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Here are the tastingspoons players. I’m in the middle (Carolyn). Daughter Sara on the right, and daughter-in-law Karen on the left. I started the blog in 2007, as a way to share recipes with my family. Now in 2023, I’m still doing 99% of the blogging and holding out hope that these two lovely and excellent cooks will participate. They both lead very busy lives, so we’ll see.

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BOOK READING (from Carolyn):

Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt. Oh gosh, what a fabulous book. It’s a novel; however, much of the story is about the intelligence of octopus. In particular this one, Marcellus, who lives in an aquarium in a fictitious town in western Washington State. Marcellus himself writes some of the chapters. More than anything the book is about relationships, not only Marcellus with a woman (of a certain age) who cleans the aquarium at night, but the various people in this small town. Absolutely charming book. Both of my book clubs have it as a read this year. Loved it.

Trust, by Herman Diaz. This novel is an enigma in so many ways. It’s a book, within a book, within a book. About the stock market crash back in 1929, but it’s about a man. Oh my. I could hardly put this book down it was so riveting. Never read anything quite like it. Very hard to write a description of it. Read it. It’s really interesting. This book won the Pulitzer. That’s why I bought it.

Cassidy Hutchinson is a young woman (a real one) who works in politics or “government.” She’s worked for some prestigious Washington politicians, and ended up working for Trump. The book is a memoir of her short spin working at the highest levels, and obviously at the White House. She worked under Mark Meadows and suffered a lot of ridicule when she quit. Truth and lies . . . when she couldn’t live with herself and subvert the truth. Enough, gives you plenty of detail leading up to and after the January 6th uprising. She testified to Congress about what she knew. Really interesting. I almost never read books about politics because I think many (most?) of our elected politicians succumb to the lure of power and forget who they work for, us, the public.

Becoming Dr. Q, by Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, MD, is an Associate Professor of Neurosurgery and Oncology at Johns Hopkins University. This is his memoir about how he went from being a penniless migrant from Mexico to one of the world’s most renowned experts in brain tumors. About how he aspired to merely attend high school, how he made ends meet (barely) and how he eventually made it to medical school and became the expert he is. What an uplifting story. Here in California we have such a huge problem with illegal immigrants and I certainly don’t have the answers, but this story makes you stop and think.

The Invincible Miss Cust, by Penny Haw.  In 1868 Ireland, a woman wasn’t allowed to attend veterinary school, much less become a veterinarian. It took  years of trying (to the horror of her aristocratic family) and finally someone took her under their wing, she enrolled using a pseudonym (a name not revealing her gender). This is a true story of Aleen Isabel Cust, who did just that and was finally able to practice veterinary medicine in a rural area. This book is historical fiction, and some creative liberties were probably taken, but the tale itself is quite something. Enjoyed it from beginning to end.

Her Heart for a Compass, by Sarah Ferguson (yes), the Duchess of York. I was pleasantly surprised as I read this book that it wasn’t the usual romantic romp – there’s more to this story than you might think. Ferguson utilizes some of her family ancestors as real characters in the book. It starts with a young aristocratic woman on the eve of an arranged marriage. She just can’t abide the man, and runs away. Literally runs away with nothing. It’s the story of how she survives and becomes an agent for good in England and finally finds someone to love. The right love. Sweet story but with lots of twists and turns.

Someone Else’s Shoes, by Jojo Moyes. Moyes is such a prolific author, and comes up with the most unexpected stories. This being another one that grabbed my attention from the first page. Nisha, our heroine, is a wealthy socialite. She thinks her life is perfect. At the gym someone else grabs her gym bag, so she grabs the similar one. Then she finds out her husband is leaving her and he’s locked her out of their high-rise apartment. She’s penniless. No attorney will take her on. She has nothing but this gym bag belonging to someone else (who?). The gym has closed its doors. In the gym bag she did pick up are a pair of Christian Louboutin red crocodile shoes, and take big significance in the story, obviously. Nisha becomes a different person when she dons those shoes. Nisha meets some really kind people, people who barely subsist but willingly help her out. I marvel at Moyes’ ability to write a riveting story from the premise of a mistaken gym bag.

The Eleventh Man, Ivan Doig. What a story. Ben, part of a Montana college football team in the 1940s, joins the service during WWII. So do all of his eleven teammates. After suffering some injuries in pilot training he is recruited by a stealthy military propaganda machine. His job is to write articles about his teammates as they are picked off at various battle theaters around the Pacific and Europe. Ben goes there, in person, to fuel the stories. And sometimes accompanies bodies home, attends the funerals. There’s a romance involved; much of the book takes place in Canada, actually. Absolutely fascinating book. I don’t often read brutal war stories, but this one was a very interesting one. Ivan Doig is a crafty writer; I’ve read several of his books, my favorite being The Whistling Season.

Wavewalker, by Suzanne Heywood. Oh my goodness. A memoir about a very young English girl who goes off with her besotted and narcissistic parents and her brother on a years-long sailing journey supposedly following the route of James Cook. A very old, decrepit 70-foot schooner. Four people, 2 sort-of adults and 2 children. Sometimes a helper or two. A seasick mother. A dad who is driven to the extreme, whatever the damage he creates. She spent 10 years aboard, with a verve for sailing, a passion for reading and education (by mail) and survives the mood swings of her mother. She and her brother are left to fend for themselves in various places; the parents take on paying customers. Often there’s little or no food. I’m surprised they all survived, and they barely didn’t in several instances. You get to read all the details. Heywood managed to get into Oxford (despite her mother’s shenanigans and even her father’s unwillingness to help her, financially or otherwise). She’s a successful businesswoman and a very good writer. My DH (dear husband) always wanted to sail around the world; unfortunately I wasn’t a willing sailing mate for that as I get deathly seasick. The story intrigued me from beginning to end.

Claire Keegan wrote Small Things Like These. It’s won a lot of awards, and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Takes place in Ireland. Some profound questions come up in this novella, about complicity, about restitution. There’s a convent nearby, and attached one of those places young girls were sent if they found themselves “in the family way,” and about how the church helped, supposedly, by taking the children and placing them in homes, without consent. It’s ugly, the truth of the matter. Really good read.

Nicholas Sparks isn’t an author I read very often because his books are pretty sappy, but daughter Sara recommended this one, The Longest Ride. It begins with Ira (age 93), stuck in his car as it plunges off the edge of a road, and it’s snowing. As the hours tick by, he reminisces about his life, having long conversations with his deceased wife. Then you pick up with a very sweet romance between a college student and a bull rider. The two stories interconnect. I really enjoyed the story.

The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, by Barbara Lipska. Interesting that I’ve read two books recently about the brain (see Doctor Q above). This is a true story about a woman, a neuroscientist, who developed a metastatic melanoma in the brain. Because she in medicine, she chronicled her journey through it and coming out the other side. Fascinating if you’re interested in medicine (I am) and how the brain works (yes, that too). A very fascinating read. Not for everyone, I suppose.

The Price of Inheritance, by Karin Tanabe. This is a mystery, of sorts. Our heroine is an up and coming employee at Christie’s (auction house). In bringing a large collection of expensive art to auction, she makes a misstep about the provenance of a desk. She’s fired. She goes back to her roots, takes a job at a small antique store where she used to work. She begins buying antiques for the store, trying to make sense of what happened to her career. She meets a young Navy officer. The intrigue begins. I could hardly put this down. Although there is some romance in the book, it’s more about art and the lure of finding a gem amongst the junk. I loved this book because I’d never read anything about how auction houses work.

The Covenant of Water, by Abraham Verghese. Did you read Cutting for Stone, years ago, by this author? Such a good book, so I knew I’d enjoy this one, and oh, did I!. The book takes place in a little known area of southern India, and chronicles a variety of people over a few generations, who inhabit the place. Some who leave and some who come back. Verghese sort of writes like Ken Follett, or Michener, in that he delves into the intricacies of family relationships. There’s also a medical mystery involved too, which was very interesting. It’s a very, very long book, but worth reading.

Finding Dorothy, by Elizabeth Letts. My friend Dianne recommended this book to me, and it was so special. Loved it beginning to end. It’s based on the story of 77-year old Maud Gage Baum (her husband Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz) as she tries to advise the MGM folk as they are filming the 1938 movie with Judy Garland. You’ll learn lots of Oz and Baum history, and you’ll surely be rooting for Maud as she does her best to steer the director to stay true to the book. Absolutely fascinating read, every page.

The Bandit Queens, by Parini Shroff. I don’t quite know how to write a blurb about this book. The premise is so off the norm. It’s about a young Indian woman, Geeta, as she tries her best to make a living after her husband leaves her. Yet the community she lives in, thinks Geeta murdered him. Then some of her so-called “friends” ask her to help them get rid of their husbands too. It’s rollicking funny and unbelievable in many ways, including the backward ways of the local constabulary. I heard myself say “what?” many times in the weaving of this fanciful story.

