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Billie’s Gingerbread – Delicious!

4/124-"Delicious!" by Ruth Reichl, courtesy of Random HouseI don’t like ginger. I don’t like gingerbread. I don’t like ginger snaps. I don’t even like chai tea because of the ginger.

And yet. Here I am making a gingerbread cake because it was all I could think about when I finished reading Delicious! by Ruth Reichl.

This book you guys.

This book!

I couldn’t put it down. It was the perfect book for me. BOOKS AND FOOD. And mystery! Intrigue! It was just fantastic. I can’t gush about it enough. It was about a young woman who moves to New York, drops out of college to work at a food magazine, and then who discovers a scavenger hunt of sorts made up of letters written during WWII. It was absolutely fascinating. And yes – it did employ several tropes and cliches… but you know what? I like those in a good story. I know what to expect and exactly what I’m getting and I end up with a face that hurts because I’ve been smiling so danged hard.

This book made my face hurt.

And the CAKE. The cake was marvelous. The batter was this airy, wonderful delight unlike anything I’d ever seen. The aroma that came out of my oven was absolutely sinful. 

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And yet,  I still fretted.

You see, I am not much of a baker. I can cook. But baking? That’s a whole different story. Cakes and I do not get along. I was stoked by how well my cookies came out this past Christmas. The last time I made a cake, it came out dry and crumbly and it just wasn’t pretty. 

But I had to make this cake. This gingerbread cake is virtually its own character in Delicious! You can’t read this book and not want to make this cake. Or at the very least, eat this cake. And then – there was the recipe right there in the back of the book. 

So I made a cake. A gingerbread cake. When I don’t like ginger.

And I’ll be damned if this wasn’t one of the best things that has ever come out of my kitchen.

Learn From My Mistakes2

I’m fairly certain I screwed up the glaze. I think I didn’t use enough powdered sugar, so it was too thin. Instead of settling on top of the cake the way a glaze should, it simply soaked right into the cake. 

This wasn’t a bad thing, per se. Just unintentional. Just be aware that if your glaze is too thin, it’ll soak right in and give you this delicious, sugary moistness that maybe wasn’t supposed to be there – but you won’t complain about it. (Editor’s note: While adding the recipe below I realized that I did indeed use too much liquid. I used 5 tablespoons of juice, rather than 5 teaspoons!).

Billie's Gingerbread
Yields 8
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
45 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
45 min
Cake
  1. Whole black peppercorns (or 1/4 tsp ground pepper)
  2. Whole cloves (or 1/4 tsp ground cloves)
  3. Whole cardamom (or 1/4 tsp ground cardamom)
  4. 1 cinnamon stick (or 1 tsp ground cinnamon)
  5. 2 cups flour
  6. 1 tsp baking soda
  7. 1 tsp baking powder
  8. 1/2 tsp salt
  9. 3 large eggs
  10. 1 large egg yolk
  11. 1 cup sour cream
  12. 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (6 ounces)
  13. 1 cup sugar
  14. 2 large pieces fresh ginger root (1/4 cup peeled, finely grated & tightly packed)
  15. Zest from 2-3 oranges (1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated)
Soak
  1. 1/2 cup bourbon
  2. 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
Glaze
  1. 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted or put through a strainer
  2. 5 teaspoons orange juice
Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350 and butter and flour a 6-cup Bundt pan.
  2. Grind your peppercorns, cloves and cardamom and measure out 1/4 teaspoon of each. You can use pre-ground spices, but you’ll lose some flavor.Grind your cinnamon stick and measure out 1 teaspoon.
  3. Whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt in a small bowl. In another small bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk into the sour cream. Set aside.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer until the mixture is light, fluffy and almost white. This should take about 3 minutes.
  5. Grate the orange zest and ginger root — this is a lot of ginger (you’ve been warned). Add them to the butter/sugar mixture.
  6. Alternate the sour cream and egg and the flour mixture into the butter until each addition is incorporated. Alternate between the two, the batter should be luxurious as mousse.
  7. Spoon batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 45 minutes, until cake is golden and a wooden skewer comes out clean.
  8. Remove to a rack and cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
Soak
  1. While the cake cools in its pan, simmer the bourbon and the sugar in a small pot for about 4 minutes. It should reduce to about 1/3 cup.
  2. While the cake is still in the pan, brush half the bourbon mixture onto it’s exposed surface (the bottom of the cake) with a pastry brush. Let the syrup soak in for a few minutes, then turn the cake out onto a cake plate. If you put it on a rack then the entire bottom with the bourbon soak will stick to the rack. Gently brush the remaining mixture all of the cake.
Glaze
  1. Once the cake is cooled mix the sugar with the orange juice and either drizzle the glaze randomly over the cake or put it into a squeeze bottle and do a controlled drizzle.
Notes
  1. You can use pre-ground spices instead of grinding your own, but it will, of course, taste better if you do the grinding yourself.
The Literary Cook http://theliterarycook.com/
peanutbutter

Fluffy Peanut Butter Cookies

I’ve already told you that my favorite cookie is the Snickerdoodle – but Peanut Butter Cookies are a very close second. 

