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Friday, September 29

Gapers Block

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By now you know I love cooking. If you've read more than a few columns you probably also know that I rarely follow recipes. But what you may not know is that I'm a bit of a cookbook whore. I buy them for the pretty pictures for the most part. I recently purchased a cookbook by Nigella Lawson and petted the pictures (none of her, you dirty-minded foodie you!) and kept saying "She just makes baking look so sexy." But the only recipe we have used was one we altered to make a rum and coke gelatin mold.

But one of the types of cookbooks that I am often enamored with are the kind where people pull recipes together from their friends, family, women's auxillary members, wives of firemen, etc. and create a cookbook that is just as much about people's personalities as it is the food that gets made. They're often cheesy, the graphics are clip-art, the fonts are often set in Times (or whatever the word processing program's default font is), the pages are often cut at an angle, but I love flipping through them. It's like getting a peek into people's lives that you don't normally see. Kind of like reading a blog.

So last year, when I helped Brandy Agerbeck of do some print production work to get her cookbook ready to go off to CafePress I was delighted by the chance to get to add another compilation cookbook to my collection. Even though I was thick in the middle of a kitchen rehab project, I loved the idea that I would soon have something else to drool over in my dust-covered room that would become a kitchen. I was thrilled when I finally got to hold the Friends of Cookbook in my hands. And to make it even better, I was delighted to know that the $4 from the sale of each $20 book goes to America's Second Harvest. (Which means you could get a gift for a friend, make a donation, and not have to go to the mall. Can I get a "yay!"?)

Not only are there almost 200 recipes, but more than half are vegetarian, 39 are vegan. And since I know that these are recipes made by real people, people who are her friends, I know they wouldn't send Brandy untested crap so I was delighted to know that they were tested and time-proven.

And then I set out to make recipes from the book. Up in that first paragraph where I say I don't follow recipes, I don't. I try, but I just can't. It's like I'm allergic to it. I start to shake and without even realizing it I find myself substituting cumin for coriander and mincing fresh basil instead of parsley, and don't even think that I measure things.

So below are a few recipes I've made from the cookbook with my substitutions in parentheses. And this only stands as a sampling of what the book has to offer. I really do suggest you purchase one or five.

Spinach-Artichoke-Parmesan Dip
2 small jars of marinated artichoke hearts that have been drained
1 package of frozen creamed spinach that has been thawed
1/2 cup of real mayo
1 cup of grated parmesan cheese
1 minced clove of garlic

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Finely chop the artichokes. In a blender mix the mayo, garlic and spinach until well combined and creamy but not soupy. Pour this into a glass pie dish, fold in the parmesan and the artichokes and smooth the top evenly. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the top gets golden brown on top and hot throughout. Serve with crackers or pita wedges that have been brushed with olive oil and baked in the oven until they're toasted.

Recipe by Leah Bohannon

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Apple Cous Cous (and Sausage)
1 cup of couscous
1 cup of apple juice
1/4 cup of dried apricots
1/4 cup of dried cranberries
1/4 cup of golden raisins (regular are fine also)
1/4 cup of dried apples (or 1/2 of a fresh apple chopped into little cubes)
1/4 cup of apple juice concentrate (or chicken broth)
1/4 teaspoon of cardamom (or cinnamon)
1 tablespoon of maple syrup (or molasses)
4 Acorn squash
1/4 cup of pecans (or walnuts)
(1/4 cup of sagey sausage that has been cooked and crumbled)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Bring the apple juice to a boil in a small saucepan and add the cous cous. Cover and let sit until the juice is absorbed (takes about 15 minutes). Stir in the fruit, apple juice concentrate (chicken broth), cardamom and maple syrup. Cut off the stem, and cut off a small bit on the bottom. Cut the squash in half widthwise and scoop out the seeds and strings. Place in a steamer over boiling water and cook for about 15 minutes. Place them bowl-side up on a baking dish, fill with the couscous mixture, sprinkle the nuts and sausage on top, and bake for about 20 mnutes. Serve while warm. Makes a great side dish or a main dish with other sides.

This recipe was adapted from Jackie Lannin's recipe.

Pasta Fagioli
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium onion
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 29 ounce can of tomato sauce (or a can of crushed tomatoes)
5 1/2 cups of water (or vegetable stock)
1 teaspoon of dried parsley
1 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
(1 teaspoon of dried thyme)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 15 ounce can of cannelloni beans
1 15 ounce can of kidney beans (or chick peas)
1/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese

Peel the onion and then chop it into quarters. Cut those quarters in half. In a large pot over medium heat cook the onion in the olive oil until it is translucent and soft. Stir in the garlic and cook until it is tender. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the tomato sauce, the water (or stock), the dried herbs, and the beans. Simmer for 1 hour. Stir in the parmesan cheese before serving. This makes several servings, refrigerates for about a week, and freezes extremely well also.

Recipe by Rosamund Miller

Mrs. J. Barely Famous Baked French Toast
4 eggs
2 cups of milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
3 tablespoons of orange juice (or pomegranate juice)
1 dash of cinnamon and sugar mix (or 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon) 1 loaf of cinnamon raisin swirl bread
Non-stick spray

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Beat the eggs in a small bowl and pour in the milk, vanilla, and orange juice. Beat until this mixture is solidly yellow and then stir in the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Slice the bread about an inch thick if it isn't already. Pour your mixture into a shallow dish that is big enough for dunking the bread in (a pie pan works great). Spray an 8" by 8" casserole with non-stick spray. Dunk each bread slice into the egg mixture and flip it to coat each side evenly. Now layer the bread in the casserole dish until you either run out of bread or until there is about one inch of space at the top of the dish. Cover the casserole dish and bake it for about 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for another 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Let it sit for about 15 minutes to firm up and cool down. Scoop out and serve with any syrup, fresh fruit, or my personal favorite-marmalade.

Recipe by Pat Jurgaitis

No Baking Necessary Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
2 cups of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of butter
1/2 cup of milk
3 cups of rolled oats
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
5 teaspoons of cocoa powder

In a saucepan over medium heat, mix the sugar, butter, and milk. When it reaches a boil let it boil for exactly one minute and 30 seconds (use a timer). Remove it from the heat and add the rolled oats, the vanilla, and the cocoa powder. Use a tablespoon to drop it onto parchment paper and let it cool. You know you have achieved perfection when the outside dries glossy. You can store them in an airtight container for several days, but they are best when fresh.

Recipe by Monica Sallouti

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