Attribution, by Linda Moore. We follow art historian Cate, as she struggles to succeed in her chosen field against sexist advisors. She finds what she thinks is a hidden painting, perhaps a masterpiece. She risks everything to try to determine if it’s real or fake. It’s a mystery and a treatise in a way about art in general. What makes a masterpiece? Fascinating story and very well written. Loved it.

The Measure, Nikki Erlick. Oh my goodness. This story grabbed me from about the third sentence. Everyone in the world finds a wooden box on their doorstep, or in front of their camper or tent, that contains a string. Nothing but a string. People get various lengths of string and finally experts conclude it predicts the length of life. No one receives a string until they attain the age of 22. The author has a vivid imagination (I admire that) and you just will not believe the various reactions (frenzy?) from people who are short-stringers, or long-stringers. I’m sure the book is a parable or metaphor for us to be more understanding of how we segregate people – not black and white, this is short or long strings. I was in awe of the author’s ability to visualize how this kind of eventuality would complicate our lives. Yet there’s hope woven throughout. SUCH a good read. Highly recommend.

The Book Spy by Alan Hlad. True stories, but in novel form, of a special Axis group of men and women librarians and microfilm specialists, sent to strategic locations in Europe to acquire and scour newspapers, books, technical manuals and periodicals, for information about German troop locations, weaponry and military plans of WWII. I was glued to the book beginning to end. Fascinating accounts.

A Dangerous Business, Jane Smiley. What a story. 1850s gold rush, story of two young prostitutes, finding their way in a lawless town in the Wild West. There’s a murder, or two, or three, or some of the town’s prostitutes, and the two women set out to solve the crime.

Storm Watch, by C. J. Box. I’m such a fan of his tales of Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett’s adventures catching criminals. Loved it, just like I’ve loved every one of his books.

Defiant Dreams, by Sola Mahfouz. True story about the author, born in Afghanistan in 1996. This is about her journey to acquire an education. It’s unbelievable what the Taliban does to deter and forbid women from bettering themselves. Many trials and tribulations – just so you know, she makes it to the U.S. and becomes a quantum computer researcher at Tufts University. A book everyone should read.

Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This is fairly light read, a novel – but interesting, about the meaning behind many flowers – like roses, you’d think of love. But red roses mean something else. You’ll learn about the various flowers as they’re woven into a story about a woman who studies them and creates a niche for herself producing beautiful bouquets and flower arrangements for special occasions.

The Rome Apartment, by Kerry Fisher. Such a cute story. Maybe not an interesting read for a man. It’s about Beth, whose husband has just left her, and her daughter has just gone off to college. Beth needs a new lease on life, so she rents a room from a woman who lives in Rome. Beth has much to learn about herself from the landlord, a woman of vast experience and compassion. Did I say cute? Yup.

All the Beauty in the World, a memoir by Patrick Bringley. Absolutely LOVED this book. Bringley was at loose ends and accepted a job as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. He’d been a journalist at The New Yorker magazine, but after his brother was ill and died, he needed refreshing. After his training at the museum, he moves from room to room, guarding the precious art, and learning all about the pieces and the painters or sculptors. He takes special interest in many pieces and shares it in the book. He definitely has a writing gift. Lots of funny stories sprinkled throughout the book. I guarantee if you have any interest in art, you’ll love the book and Bringley’s story. He worked at the museum for a decade.

The Queen’s Lady, by Joanna Hickson. I love stories about Tudor England, and this one didn’t disappoint. Joan Guildford is a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth. Oh my goodness are there twists and turns. I went to my reference book on English kings and queens to verify the lineage of one person or another, and read several Wikipedia entries about various people in this book. So interesting. If you enjoy English history, this is a good one, probably more interesting to a woman than a man.

Once in awhile I’m ready to read another Louise Penny mystery. This time it was World of Curiosities. Usually I’d write something wonderful regarding “another tome about Three Pines.” Not going to say it this time. Three Pines becomes a sinister place. Murders (many).  Of course. Some bad folk out there, far too close to home. I had to put it down a couple of times because it was so frightening. But Inspector Gamache prevails. Of course he does! A piece of very complicated art is involved (I think it may be a real painting). Louise wrote a nice epilogue about how she devised the whole idea. Very interesting read.

Over the years I’ve read many of Jodi Picoult’s books. This, her newest, or very new, is called Mad Honey. Oh, my. This book is beyond Picoult’s usual borders, but then she always writes edgy books. That’s her genre. This one is written with a co-author, a woman who is gay (I think) and also a trans-gender. There is a lot of learn in this book, and might be very difficult or hard for some to read. Very engrossing story, though, as always.

Philippa Gregory is one of my fav authors. Just finished her 3rd (and last, I think) in the Fairmile series called Dawnlands. If you scroll down below you’ll find the 2nd book in the series, Tidelands. Very interesting about English history, but about the same families from the first book in the group. Loved it, as I loved all of them.

Am currently reading Rutherfurd’s long, long book, Paris. I love these involved historical novels about a place (he’s written many about specific places in the world). It’s a saga that goes back and forth in time, following the travails of various people and families, through thick and thin. Some of it during the era of the King Louis’ (plural, should I say Louies?). Very interesting about some of the city’s history and royalty.

Although this book says A Christmas Memory, by Richard Paul Evans, it’s not just about Christmas. A young boy is the hero here, but really an older widower man who lives next door plays a pivotal part of this book. It’s poignant, heart-rending and sweet. It delves deep into childhood memories to take readers back to an age when a world felt like it was falling apart, reminding us that even in the darkest of times, the light of hope can still shine. A beautiful read.

Wish You Were Here, by Jodi Picoult. Another page-turner. I loved this book. A thirty-something woman, about to take a trip with her boyfriend, when Covid breaks out. Covid plays a major role in this book, beginning to end. She decides to go anyway as her boyfriend is a doctor and cannot leave. She ends up on a remote Galapagos island, and you go along with her – with people she meets, the life she leads, the isolation she experiences, the loneliness she feels, but the joy of nature is a sustaining aspect. She’s stuck there because of Covid. Not boats, no airport, no nothing. Barely enough food. But yet, she survives. I could NOT put down this book. It had me riveted. You know, Covid is going to play a major role in a lot of books in our future – it has to. It was such a pivotal moment in this century!

Not everyone wants to read food memoirs. When I saw Sally Schmitt had written a memoir, titled Six California Kitchens, I knew I wanted to read it. I met Sally a few times over the years when I visited Napa Valley, and bought some of her famous pickled items, chutneys, jams, etc. She was the original chef at The French Laundry, before it became truly famous by Thomas Keller. Sally shares her food story, how she came to become a chef and entrepreneur. It’s a charming book and there are a few recipes (I think one at the end of every chapter). Enjoyed reading it. If you ever visited Napa Valley in the early days (the 1960s through 80s) you will enjoy reading how “California cuisine” kind of came into being.

Being a fan of Vivian Howard (from her TV show), when I saw she’d written another book, I knew I should buy it. This Will Make It Taste Good is such an unusual name for a cookbook, but once you get into the groove of the book, you’ll understand. She’s now divorced, but still running two restaurants and raising twins (part-time, I’m guessing as I assume her ex is involved some). I don’t know how she had time to write another book. She’s hysterically funny. I mean it. Over the years (and I’m guessing most of this came from her North Carolina roots and the mayhem she encountered opening a restaurant in her tiny, rural town, to great fame) she developed a group of tasty “things,” to complement her food. It’s hard to pinpoint what these are – they’re recipes for some “kitchen heroes” she calls them. They’re condiments. They’re food additions, they’re flavor enhancers. If I make some of them (I hope to) I’ll post them on my blog. They have umami flavors, and she says it’s how she survives and makes everything taste good. She includes the recipe for each of these kitchen heroes (and each title is laugh-out-loud funny in and of themselves) and a few uses of them. Recently she wrote a column in Garden & Gun (magazine) about online dating, and about how she filled out her profile and of some of the not-so-happy first dates. I laughed and laughed over that. I hope you click on that link and read it.

As soon as it came out, I ordered Spare, by Prince Harry. I’ve always been interested in the Royal Family. And I’m old enough to remember when Queen Elizabeth was crowned – my mother and I watched it on tv, in those early days of television. I admired her throughout her long life. What you learn in this book is how abominably Harry and Meghan have been treated. We all know the Royal Family has a company of people who “handle” them, called “the firm.” These people control what everyone in the R.F. does, when, who is present, who can take a vacation where, and some of them give permission for journalists to photograph, in somewhat private spaces, in return for leaving them alone for awhile. The paparazzi, and the photojournalists are ruthless. Absolutely ruthless and relentless. I cannot imagine having to live with that kind of low-life awaiting  your every move. It could break anyone, as it did Diana. I’ve never been a fan of Charles, and this book doesn’t endear him to me. I’ve never been a fan of Camilla, either. There’s a lot of verbiage given over to outing many people in the R.F. Betrayals on many levels. I devoured it, but then I’m an Anglophile of the first order.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. Usually I don’t seek out short stories. I might have purchased this book without realizing it was. There aren’t that many stories – each one gets you very ingrained in the characters. I love her writing, and would think each story in this book could be made into a full-fledged novel. I was quite taken with the main characters in each and every one of them. Since each story is different, I can’t describe one, without describing all of them; no space for that. With each story I was very sad when I realized it was the end, leaving you hanging. I wondered if these were stories Lahiri wrote hoping they would transcend into a full length novel, but she grew bored, or couldn’t quite flesh out more. But I always felt there could/would be more. I wanted there to be more.

