for Porcupine Meatballs.  (Aames’ recipe can be found here: http://www.mysteryloverskitchen.com/2011/05/kid-friendly-porcupines.html)  I haven’t made her version, but I do have fond memories of eating porcupines as a child.  Sadly, when I made them for my own family, they were not impressed.

#5 Paranormal – Anything centered around the occult, witches, vampires, werewolves, Psychics, ghosts, etc.

Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton also mentioned in a previous post.

#6 Vacation Mysteries/Exotic Locations – Any book that takes place outside the United States and/or outside the country in which you live.

This one took me a while.  I knew I could use a book from Nancy Fairbank’s Carolyn Blue series, but I was hoping to find a new series, but when I couldn’t I ran to the library in the next town (My home library does not have very many books in this series which is why I put it to the side in the first place.  I am too impatient to wait for interlibrary loans.) and borrowed Mozzarella Most Murderous.  It meant reading out of order because the next one on the list that I hadn’t read was set in the U.S., but I didn’t have time to read up to it.

In this title, Carolyn accompanies her husband to a conference in Italy and her sightseeing companion of the day before ends up at the bottom of the swimming pool.  On her way to solving the murder, Carolyn eats lots of delicious Italian food including Insalata Caprese, Lemon Torte and Stuffed Peaches with Mascarpone Cheese.  I have already tried Fairbanks’ Campania-Style Hamburger, which is a breaded burger, covered with mozzarella cheese, tomato and pesto and served on garlic toast.  (The recipe said to drizzle garlic olive oil on toast, but I shortcutted by using some frozen Texas Toast that I fried, grilled cheese-style.)  Though it is supposed to be slow food, my husband gobbled it up very fast.  He really liked it; the kids not so much.  He voted to make it again.

#7 Holidays – Any holiday themed mystery.

Christmas was the theme of the holiday cozy, Gingerbread Bump-Off by Livia J. Washburn.  The chairwomen of the town’s holiday house parade is killed with a blow to the head from a ceramic gingerbread man grabbed from Phyllis’s front porch.  The recipes are seasonally appropriate, including one for Chocolate Mint Coffee Spoons (gifts?), Slow-Bake Gingerbread Ornaments (decorating?), Winter Cranberry Cider (entertaining?) and of course, Gingerbread Boys with Cream Cheese Frosting.

#8 Hobbies – Any mystery that centers around a hobby, craft, sport, etc.

Needled to Death by Maggie Sefton is the second book in the Knitting Mystery series that centers around a knitting shop and the knitters who gather there.  Kelly Flynn, who came home to Colorado from Washington, D.C. to deal with her aunt’s death is now telecommuting to her job, settling in and making friends.  She and another knitting shop friend volunteer to take some out-of-town knitters to a local alpaca ranch only to discover the owner dead when they get there.  The book includes two simple knitting patterns and a recipe for blueberry pie.

#9 Professions/Careers/Jobs/Occupations – Any mystery that centers on or highlights a particular job. Doesn’t matter if the job is that of the person murdered, or that of the amateur sleuth.

Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen is a baker. Yum. (So this series could also fit into the food category.)  Cinnamon Roll Murder, the latest addition to this series has Hannah finding another dead body. (How can one small town have so many murders?) But really, it’s the recipes we care about.  Most are for baked goods, but Fluke will offer up an occasional “hot dish” (what Minnesotans call a casserole), salad or side. This time around the reader gets 22 recipes, including Lemon Cake, Peaches and Cream Cookies and something called Piggy Chicken.

#10 Senior Sleuths – Read a mystery where the sleuth is 50 or older.

I could have used another Fresh-Baked mystery by Washburn as her sleuth is a retired school teacher, but like my Aunt Dimity dilemma, I wanted to use a different series.  I found Biggie and the Poisoned Politician by Nancy Bell.  Biggie’s story is told from the point-of-view- of her 12-year-old grandson who nicknamed her Biggie when he was a toddler. Now everybody in the small Texas town calls Fiona Weatherford Biggie.  When the mayor drops dead in his dessert, Biggie starts poking around with the help of her grandson, her voodoo practicing maid, Willie Mae and Willie Mae’s husband, Rosebud.  Included is a recipe for gumbo.

Overall, what did I think?  I enjoyed the challenge, especially with my extra personal challenge as it got me to seek out new series.  I found some tasty recipes, which is always a bonus.  Next time though, I’ll be sure to start at the beginning, not two months late so I have more time to enjoy the reading and the recipes.

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Picture Book Pancakes

Who doesn’t love pancakes?  In our house we love pancakes so much we sometimes eat them for dinner.  And they are easy to make, right?  Pretty much just some flour, eggs, milk and baking powder.  Yet slight variations in the ingredients make all the difference.  The following four picture books all offer slightly different pancake recipes.  The only recipe I haven’t tried yet is Weston’s as it calls for buttermilk which I don’t normally have on hand.

Fannie in the Kitchen by Deborah Hopkinson is a fictional account of how Fannie Farmer came up with her famous cookbook.

Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie DePaola is a wordless picture book about a little old lady who wakes up with a taste for pancakes and the struggles she has to get some.

Tallulah in the Kitchen by Nancy Wolff walks the reader through Tallulah’s pancake making.  (Wolff’s recipes is actually for blueberry pancakes.  I left the blueberries out so I could better compare with the other recipes.)

Hey, Pancakes by Tamson Weston is a rhymed picture book about waking up and making pancakes with the bonus of illustrations by Stephen Gammel.  (I love his colorful style.  Look closely and you will see the car from his illustrations in The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant on one of the pages.)

So how did they compare?  Well, DePaola’s batter was very runny; I did not get nice round pancakes, but weirdly misshapen ones.  Not the end of the world, though.  Shape is not as important as taste.  So how did they taste?  A little salty.

Hopkinson’s Fannie Farmer pancakes were nice, round pancakes; a little on the sweet side.

Wolff’s pancakes were the most popular with my family which prefers thicker, puffier pancakes.   Her batter was definitely the thickest.

Then I got to wondering how these recipes compared to my go-to recipe from the Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book.  Below is a chart comparing all the recipes.  DePaola’s recipe contains a lot more liquid than any of the other recipes, which explains the runniness of the batter.  My go-to recipe contains no salt, which is probably why I felt the other recipes were a little salty.  And Hopkinson’s recipe had a lot more sugar than any of the others.

So what’s the final verdict?  I still need to try Weston’s buttermilk pancakes, but until then Wolff’s pancakes are in the lead and will probably even become my new go-to recipe.

Happy reading and happy eating!

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Thunder Cake

After a hot dry June, we finally got some rain yesterday in the form of a couple of thunderstorms, so in honor of the rain, I made Thunder Cake from the recipe in Patricia Polacco’s books of the same name which is a sweet story of a grandmother helping to ease her granddaughter’s fear of storms as they gather ingredients for a cake that Babushka insists must be in the oven before the storm hits.

I was intrigued by the recipe’s secret ingredient: tomato puree, but I had trouble with the recipe from the start.

Predicament#1: cake flour.  I don’t generally use it, so I had to go out and buy some.  I could have substituted regular flour mixed with corn starch, but felt I should stick with the listed ingredients—at least the first time I tried it.

Predicament #2: tomato puree.  As I had never heard of tomato puree and my usual groceries did not carry tomato puree, only tomato paste, tomato sauce and tomato catsup, I made my own puree by blanching a tomato and then blending it in my food processor.

Predicament #3: when to fold in the egg whites.  According to the recipe, the beaten egg whites are folded into the creamed mixture, and then the dry ingredients are added.  In my past baking experience, beaten egg whites are added last of all, so as to not deflate the volume created by beating them.  By adding the dry ingredients after adding the beaten egg whites, volume is lost.

I finally decided to follow the recipe as written the first time through, and then make adjustments if necessary.

I did, however, make one small change: I added sliced fresh strawberries between the layers, which I felt would only enhance the overall taste experience.  And because I was in a hurry, I took one shortcut: I used—gasp!—canned frosting.

The tomato puree gave the cake a slight reddish tint, but as far as my taste buds could tell, did not add any significant flavor dimension to the cake.  And none of my tasters could guess the secret ingredient either.  The cake was very crumbly; after just a few forkfuls, a big chunk fell off and the rest of the piece fell over.

So, all in all, what did I think?  Well, you can’t go wrong with the combination of chocolate and strawberries, but the tomato puree didn’t seem to add anything to the taste and the cake itself was pretty crumbly.  Final grade: B-.

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Time for PIE!

For some reason, summer seems like pie season to me. (And boy, has this weekend declared itself to be summer!  We set a record high yesterday.)   Maybe because so many are made with fruit.  The perfect book to feed those pie cravings is PIE by Sarah Weeks, an historical fiction story for middle graders.

Alice and her Aunt Polly bond over her aunt’s award-winning pies which put their little town on the map.  People come from all over for Polly’s pies, which she gives away.   When Polly dies unexpectedly, the whole town is thrown for a loop as many businesses are dependent on tourists coming for Polly’s pies.

Alice’s mother has always resented that Polly gave away the pies instead of charging for them and getting rich (then sharing her wealth with her sister).  She is determined to recreate Polly’s award winning pie crust, but Polly never shared the recipe and when she dies, who inherits her secrets?  Her cat Lardo!  And Lardo is left to Alice.  How can someone leave a recipe to a cat?

Includes 14 tasty pie recipes:

Apple Crumble Pie Lemon Chess Pie
Coconut Cream Pie Key Lime Pie
Buttermilk Pie Concord Grape Pie
Green Tomato Pie Pecan Pie
Sour Cherry Pie Peach Pie
Huckleberry Pie Rhubarb Pie
Chocolate Cream Pie Peanut Butter Raspberry Pie

Which one to try first?
Happy reading and happy eating!

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