Sunday, July 29, 2012

These Blondies Are No Joke

My sweet tooth is calling (I should probably have that thing pulled...); naturallly, it's time to raid the pantry and see what I can throw together.  So, I've decided to adapt my Brownie recipe for Blondies with dates and walnuts. Nom? Yes. Also, I've added a new feature to the right sidebar that allows readers to follow The Book Pantry by email. Don't be shy!

What You'll Need
Large mixing bowl                                                      Measuring cups
Butter knife                                                                 Measuring spoons
Small mixing bowl                                                      13 x 9" casserole dish
Whisk                                                                          Cooking spray
2 sticks butter                                                             1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs                                                                          1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup light brown sugar                                              1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/4 cups flour                                                          1/2 cup chopped dates
2 tsp vanilla

Now Let's Make Blondies!
Preheat your oven to 350 F (175 C).

Cut the 2 sticks of butter into chunks into the large mixing bowl.  Microwave, until butter is melted, but not so long that it begins to sizzle and pop.  If a few chunks are barely melted that's okay.

While your butter is melting, crack 4 eggs into the small mixing bowl, removing shell if necessary. I used a mix of medium and large eggs and saw no difference in size or amount of egg (was is the difference, anyway?). Using your whisk, beat the eggs until as much of the white as possible is blended.  Pour the beaten eggs into the butter and mix.

Measure 1 cup light brown sugar (dark brown will result in brunettes), packing it tightly into the measuring cup.  Add to the large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Make sure that the sugar is completely blended into the eggs/butter mixture. Brown sugar likes to stay clumped and you don't want any dry lumps in your Blondies (I mean, seriously, how gross does that sound).

Next, measure and add to the bowl 1 1/4 cups flour, 2 tsp vanilla (which I realized I didn't add to my brownies last time. Oops!), 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder.  Mix the dry ingredients in, making certain to blend completely.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl routinely as you mix to avoid any dry pockets from forming. Do not overmix as this will result in a tougher texture.

Now that you've created your batter, it's time to add the goodies.  I've chosen a combination of walnuts and dates, but I'm sure you can get creative with it. Just make sure you add a total of 1 cup and you'll be fine with whatever combo you select. Measure and add 1/2 cup chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup chopped dates. Mix them into the batter until you've got a fairly even distribution.

Use your cooking spray and spray the bottoms and sides of the 13 x 9" casserole dish.  Pour the batter into the dish; don't forget to scrape the bowl as much as you can.  Spread the batter evenly throughout the dish. Bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes, until the top of the Blondies are golden and the edges are golden brown. An inserted knife or toothpick should come out clean.

Allow to cool completely (or as completely as the delicious smell allows you to). Cut the Blondies into squares and serve.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Recent Reads

Time to play catch-up. I've been doing a lot of reading recently, but there have been a few books that just didn't make it into their own posts. So, today's post is going to be a breakdown of my recent reads (that I liked; there've been a couple that will never see light of day on this blog, sadly).

The Books
The Stork by Wendy Delsol

This book offered an interesting take on the YA supernatural romance genre.  It leans a bit more toward the romance than the supernatural, which left me wanting a little. But, it's a trilogy starter, so hopefully future books will develop the supernatural side a bit more.  It's definitely worth developing, because this book had an original take.  The heroine is part of an ancient Nordic society of "storks," women who deliver the souls of unborn children to the appropriate woman.  That part of the book was highly engaging, well done, and definitely worth reading. Links: Wendy Delsol's webpage, including more books!

The Jewel of Gresham Green by Lawana Blackwell

I was looking for something light and fluffy to read at the gym, and this book definitely filled that spot.  It's satisfyingly wholesome, focusing on several heroines and set primarily in the small town of Gresham, England in the late 19th century.  The main characters meet their trials with grace and poise.  There are several relationships to follow: a long standing marriage that continues to be strong, a recent marriage already on the rocks and in need of renewal, and a budding relationship that gives both parties a second chance at love.  The villain is malevolent and easily hate-able; you'll long for poetic justice and dance a internal jig when you get it.  A sweet, quick historical read! Links: Lawana Blackwell's website.

The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

Continuing by recent YA binge, this book turned out to be a great Mid-century Victorian mystery set in.  The premise is nice: Mary, an orphaned thief, is rescued from the nurse and taken in by a charitable girls school.  The school's goal is to provide girls with an education that will give them better options for providing for themselves than marriage or menial service.  The Agency is an organization secretly attached to the Academy and staffed by female investigators. The book is well situated in its period and leaves lots of promising story threads to continue throughout the series.  I'm definitely eager to get my hands on the next couple books. Links: Y.S. Lee's website, especially check out the extras section!