A Lantern in Her Hand, by Beth Streeter Aldrich. A very interesting and harrowing story of early pioneer days in the Midwest (Nebraska I think); covered wagon time up to about 80 years later as the heroine, Abbie Deal, and her husband start a family in a small town. On land that isn’t lush or reliable. Many years of drought, winds, grasshoppers. The story is a novelized one of Aldrich’s own family roots. It’s full of good old-fashioned family values and is a record of some difficult Midwest pioneering history.

The Messy Lives of Book People, by Phaedra Patrick. From amazon’s page: Mother of two Liv Green barely scrapes by as a maid to make ends meet, often finding escape in a good book while daydreaming of becoming a writer herself. So she can’t believe her luck when she lands a job housekeeping for her personal hero, mega-bestselling author Essie Starling, a mysterious and intimidating recluse. The last thing Liv expected was to be the only person Essie talks to, which leads to a tenuous friendship. When Essie passes away suddenly, Liv is astonished to learn that her dying wish was for Liv to complete her final novel. But to do so Liv will have to step into Essie’s shoes. As Liv begins to write, she uncovers secrets from the past that reveal a surprising connection between the two women—one that will change Liv’s own story forever.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. I’m a fan of this author and relished reading his book about a year in his personal life, with his wife and very new, newborn twins. Doerr was given an auspicious award – a year of study in Rome, with apartment and a stipend. There are four chapters, by season. You will laugh and cry with him/them, as they have to work very hard to survive days and nights with crying babies that will not settle down. As he escapes to his study lair, if only to get away from the babies, sometimes to nap because he was up all night. Those of us who have had fussy babies know what this feels like. He suffers greatly because the “great American novel” isn’t coming to him. He feels the year wasting away from the standpoint of the award. The time in Rome was wonderful, and he and his family enjoy many wonderful visits to city high points, to stand in awe at old relics. I loved every bit of this book – so well written. If you’ve ever been to Rome you’ll enjoy it all the more.

Kristin Hannah’s Distant Shores is quite a read. Some described it as like a soap opera. Not me. Interesting character development of a couple who married young. She put her own career/wants/desires aside to raise their children. He forged ahead with his life dreams. The children grow up and move on. Then he’s offered a huge promotion across the country. She’s torn – she doesn’t want to be in New York, but nothing would get in the way of his career. They try to make the marriage work from separate coasts. The wife begins to find herself again, re-igniting her own passions. Lots of family dynamics.

Oh, William! by Elizabeth Strout. Lucy Barton is divorced. But she’s still sort of friendly with her ex. It’s complicated. Out of the blue he asks her to go on a trip with him to discover something about his roots. They go. And of course, they’re taken for a married couple most of the time. Lucy laments the things she loved about her ex, William. Hence she says “Oh, William” more than once. They encounter some very funny circumstances, and she guides him along, lamenting again, “Oh, William,” again. I don’t think she ever says it TO him, however. Very funny book. Sweet. Elizabeth Strout is a gifted writer.

Tidelands,  by Philippa Gregory. It tells the tale of a peasant woman, Alinor (an herbalist and midwife), who lives barely above the poverty level, trying to raise two children, during the time of great turmoil in England, the rancorous civil war about Charles 1. Her husband has disappeared. The feudal system at the time isn’t any friend to Alinor. In comes a man (of course) who is a priest, but to the Catholic king, not the Protestant people, and everything Catholic is abhorred and suspect. A fascinating read, loved every chapter.

Read Reminders of Him, by Colleen Hoover. A page turner of a story. A young woman is convicted of a crime (young and foolish type). Once released her sole purpose is to be a part of her daughter’s life. Hoover has such a gift of story-telling and keeping you hanging on a cliff.

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty. Oh my goodness. The wicked webs we weave. How in the world did the author even come UP with this wild story, but she did, and it kept me glued. Sophie walked away from her wedding day, and always wondered if she made the wrong decision. Then she inherits his aunt’s house, back in her home town, where the quizzical Munro baby disappearance provides a living for many of his family. Sophie moves there, only to have to unearth all the bad stuff that happened before. Quite a story.

Very funny and poignant story, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that one). Mrs. Palfrey, a woman of a certain age, moves into an old folks’ home in London. It’s a sort of hotel, but has full time elderly quirky residents. You get to know them all, and Mrs. Palfrey’s subterfuge effort to show off her “grandson.” I might not have ever picked up this book, but one of my book clubs had us read it, and I’m ever so glad I did.

For one of my book clubs we read Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus. This book is so hard to describe. Elizabeth is a wizard at chemistry and struggles to be recognized for her intelligence and research. She meets a man at her company who is brilliant too. They make quite a pair. They have a child, then he suddenly dies. Her work isn’t taken seriously, so she leaves her employment and becomes an overnight phenom on a cooking show where she uses the chemical names for things like sodium chloride, etc. You go alongside her struggles, and her raising of her daughter. LOTS of humor, lots to discuss for a book club.

Horse. Oh my, is it a page turner. Loved it from the first page to the last. Sad when it ended. It’s a fictional creation but based on a real racehorse owned by a black man, back in the 1850s. Technically, the story is about a painting of the horse but there are many twists and turns. If you’ve ever enjoyed Brooks’ books in the past, this one won’t disappoint.

The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel (no, not Hannah). Certainly a little-known chunk of history about a woman who becomes a master forger during WWII to help get Jewish children out of France. Not easy to read, meaning the difficulty of anyone finding the means and place to DO the forgery and right under the noses of the Nazis. Really good read.

Liane Moriarty’s first novel, Three Wishes, follows the travails of adult triplets, so different, yet similar in many ways. Two are identical, the third is not. So alike, and so not. It takes you through a series of heart-wrenching events, seemingly unrelated, but ones that could bring a family to its breaking point and test the bonds of love and strength.

Recently I’ve read both of Erin French’s books, her cookbook, The Lost Kitchen, and since then her memoir, Finding Freedom. About her life growing up (difficult) about her coming of age mostly working in the family diner, flipper burgers and fries (and learning how much she liked to cook). Now she’s a very successful restaurant entrepreneur (The Lost Kitchen is also the name of her restaurant) in the minuscule town of Freedom, Maine. She’s not a classically trained chef, but she’s terrifically creative. See her TV series on Discover+ if you subscribe.

Jo Jo Moyes has a bunch of books to her credit. And she writes well, with riveting stories. Everything I’ve read of hers has been good. This book, The Girl You Left Behind, is so different, so intriguing, so controversial and a fascinating historical story. There are two timelines here, one during WWI, in France, when a relatively unknown painter (in the style of Matisse) paints a picture of his wife. The war intervenes for both the husband and the wife.

Eli Shafak’s Island of Missing Trees. This book was just a page turner. If you’ve never read anything about the conflict in Cyprus (the island) between the Turks and the Greeks, you’re in for a big history lesson here. But, the entire story centers around a fig tree. You get into the head/brain/feelings of this big fig tree which plays a very central part of the story. You’ll learn a lot about animals, insects (ants, mosquitos, butterflies) and other flora and fauna of Cyprus.

Also read Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty. Ohhh my, such a good book. I couldn’t put it down. Whatever you do, do not read the ending before you start the book. I’ve never understood people who do this. The book chronicles the day a mom just ups and disappears. The grown children come back home, in panic. The dad isn’t much help, and he becomes the prime suspect of foul play. There is no body, however.

If you’d like a mystery read, try Dete Meserve’s The Space Between. It’s just the kind of page-turner I enjoy – a wife returns to her home after being away on business for a few days, to find her husband missing and what he’s left for her is an unexplained bank deposit of a million dollars, a loaded Glock in the nightstand, and a video security system that’s been wiped clean.

Read Alyson Richman’s historical novel called The Velvet Hours. Most of the book takes place in Paris, with a young woman and her grandmother, a very wealthy (but aging) woman who led a life of a semi-courtesan. Or at least a kept woman. But this grandmother was very astute and found ways to invest her money, to grow her money, and to buy very expensive goods. Then WWII intervenes, and the granddaughter has to close up her grandmother’s apartment, leaving it much the way it had been throughout her grandmother’s life, to escape the Nazis. Years go by, and finally answers are sought and found. An intriguing book, based on the author’s experience with an apartment that had been locked up similarly for decades, also in Paris.

