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Top Ten Tuesday – Book Palate Cleansers

Happy Tuesday, everyone! It’s time for another edition of Top Ten Tuesday, a literary list with a new bookish topic every week. This Tuesday’s topic is a freebie, which means I get to do whatever I want! This week I’m going to focus on some of my favorite palate cleansers.

And while this means something in the food world (my other favorite topic), I’m actually referring to those in the book world. Book palate cleansers can mean be used for various reasons. You just finished an intense read and are looking for something easy or fun. You’ve been having trouble getting into everything you pick up and need a story that will draw you in. You’re a little stressed in real life and want a book that is the exact opposite, an escape.

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book review, recipe

The Wedding Date + Cheese and Crackers

If anyone recalls the early 2000s rom-com, The Wedding Date, starring Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney, that is the first thing that came to mind when I heard the title of this book. Liberty Hardy praised it last month in the All the Books! podcast. It sounded like a light-hearted read and when I noticed it was available on NetGalley, I put in a request.

Jasmine Guillory’s novel The Wedding Date has a setup that is reminiscent of the movie – someone is invited to attend a wedding in which a former lover is significantly involved and they can’t bear to do it alone, so they find a complete stranger to accompany them. But, the similarities end there. Rather than hiring his date, Drew gets stuck with her in an elevator. The two of them bond over “the perfect snack” of cheese and crackers, which Alexa (a woman after my own heart) was carrying in her purse. He decides to see if this chemistry means something – not to mention the aforementioned dreaded wedding – and asks her to be his date.

Because it’s so like a rom-com (in setup and plot), it was as light-hearted as I expected. What I didn’t expect was the subtle and realistic ways Jasmine was able to work in issues of race and (male) white privilege. The relationship issues also seemed realistic, particularly those that arise due to long distance, but in some cases, I’ll admit, the rom-comminess seemed to prevent a quicker solution to problems that probably just required some honest communication.

Still, while it’s light, it’s not “fluffy.” A book like The Wedding Date makes a wonderful vacation read because it’s amusing and easily devoured. As a bonus, it may inspire you to make some fancy cheese plate, and that’s never a bad thing.

A lover of all things cheese, I have eaten more than my share of cheese and crackers. I’ve enjoyed cheese platters at parties, but I’ve never made my own. I was excited by the prospect. When Alexa and Drew meet in the elevator, they are limited by a lack of utensils and can only eat whatever cheese they can break off the block, accompanied by crackers straight out of the sleeve.

I knew I had to do better. I bought a slate cheese board specifically for the occasion, and now I have an excuse to make cheese platters more often (if I need one…). I researched all of the elements that should go into a delicious, effortless-looking cheese board, and it came out pretty wonderfully, if I do say so myself. Here’s what I learned:

How to Make the Perfect Cheese Board

First, determine which types of cheese you’ll be including. Typically, four kinds of cheese are enough and you should choose one each of the following: soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard.

Soft cheeses include mozzarella and brie.

Semi-soft cheeses include blue cheeses like Stilton, Gouda, and Jarlsberg.

Semi-hard cheeses include Manchego, Comte and provolone.

Hard cheeses include aged cheeses, such as cheddar, parmesan, or asiago. I opted for Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar, which is a delicious cheddar that has parmesan in it.

Once you’ve settled on your cheeses, you should choose crackers, meats and other accompaniments that go well with each cheese. I used the Cheese Pairings chart at the bottom of this article to help me choose.

I went with prosciutto and water crackers (to accompany the brie and mild-flavored comte) and salami and whole wheat crackers (to accompany the more-strongly flavored cheddar and blue cheese). I also included apricot jam for the brie, which I have to say, I had never had together before – I wholeheartedly recommend it. Lastly, I bought mixed nuts to fill in the gaps and provide another snacking option.

What are some of your favorite things to include in a cheese plate? I’d love to hear in the comments below – as I’m sure there will be many more of these in my future! 🙂

_____________________

I received a free digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

 

book review, recipe

The Devil Wears Prada + Fashion Week Grilled Cheese

In the Literary Feast Reading Challenge, March’s task was to read a book that was made into a movie I’d already seen. Choosing the book was a lot more difficult than I expected. In most cases, I’d gone the traditional route, reading the book first and then watching the movie (and complaining about the discrepancies). In a few cases, there was a book I wanted to read that would’ve qualified…except I hadn’t seen the movie yet either.