I’ve been reading Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold series. One of my favorite parts of this fictional small town is the many festivals that are held each year. There are picnics and street food and fun, family, and friends. The small town vibe just makes me think cookie! A cookie is easy to make (well this cookie is) and easy to transport.

And there’s honestly nothing quite like filling your home with the sweet scent of baking cookies.

Learn From My Mistakes2

I learned a few things from this batch of cookies. I used two different cookie sheets – one was stainless steel and the other was a darker non-stick pan. The cookies I made on the lighter stainless steel pan baked faster and looked better. I’ll be honest and tell you that I don’t know why – but I preferred the cookies that were made on the lighter pan.

Fluffy Peanut Butter Cookies
Yields 3
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
8 min
Total Time
18 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
8 min
Total Time
18 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  2. 1/2 cup shortening
  3. 1 1/4 cup light brown sugar (firmly packed)
  4. 3 tablespoons milk
  5. 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  6. 1 egg
  7. 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  8. 3/4 teaspoon salt
  9. 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Using the paddle attachment on your mixer, cream together the peanut butter, shortening, brown sugar, milk and vanilla.
  3. Add the egg and beat in until just blended.
  4. In a separate bowl sift together the flour, salt and baking soda.
  5. Slowly add dry ingredients to mixture.
  6. Roll dough into about 1" balls, slightly flatten and criss-cross with a fork (if sticky dip fork in flour).
  7. Bake for 8 minutes then cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes before removing to wire rack to cool completely.
  8. Cookie will firm up a bit when they cool - do not over bake.
Adapted from Cooking on the Front Burner
The Literary Cook http://theliterarycook.com/

Reads That Need Comfort Food (1)

Reading a book is often an emotional event. They introduce us to worlds that we temporarily become citizens of. We fall in love with their characters. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried – both from joy and despair – just from reading a book.

Reads That Need Comfort Food will be a semi-regular feature that highlights books I’ve read that left me in dire need of my favorite comfort food.

allegiant1. Allegiant by Veronica Roth. Someone spoiled the ending of this book for me on release day. It then took me two full weeks to pick it up and read it, because I dreaded the ending. The surprising thing is that once I got to experience the journey, I understood the ending. I even approved of the ending – albeit through my sobs. I knew it was coming, but it didn’t stop me from feeling every ounce of emotion that Roth intended.

 

champion2. Champion by Marie Lu. This book threw the unexpected at me. I’m still not sure I’ve forgiven Lu for what she did at the end of this trilogy. I was finishing it on my lunch break, and I ended up sitting in my office with tears streaming down my face, trying not to sob. I was semi-successful. But the problem with being left in this state at the office is that there’s no comfort food in sight!

 

where-the-red-fern-grows3. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. Growing up, this was my go-to book whenever my adolescent self was feeling so many things that I couldn’t get out. If I needed to cry, for whatever reason, this was the book I picked up. This book made me cry the first time I read it, and it makes me cry now – 20 years later. The story is so beautifully written. But make sure you have lots of tissues and chocolate handy.

 

terabithia4. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson. I remember the first time I read this story. I thought it was going to be a happy book with fantastical adventure. I was so very wrong. I still tear up thinking about the end of the story. The movie (while not as good as the book) sends me into hysterical sobs, even though I know what’s coming

 

Which books leave you craving comfort food? What’s your go-to when it comes to comfort food?

Granny's Dressing

Ending a Series Requires Comfort Food

redeemedI love reading series. I enjoy standalone novels, as well, but a good series? Well it allows me to remain a part of that world for much longer.

I recently finished the House of Night series by PC and Kristen Cast. A series that, admittedly, should have ended many books ago. But I still hung in there until it was over. I wanted the pay off that comes with finishing. I wanted to follow my fictional friends until the very end.

And it’s always the end of a series that leaves me longing for more of the world that is no more. 

This longing requires comfort food.