Susan Meissner is one of my favorite authors. This book, The Nature of Fragile Things tells a very unusual story. About a young Irish immigrant, desperate to find a way out of poverty, answers an ad for a mail order bride.

Also read Rachel Hauck’s The Writing Desk. You could call this a romance. A young professional, a writer of one successful book, has writer’s block. Then she’s asked to go to Florida to help her mother (from whom she’s mostly estranged) through chemo. She goes, hoping she can find new inspiration.

Also recently finished The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. The book goes backwards and forwards in time, from the 1600s in London with the day-to-day lives of a group of Jews (who had to be very careful about how they worshiped) to current day as an old house is discovered to hold a treasure-trove of historical papers.

Colleen Hoover has written quite a book, It Ends with Us: A Novel, with a love story being the central theme, but again, this book is not for everyone – it can be an awakening for any reader not acquainted with domestic violence and how such injury can emerge as innocent (sort of) but then becomes something else. There is graphic detail here.

Nicolas Barreau’s novel Love Letters from Montmartre: A Novel  is very poignant, very sweet book. Seems like I’ve read several books lately about grieving; this one has a charming ending, but as anyone who has gone through a grave loss of someone dear knows, you can’t predict day to day, week to week. “Snap out of it,” people say, thinking they’re helping.

Another very quirky book, that happens to contain a lot of historical truth is The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World: A Novel by Harry N. Abrams. Set in Japan just after the tsunami 10 years ago when 18,000 people died. At a private park miles away, some very special people installed a phone booth, with a phone (that didn’t work) at the edge of the park, and the survivors of the tsunami began wending their way there to “talk” to their deceased loved ones. Very poignant story.

No question, the most quirky book I’ve read of late, a recommendation from my friend Karen, West with Giraffes: A Novel by Lynda Rutledge. Back in the 1930s a small group of giraffes were brought across the Atlantic from Africa to New York, destined for the then-growing San Diego Zoo. The story is of their journey across the United States in the care of two oh-so-different people, both with a mission.

Could hardly put down Krueger’s book, This Tender Land: A Novel. Tells the harrowing story of a young boy, Odie, (and his brother Albert) who became orphans back in the 30s. At first there is a boarding school, part of an Indian (Native American) agreement, though they are not Indian. They escape, and they are “on the run.”

Just finished Kristin Hannah’s latest book, The Four Winds: A Novel. What a story. One I’ve never read about, although I certainly have heard about the “dust bowl” years when there was a steady migration of down-and-out farmers from the Midwest, to California, for what they hoped to be the American Dream. It tells the story of one particular family, the Martinellis, the grandparents, their son, his wife, and their two children.

Also finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s recent book, The Book of Longings: A Novel. It is a book that might challenge some Christian readers, as it tells the tale of Jesus marrying a woman named Mary. I loved the book from the first word to the last one. The book is believable to me, even though the Bible never says one way or the other that Jesus ever married. It’s been presumed he never did. But maybe he did?

Jeanine Cummins has written an eye-opener, American Dirt. A must read. Oh my goodness. I will never, ever, ever look at Mexican (and further southern) migrants, particularly those who are victims of the vicious cartels, without sympathy. It tells the story of a woman and her young son, who were lucky enough to hide when the cartel murdered every member of her family – her husband, her mother, and many others. It’s about her journey and escape to America.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice joins the Horseback Librarians in the rural south.

Frances Liardet has written a blockbuster tale, We Must Be Brave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Although the scene is WWII England, this book is not really about the war. It’s about the people at home, waiting it out, struggling with enough food, clothing and enough heat.

William Kent Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace. From amazon: a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. It’s a coming of age story.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words:

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This is a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, who becomes a shepherd. Not just any-old shepherd – actually a well educated one. He knows how to weave a story.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Cookies, on December 29th, 2023.

 A winner of a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited at the last minute to a lovely Christmas luncheon and cookie exchange, so I needed to make some quick and easy cookies. Since I love anise biscotti, and I love lemon, I decided these were just the ticket.

There isn’t anything difficult about these cookies. Know, though, that these are more the tea- or coffee-dunking style – i.e., these are quite dry and hard. Actually, that’s the way the original Italian biscotti were back in the day – they contained next to no fat at all. These do have some butter in the dough, but not a lot. They are edible without dunking, but be careful you don’t crack a tooth! I’d suppose Italians today would think soft (or at least not hard) biscotti are blasphemy to the true cuisine of Italy.

The dough comes together very easily and it makes two loaves. Once baked, it’s cooled a bit, then slice them, and they go back in the oven to dry out thoroughly. This recipe makes about 40 biscotti (two loaves). I love the lemon flavor, and I like anise too. A great combination.

What’s GOOD: easy recipe, really like the subtle lemon flavor and the anise. I’d not thought of that as a combination, but it is. These keep for ages, although I keep them in the freezer. Each cookie is just 57 calories and 1 gram of fat.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. Great little cookie.

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Lemon Anise Biscotti

Recipe By: Cook’s Illustrated
Servings: 40

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon anise seed
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1. Sift first three ingredients together in a small bowl.
2. Whisk butter and sugar together in a large bowl to a light lemon color; add eggs, one at a time, mixing well before adding the next egg. Add vanilla extract and lemon zest. Sift dry ingredients over egg mixture, then fold in until dough is just combined.
3. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°F. Halve dough and turn each portion onto an oiled cookie sheet covered with parchment. Using floured hands, quickly stretch each portion of dough into a rough 13-by-2-inch log, placing them about 3 inches apart on the cookie sheet. Pat each dough shape to smooth it. Bake, turning pan once, until loaves are golden and just beginning to crack on top, about 35 minutes.
4. Cool the loaves for 10 minutes; lower oven temperature to 325°F. Cut each loaf diagonally into 3/8-inch slices with a serrated knife. Lay the slices about 1/2-inch apart on the cookie sheet, cut side up, and return them to the oven. Bake, turning over each cookie halfway through baking, until crisp and golden brown on both sides, about 15 minutes. Transfer biscotti to wire rack and cool completely. Biscotti can be stored in an airtight container for at least 1 month. Or freeze up to 2-3 months.
Per Serving: 57 Calories; 1g Fat (23.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 27mg Sodium; 5g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 12mg Calcium; trace Iron; 13mg Potassium; 24mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, on December 10th, 2023.

These just sounded so different – had to try them.

A recent issue of Food & Wine intrigued me because it contained different Christmas cookies than I’d ever made or even considered. Amongst them was this. I like a Moscow Mule once in awhile. I like gingersnaps. I love cranberries. Hence, it sounded like a winner.

This cookie requires a couple more steps than many – first you either have to buy or make a ginger syrup. But, fully disclosure here, those of us who gathered to bake cookies yesterday, could barely taste the massive amount of ginger contained in these cookies. Dianne actually made the dough that morning and it needed to chill for 4 hours (better overnight is my motto here). She and I worked on these cookies. Because the batter appeared to be really loose, first we baked one tray of them and figured out they were too loose – they almost spread into a cake. The cookie is very soft when first baked. Another item of disclosure here too, they need to cool awhile on the cookie sheets before trying to remove them. So we added about 2 tablespoons of extra flour, which was just about right. A note is in the recipe below about this.

So what makes it a Moscow Mule cookie, you ask? A full CUP of vodka (wow). Although not all of it ends up in the cookies – you soak the cranberries in it and reserve what’s left of the vodka for another use (maybe nice in a mixed drink of some kind where cranberry juice is called for?). You can substitute 7-UP in it if preferred. It also contained a HALF CUP of the ginger syrup, a bunch of lime zest and two tablespoons of fresh grated ginger (plus there was a ton of fresh ginger in the ginger syrup too). Be sure to make a thorough shopping list before attempting these!

Having a cookie scoop really helped with these. Dianne scooped and plopped the dough into my hand and I swirled them around in the powdered sugar before placing on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. These darned cookies DO stick, so even if you have those kind-of corrugated sheet pans, use parchment anyway. When the cookies bake they become speckled with the sugar – crackled is the word used in cookie baking, I believe. Love the look of them. Do, as I mentioned above, allow them to cool on the pans. The recipe says 2 minutes. I recommend more than that.

What’s GOOD: well, they’re very festive looking. And they taste good. Maybe not the highest on my list of cookies I’d make again – but they’re different (I like that). I’m not a fan of sugar cookies at all, so yes, I liked that they’re a very unusual cookie. The dried cranberries in them are nice to encounter, AND you can definitely taste the booze.

What’s NOT: well, that you have to make a ginger syrup (or buy one). Ideally start that the day before. And you need to chill the cookie dough at least 4 hours or overnight. Again, this dough is very soft. What surprised the four of us who met to do Christmas cookie baking, is that the ginger was almost so subtle we couldn’t taste it. Very odd, considering how much ginger is in them.