So, when I was perusing a used book sale recently, I noticed Lauren Weisberger’s novel The Devil Wears Prada, and thought “I’ve seen that.” I grabbed it. But, like most people are hesitant to see a book they love ruined by a poor movie adaptation, I was instead hesitant to have a movie I knew maybe a little too well ruined by a book that I’d heard was nothing like it. I eventually decided to forge ahead, and here we are.

Whether you’ve read the book or seen the movie, the plot is similar. Andy, a recent journalism graduate, moves to NYC, determined to write for the New Yorker. She struggles to find a writing job but is ultimately granted “the job a million girls would die for” as the junior assistant to Miranda Priestly, the editor of Runway. Though she knows nothing about fashion, Andy is assured that putting in one year of work as Miranda’s assistant will all but guarantee her a job anywhere in publishing, and she takes it. At her best, Miranda is exacting and unreasonable, and it probably goes without saying, the job is anything but a dream.

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book review, recipe

Love & Gelato + Stracciatella Gelato

Because of this blog, reading often leads me to delicious food. Most of the time, I go into a book without any idea what I’ll end up making, since I haven’t read the book before. Sometimes I’m able to orchestrate it just so and I’m able to make something specific (particularly when a title or description mentions food), though that works out a lot less often than you’d think. Thankfully, in the case of Love & Gelato, it worked like a charm!

This young adult novel by Jenna Evans Welch has been on my TBR for a while now – I probably added it so I could make gelato – and because I was in the mood to break out my ice cream maker again, I added it to both of my 2018 reading challenges. It worked for “a book with food in the title” and fell nicely into the category of “book title starting with the letter L.” I love a good two-for-one deal.

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book review, recipe

Standard Devation + Spaghetti Marinara and Garlic Bread

One day, Katherine Heiny’s novel Standard Deviation appeared in my library queue, ready to pick up. As I mentioned in January’s SUYB post, I can’t even remember how I heard about, but I must’ve added it to my library list right away so I wouldn’t forget about it. However it stumbled into my life, I’m glad it did; it wasn’t a life-changing novel by any means, but it was entertaining and enjoyable all the same – a bit like an indie rom-com.

Standard Deviation is about Graham, who lives in an apartment in New York City with his second wife Audra and their young son. While Graham seems to prefer to observe, his wife Audra talks constantly and makes friends wherever she goes, leading to a barrage of house guests who always seem to be underfoot.

A lesser storyteller could’ve easily painted Graham as an exasperated husband sick of his wife’s antics and Audra as a selfish busybody, and though they occasionally exhibit those qualities, on the whole they’re much more than that, and quite likeable. One of the more endearing (and amusing) storylines within the novel revolves around their son Matthew and his love of origami. Though it’s never explicitly said (that I can recall), it appears he has Asperger’s, and their dedication to his passion is an excellent example of selfless parenting.

Like me, Graham loves good food and cooking at home, both for his family and their frequent guests. Also like me, he finds cooking less enjoyable when he’s forced to plan a meal around picky eaters. Unfortunately for Graham, he often found himself in such a situation, and it was in one of those moments that I drew my inspiration for today’s recipe:

Spaghetti marinara with garlic bread was his all-purpose crowd-pleasing picky-eater dinner. Spaghetti marinara was like taking a girl on a first date, actually: nothing fancy, no surprises, best foot forward.

I personally prefer meat sauce on my spaghetti, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I took the recipe my family usually uses for spaghetti sauce and omitted the meat to make a marinara sauce. This recipe is really easy, but it’s flavorful and thick so it sticks to spaghetti really well.

To start, I added about a half cup of chopped onion to olive oil already heated in a sauce pot and cooked them until they were translucent. To the onions, I added a large can of crushed tomatoes and small cans of tomato sauce and tomato paste. Then I added salt and pepper, dried basil, dried oregano, some sugar and Parmesan cheese and gave it all a good stir.

Once the ingredients are combined, bring it up to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Like most tomato sauce, it can get messy real quick if it starts to bubble up and pop, so I like to keep a lid offset on top to let some of the air and steam escape but keep the sauce from getting all over the stovetop. You can let it simmer for as little as long as you like, stirring occasionally, but it’s best after at least 20 minutes. Of course, it’s even better the second day.

While the sauce simmered, I boiled the water for my spaghetti and started on the garlic bread. Because I was just making dinner for Scott and myself, I adjusted the recipe down and only used about a third of the Italian bread loaf. I partially melted some butter in a small bowl, added the garlic powder and dried parsley, and then melted the mixture the rest of the way. With a basting brush, I applied the butter-garlic mixture generously to each slice.

