I cooked a gammon ham the other week, and in a bid to try something new (I was following a recipe I'd printed from the BBC Good Food website - Hairy Bikers, I think), I glazed it with marmalade and studded it with cloves. The outcome?
It merely reinforced the fact that I really do not like cloves, not one little bit. As I was eating it, I was reminded of some of the toothaches and dentists I'd encountered in my (much) younger years.
Are there any food stuffs that you don't like? Foods that you can either take or leave, or absolutely hate with a passion? Well, I was going to say there really isn't anything I hate, but as you can see, cloves is defnitely on the list. I'm not a big fan of ketchup either, but I admit to liking a small squiggly squirt on hot dogs. Cheese, I s'pose, is a recurring dislike. I would LOVE to like cheese - I've realised that, in a similar vein to wine and coffee, cheese is not just about taste, but about ceremony; choosing a wine, opening, pouring, smelling, tasting, swallowing, tasting again and .... well, you know.
Watching people at a cheeseboard is similar - what would go nicely with this, half a date with that, some chutney with this little bit etc – it looks intriguing, and I'm on the outside looking in. I guess I do like Wensleydale - is that the one with cranberries in? - and mild cheddar too, but they're not exactly the most adventurous of cheeses are they?
Before I met the lovely M, I’d never met anyone who was allergic to certain foods, the main culprit for her (amongst many) being egg. Egg is one of those things that’s in a LOT of foods – some you might expect, many that you do not expect! For me it was quite interesting, watching her enquire in restaurants as to whether or not this starter or that main course contained egg. The waiting staff rarely knew, and would go running off to find out. Nowadays of course, eating establishments are far more ‘up’ on that kind of question so it’s not nearly as much fun!
Because of her allergy to les ouefs, we rarely had eggs in our home. The chances of cross contamination with me in the kitchen – a clumsy budding chef, imagine – were too great; it was easier to ditch them. It’s funny, cos it made me appreciate them all the more when we ate out.
Not having eggs indoors carried over into our early parenthood, and eggs were something which we never really introduced to the kids in the same way we did their vegetables and meats. The kids aren’t allergic to eggs, thankfully, but they don’t really enjoy a nice poached egg, or a fried egg with a breakfast, although they watch me eat mine and say every time, ooh, can I have an egg next time, can I Dad, please?!?
Of course, one way they will eat eggs is in cakes and cookies – I suppose most kids will, right? Now that I mention it, I’m not averse to a cake or half a dozen cookies myself. And the more time I’ve spent in the kitchen over recent years, the more I’ve realised the effort that goes in to making certain sweet treats. Obviously I’m not talking about your supermarket giants here; rather the plethora of patisseries and tea shops that have become the trend in recent years. Only last weekend, we enjoyed a Saturday afternoon at a ‘vintage tea shop’ in St.Reatham (SW16) and, although the proprietor wasn’t the friendliest person in the world (considering we were giving her our money), the experience was a very enjoyable one.
Yes, yes, of course I’d forgotten my camera so of course we’ll have to go back, but we had a very tasty afternoon tea / late lunch. M was on the peppermint tea, I had a large pot of English tea all to myself (had the shakes for an hour afterwards, dammit), and the kiddy-winks had freshly made milkshakes. I ate possibly the best BLT I’ve ever had, followed by a slice of carrot cake.
(I can never eat carrot cake without thinking of a guy I used to work with. When someone brought in a beautifully made carrot cake to mark their own birthday, said chap took a bite and said, in all seriousness, “what the heck’s all this orange stuff?” referring to the carrot. I’ve changed his actual comment!).
Anyway, back to my dessert, and I got to thinking about cakes and biscuits, how they are universally liked, generally speaking. Have you ever opened a packet of cookies in company and people have ended up severing all ties with you? Have you ever offered around a box of freshly baked coconut macaroons or Florentines and your colleagues have reported you to HR, saying they simply can’t stand to be in the same room as you any more?
No, of course you haven’t.
Because everybody loves a cookie, a Madeleine, a biscotti, or a nice generous slice of still-warm-from-the-oven Brownie.
This universal law comes as no surprise to Stacy Adimando, the author of The Cookiepedia, a truly lovely looking kitchen companion (the book that is, not Stacy, although having said that, her picture on the back is rather lovely ……), a book which would definitely catch my eye, nestled among the many, many books jostling for prime position on the shelves of your local book store.
It’s hardback, naturally, and is an appealing shade of wrapping paper brown – and no, I’m not being sarcastic, I really do like it – there’s something …..… recycled about the look, in a good way. Open the cover and you’re greeted by, wait for it, a spiral binder! Yeah, I know; for use in the kitchen, it’s PERFECT! No more propping up books against the kettle with a rolling pin across the bottom to wedge it open, only to have it slide slowly down, straight through your carefully flour-dusted worktop. A genius idea!
The book starts out with some helpful ‘A,B,C’s of Cookie Baking’ and include a list of kitchen tools (more useful than you might imagine, as it deals with mostly American terms. You find yourself going, “oh, that’s what that is, is it?), a couple of pages of ‘Cookie Speak’, explaining the meaning of words such as chilling, greasing or melting chocolate (ok, that list isn’t as useful as the first one, granted), and a ‘Fun With Decorating’ section, subtitled as ‘show off your skills with these cool tricks, which will enable you to do “cool” stuff’. This ‘stuff’ consists of things like pipe using a pastry bag, or stick your cookie on a lolly stick to turn it into a cookie lolly.
That might not sound like much but for someone like me who’s always wanted an excuse to pipe icing onto a cake or biscuit, I love it.