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Cranberry Moscow Mule Gingersnaps

Recipe: Food & Wine
Serving: 48

2 cups sweetened dried cranberries
1 cup vodka — or 7-Up
3 cups all purpose flour — plus 2 tablespoons
4 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted
1/2 cup ginger syrup — (such as Ginger People) see Notes for making your own
2 tablespoons lime zest — from 3-4 limes (or more if they’re small)
2 tablespoons fresh ginger — peeled and grated
4 large eggs
3 cups powdered sugar

1. Place dried cranberries in a small microwavable bowl. Add vodka, pressing cranberries to submerge. Microwave on high until steaming, 45 seconds to 1 minute. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let stand until cranberries are plump, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside, reserving cranberry-flavored vodka for another use.
2. Whisk together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside. The extra 2-3 tablespoons of flour place in a separate bowl and use as needed to make a firmer dough.
3. Combine with mixer: brown sugar, butter, ginger syrup, lime zest, and grated fresh ginger until smooth and evenly combined, about 30 seconds. Add eggs; mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Add flour mixture until just combined. If batter is really soft/loose, add in the additional flour. Fold in plumped cranberries until evenly dispersed throughout dough. Cover and refrigerate dough until thoroughly chilled and firm, at least 4 hours or up to 1 day. (Do not skip this step, as batter is loose.)
4. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place powdered sugar in a bowl. Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, drop a dough ball (about 1 tablespoon) into powdered sugar, and roll until heavily coated. Place coated dough ball on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Repeat procedure to form 12 cookie dough balls, spacing at least 2 inches apart. Bake in preheated oven until cookies are puffed in center and lightly browned around edges, 9 to 11 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cookies cool on baking sheet 2-5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; serve warm, or let cool completely. Repeat scooping, rolling, and baking process with remaining cookie dough and remaining powdered sugar.
Per Serving (ginger syrup isn’t included): 170 Calories; 3g Fat (18.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 23mg Cholesterol; 73mg Sodium; 23g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 35mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 38mg Potassium; 38mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, on November 6th, 2023.

Have you ever had banana cookies? I don’t think I had. They’re good.

This evening I’m leading a committee meeting and wanted to serve something, a little something, while we work. I told the hostess I’d bring cookies. But maybe not chocolate (my usual go-to anything) since it might keep some people awake. This cookie was just the thing – a cross between banana bread and a cookie. Having made them and now eaten several of them, they really are just banana bread made into a cookie.

The original recipe called for quite a bit more sugar, but commenters said to reduce the sugar by about half. I didn’t quite do that, but close. And if I make them again, I’d likely reduce the 2/3 cup to a little over 1/2 cup. The mixture of spices in this (cinnamon, mace [or nutmeg] and ground cloves) is just right. Not too much, not too little. Several commenters said they removed most of the spices because they knew their children wouldn’t like the taste (really?), but I think the spices are great.

Do note the brief time the mashed bananas need to just sit with the baking soda. That’s not an instruction you see very often. It helps the rising factor. The batter may appear curdled, but as with banana bread, it doesn’t make a jot of difference once baked. I have good baking sheets (my new favorite is the Williams-Sonoma gold ones) that don’t require parchment. These cookies didn’t stick at all. You can put more than the usual amount of cookies on the sheet as they don’t spread. Where they plop, they stay. I used a cookie scoop so they were all a uniform amount.

What’s GOOD: love the banana flavor and texture. Just like banana bread, but in cookie form. Definitely I’d make these again if I had over-ripe bananas in my kitchen.

What’s NOT; nothing really. These are good. Not crisp – they’re soft and tender. Just like banana bread.

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Banana Bread Cookies

Recipe: Adapted from Simply Recipes, Garrett McCord
Servings: 30

1/2 cup unsalted butter — room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg — room temperature
1 cup mashed bananas — about 2 1/2 large bananas = 1 cup
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1 pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground mace — or nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup walnuts — chopped, or pecans, or chocolate chips, or a mixture

NOTE: do not guess on the amount of bananas – measure! Do allow the bananas to sit for a few minutes with the baking soda. The batter may appear curdled, but that’s the way it’s supposed to look.
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
2. In a bowl, mix the mashed bananas and baking soda. Let sit for 2 minutes. The baking soda will react with the acid in the bananas which in turn will give the cookies their lift and rise.
3. Mix the banana mixture into the butter mixture. Mix together the flour, salt, and spices and sift into the butter and banana mixture and mix until just combined.
4. Fold into the batter the pecans or chocolate chips if using. Drop in dollops onto parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for 11-13 minutes or until nicely golden brown. Let cool on wire racks.
Per Serving: 135 Calories; 8g Fat (52.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 14mg Cholesterol; 101mg Sodium; 6g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 10mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 76mg Potassium; 41mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, on August 18th, 2023.

Brownies – oh my – so rich and decadent. A different technique.

Today, I’m also philosophizing a bit about cookbooks. If you want to jump to the recipe write-up, scroll down further.

Lately, I’ve been having a talk with myself. About my cookbooks. My couple-hundred or three-hundred cookbooks. And don’t get me wrong, I love my cookbooks. But how often do I really go to those shelves to look or hunt for recipes? Truthfully, not all that often. Case in point . . . this recipe. I had decided to make some brownies. But as I looked through my MasterCook recipes on my computer, not a one jumped out at me. I wanted to try something new, and there were only about 5 or 6 brownie recipes that I hadn’t made before, and none suited me. So I went to my more recent cookbook purchases . . . so maybe I should say here . . . I still buy cookbooks, even though I tell myself not to. Sometimes I give in and buy one anyway. I’ve had to resort to storing my cookbooks in various other places in my house. Some are upstairs in my study (mostly cookbooks I can’t give up but rarely view), others are on various shelves and cupboards in my kitchen and family room. I’ve begun having to stack a cookbook or two sideways on top of a shelf full of cookbooks. I’m running out of room. And you may recall, about 3-4 years ago I donated at least 100 cookbooks, ones I almost never referred to. It’s an addiction. What can I tell you?

So, let’s talk for a minute about cookbook writing . . . in many of my older cookbooks there are very few author notes. In the cookbook world those are called “headnotes.” That little paragraph – tucked in between the title and the list of ingredients. In most of the recipes from the Joy of Cooking, there are NO headnotes. Even some of the old tomes from Betty Crocker and such, there are no notes to give you an idea about the recipe – you know, the things like “the reduced balsamic glaze is what makes this dish special.” Or, “don’t eliminate the almond extract even though there’s only 1/4 teaspoon in it.” I do love those headnotes, so going to my more recent cookbooks there were lots of headnotes. I grabbed one book after another, still hunting for just the right brownie recipe to try, not finding anything that I fancied. I have several books that are just about baking. Nothing there, either.

I’ve been thinking, that in my spare time (oh dear, do I really have any?) I should go through all of my cookbooks and mark them with sticky notes. Maybe I should add the actual recipes to my MasterCook online file. We’re talking thousands here! What a lot of work. I don’t know that I have it in me! Would you? But when I’m thinking about a recipe, what I don’t do, usually, is go hunt in my cookbooks. Part of that is the intervention of the internet. We need only go to a browser, put in a search term, “brownies” and the internet will provide hundreds. Likely thousands of recipes. Magazine recipes seem to come up first. Now that Bon Appetit and that group charge to access their recipe files, I’m no longer a fan. I subscribe to numerous food magazines so why wouldn’t I have access to the recipes online? When my subscriptions run out for a few of them I’m going to let them lapse. This practice annoys me. So far, Southern Living, Sunset, Food & Wine, and Garden & Gun are free for internet searching and browsing. If any of those begin charging a fee to access online I might just drop those subscriptions too.

I do have a subscription to EatYourBooks, a website that keeps track of all the cookbooks one owns (obviously you have to input the titles into your “library”), and as time has gone on, people have indexed all the recipes in most cookbooks out there. And so, let’s say I want to make lamb stew. I can go to my EatYourBooks website and hunt for “lamb stew,” and it will tell me what cookbooks I own contain a recipe for lamb stew. Then I have to go find the book and look it up. I was very enamored with the idea at first, and I used it quite often. But as time has gone on, I don’t research things there very much anymore. In this case, I could have gone there, input “brownies” and probably gotten a list a mile long for brownies. I just did a search and it provided me with 130 entries. Probably if I were to be searching for a recipe for brownies that contain sour cream, I could have done a more refined search and found fewer (a more manageable) number of recipes to locate. Some of the ingredients are listed along with the titles. In this case, I didn’t have a preconceived idea about ingredients in my brownies. So that website wouldn’t have helped me unless I were willing to devote a lot of time researching brownie recipes in my cookbook results. As it is, the cookbook I eventually used I don’t have listed in my “library.” Obviously I need to update the list!

So, I kept perusing my cookbook shelves and pulled out an old one. Actually I bought the book used, probably about 10 years ago, but it’s from 1987. The Nantucket Open-House Cookbook. Sarah Leah Chase is an accomplished chef and cookbook author. She likely has 8-10 cookbooks to her name, the most famous she co-authored with Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso (the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook and  Silver Palate Desserts). The work on those books put her on the map in the culinary world. She wrote two little cookbooks (on her own and all her other books are her own, not shared authoring) about bicycling, with food in mind, through France (in general) and the other one through Burgundy. I’ve made several recipes from those books over the years.