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Super Easy Sunday: Christmas in July Chai Milkshakes

Mmmmmmmm. I'm drinking my milkshake now and relishing the fact that it took all of 5 minutes to make.

What You'll Need
Measuring cup
Two glasses
3 cups vanilla frozen yogurt
1 1/2 cups milk
2 scoops Trader Joe's Spicy Chai Latte Mix

Now Let's Make Christmas in July Chai Milkshakes
Now, I know I don't usually call out brand names here on The Book Pantry, but trust me, the Trader Joe's is perfect. If you can't find it, use something comparable.

Using the markings on your blender (or, you know, a measuring cup), measure out 3 cups of vanilla frozen yogurt. Pack it down into the blender to make sure you're getting 3 whole cups.  You can also use vanilla ice cream, but you really won't notice a difference once it's all blended, so why not be healthy?

Next, measure out 1 1/2 cups milk (again, I used nonfat). Pour into blender. This makes a pretty liquidy, drinkable milkshake. If you prefer yours a little thicker, I recommend using only 1 cup milk.

Using the scoop that comes with your Trader Joe's Spicy Chai Latte Mix, add two scoops of the mix to the blender. 

Put the top on (please, God, put the top on!) and blend until all the ingredients are mixed and it looks like a milkshake.  

Serve in two tall glasses and enjoy the taste of Christmas!

This photo needs fancy-pants straws.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Oh, Those YA Trilogies

Yes, I've been sucked in by another one, darn it.  They're just so tempting, but they leave me feeling a little like this (you know you want to click that link. Click it!). Nothing like a cliffhanger to torture you until the next book release. You know those YA books that make you want to grab the next person you see and shake them until they pick it up and read (no? You don't do that?). Well, anyway, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is kind of like that.

The Basics
Taylor, Laini. Daughter of Smoke and Bone. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2011. Print

Laini Taylor lives in Portland with her husband, an illustrator, and their daughter Clementine. She's written several Young Adult novels already and was a finalist for the National Book Award.  Her credentials? Writer of fantastical fiction for teens and not so grown up grownups and possessor of pink hair. (I mean, pink hair, come on!).

The Book
There's so much to love in this book, but let's start with the best: it's utterly captivating. Taylor's writing style, the setting, the world crafting, the originality... the list goes on.

As always with fantasy fiction, the thing I'm most impressed by (or let down by if it doesn't work out) is the author's ability at world building. I want world that I can get lost in, and Taylor more than rises to the challenge. The world she creates is rich and highly detailed.  From the moment she drops us into the streets of Prague with Karou, our heroine, we become immersed in the world. She flawlessly crafts her setting, grabbing readers and pulling them without allowing them to pinpoint the mechanics of it.  But it's not just Taylor's settings that are so engaging.  The chimaera and seraphim that Karou interacts with are so incredibly detailed I feel like they might be real.  The teeth for wishes exchange system that dominates the first 1/3 of the book is original and interesting.  The world of the chimaera and angels is detailed by race, culture, customs, war, language. I feel like Taylor might have a compendium of backstory to go along with it; you can sense the depth that this story is built on, and that makes it that much more fascinating.

The chimaera are also amazing.  The number of combinations Taylor comes up with is great. And she describes these "monsters" with such vivid detail that you feel like they might really exist.  I can't wait to see what Taylor will do with the chimaera in the later books. I really hope that she's able to bring a couple more the forefront. Brimstone and friends are in the spotlight, but the depth of character they reveal is limited to what we can get when following Karou's perspective.  We start to get hints of more as the backstory fills out toward the end, but I want more.  And, really, that's the surest sign of a good story when it leaves you wanting more.

I can't wait to see what Taylor does next with series.  The book ended with a bit of a cliffhanger, though not too bad of one.  (My tolerance for that sort of thing is rather low). There's plenty of room for this series to grow.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Oh, Martha, Lemon Bars

I've been wanting to try my hand at lemon bars for a while now, and since the weather has been a tad cooler of late, I no longer actively dread my kitchen. I've never attempted anything even close to lemon bars before, so I figured I'd better be safe and go with an established recipe.  And so, I turned to my handy-dandy Martha Stewart's Cookies cookbook, page 266.  I used the amounts listed in the recipe, but added an ingredient and followed my whim on the instructions (in other words, I blatantly ignored the instructions offered). Result? Tasty.