On a more helpful note, the book is split into five colour coded sections, which are; buttery, chocolatey, fancy, fruity and finally, spicy. The fact that butter gets its own section is a teensy bit confusing as pretty much every edible thing in the book consists of at least half a cup of butter! In conjunction with this, the cookies in the book are constantly referred to as American “classics” – certainly the image of the all-American household portrayed in films is of cookies being batch baked for a school event, as a snack for after the baseball game, as a travelling companion for the offspring that’s driving across state to start a new term at their high school. Cookies are happiness, cookies are ‘togetherness’, cookies are America.
I have to write a very telling comment at the start of the recipe for Butter Balls. It reads;
“Even though holiday meals with my family are so huge we rarely have room for dessert, it wouldn’t be Christmas without Grandma Stella’s Butter Balls”.
Now, if you’ll forgive me for ambling away from the ‘review’ of this book to make a comment, I can’t help but notice two things from this one sentence.
1. Meals in the USA are enormous and
2. Even if you’re stuffed, you make sure you force down some ‘butter’.
It seems that ‘overeating’ and ‘classic’ foods consisting of butter are synonymous with life in America.
I know when I was there, I couldn’t believe how much food you got when you ate out; not just how much in the first place, but how much you were able to go back and help yourself to. Is it so surprising that the US leads the world in adult obesity, closely followed, it has to be said, by the UK!!
Perhaps we shouldn’t fall too far in love with the cookie then.
Anyway, none of that is Ms Adimando’s fault of course and again, judging by her picture on the back of the book, all that butter has affected neither her flawless skin nor her waistline (ok, I can’t see her waist – I’m just guessing, even taking into account the large woollen shawl she’s wearing!!)
I must mention the inside back cover, for it gives a lovely conversion table, from US teaspoons and cups to British millilitres and grams. Better even than that is the clearly laid out Fahrenheit to Centigrade conversion; it’s essential, and although I don’t own so many American cook books that I could confidently comment on whether or not they all do or don’t have this chart, I would like to big up the fact that this one definitely does. It’s inclusive, it’s friendly, it says, “hey, this book is from the US but just in case you Brits wanna buy a copy, well here y’all are, a conversion chart”.
On behalf of all (wannabe) bakers on this side of ‘the pond’, thank you.
I’ve come to realise with cook books, that the recipes are only half the appeal – this may very well be stating the obvious, but the photographs of whatever it is you are making are oh-so important , and with this in mind, special mention must go to photographer Tara Striano; beautiful, artfully taken pictures, doing their job perfectly – they make you want to eat them (all) and even more importantly, want to make them.
Ok, so I haven’t actually gotten round to making any as yet, but I’ve promised myself that’s going to change. With the Easter holidays looming, I see it as the perfect opportunity to get in the kitchen ‘avec mes enfants’ and get busy with a few packs of butter.
Choosing one item from each section (as mentioned earlier), I think we’ll tackle Blondies (from buttery). Oh, and Stella’s butter balls, to see what all the fuss is about! Mint thins (from chocolatey), Black and white cookies (from Fancy), Coconut Macaroons (or fig Bars – can’t decide – from Fruity) and Snickerdoodles (from Spicy – because I like cinnamon but mostly because I like saying the word Snickerdoodle!)
As I’ve done with other books I’ve received, I took this one to school and left it lying around in various places for other staff to see, including my own desk. This had the added advantage of lots of the Year 6 children I work with commenting on it, asking if they could look at it and mulled over it through the course of their packed lunches, letting out lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’, which, coming from 10 and 11 year olds, is definitely a firm seal of approval.
So, crunch time (ha ha, geddit? Cookies? Crunch??) - would I buy this book?
I think it will come as no surprise whatsoever, that I would buy this book, without question. I’d be delighted though, if someone had the foresight to buy it for me; Christmas, birthday, Father’s Day, whenever. It’s original looking, not only for the lovely cover I’ve described (and you can see below), but also the size. It’s almost perfectly square at 22cm by 21cm (or just under 9” by just over 8”), so even that helps it stand out amongst other books.
The price is in US and Canadian dollars, the US kind being $18.95 which, according to XE.com right now, comes in at £11 and 83p. As always, the goodness of my heart refuses to let me leave it there - I had a quick check on Amazon UK for you and you can bag yourself a copy of Cookiepedia for £8.15 which is a bargain – no question.
Do you know someone who wants to join the baking world and doesn’t know where to start? Do you know someone who has started in the baking world but isn’t all that great and is feeling a tad deflated? Or do you just know someone who would appreciate a lovely looking book which focuses on cookies and cakes, and would forever be knocking on your door saying, “check these out, don’t they smell amazing? Go on, try one, I made them for you”.
Well, what are you waiting for?
Cookiepedia is a lovely looking book with some beautiful photographs, some very easy sounding recipes and …. AND … a picture of the author on the back.
Final thought; when I find old cook books and recipe books at boot sales and charity shops, more often than not, they’re in very good condition, very clean, almost unused. I think that for a cook book, this is rather sad; kitchen books should show signs of plenty of use.
In however many years time, when my children are going through my stuff, wondering what to keep and what to chuck out, I reckon they’ll find my copy of Cookiepedia and it will be covered in splodges of sugar, chocolate sauce dried hard on some of the pages, and whichever one of the kids finds it, they’ll smile to themselves and remember the fun we had making Almond Crescents, Brownies and those wonderful sounding Snickerdoodles.
And then they’ll put the book in the ‘To Keep’ box.
Perhaps they’ll make some of Grandma Stella’s butter balls with their kids.