I baked the bread in the oven for about 10 minutes, covered each slice with shredded mozzarella and put the pan back in the oven for about 7 more minutes until it was melted. At this point, the spaghetti pasta was cooked al dente and the sauce was ready to go.

I need to perfect my spaghetti swirl for future fancy plating, but the taste more than makes up for the lack of finesse in that area. These crowd-pleasing recipes are as perfect for the discerning foodies in your life as they are the picky-eaters. It’s wonderful bonus that they’re easy too. Hope you enjoy!

Marinara Sauce

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients

  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 8-oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon dried basil
  • ¾ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. In a large sauce pot, preheat a bit of olive oil (about 1 Tablespoon) and add onion. Cook until translucent.
  2. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. Add remaining ingredients and stir.
  3. Bring to a boil then simmer. (Use a lid; it will splatter.)
  4. Serve over spaghetti or your favorite pasta.

Adapted from a family recipe

Recipe Notes: To make a meat sauce, simply add 1-lb ground beef or turkey, browning with the onion in step one.


Cheesy Garlic Bread

  • Servings: 6-8
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Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter
  • 1½ tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 (1 pound) loaf Italian bread, cut into ½ -inch slices
  • 8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat (or the microwave), melt butter and mix with garlic powder and dried parsley.
  3. Place Italian bread on a medium baking sheet. Using a basting brush, brush generously with the butter mixture.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven approximately 10 minutes, until lightly toasted. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and any remaining butter mixture. Return to oven approximately 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bread is lightly browned.

From: Noelle C on Allrecipes.com

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

Turtles All the Way Down + Spiral Mac ‘n’ Cheese

John Green has written many young adult novels, including one of my favorites, The Fault in Our Stars. He has a unique way of tackling both the everyday and the unexpected parts of the lives of teenagers. His latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down, is no exception. Like other teenagers, Aza tries her best in school, has an understanding best friend, and doesn’t know exactly what to do when she finds herself in a relationship. Aza also lives with obsessive-compulsive disorder and an often crippling level of anxiety, much of which was drawn from Green’s own experiences.

Because of that, Turtles tells an excellent, unique story. Admittedly, some of the scenes where Aza is having obsessive thoughts were hard to read. It almost felt like I was in her head, and in those moments, I read as if hiding behind split fingers – not wanting to go on but wanting to know what happened all the same. I admire Green’s willingness to not only discuss his own mental health issues but to write about them too, in a way that’s real.

Stories like these help to make mental health something that’s okay to talk about. The existence of a likeable character that readers can connect to and empathize with can help teenagers (and adults) realize that mental illness is not something to be embarrassed or ashamed of. In Green’s own words, “it’s important for people to hear from [those] who have good fulfilling lives and manage chronic mental illness as part of those good fulfilling lives.” And because of that, it is absolutely a book worth picking up – even if you aren’t familiar with John Green, even if you don’t usually read YA.

Honestly, the first thing I thought of when I looked at this book’s cover was spiral macaroni and cheese. I think they eat it once over the course of the story, but in the end, I couldn’t get it out of my head and no other foods really stood out to me. So, no surprise, that’s what I decided to make. I found an easy recipe from Famished Fish and set to work for a quick, easy dinner one night.

To start, I brought my water to a boil and cooked my noodles according to the package instructions. The original recipe called for rotini, but I also think cavatappi would work great here.

While the noodles cooked, I made the sauce. I melted butter in a pan and then added flour to create a roux. To that, I added the dried mustard and paprika, slowly stirring in 1 cup of milk, so that it could fully incorporate with the roux and remain thick.

Then, I added in the remaining 2 cups of milk slowly, along with the salt and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I continued cooking the sauce, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes more or so, until it thickened. I stirred in three-quarters of the cheese so it melted and became incorporated.

I drained the finished noodles and poured the cheese sauce on top, stirring until the noodles were fully covered. To serve, I spooned the mac ‘n’ cheese into bowls and topped each with a sprinkling of shredded cheese.

It was delicious! And so easy that I’ll definitely be adding it to my repertoire.

Creamy Spiral Mac 'n' Cheese

  • Servings: 4-6
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Ingredients

  • 16 oz uncooked spiral noodles (rotini or cavatappi)
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ tsp mustard
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cups milk, divided
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, divided

Directions

  1. Add uncooked pasta to a large pot of boiling water. Cook 9-11 minutes, according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. When butter has melted, stir in flour to create a roux.
  3. Slowly stir in 1 cup of milk along with the mustard and paprika. Stir and cook until the mixture thickens. Add the remaining 2 cups of milk and the salt and Worcestershire sauce. Cook and stir 5 minutes until has thickened.
  4. Stir in 1½ cups of the sharp cheddar cheese. Stir the sauce until the cheese has melted.
  5. Drain the pasta and return to large pot. Carefully pour the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta. Stir gently to combine the cheese sauce and pasta.
  6. Ladle the macaroni and cheese spirals into a large serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of sharp cheddar cheese.
  7. Serve immediately.