THE BROWNIES: There was one brownie recipe in this cookbook, and it was the headnotes that grabbed me front and center. Chase owns (or owned, I don’t know) a food shop/bakery on Nantucket, and these brownies were a regular on the menu. Everyone wanted the recipe – nobody could figure out what made them different. They were a bit crusty on the top but dense and almost wet inside. Finally, Chase decided to share the recipe in this cookbook. She explains that the recipe origin was Maida Heatter’s Palm Beach Brownies, but Chase made a few changes, mostly in the technique. When I went online, there is a bakery in Indiana with Chase’s original name from her Nantucket store, Que Sera Sarah. So maybe she’s now moved to the Midwest.

And, indeed, these brownies use three very unusual techniques. First, the 10-minute batter (sugar, eggs, extracts, espresso powder, salt) is whipped up at high speed in a stand mixer for 10 minutes (yes, TEN minutes). Set the timer; don’t guess. Secondly, they are baked in pure convection. Apparently that’s what creates the top crust of the brownie – it hardens almost. And lastly, the brownies must be refrigerated a minimum of 6 hours before even removing from the baking pan or cutting.

The batter is easy enough to put together – but as I mentioned just above, the sugar and egg mixture has to be mixed at high speed for 10 minutes. Makes the batter very airy. It’s interesting that you do that because the finished brownies are very dense. Once poured into a foil-lined and butter-greased 9×13 pan, they bake with pure convection for 25 minutes at 350°F. And they’re to be removed from the oven immediately. No guesswork – she suggests you stick a toothpick in and there should be WET batter on the toothpick. I used a metal pick and there were some wet crumbs, so I hope I didn’t over bake them.

When they come out, I guess, they’re way too soft to manipulate. They cool in the pan (so that probably took about 2 hours), then need to be refrigerated for 6 hours or overnight. I lasted about 4 hours before I removed the foil sling from the 9×13 pan (and because they were cold, they came out of the pan easily in a nice big slab) and cut off one end and sliced it up for the photo at top. I have to confess – I forgot to add the walnuts. Crazy me! I’d taken the walnuts out of the freezer, put them in a bowl and into the microwave just to take the frozen chill off of them. Then promptly forgot to add them to the batter. Oh well. I’ll probably freeze most of these brownies – there’s no reason they wouldn’t freeze well enough. I’m guessing you’re supposed to keep them in the refrigerator. Not sure, as the recipe doesn’t say. Just that the finished brownies must be refrigerated before removing from the foil sling and sliced up.

What’s GOOD: the brownies are really good. They’re very sweet – I might use a bit less sugar if I made them again (like 3 cups instead of 3 1/2 cups). The chocolate flavor certainly comes through, and the texture is almost fudgy, but it’s not fudge by any means. Hard to describe. Definitely these are not light, cake-type brownies; far denser than that. And yes, there definitely is a little crust on the top too. It’s not thick enough to be visible except from a side view, but yes, it has a bit of a bite to it. Guess you’ll have to make them yourself and come up with a better description of the texture. Help me out here if you do.

What’s NOT: only that it has some unusual techniques – the 10 minutes of batter-mixing, and the 6+ hour of refrigeration before cutting and eating. And you need a convection oven to make these exactly as the author does.

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Brownies – Sarah Leah Chase

Recipe By: Sarah Leah Chase, Open-House Cookbook
Servings: 25 (or more if you cut them smaller)

8 ounces unsweetened chocolate
8 ounces unsalted butter
5 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons espresso powder
3 1/2 cups granulated sugar — [next time I would try 3 cups]
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour — sifted
8 ounces walnuts — (large halves) or large pecans, optional (chopped)

1. Preheat convection oven to 350ºF.
2. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil. Butter the foil.
3. Place the chocolate and butter in the top of a large double broiler over hot water on moderate heat, or in a medium-sized, but heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted and smooth. Do not let the chocolate burn on the bottom. Remove from the heat and set aside.
4. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the vanilla and almond extracts, salt, espresso powder, sugar and flour at high speed for 10 minutes. On low speed, add the chocolate mixture and beat only until mixed. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
5. Stir in the nuts and pour into the prepared pan. Smooth the top.
6. Bake for 25 minutes – the brownie will have a thick, crisp crust on top, but if you insert a toothpick into the middle, it will come out wet and covered with chocolate. Do not over bake.
7. Remove pan from the oven and let stand until cool. Refrigerate the brownie for a few hours or overnight, or place it in the freezer for at least 6 hours.
8. Cut the brownies using a long, heavy knife with a sharp blade. Serve as is, or in a square shape with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
Per Serving: 336 Calories; 19g Fat (49.1% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 39g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 57mg Cholesterol; 122mg Sodium; 28g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 25mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 143mg Potassium; 97mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, on August 4th, 2023.

Cute little bites – shortbread layers and a luscious chocolate filling in between.

As it happened, I made these in a slightly smaller Pyrex baking dish than I should (like an 8×11?) . . . so these delicious bites were taller (thicker) than intended. If you make it in a 9×13 as you’re supposed to, they’d be a better proportion of shortbread cookie type layers and the delicious chocolate layer. These disappeared in a hurry. I gave some to a neighbor, a friend, another friend who just lost his wife, then the last few just kind of disappeared, period.

These are easy to make. First you melt the chocolate chips, cream cheese, and evaporated milk in a heavy-duty saucepan or a double boiler. If using a saucepan, watch carefully so the chocolate doesn’t burn on the bottom. Once everything is melted, remove from the heat, add walnuts and almond extract, and set aside to cool a bit. Then make the pastry layer (flour, sugar, butter, eggs, walnuts and almond extract – which I added because I like almond flavoring). Half of it is pressed into the bottom of a greased 9×13 pan. Then pour over the chocolate layer and spread it out to cover. Then the crumbs of the remaining pastry layer are sprinkled over the top. Then it’s baked for 35-40 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Easy. Let the bars cool until they’re cut-able, then store in the refrigerator. Warm to room temp before serving. They freeze well. This recipe came from a P.E.O. California cookbook my friend Cherrie gave me – it was submitted by Collette, from a P.E.O. chapter in Morgan Hill (that’s here in California).

What’s GOOD: everything about these were good. Loved the layers. Loved the chocolate. Easy to make. For me, this recipe is a keeper.

What’s NOT: nothing in particular; loved these.

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Chocolate Layer Bars

Recipe By: Collette R, Chapter WJ, Morgan Hill, CA, P.E.O.
Servings: 36

2 cups chocolate chips
8 ounces cream cheese
2/3 cup evaporated milk
3 cups unsifted flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter — softened
2 large eggs
1 cup walnuts — chopped
1/4 teaspoon almond extract — optional

1. Combine chips, cream cheese and evaporated milk in medium saucepan or double boiler. If using a saucepan, watch carefully so the chocolate doesn’t burn on the bottom. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until chips are melted and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat.
2. Stir in walnuts and almond extract and set aside.
3. Combine remaining ingredients in large mixing bowl; blend well with mixer until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
4. Press half of mixture in greased 9×13 pan. Spread with chocolate mixture. Sprinkle remaining crumble on top. Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.
Per Serving: 239 Calories; 15g Fat (54.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 118mg Sodium; 14g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 44mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 103mg Potassium; 75mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, on March 10th, 2023.

Yet another chocolate chip cookie recipe.

A post from Carolyn. What’s there not to love about chocolate chip cookies? These are good ones, something different to add to your repertoire. I started with an online recipe I found years ago and tweaked it just a bit. I used some artificial sugar (for half of the brown sugar and half of the white sugar) in the batter, and since I love walnuts, I used them rather than the pecans that were part of the version I read about.

I come from the camp that cookie batter is good to eat/taste. That’s one of my favorite memories of cooking with my mother when I was a young child, and I eat cookie batter every time I make cookies, no matter the type. But when I dipped a spoon into this one I wasn’t so sure. The spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger) were overwhelming. Obviously once  you add the spices, it’s a bit late to remove them! So I went with it. I figured I could always give them away if I didn’t like the finished cookie. Lo and behold, once baked, these cookies turned out to be lovely. The warm fall spices add a delicious hint of themselves and were not overwhelming in the slightest. These may not be to everyone’s taste –  I’m the first one to tell you that for decades I made the Nestle’s printed recipe on the chocolate chip bag – for all of my chocolate chip cookie baking! (Not anymore – as you can see if you merely look at my recipe index and search the cookie section, you’ll find oodles of chocolate chip cookie recipes. The ones in red print are my favorites.)

These look like “regular” chocolate chip cookies, but they’re definitely different. I liked using the bar chocolate, chopped up, instead of chips. You COULD use regular chips, but the irregular crags of chocolate in the cookies make them different.

