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Archive for June 23rd, 2008

Faith’s Trail Cookies

Don’t they say that necessity is the mother of invention?  My refrigerator went out (the freezer unit still works, thank goodness), and it’s only 8 months old. The store is sending someone to repair it, but no one could come today. The stuff in there is still cold, because we put a big bag of ice in it, but come tomorrow I’m going to have to throw things out.

In the meantime, I had a few pounds of butter and some eggs that I wanted to waste as little of as possible. So I made cookies. And I didn’t have any chocolate chips, which is a pity, because I’d love some homemade chocolate chip cookies. But I did have a bag and a half of trail mix. So I improvised, and came up with this recipe. If you try it, let me know how it turned out for you.

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • approximately 3 cups of trail mix, prepared as directed below
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Separate the large nuts out of the trail mix, and chop. If there are any large chunks of fruit, chop those as well (kitchen shears works great for this). When everything is approximately a uniform size, set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter until it is light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugars. Beat in the eggs and vanilla and mix well.
  4. Gradually add in the flour, soda, and salt, until everything is well-mixed.
  5. Stir in the trail mix.
  6. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls on an ungreased baking sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove baking sheet from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for a minute or two, then remove the cookies to a rack to cool thoroughly.

Depending upon how large you make the cookies, you should get 4-5 dozen cookies.

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Whether you’re a novice or expert at Indian cooking, you’re bound to love this thick cookbook that just bursts with flavour. Raghavan Iyer describes his first attempt at cooking with the generic American spice called “curry powder,” and his subsequent disappointment at its failure to evoke the spicy heritage of his home. His book 660 Curries is both an homage to the great foods of India and a guide to making those foods for people who have perhaps always thought of curry as something blazing hot that’s seasoned with a can of curry powder.

But just what is curry? If you had asked me before I read this cookbook, I’d have responded that it’s a dish consisting of vegetables, perhaps meat, cooked in a fiery sauce and served with rice. Very nondescriptive. Here’s what Iyer says about curry:

In England and the rest of the world, “curry” describes anything Indian that is mottled with hot spices, with or without a sauce, and “curry powder” is the blend that delivers it. In keeping with my culture, I define a curry as any dish that consists of meat, fish, poultry, legumes, vegetables, or fruits, simmered in or covered with a sauce, gravy, or other liquid that is redolent of spices and/or herbs (p. 3).

I remember once making a curry for dinner, and later meeting up with a friend. “You had curry for dinner tonight, didn’t you?” she asked me, and I stared blankly at her, wondering if my telltale breath had given it away. It turned out that she had already seen my husband, who told her the news. That curry, like every other curry I’ve ever prepared, was seasoned with a curry powder blend that I purchased at the grocery store. Now, however, thanks to Iyer, I’ll be preparing my own blends. He gives you a variety to work with, tells you where to find ingredients that may not be readily available at your grocery store, tells you the best ways to prepare and store them, and provides a variety of useful tips.

Many of the recipes in the book relate back to the section about “spice blends and pastes,” as those are the essential ingredients in preparing the other dishes. Iyer recommends–and I wholeheartedly agree with him–that you carefully read the entire recipe before you begin preparation, and make sure you have everything in place and at hand. If your recipe includes a spice blend found on page 28 (Sesame-Flavored Blend with peanuts and coconut–Maharashtrian Garam Masala), prepare the blend, if you haven’t already, and make sure it’s ready for use.

This book has curries and side dishes to tempt any appetite, including appetizer curries (did you ever think of having a curry dish as an appetizer?), meat curries, paneer curries, legume curries, vegetable curries, contemporary curries, and biryani curries. There is also a section on curry cohorts, in case you were wondering what to serve with the Cauliflower and Potatoes in a blackened red chile sauce (Alur Phulkopir Jhol) on page 481, for example.  I like a good naan, and on page 729 there is a recipe for Salt-Crusted Grilled Flatbread with ghee (Naan) that I will be trying out before I get very much older.

The recipes are laid out step-by-step so that they can be easily followed, and tips about techniques, alternatives, etc., frequently follow the recipes. The recipe section is followed up with a very useful guide that includes metric conversion charts, a thorough glossary of ingredients, the basic elements of curry, mail-order sources for spices and legumes, and a good bibliography for the chef who wants to learn more.

If you’re interested in learning more, visit Iyer’s website.

Publisher: Workman Publishing, New York. ISBN 978-0-7611-37870-0. $22.95

Buy it now!

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You may have heard the legend of Molly Pitcher when you were in elementary school. She was the angel of the battlefield during the U.S. Revolutionary War, bringing water to the thirsty men. And when her husband was killed in action, she took charge of his cannon. Her name wasn’t really Molly Pitcher, of course; she was given the nickname after flitting around with a pitcher slaking the soldiers’ terrible thirst.

So just how true is this legend? Linda Grant De Pauw’s charming protagonist Peggy McAllister researches the story of Molly Pitcher not only for an 8th grade research paper, but for a chance to win to win the first ever Rattletop Award. Peggy’s teacher is annoyed with her choice, pointing to the scarcity of information about Molly Pitcher and basically saying that it will leave her with no possible way to win the award. Undeterred, Peggy forges ahead with the capable assistance of her great-grandfather, a former private investigator, and a local historian. They do not do the research for her, but give her tips on how to organize her material, where to search for resources, and serve as her guide to the nearby historic sites.

De Pauw has written a story that works as a story and as a guide to how to perform and organize research. While I was in college, I frequently saw many people who did not have any idea how to organize their thoughts into a cohesive research project and subsequently did not make the grades they otherwise would have earned in their classes. When I tutored friends in writing, I taught them the index card technique that Peggy uses with such success in the book.

I enjoyed Peggy’s story, and truly appreciated learning so much more about the available facts behind the Molly Pitcher legend. I think De Pauw has hitten a home run with this one, and I definitely plan to read more of her fiction and non-fiction. This is a great book for middle-grade children. I think it might appeal more to girls than to boys because of the nature of the topic and the character, but a wise teacher could use it as a springboard for getting students involved in research projects and papers.

Publisher: Peacock Press of Pasadena, Pasadena, Maryland. ISBN 978-1-4357-0607-1. $12.00

Buy this book now!

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