Adapted from: Famished Fish

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

The Music Shop + French Onion Soup

If there are any music lovers out there, this book is for you. Rachel Joyce’s The Music Shop was similar in feel to The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, which I adored, except in place of a bookshop and bookworms you have a music shop and musicians (or at the very least, those who appreciate music). Though this book doesn’t hit shelves until January, I was lucky enough to get an early copy.

 

In a rundown neighborhood that smells of cheese and onion, in 1988, Frank is struggling to keep his music shop open. It is the age of the CD and though records are losing their appeal, Frank’s shop is something special. As a true connoisseur of music, he is able to recommend exactly the tracks his customers need, even if they didn’t know it was what they were looking for.

One day, a mysterious woman enters his shop, arousing the interest of the surrounding shop owners, who often congregate at Frank’s. He begins teaching her about music and everything begins to change. This novel has a wonderful, quirky set of characters and tells a heartwarming story. I only wish I was more into music, because I would have appreciated it that much more.

Though the book made the neighborhood’s pervasive smell of cheese and onion sound like a bad thing, I’ll admit it really just had me craving French onion soup. Full of caramelized onions and covered with melty cheese, nothing could be more delicious! I pulled out my trusty recipe from The Pioneer Woman, which I’ve been using for a few years now, and got to work creating my own cheesy, onion-y smells in the kitchen.

To start, I always slice my onions, since it takes a bit of time and I usually can’t finish slicing them all in the time it takes the butter to melt. I used 6 medium yellow onions, because that’s what I had on-hand, but if you’re buying them specifically for this recipe, you can substitute a few less large onions.

I melted a half stick of butter in my Dutch oven. (Ree uses a whole stick of butter, but over time I’ve adapted the recipe and use just half of that. Since we usually have leftovers, I’ve found that that much butter creates a pretty thick – and unappetizing – layer of solidified fat on top of the soup when it gets cold. It tastes just as good with half a stick, and is probably healthier too!)

To the melted butter, I added my sliced onions, which take up quite a lot of room in the Dutch oven – don’t worry! They’ll cook down considerably. I stir/toss the onions with a spoon to make sure they’re all pretty well coated in the butter and then I let them cook for about 20 minutes over medium-low heat while covered.

After they’ve cooked down a bit, it’s time to put them into a 400 degree oven, where they’ll cook for an hour minimum. I like to cook mine for closer to an hour and a half to really allow them to caramelize. My favorite thing about this recipe is that it’s perfect for lazy weekend days – it takes a while to make, but most of that time is hands-off. What you get in the end is a delicious, comforting soup.

Back on the stovetop, over medium heat, I used a wooden spoon to scrape off some of the brown bits, which are full of flavor. Carefully add a generous cup of dry white wine to the pot, all while scraping the flavor off the bottom and sides. (If you’re concerned about potential fire hazard, since alcohol is flammable, you can briefly turn off the heat, add the wine, and turn the heat back on. With such a large/deep pot, I don’t find that to be necessary.) I let that mixture cook down until the alcohol is mostly cooked off, about 5 minutes.

To the onions, I added the chicken and beef broths, minced garlic and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I allowed the soup to simmer for between 30 and 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, with about 15 minutes left on the soup, I prepped the bread to use on top of the soup. I sliced about half of a baguette, making sure to keep them on the thicker side. (I like to freeze the other half of the baguette for the next time I make the soup, or for another recipe.) I put them under the broiler for a few minutes, until they began to brown and get crispy.

When the soup was finished, I ladled it into a bowl for each of us, set two pieces of bread on top and covered that generously with grated cheese. (I used a nutty Swiss from Trader Joe’s, since they were out of my usual shredded mix – see notes. If the mix is unavailable or you’re not near a TJs and budget is a factor, Swiss is a great substitute for Gruyere, which usually runs $10/lb or more.)

Since my bowls aren’t oven safe, I used my old trick of popping each bowl into the microwave for a minute or less – I suggest watching through the door – until the cheese is melted. You don’t get the nice browning that you get under the broiler, but the meltiness is really what I’m looking for in a French onion soup anyway. Hope you enjoy!