What’s GOOD: definitely different. If you’re a purist when it comes to chocolate chip cookies,  you might not like these at all. They grew on me as time went by – as I write I still have a couple dozen of them in the freezer (I like frozen cookies). If you’re intrigued, but a bit scared to try it, make a half batch.

What’s NOT: only that these are very, VERY different than regular chocolate chip cookies. Some people might find the flavors of the spices off-putting. Maybe these are in the “Mikey, try it, you might like it” camp.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies with Warm Spices

Recipe By: Adapted from an online recipe
Servings: 56

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter — softened to room temperature
1 cup brown sugar — (may use half artificial sugar, if desired)
1/3 cup granulated sugar — (may use half artificial sugar, if desired)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
6 ounces semisweet chocolate — chopped (not chocolate chips)
1 cup walnuts — diced

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Use parchment paper if you prefer on the baking pans.
2. In a bowl combine dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt, allspice, and nutmeg. Set aside.
3. Using an electric mixer or stand mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla and mix until combined.
4. Reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing just until combined. Stir in the chocolate and nuts.
5. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls (I use a cookie scoop) onto the prepared pans. Bake 12 to 14 minutes, or until lightly browned.
6. Cool cookies on the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Package into sealed containers and freeze, or eat within a few days.
Per Serving: 105 Calories; 7g Fat (57.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 15mg Cholesterol; 58mg Sodium; 6g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 15mg Calcium; trace Iron; 43mg Potassium; 36mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, on December 16th, 2022.

Certainly I’d never heard of chocolate salami before, but was intrigued when I read the story about them. Italians claim the origin of the recipe, so do Germans, but so do Russians. Mine weren’t as round as the pictures online, but hey, made no difference to the taste!

A post from Carolyn. I think I mentioned recently that I decided to subscribe to the New York Times Food Section. It’s not a cheap purchase, but they offered it for half price ($20/year). If you’re interested, it’s still on offer at that price. I have nowhere near discovered all there is to know about their recipe archives, but this cookie recipe popped up and it’s just so different I had to try it.

So I read, back during the Soviet Russia era, some foodstuffs were hard to come by like cookies and cocoa powder. An ingenious cook combined shortbread cookies and cocoa along with chocolate (available) and hazelnuts (available) to spread the wealth, so to speak. Both the cocoa powder and the cookies then were enjoyed for a longer period of time. Although I have to say, eating one of these is nearly impossible.

A package of hazelnuts was staring at me, so I toasted them up first (about 5-7 minutes in my toaster oven at 375). Then I opened the package of Walker’s shortbread and used my meat pounder (flat) to kind-of mash up the cookies. In the photo above you can see toasted hazelnuts and pieces/crumbs of the cookies. The recipe suggested you sieve the cookies because you don’t want many crumbs. I didn’t wish to waste the crumbs, so I used them anyway. Just make sure you leave some little chunks – more chunks than crumbs if you can do it (and no, it’s not easy to do that).

Meanwhile you melt butter, sweetened condensed milk and bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghiradelli, bar type) and unsweetened cocoa powder. Once melted, it’s poured into the cookies and nuts mixture and after it cools a bit. Then you roll it into logs, trying to get them into a rounded shape, then seal up in waxed paper and foil for a longer chill.

My salami were not very round, so a day later I let the logs warm for about 45 minutes at room temperature and then rolled them on my countertop until they formed a more rounded shape. But, as you can see, I didn’t succeed very well with that! You sprinkle the logs with powdered sugar when you’re ready to serve them, then slice. I sliced mine thinner than the 1/4″ recommended. If you use a very slim knife you can do it. Don’t lay the slices in the sugar, however, as that messes up the visual of “salami.”

Oh my goodness, are these ever good. I suppose you could say they’re a variation of fudge, but with the addition of hazelnuts and cookie bits, they’re really not fudge.

What’s GOOD: well, I’m going to be adding this recipe to my regular Christmas cookie rotation. Or maybe not rotation – it’ll be a regular every year here on out. I liked that they were easy – EASY – to make. They’re a real keeper in my book. And, I’ll be adding this recipe to my favorites. Does that tell you how much I liked them?

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever, other than you can’t eat these immediately – requires overnight or several hours of chilling to make the logs firm enough to slice.

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Chocolate Salami

Recipe By: New York Times
Servings: 72

8 ounces shortbread cookies — tea biscuits, chocolate wafers or graham crackers (store-bought is fine), to make 2 cups cookie bits
1 1/3 cups hazelnuts — chopped toasted, or walnuts or pecans
16 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sweetened condensed milk
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate — in bars or chips
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt — or 1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar

1. Place cookies in a bowl and use a masher to crush them into bits. (The biggest pieces should be no larger than 1/2-inch square.) Dump mixture into a colander and shake to remove most of the tiny crumbs. You should have about 2 cups pieces remaining. Return to bowl and add nuts.
2. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Whisk in condensed milk. If using bar chocolate, break into medium-size pieces. Add chocolate, cocoa powder and salt, and whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes.
3. Scrape chocolate mixture into bowl with cookies. Stir together and set aside at room temperature for 15 minutes to firm up.
4. Meanwhile, lay 2 sheets of aluminum foil, each about 18 inches long, on a work surface. Top each with a sheet of waxed or parchment paper. Divide cookie mixture between the two. Using paper and your hands, shape and roll mixture into two cylinders of dough, each about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Roll dough up in the paper, then again in foil. Roll on the work surface to make sure the log is even, then twist the ends of the foil to secure.
5. Refrigerate the logs until firm, at least 1 hour. After 1 hour, check to make sure they are setting evenly. If necessary, roll on the work surface again until smooth (no need to remove the foil and paper). Refrigerate until fully set, another 2 hours or up to 3 days. If the log isn’t quite round, you can mold it another time – just leave out at room temp for about an hour, then roll the log on the countertop.
6. When ready to serve, remove logs from refrigerator and unwrap them on a work surface. Sprinkle confectioners’ sugar over them, turning to coat. Shake off excess and use a thin or serrated knife to slice into 1/4-inch rounds. Can be sliced in narrower slices if you’re careful. Plate and serve, or refrigerate up to 2 hours.
Per Serving: 113 Calories; 9g Fat (65.6% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 9mg Cholesterol; 85mg Sodium; 5g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 24mg Calcium; trace Iron; 59mg Potassium; 33mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, on December 2nd, 2022.

It’s holiday time, and my cousin Gary visits most years, and he’s gluten (or at least he’s for sure wheat)  intolerant.

A post from Carolyn. My cousin and I share one very important trait (hmmm, maybe it’s genetic?) – we love chocolate. He will always tell me, “no, don’t bake cookies for me,” but then I think, yes, I should. I didn’t ask him this year, I just made them. It’s the holidays. A reason to try a new GF recipe for him.

Recently the New York Times offered a subscription to their food section and archives (not the daily newspaper) at half price, for $20/year. I don’t know about you, but I think newspapers should offer recipes for free – maybe not the stories, but at least the recipes; but they don’t. Or at least most newspapers don’t. And particularly the New York Times. But at half price I thought it was a good buy. In the past when I’ve discovered the NYT had printed some great sounding recipe, I’d do a search all over the web, and sometimes I’d find the recipe somewhere else. But not always. One of my very favorite cookbooks I own is Amanda Hesser’s gigantic tome, The Essential New York Times Cookbook: The Recipes of Record, a 2021 re-release with new added content. I have the older edition – the one here is the recent one. The older one must be out of print already!

With that in mind, and my new subscription available, I decided to search for GF cookie recipes for Gary, and downloaded this one and made them for him. They’re very straight-forward. No unusual ingredients, providing you have almond flour on hand already. I do. I keep it in the freezer. Do use the pure almond flour – not the one from Trader Joe’s that has the skins included. I buy my blanched almond flour at Costco. I had a small bag of Bob’s Red Mill almond flour in my pantry (that had been there for well over a year) and it smelled just fine, so I’m not sure almond flour needs to be kept in the freezer after all. Might open up some new real estate in my jam-packed freezer.

In this case I used half artificial sugar, half real sugar; the recipe calls for both light brown and granulated; I use half Swerve brown, and half So Nourished erythritol granular. In sampling the finished cookies, I cannot tell there is any artificial sugar in them.

First it’s butter and sugars to be mixed, then eggs, then vanilla, and lastly the dry ingredients. With most new cookie recipes these days, I bake 2-3 of them first to make sure they’re the right consistency. These were; I made no adjustments except for the baking time. The cookies are scooped onto baking sheets and lightly flattened before baking for 13 1/2 minutes (in my oven, anyway). The original recipe made gigantic ones. I made traditional sized, and that’s the time they needed. These cookies were plumper than the ones shown in the newspaper photograph – theirs were very spread out, but still in a nice round shape. Mine were thicker – they barely settled a little in height when baked. That may be why they required a bit more baking time.