Many dishes fall into this category for me, but today I’m going to highlight a recipe I got from my Granny. In the South, we call this dish “dressing” – elsewhere it would be Stuffing that’s… not stuffed. I always mourn for this dish if we don’t serve it at either Thanksgiving or Christmas – but it’s so easy to make, I should make it year round!

It’s delicious and reminds me of home. It doesn’t get much more comforting than that.

Granny's Dressing
Serves 8
A warm, comforting side dish.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
45 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
45 min
Ingredients
  1. .5 bag Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Stuffing Mix (14 oz bag)
  2. .5 bag Pepperidge Farm Cornbread Stuffing Mix (14 oz bag)
  3. .5 lb sausage (I prefer Jimmy Dean's Sage)
  4. .5 can cream of chicken soup
  5. .5 large yellow onion, diced
  6. 2 large stalks celery, diced
  7. 2 cups chicken broth
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Brown the sausage in a skillet.
  3. Add the onion and celery to the skillet. Continue to cook until the onion begins to turn translucent and the celery is softened.
  4. Add the stuffing mixes to a large bowl.
  5. Add the sausage and vegetable mixture. Stir to combine.
  6. Add the cream of chicken soup.
  7. Add the chicken broth in small amounts, stirring to combine, until the dressing is well moistened. You may not use the full 2 cups. You don't want it to be dry, but you don't want it to be so wet that it's mush when cooked.
  8. Transfer to a casserole dish, smoothing the top.
  9. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
Notes
  1. This recipe is actually halved from what we would normally make. I finally realized I was making too much food for our small crowd! But if you're feeding a large gathering, it's easily doubled.
  2. You can also use your own homemade cornbread in this recipe - but make that the day before.
The Literary Cook http://theliterarycook.com/
Snickerdoodles

Easy Snickerdoodles

This post is rather a cheater post. There’s no real inspiration from a book – though I could argue that I’ve read several holiday romances*, and nothing says “cookie” quite like the holidays!

But I’ve been craving cookies recently. And that’s strange, because I’m really not a cookie person. I tend to prefer salty over sweet, but I think there’s just something about the holiday season that activates my sweet tooth.

While I do plan to make (and post about) traditional Christmas Cookies, the first ones I made are my favorites – the Snickerdoodle. The Snickerdoodle is just a mouth full of cinnamony-sugary goodness.

And these are the easiest cookies I’ve ever made.

*I am completely addicted to Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold series right now.

Easy Snickerdoodles
Yields 2
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
15 min
Total Time
30 min
Ingredients
  1. 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), at room temp.
  2. 1/2 cup sugar
  3. 1/3 cup brown sugar
  4. 1 egg
  5. 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  6. 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  7. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  8. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  9. 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Cinnamon Sugar for rolling
  1. 2 tablespoons sugar
  2. 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars with a mixer on high speed. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined.
  2. In another bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and cream of tartar.
  3. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix well. Chill dough in the fridge for about an hour.
  4. After dough has chilled, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the sugar with the cinnamon for the topping.
  6. Take around 2 tablespoons of the dough and roll it into a ball for each cookie. Roll it in the cinnamon/sugar mixture and place onto a lightly greased cookie sheet.
  7. Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes and no more. The cookies may not seem done but will continue to cook after removed from the oven and left to sit for a while.
Adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything
The Literary Cook http://theliterarycook.com/
monthly cooking

Once a Month Cooking

I’ve been trying to organize my life. It’s hard for me because – while I am rather type A at work (or maybe just B+?) – at home there is no sense of organization. 

I don’t plan meals on a regular basis. I don’t schedule cleaning days. I don’t subscribe to the 5-minutes-a-day cleaning method that I should but don’t because I’m lazy. 

All I want to do when I get home from work is read or watch something on Hulu or Netflix. I think about cooking the next great meal – but I never get off my ass and do it (except on special occasions like Christmas).

So I joined Once a Month Meals. The idea is that I can cook a month’s worth of meals in a single day to stock my freezer with. Now I have home-cooked meals in my freezer, but I still have the flexibility to cook when inspiration strikes. 

Learn From My Mistakes2

Absolutely do not plan to do everything in a single day. I knew enough not to go grocery shopping on the same day as planned to cook. The advice I didn’t take was not to prep and cook on the same day. My prep list was relatively short, so I thought – piece of cake!

Wrong.

FOOD PREP

By the end of my cooking day, I was half dead. I didn’t even make the final two recipes in my plan because I couldn’t stand up any longer (Ed. note: It may not be quite so traumatic for those who don’t suffer back issues as I do).

Another thing I learned was that setting it for only 2 people when you have the giant crockpot that I have it not always the best thing. The next time, I may go for less diversity and fewer recipes but up the serving size. I’ll get the same amount of food, but less risk of burning.

The Menu

The great thing about OAMM, is that it includes access to their menu builder. You tell it how many people you’re cooking for and it returns the recipes, your shopping list, and your prep list based on that number. I set mine at 2 (I live alone). Each recipe is designed to serve each person twice – so I get 4 meals out of each recipe. 

 

A month of meals

Know what that means?

MORE TIME TO READ.

hannah featured

My Quest for Tzatziki

percyjacksonI’ve been rereading Rick Riordan’s books. I started with his Percy Jackson series, and now I’ve moved onto his Heroes of Olympus series. And reading them makes me crave Greek food! Well, the Americanized version of Greek food that I’ve come to know and love.

Sometime early last year, I discovered Hannah’s Tzatziki at Costco. This stuff is amazing. I can eat it from a spoon with no accompaniment. But the problem is that I live alone. And while Costco did once offer a case of individual cups of the stuff – my only option at the moment is to buy a giant container. And it invariably goes bad before I can eat it all. Or at least – it gets to the point where my brain is certain it’s spoiled and I refuse to touch it anymore.

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So I went and researched Tzatziki recipes, compared them to the ingredients of Hannah’s, and came up with my own version that’s remarkably similar to Hannah’s (though I will admit that this quest was markedly easier than any of the quests in Riordan’s books!). You’ll notice a few things that may make you raise your eyebrows, but my ingredient choices were very deliberate.

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Vinegar or lemon juice? You’ll find debates about this (or even whether you should use an acid at all!), but here’s where I ended up on the subject: use whatever tastes right to you. I chose vinegar because Hannah’s ingredients list included it. I may try it with lemon juice one day – but my goal here was to recreate Hannah’s.

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Sour cream? Why would you include that? I didn’t find many recipes online that called for sour cream – and when they did, it was usually in small amounts. But that extra zip from the sour cream is necessary to get the flavor I’m looking for.

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 I didn’t grate the cucumber. One of my favorite things about Hannah’s is that it is sturdy and has substance. Now, you’re supposed to refrigerate overnight to let the flavors meld together, but I am way too impatient for that. After combining everything except for the cucumber and dill, I let it sit in the refrigerate for about 45 minutes while I made dinner and ate.  And then, it was time for creamy, cucumber-y goodness.

And I have to say… it’s exactly what I was looking for. 

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Yum!

 

Copycat Hannah's Tzatziki
Yields 2
The only tzatziki recipe you'll ever need.
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Prep Time
15 min
Prep Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
  2. 1 cup full fat Greek yogurt
  3. 1 cup light sour cream
  4. 1 tablespoon fresh dill
  5. 1 1/2 tablespoon white vinegar
  6. 2 jumbo cloves of garlic, minced
  7. 1/4 teaspoon salt
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, sour cream, garlic, vinegar, and salt. Place in refrigerator while you prep the remaining ingredients.
  2. Add the cucumber and dill to the yogurt mixture. Combine well.
Notes
  1. The longer you leave the tzatziki in the refrigerator, the better the flavor will be.
The Literary Cook http://theliterarycook.com/
Welcome!

Welcome to The Literary Cook!

Several years ago, I started a website called The Literary Cook. I had grand ideas about what the site would look like and what kind of content I would share. Here’s a cached version of that page.

I only made it a month before I gave up. A single month! Ay yi yi.

But the idea has stuck with me over the years. My two favorite things in the world are food and books. Combining them just seems natural.

I’ve grown over the past five years, and now I’m ready to try again. Once again, I have grand visions for this project. You’ll see recipes and book recommendations, often inspired by one another! You’ll see my successes – and my failures (and don’t worry – there will be plenty of those for you and I to learn from). You’ll see a variety of recipes and books talked about here – I’m as likely to read YA (okay, more likely) as I am to read Robert Galbraith (I’ve never actually read Robert Galbraith, however).

My use of the word “literary” simply means “well-read”. There are some genres I simply don’t like (Westerns, for examples), but generally speaking – if it’s a book, I’ll give it a try. And while my palate is known for being picky, I am working hard to be more adventurous and try new things. I rarely insist I don’t like foods I haven’t tried (anymore). 

2015 is going to be a great year! I’m looking forward to being inspired, and I hope that maybe you’ll be inspired with me.

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”
Julia Child