French Onion Soup

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients

  • ½ stick butter
  • 4 large or 6 medium yellow onions, halved root to tip and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup (generous) dry white wine
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Several thick slices of baguette
  • 5 ounces weight (to 7 Ounces) Gruyere cheese, grated

Directions

  1. Melt butter in a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place pot into the oven with the lid slightly ajar to ensure the onions will brown. Allow onions to cook in the oven for 1 to 1 ½ hours, stirring at least once during the cooking process so onions won’t stick and burn.
  3. Remove pot from oven and place back on stovetop over medium heat. Stir, scraping off all the brown, flavorful bits. Turn off heat and pour in wine. Turn heat back to medium. (If you do this carefully, you don’t need to turn off the heat.) Cook wine for 5 minutes, allowing it to reduce. 4. Add broths, Worcestershire sauce and minced garlic and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.
  4. Butter one side of the bread slices and broil over low heat, allowing bread to brown and become crispy.
  5. When soup is ready, ladle into bowl or ramekin. Place crispy bread on top, and then sprinkle generously with grated cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly. (Alternatively, if you don’t have oven-safe bowls, you can place in microwave for 30 – 60 seconds, or until melted.)
  6. Serve immediately.

Adapted from: The Pioneer Woman

Notes: I prefer the Swiss/Gruyere shredded cheese mix from Trader Joe’s, if there is one near you. It’s more cost effective and saves you the trouble of grating. Additionally, you can substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth if you prefer. If you only have stocks on-hand, I’ve also used them in place of the broth(s), and the result is much the same – just check the taste and adjust seasoning as needed.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

How to Find Love in a Bookshop + Gingerbread Books

I think fall may be officially here (weather-wise), and I’m pretty excited about it. Fall is the best time of year for baking and soups and comfy sweaters and cozy books. Bring it on! Veronica Henry’s How to Find Love in a Bookshop is one such cozy book, and as chance would have it, an excellent conduit for baking as well.

From the description, Nightingale Books is an idyllic bookshop – one I definitely wouldn’t mind spending a few hours in! Set up in the Cotswolds by Julius Nightingale and now passed on to his daughter Emilia, it’s a charming little store, one that is everything to the townspeople. As the story unfolds, we discover more about Julius, Emilia, the employees of the bookstore, the local chef, the lady of the manor, and so many more.

It really is as if we’re welcomed into the town alongside them. In its entirety, it reminded me a bit of Stars Hollow crossed with Love Actually. The end wraps up quite neatly but that didn’t bother me at all. Quite the opposite, I may have been disappointed if this wonderful story didn’t leave me feeling as cozy at the end as it had throughout.  

A heartwarming novel like this one definitely deserves something welcoming to accompany it, and though the story features a magnificent chef who makes mouthwatering food throughout, the recipe that stuck out to me most was the gingerbread (cookie) books she created near the end. It just felt so perfect to create cookie books to go along with a novel about a bookshop.

I’m not the best decorator, so the descriptions of the beautiful, intricately detailed cookies made me a bit nervous, but I decided to push along anyway. I found a recipe for soft gingerbread cookies from Bless This Mess, ordered a couple of adorable book-shaped cookie cutters – an open book and a stack of books – and got to work.

To start, I put my softened butter in a large bowl and creamed it, adding the sugar gradually. Then, I added an egg, the molasses and white vinegar, beating until well-blended.

I used a mesh colander to sift the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Because the one I have only holds about 1 cup, first I did 2 cups of flour, followed by all of the spices, salt and baking powder, and then the remainder of the flour.

Once the cookie dough was well-blended, I wrapped it in plastic wrap and allowed it to chill in the fridge for about 45 minutes. (Note: I ended up needing an additional cup of flour because my dough was too sticky to properly roll and cut out. I realized this after refrigeration and several attempts to roll it and cut it. I then added the additional cup of flour, allowed it to chill again.)

Since I prefer my gingerbread cookies soft, I followed the suggestion from the original recipe and kept the dough approximately ¼” thick when I rolled it out. Using my adorable book-shaped cookie cutters, I ended up making just under 30 cookies. The amount of cookies you get will depend on the size of your cutters. Mine were about 3-4 inches.