What’s GOOD: well, obviously, that they GF. GF cookies (at least those made with almond flour) tend to be a bit more “sandy” in texture. From a frozen state, I liked these better. They’re pretty fragile at room temperature. They’re still a bit fragile from frozen, but manageable. My cousin ate a few every day and liked them.

What’s NOT: nothing really, other than GF cookies tend to have a different texture. If you prefer tender, soft cookies, these will be perfect.

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GF Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from the New York Times
Servings: 60

5 1/2 cups almond flour — finely ground (blanched)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
20 tablespoons unsalted butter — at room temperature
2/3 cup light brown sugar — I used half Swerve light brown
2/3 cup sugar — I used half Erythritol granular
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
24 ounces unsweetened chocolate — coarsely chopped or grated bar (or bittersweet) chocolate
1 1/4 cups walnuts — chopped (optional)
Sea salt (optional, for finishing)

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the almond flour, salt and baking soda to combine.
3. Using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar on medium speed until very light, 3 to 4 minutes.
4. Add the egg and mix on medium speed to combine. Scrape the bowl well, then add the vanilla and mix to combine.
5. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just combined, about 10 seconds. Scrape the bowl well and mix on low speed to ensure the mixture is homogeneous.
6. Add the chocolate and walnuts; gently mix to incorporate it. Scoop the dough into heaping tablespoon mounds of dough, and transfer them to the prepared baking sheets. Stagger the rows to allow the cookies room to spread.
7. Gently press the cookies down slightly with your fingers. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt, if using. Bake the cookies, switching racks and rotating the sheets halfway through, until they’re golden brown around the edges and just barely set in the center, 11-13 minutes. Transfer sheets to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then transfer cookies with a spatula onto another rack to cool a bit more. Freeze for best storage. Cookies are fragile, so cool well before moving to a freezer bag.
Per Serving: 156 Calories; 13g Fat (73.4% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 17mg Cholesterol; 117mg Sodium; 4g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 18mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 123mg Potassium; 66mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, on November 6th, 2022.

No, those aren’t biscotti. I know they look like them, but they’re not.

A post from Carolyn. A dear friend passed away recently at 96. Such a sweet PEO friend; she’ll be missed. Our PEO chapter offered to bake cookies for the reception, so I looked through my to-try files and this one seemed to fit the bill. They would transport well (with waxed paper between layers, that is) and they weren’t all that difficult to make. Plus they had fall, spicy flavors in them. A win-win.

This is a Dorie Greenspan recipe that I’d downloaded a year or two ago, but after reading the comments, I changed the recipe some. Many said they were too sweet. So I reduced the amount of brown sugar and the amount of molasses. I didn’t have enough golden raisins, so I used half of them and half currants. I also added some ground cardamom. I think you could still reduce the sugar in these, especially because of the icing, which is 98% sugar. I also have reduced the quantity of icing – it made too much.

They are baked in long logs – they seemed quite thick – I should have made the logs thinner, so because of that, I cut the pieces (after they were cooled and iced) into smaller ones. Usually hermits are kind of oblong-ish squares. Oblongs would have been way too big. So, therefore I cut them into thinner biscotti-like pieces.

The icing, Dorie said, could be made with lemon juice (in the powdered sugar) or rum, or milk. I opted to do two of the logs with lemon juice and two with dark, spiced rum. There is a difference in the color of the icing if you use spiced rum. I liked both, so use your preference.

What’s GOOD: easy to make, great for fall. Would be nice as Christmas cookies too. You can make the batter several days ahead. Am sure these would keep well – layer with waxed paper, though, so you don’t damage the icing.

What’s NOT: nothing, really .. . make sure you have golden raisins and/or currants.

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Iced Spiced Hermits

Recipe By: Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
Servings: 48

4 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal salt — or 1 tsp. Morton kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 2/3 cups light brown sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter — room temperature
2 large eggs
1/3 cup molasses
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup currants
GLAZE:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar — (220 g) sifted
4 tablespoons milk — (or more)or use fresh lemon juice, or rum

NOTES: I altered the original recipe – I used less brown sugar, less molasses and added ground cardamom. I also used some black currants (dried) in place of some of the golden raisins. Plus I reduced the quantity of the icing.
1. Whisk together flour, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, baking powder, and pepper in a medium bowl.
2. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat brown sugar and butter until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs and molasses, scraping down sides of bowl as needed, until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients; beat until just combined. Add raisins and currants and mix just to evenly distribute. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes and up to 12 hours.
3. Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 350°. Divide dough in quarters and transfer to two parchment-lined baking sheets. Using wet hands, shape dough into two 12″-long logs (a plastic bowl scraper is helpful for this). Use your fingers or your palm to flatten the logs. They spread some, so don’t let the logs touch. Arrange on opposing long sides of baking sheet, spacing 2″ from long edges.
4. Bake logs until edges are just set but centers are still soft, 23–26 minutes (logs will spread and crack). At the halfway point, switch sheets and turn them around so they bake evenly. Remove and let cool on the baking sheet.
5. GLAZE: Whisk powdered sugar and milk (or rum or lemon juice) in a small bowl until smooth. Glaze should be thick but pourable; thin with more milk, juice or rum as needed. Drizzle glaze erratically over logs; let sit until set, at least 30 minutes. Using a serrated knife, slice logs crosswise 1″ thick (or slice 2″ thick and cut in half down the center for a squarish cookie). Store airtight at room temperature. Freeze for longer storage.
6. Do ahead: Cookie batter can be mixed up to 4 days ahead.
Per Serving: 131 Calories; 4g Fat (28.3% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 18mg Cholesterol; 131mg Sodium; 14g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 24mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 95mg Potassium; 27mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, on October 30th, 2022.

Oh so tender little cakey bites with dried apricots and golden raisins plus a brandy syrup poured over the top. And then a lemony drizzle on top of that.

A post from Carolyn.  This isn’t a new recipe here on the blog, but it’s been years – YEARS – since I made them. And because I did – make them last week, that is – any of you who weren’t around in 2008 should know about them.

Originally the recipe came from a 1996 issue of Sunset Magazine. I’d put it into my recipe program way back then, and have made them many times. What appealed to me was the combination of apricots and brandy. And that’s still the same thing that encourages me to make them.

You mix up an easy batter  – kind of a cake type, not cookie type and pour it into a buttered 10×15 pan. You can do it in a 9×13 pan, but they’ll take a bit longer to bake. The cake is baked for about 25 minutes. Once out of the oven you pour over a syrup made up of sugar, apricot brandy and lemon juice. Once the bars have cooled, you drizzle on a lemony icing. That’s what you can see in the photo – the icing. The syrup completely soaks into the cake. Although the bars are not soggy or wet at all – you can taste the brandy, certainly, and you might think the brandy is in the icing. But no.

They keep at room temp (sealed in a container, of course) for three days, but after that you should freeze them, using waxed paper to separate the layers. When you store them at first you should separate them with waxed paper also.

What’s GOOD: Love the tender cake rather than firm, chewy cookie-style bar, exactly. Love-love the brandy in these (not much). Definitely something for adult palates. You probably don’t give your children bourbon balls – so you might not want to give them these bars either. So, so good with a cup of coffee or tea. They freeze well (separate with waxed paper). They lend themselves well to fall flavors or Christmas, but you could make them any time of year.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. Absolutely wonderful little nuggets.

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Brandied Apricot Bars

Recipe By: Sunset Magazine, 1996
Servings: 36

COOKIE/CAKE BATTER:
1 cup butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tbsp grated orange peel
1 tbsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups dried apricots — minced
2/3 cup golden raisins
BRANDY SYRUP:
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup apricot brandy — or Cointreau
3 teaspoons lemon juice
LEMON JUICE GLAZE:
4 teaspoons lemon juice
2/3 cup powdered sugar

NOTES: Be sure to use fresh dried apricots and golden raisins. If they’re the least bit firm (from sitting on your pantry shelf for months) rehydrate them in hot water for at least 30 minutes before draining, blotting dry and adding to the batter.
1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, beat butter, 1/3 cup sugar, and brown sugar with mixer until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition, then add orange peel and vanilla.
2. In separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, soda and cinnamon. Stir into butter mixture along with apricots and raisins.
3. Pour batter into lightly buttered 10×15 in. pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until cookie is lightly browned and springs back in center. Set on rack to cool.
4. BRANDY SYRUP – Just before cookies are done, combine 1/3 cup sugar, brandy, and lemon juice in sauce pan. Bring to boil over high heat, remove and when cookie comes from oven, spoon warm apricot syrup evenly over it. Let cool completely, then cut into 3 dozen equal pieces and leave in pan.
5. Lemon Icing – mix lemon juice and powdered sugar until smooth. Drizzle over the cookies. Once drizzle is sort of dried, remove cookies from pan. Store airtight up to 3 days; after that freeze them.
Per Serving: 132 Calories; 6g Fat (38.7% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 78mg Sodium; 11g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 23mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 132mg Potassium; 41mg Phosphorus.

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