What You'll Need
Large mixing bowl                                                       Liquid and dry measuring cups
Whisk                                                                           Measuring spoons
13 x 9 inch baking dish
Crust:                                                                            Filling
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter                                         4 large eggs
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour                                          1 1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar                                        3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt                                                                   1/4 tsp salt
                                                                                      1/2 tsp vanilla
                                                                                      3/4 cup lemon juice
                                                                                      1/4 cup milk

Now Let's Make Lemon Bars!
Start by preheating your oven to 350 F. Grease your casserole dish with butter or cooking spray. (I accidentally forgot this step, but it didn't seem to matter much).

You're going to start with the crust, which is essentially a shortbread.  Soften your butter slightly if it's not already.  While the butter softens (do not melt! I forgot my butter and did this today, too), measure out 1 3/4 cup flour, 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar, and 3/4 tsp salt and add it to your large mixing bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients together until they are thoroughly blended and have no large lumps left (alliteration! Sorry, couldn't help myself).  

Add the slightly softened butter to the flour mixture. Using your whisk, cut the butter into the flour. Do this until all the butter clumps are broken up and no larger than pea sized (as pictured).  This can take a while. The butter tends to clump in the whisk, so you'll need to stop periodically to shake it back out. I find that rolling the whisk over stubborn butter clumps helps break them up quickly. 

Pour the dry ingredients into the casserole dish. Don't freak out! I know it doesn't really look like dough.  Spread the flour/butter mixture out until it is evenly distributed across the bottom of the casserole. Now, using your hands press the mixture so that it packs down tightly on the bottom of the dish.  Continue until the entire surface is a hard packed dough, with no loose floury bits.  Put the casserole in the oven and bake at 350 for 20 minutes, until the dough is a light golden color.

Remove the crust from the oven and set aside. Turn your oven down to 325 F.  

Rinse and wipe out your large mixing bowl (no sense dirtying another dish).  Crack 4 large eggs into the bowl and lightly whisk them together. Then, measure out and add to the bowl 1 1/3 cup sugar, 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour, and 1/4 tsp salt (Martha calls for course salt in her version, but I sensed no difference when I used regular). Mix the ingredients together completely; it's kinda gloppy so make certain all the dry ingredients get blended in.  

Next add 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/4 cup milk, and 3/4 cup lemon juice.  Carefully stir everything together, until it's well mixed and you have a smooth liquid filling.  Be careful; this is really easy to slosh out of the bowl as your mixing. I found that the egg mixture really resisted being mixed with the liquids. To combat this I started out by using a folding motion, then switched to a regular stirring motion when it started mixing.

Pour the filling over the crust evenly. Bake at 325 F for between 18 - 25 minutes.  Martha's original recipe called for 18 minutes, but I found that mine was still liquid at that point.  I wound up cooking mine for a little longer than 25 minutes. Start with the recommended 18 minutes, then add time as needed, watching the lemon bars closely.  You'll know they're down, when the very edges are golden brown and the top appears solid and springy.  Let cool.

Once cool, cut into bars and dust with confectioner's sugar. Serve and enjoy the lemony bite!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Life's a Peach... Cobbler, That Is

It's summertime in the South, and in addition to high temperatures that means one very important thing: peach season.  I love peaches, but they're not the same if they're not in season, so I anticipate this every year.  My favorite use of peaches? Peach cobbler. Cobbler is usually super easy to make, too.

What You'll Need
Cutting board                                                                Whisk
Knife for slicing                                                             Mixing spoon
Large bowl                                                                    13 x 9" casserole dish
Medium mixing bowl
6-8 peaches                                                                   Dash cinnamon
3/4 cup brown sugar                                                     1 cup all purpose flour
3 Tbsp all purpose flour                                                2 Tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp cardamom                                                         1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp nutmeg                                                              1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt                                                                     3/4 cup milk
2 Tbsp lemon juice                                                        3 Tbsp melted butter
Dash cloves                                                                   Oats

Now Let's Make Peach Cobbler!
Preheat your oven to 375F.