I baked each batch for about 11 minutes, allowed them to cool, and set to decorating. After a few practice cookies, which Scott was only too happy to help taste-test, I decorated some cookies worth photographing. I created a tribute to this week’s book, and of course, one for the blog. 🙂

Soft Gingerbread Cookies

  • Servings: approx. 2 dozen (3-4 inch cookies)
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup dark molasses
  • 2 Tablespoons white vinegar
  • 5 cups flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions

  1. Cream butter, adding sugar gradually. Beat until well combined and light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  2. Beat in egg, molasses, and vinegar.
  3. Sift all of the dry ingredients together and then blend sifted dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
  4. Divide the dough into two even pieces, wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 90 minutes.
  5. When the dough is done chilling, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Working in sections, roll the dough 1/2″ thick on a floured surface; cut into desired shapes. Place shapes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a baking mat.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the pan for 5 minutes and then move to a cooling rack.
  7. Repeat with remaining dough. Decorate cooled cookies with royal or buttercream icing, or eat them as they are.

From: Bless This Mess

Notes: If you like your gingerbread on the crispy side, roll it 1/4″ thick and bake for 11-12 minutes. If you like it nice and soft (though still very sturdy), roll the dough 1/2″ thick and bake for 10 minutes. If you play around with the thickness of the dough and the baking time, you’ll discover a cookie that meets your liking.


This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

When Dimple Met Rishi + Chicken Tikka Masala Pizza

In many ways, Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi follows the same formula as many time-tested and beloved romantic comedies. And, honestly, that’s part of what made it so enjoyable. It is unabashedly a young adult love story, and a clever, funny one at that. Dimple is a future-minded high school graduate, hoping to enroll in a web development program and forget about her mother’s matchmaking for the summer. Rishi is also a future-minded recent graduate, though he’s focused more on meeting and wooing his fated wife before heading off to MIT.

Rishi is traditional where Dimple is modern. He learned Hindi before English, strives to be a good son, and is willing to put his dreams of being a comic book artist aside to do so. Dimple wants to code apps and can’t wait to take a break from her traditional Indian parents to make her own way in the world. Rishi is looking forward to meeting the girl his parents have chosen for him to marry, and Dimple has no idea such an arrangement has been made.

In fact, when they do meet, it doesn’t go exactly as Rishi had planned. He’s a bit overzealous, to say the least. It’s hardly a meet-cute, but it’s hilarious. Somehow, Rishi recovers and gets another chance to make an impression. During their first official “hangout” at a pizza shop, a relationship between Dimple and Rishi doesn’t seem meant to be, but as we all know, some people are born to defy expectations.

In true rom-com fashion, the novel is full of ups and downs and obstacles the young couple must overcome to end up happily ever after. That said, it’s well-done, enjoyable and not as expected as you may think. As a bonus, the entire novel is quite amusing – funnier than I expected. I often found myself laughing out loud (even while Scott slept next to me, oops). I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone looking for something lighthearted and entertaining. It’s a lovely choice to wrap up the summer.

One other thing I found quite interesting was the fact that A Wrinkle in Time, which Dimple considers one of her favorite childhood stories, played such an integral role within the story. Funnily enough, I had just read A Wrinkle in Time before picking up this book. The constant mentions of Meg and her journey stood out to me a little bit more, and it was cool that I had so recently become familiar with the story myself. Since something like that had never happened to me before, I was excited to share the coincidence. Like Dimple and Rishi, it almost seemed fated that I read them in this order.

To accompany Dimple and Rishi’s story, I decided to make pizza with an Indian spin. I knew I wanted to use naan as a crust (something I’ve done in the past with leftover pieces) and wanted to bring in the flavor of chicken tikka masala. I found a recipe from Raya Malaysia to use as a base.

First, I created the marinade for the chicken, combining a half teaspoon each of ground cumin, cayenne pepper, garam masala and minced fresh ginger; a quarter teaspoon each of salt and black pepper; one Tablespoon of lemon juice; two Tablespoons of plain yogurt; and a pinch of cinnamon. Then, I tossed the chicken in the marinade until it was well-coated, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and set it in the fridge for about an hour.

It’s a lot of ingredients, yes, but I had all of them at home already. Most of the spices are common, especially if you cook any type of ethnic food with regularity in your home. Hopefully you won’t have to buy many to make this marinade, but then again if you do, you’ll have everything handy to just make it more often. 🙂

To cook the chicken, I preheated the oven to 450 degrees F. I lined a baking pan with foil and arranged the chicken in a single layer. I allowed it to bake for 6-7 minutes.

While that baked, I made the pizza sauce. First, I mixed cumin, paprika and garam masala in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, I combined the tomato sauce, yogurt and heavy cream.

In a small saucepan, I melted/warmed the ghee and added minced garlic and finely diced jalapeños, sautéing for a few minutes, until aromatic. Then I added my spice mixture and continued to heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring often.

I removed as much of the jalapeño as I could, per the original directions (see my notes with the recipe), before adding the tomato sauce mixture. I added some salt and allowed it to thicken a bit, cooking for about 2 more minutes.

At this point the chicken was finished cooking in the oven, so I took it out and began assembling my pizzas. To start, I brushed each piece of naan lightly with olive oil. Then, using a spoon, I dolloped sauce into the center of each piece of naan, and with a circular motion outward, spread the sauce until each piece was completely covered.

Then, I topped the sauce with a little less than half of the shredded cheese, before adding the chicken, thinly sliced red onion and cilantro. Finally, I added another layer of cheese, using the rest of it.

I baked the pizzas for about 10 minutes each. Since the chicken is already cooked, the pizzas are done when the cheese is melted and the naan is a bit more firm. For garnish, I added the remaining chopped cilantro to each pizza before serving.

These pizzas were absolutely delicious! If you’re a fan of Indian food and a fan of pizza, there’s no reason not to give this a try. It’s easy and so flavorful! This is definitely going down as one of my favorite recipes this year and it will absolutely be making some additional appearances in our kitchen. (I can’t wait!)

Chicken Tikka Masala Pizza

  • Servings: 3-4 personal pizzas
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Pizza Ingredients

  • 10 oz skinless and boneless (1 large) chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and marinated
  • 3 or 4 pieces of naan (traditional or garlic; I used traditional)
  • olive oil for brushing
  • pizza sauce, recipe below
  • ¼ red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 to 1 ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • handful of cilantro, chopped (plus some for garnish)

Chicken Marinade Ingredients

  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground garam masala
  • ½ teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons plain yogurt
  • pinch of cinnamon

Pizza Sauce Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ jalapeño, deseeded and finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon ghee (or butter)
  • salt to taste
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon garam masala
  • 4 oz tomato sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons heavy cream

Directions

  1. In a bowl, cover the chicken with the prepared marinade and allow to marinate for at least an hour in the refrigerator.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and line a baking pan with foil and spread the marinated chicken in a single layer on the pan. Discard the remaining marinade. Bake for 6-7 minutes, turning halfway through if desired.
  3. While the chicken is cooking, begin to prepare the pizza sauce. Combine the cumin, paprika and garam masala in a small bowl. In a separate small bowl, combine the tomato sauce with 2 Tablespoons of yogurt and 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream.
  4. Heat a small saucepan and warm/melt the ghee (or butter). Sauté the garlic and jalapeño until aromatic. Pour in the combined spices from step 3 and sauté until fragrant over medium heat, stirring often, for about 1-2 minutes. Remove the jalapeño and discard. (If you prefer it spicier, you may leave in the jalapeño.)
  5. Add in the tomato sauce mixture and stir well to mix. Sprinkle salt to taste and continue to simmer until the sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat.
  6. To prep the pizzas, lay the naan on foil-covered cookie sheets. Brush lightly with olive oil. Spread the pizza sauce onto the naan “crust,” covering evenly. Sprinkle with about half (erring on the side of less) of the mozzarella cheese. Arrange the chicken, red onions and chopped cilantro on pizza and cover with the remaining cheese.
  7. Reduce the temperature to 425 degrees F and bake the pizzas for 8-10 minutes. Remove the pizza from the oven and garnish with the remaining chopped cilantro.

Adapted from: Raya Malaysia

Notes: Pertaining to fishing the jalapeños out of the spice mixture, I don’t think this is entirely necessary – unless you’re extremely averse to spice. In that case, perhaps leave them out altogether, but if you do use them and want to remove them, it’s okay if you don’t get them all. This task can be somewhat annoying, based on my own experience. I removed about half before I decided we probably wouldn’t mind the jalapeños. Use your own judgment, based on your spice preference.

When I made my pizza sauce, I doubled amounts of tomato sauce, yogurt and cream within the pizza sauce because typically store bought cans of tomato sauce come in 8 oz and the recipe said it made up to 3 pizzas but I planned to make 4. I had quite a lot of sauce leftover after covering the pizzas to our liking, so I think as-is should be sufficient for 4 pizzas, but if you like your pizzas on the saucier side, this may be necessary.


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book review, recipe

The Art of Racing in the Rain + Chicken Dog Treats

Garth Stein’s novel The Art of Racing in the Rain had a lot of promise when it was chosen as our most recent book club selection – it had a cute dog on the cover, it has over four stars on Goodreads, and oh yeah, it’s an international bestseller. Honestly, my biggest concern when I started it was that the dog would die, and after the Lily and the Octopus crying-on-a-plane debacle, I wasn’t sure I could handle that.

From the start, however, it’s quite clear that Enzo the dog (and narrator) may die. As a very old dog with what seems to be hip dysplasia, he is suffering quite a lot in the opening chapter. However, as a highly enlightened animal, Enzo doesn’t seem bothered and spends much of the book talking about his ultimate goal of becoming a human through reincarnation upon his death. And, for much of the rest of the novel, he spends his time making comparisons between life and racing that were a bit of a stretch at best and boring distractions from the rest of the story at worst.

For me, honestly, the downfall of this novel was not that the dog was narrating nor that the majority of the characters were unlikeable – including Enzo, who I thought could not have been more pompous and un-doglike if he was a cat – but that it tried way too hard and missed the mark. And while all of us in book club didn’t feel exactly the same way, three of us (including the lovely lady who chose it) absolutely hated it.

It’s an interesting concept, and who doesn’t love a good dog story? But it could have been so much more. It could have felt like a dog and not a philosophy professor was leading us on this journey. It could have been packed with just slightly less drama. I guess I didn’t think the title would be so literal, but I didn’t care for the racing comparisons. Overall, though, it just didn’t feel genuine.

On the plus side, lots of dogs got to enjoy treats because of this novel, and so that brings me lots of happiness. In the novel, Enzo’s owner Denny always gives him some chicken “bedtime treats” at the end of every day, and so I set out to find a chicken treat I could make myself. I found one from Use Real Butter that is extremely homemade, fresh and delicious. I chose to make it more semi-homemade, using both canned chicken and canned sweet potato, which required less prep time.

First, I drained the chicken and popped it into my food processor, pulsing it a few times to break it down into smaller pieces.

Then, I added everything to the bowl of my standing mixer – chicken, sweet potato puree, shredded cheddar cheese, an egg and half of the flour. I used the paddle attachment to combine the ingredients partially before adding the rest of the flour. This is where you’ll need to eyeball it and likely add more flour to get a less sticky consistency. Once the dough comes together, put it on a lightly floured work surface and roll it out to a thickness of about ¼”.

I found this adorable paw-shaped cookie cutter on Amazon, but you can really use any shape you have on-hand.

Once I had 2 cookie sheets full of treats, I put them in the oven to bake. (I ended up covering 3 cookies sheets in total and made somewhere between 175 and 200 treats.) I opted for treats on the chewy side, but I have included the directions from the original recipe below so you can make them crispier if you’d like to.

Once they were cool, I gave some to Beta to taste test. She absolutely approved! In fact, she liked the smell of them so much that she had a hard time holding back while I tried to snap some pictures.

Almost 200 treats is a lot! So I also wrapped them up in little gift bags to give to my coworkers who have dogs and asked them all to take photos of their dogs enjoying them too. Quite a good looking bunch! It seemed the treats got puppy approval all around.

Chicken

  • Servings: 150+
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Ingredients

  • 12.5 oz, or one large can, of canned chicken (Premium Chunk White Chicken Meat), pulsed in a food processor
  • 10 oz (approx.) canned sweet potato purée
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (and more as needed, plus extra for rolling out)
  • 1 large egg

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix all of the ingredients together until the dough is well blended. The dough should come together without being too sticky. Add more flour as needed (by the ¼ cup) until you achieve a consistency that holds together but isn’t wet. (Additionally, more egg or sweet potato could be added if, for some reason, the dough is too dry.)
  2. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out shapes and arrange on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake time will depend on size of the treats. For 1-inch diameter treats, start testing doneness after 15 minutes by lightly poking the center of a treat with your finger. For larger treats, allow for more baking time (but keep an eye on it the first time around). Treats should be slightly soft in the middle at which point you can remove them for soft treats. For crunchy treats, shut off the heat and leave the oven door closed. Let the treats dry out in the residual heat, but check to see that they aren’t burning at the edges.
  3. Store soft treats in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Store hard treats in an air-tight container for up to a week. If storing for longer, refrigerate or freeze them. Makes 150+ 1-inch treats.

Adapted from: Use Real Butter

Notes: I didn’t do an exact count, but my recipe made well more than I expected. Definitely in the 150-200 range, but probably closer to 200. This will depend most of all on the size of the cookie cutter, but also on how thickly you roll the dough. The large quantity makes this a great recipe to save money and stock up on homemade treats for your own dog, or to give as gifts to other dog owners!


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