You're going to start by prepping your peaches.  I recommend cutting your peaches into quarters and removing them from the pit (sometimes that's easier said than done). You may want to mentally prepare yourself, cause this'll get messy.  Find the method of removing the pit that works best for you. Once you have your four quarters separated, remove the peel. You can use a knife to do this, but I usually just peel by hand.  Find the end of peel that feels loose and slide your finger underneath the skin to remove.  Once you've peeled the quarters, slice them into thin slices; I usually do about 3 per quarter. By the time you're done you should have something like this:

It was about 3x as messy as pictured.
Set the peaches aside. Measure out 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packing it into the measuring cups, and add it to your large skillet. Next measure 3 Tbsp all purpose flour, 1/4 tsp cardamom, 1/8 tsp nutmeg, 1/8 tsp salt, and 2 Tbsp lemon juice and add them to the skillet.  Add a dash of cloves and a couple dashes cinnamon.  Place the skillet on the stove over medium heat and allow the ingredient to begin to warm. Once the ingredients are warmed, pour your peaches on top. Stir the peaches into the other ingredients. Leave to cook over medium heat.

Take your medium mixing bowl and add 1 cup all purpose flour, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp baking soda. Using a fork or a whisk, mix the dry ingredients together until the texture is even and there are no lumps. Add 3/4 cup milk and 3 Tbsp of melted butter. Mix together thoroughly; the end result should be a very thick liquid batter.  

By now, your peaches should look a little like this:

Mmmmmm... peaches!
If your peaches aren't tender and swimming in brown sugar sauce, don't worry. Just let them cook down for a little bit longer.  When they're ready, pour the peaches into the casserole dish. Spread them out so that you have an even layer. Then spread the batter over the top of the peaches.  I find it easiest to spoon the batter in several places in the dish to make the spreading easier and more even.  I topped my cobbler with some oats and brown sugar, but this is completely optional.  

Bake at 375 F for about 40 minutes. The finished cobbler should be golden and bubbly.  Allow to sit and cool for about 10-15 minutes before serving. Serve alongside some vanilla ice cream and enjoy!


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Let's Get Down to (Wicked) Business

I've been in a bit of a reading funk lately, but what better to pull me out of it than a continuation of a great series?  Janet Evanovich's Wicked Business was released this past month, and I could hardly wait to get my hands on it. A cupcake baking, sleuthing heroine in a supernatural farce, what's not to love?

The Basics
Evanovich, Janet. Wicked Business. New York: Bantam Books, 2012. Print.

Wicked Business is the follow-up novel to Evanovich's Wicked Appetite, published in 2010.  This is the second book in a relatively new series that follows pastry chef Lizzy Tucker as her partner, Diesel, drags her further down the rabbit hole.  The two are part of a select group of people with special abilities, which they must use to track down the SALIGIA stones.  These stones represent each of the 7 deadly sins, and this time they're after Lust. Sound goofy? Yeah, Lizzy thinks so, too.

The Book
I enjoyed this book every bit as much as the first one.  It picked up right where the last one left off, and didn't have too much recap information in there.  That was refreshing.  So many series feel the need to endlessly remind readers of what happened previously or, worse, the basics of the universe in which the book is set.  Given that this is only the second book, I could have excused any recap of basics (it's books that are 11-12 books in and still doing it that bug me). But, Evanovich keeps that stuff to the bare minimum of bare essentials.  She makes the connection between the series clear and gets down to business. I love the seamlessness of it.

I also enjoy the farcical nature of this particular series. It both pokes fun at and celebrates the supernatural mystery genre.  Carl, the pet monkey, who eats at the table, tags along on capers, and knows a few obscene hand gestures, is a favorite.  Or Lizzy's inept cohort, Glo, who constantly gets spells wrong by ignoring instructions and mixing up words, she's fun, too.  In this installment, she casts a spell on the villainous Gerwulf's minion, but botches it so that he winds up with perpetual gas. These moments are completely ridiculous (and laugh out loud funny), but they also fit so well with the overall story that the story itself succeeds and does not feel stupid.  It's an interesting - and fun! - balance that Evanovich strikes skillfully.

The story of Wicked Business itself is great; I almost like it better than the first one (too hard to tell for sure, though).  This one felt like it had a bit more mystery to it than the first one.  You're not too sure how and where Lizzy and Diesel are going to find the stone. You're also not entirely certain who the bad guy really is or how things'll turn out.  This book hits the ground running, with Lizzy and Diesel immediately heading to a murder scene to search for clues.  There's also a little bit more mischief involved in this book, since Lizzy and Diesel are forced to go to some interesting lengths on their quest to locate the stone.

Fans of other Evanovich novels will definitely love this one. And if you're not a fan yet, pick this series up and you soon will be.  Both novels are engaging and quick reads that won't fail to delight.

I've done several Evanovich books now, so my extras list is running a bit thin, but here ya go: