Thursday, December 29, 2011

October/November Cook Club Part 2: The Maple Syrup Cookbook


The Maple Syrup Cookbook
by Ken Haedrich
Cookbook Score: 3.83
Top Scoring Dishes: Sweet and Sour Chicken Cashew Salad, Sweet Potato and Bacon Bisque, Maple Mustard Barbecue Sauce
Lowest Scoring Dishes: Roasted Pepper and Chickpea Salad, Maple Apple Pie

maple syrup cookbookAs explained under our Pumpkin Lovers Cookbook cook club entry, for October/November Cook Club, we decided to do something a little bit different...  At the DC Cook Club party back in September, we talked about how much we loved PUMPKIN and how awesome it would be to cook many things PUMPKIN.  Well, as luck would have it, our cook club member, Rachel, had a cookbook devoted to all things pumpkin -- the Pumpkin Lovers Cookbook.  To further amp up the autumnal nature of this round, Rachel also offered her copy of the Maple Syrup Cookbook for us to use for this round.  So we bring to you a flurry of fall flavors broken into two blog entries.  This first one is devoted to all our pumpkin creations (click here!) and the second one, here is devoted to MAPLE SYRUP.  In addition to the recipes from the Maple Syrup Cookbook, cook club members had the chance to make maple syrup recipes from our past cook club cookbooks.  These reviews are at the end of this entry -- the scores were not averaged into the scores for the Maple Syrup Cookbook. 

The Maple Syrup Cookbook introduced us to the very many things you can make with maple syrup.  Not just for waffles and pancakes any more, this cookbook offered everything from Orange Maple Chicken Wings to Hot and Spicy Shrimp Kabobs, Tawny Maple Cheesecake to the classic Sugar on Snow.  YUM.  Cookbook author Ken Haedrich also teaches us all about the process of creating maple syrup and profiled numerous maple syrup and sugarmakers.  I actually didn’t realize how much I loved maple syrup until I made some of the recipes from this book!

For your cooking pleasure, the recipe for one of the top scoring dishes:


4 cups peeled, diced sweet potatoes
4 cups water
6 bacon slices
1 small onion, minced
1 1/2 cups light cream or milk
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Sour cream, optional

1.  Bring the sweet potatoes and water to a boil in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot.  Cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are very tender.  Remove from the heat.

2.  While the potatoes are cooking, saute the bacon in a skillet, until crisp.  Remove from the pan; blot with paper towels.  Pour off all but about 3 tablespoons of fat, then add the onion and saute for 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat.

3.  Working in batches, puree the potatoes and cooking water in a food processor or blender.  (Always be careful when pureeing hot liquids in a blender.  Never fill the container more than one-third full to avoid the risk of the lid blowing off.)  Return the puree to the soup pot, then stir in the onion, light cream, salt, maple syrup, and cinnamon.  Crumble the bacon and add that also.  Heat, but do not boil, and serve piping hot.  Put a small dollop of sour cream in each bowl, if desired.

And on with the reviews!

Amanda’s Maple-Glazed Chicken Wings
Score: 4.0

I really enjoyed making this recipe--it was very easy to put together, and the chicken was very tender. They seemed to be a hit at the party I took them to--there were many compliments, and the chicken was still very tender the next day. My only complaint was that the wings were not flavorful enough for me, which could have easily been remedied by marinating them a bit longer. The recipe recommended a minimum of 4 hours, and, due to time constraints, I only marinated them for 2. I would love to try this again, just with a longer marinating time.


chickpea saladRachel’s Roasted Pepper and Chickpea Salad
Score: 2.0

I love the idea of this dish, but in reality it's just too much. Too many flavors that don't really work together, too many textures, and too much dressing. The cheese is especially jarring - so if you include it, cut it up really small. The leftovers were totally meh - the flavors didn't blend, even overnight. It was fun roasting my own peppers on my gas stove though, so not a total loss.

Comments from the DC Cook Club: “I liked the varying textures of the chickpeas, smoked cheese, and peppers.”  “Good side salad.”  “I didn’t expect it to be cold, but I really liked the flavor of the ham with it.”  “Delicious, bold flavors.”
IMG_0034Jackie’s Sweet and Sour Chicken Cashew Salad
Score: 5.0

I LOVED THIS RECIPE.  Not only did I add a new dressing to my repertoire (the recipe included a separate recipe for the sweet and sour dressing consisting mainly of maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, ground ginger, garlic…) but I just found this salad to be endlessly delicious.  The flavors were just spot on – chicken, scallions, cashews, celery, mixed with the dressing, tahini (I replaced this with equal measurements of peanut butter), and orange zest.  I wouldn’t have thought to add the orange zest, but it gave it a wonderful fresh tasting quality.  As a sidenote, the recipe called for 2 cups of cooked chicken… I took a short cut and bought a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket (which I ordinarily love anyways) and chopped up the chicken breasts.  Definitely will be making this again.

And some DC cook club comments:  “A little too sweet for my taste – I expected a more savory dish.”  “Love this –so flavorful – the orange notes are interesting and unexpected.  5.0.”


Julie’s Curried Pumpkin-Apple Soup
Score: 4.0

Yummy! This was a bit of a gamble but sounded too interesting not to try.  The combination of pumpkin and mildly spicy curry with the tartness of apple (and cider!) and sweetness of maple is unusual but very yummy, and even better on the second day.  The recipe called for pumpkin puree which is not commonly sold here in UK so I got to try making my own as well as the added bonus of spicing and toasting the pumpkin seeds for snacks - my boyfriend and I enjoyed these so much that I made some more the following weekend:)

I had some pumpkin puree left over which after a google search inspired me to try a number of other great recipes. Long live pumpkins and seasonal cooking!

BisqueAmanda’s Sweet Potato and Bacon Bisque
Score: 4.5

I really loved the flavors of the bisque--the bacon and onion made it very interesting. It was very rich, and a little sweet, so it definitely needed to be consumed in moderation. The recipe, while easy, was very involved, and required lots of attention. That being said, I had lots of other cooking going on at the time. I would love to try this again with a lighter side--like a salad. We had tons of heavy pumpkin and maple dishes at our dinner party.


Julie’s Lemon-Maple Zucchini Bread
Score: 3.5

I'd always wanted to try a zucchini cake/ bread recipe since I once had a delicious chocolate cake with surprise ingredient zucchini as a teenager. It was a bit painful to invest a whole cup of the home made maple syrup my friend gave me in Canada earlier this year but I liked the outcome - moist and fragrant with very understated sweetness. The recipe was easy to put together and I was impressed that with wholemeal flour but the bread still felt and tasted light. It was best fresh on the first two days while still moist and aromatic, a bit boring after that so would probably toast and butter any leftovers.

Maple-Walnut Oat MuffinsJulie’s Maple-Walnut Oat Muffins
Score: 4.0

I was excited about making these as I'm a big fan of oats (porridge or pancakes or cookies) but haven't really had much experience of making muffins. I was initially surprised because I was expecting sweet muffins and these were not, but after I got used to that, the muffins and I got on very well indeed.  I loved the wholesome nutty flavour of oats and walnuts and the coarse texture they lent. These make perfect breakfast fare with a cappuccino, or as an afternoon snack with butter and honey (kind of like scones).


Anjali’s Gingered Pork Medallions
Score: 3.5

This Asian-inspired recipe would have been much better had it not been part of a heavy pumpkin/maple menu. That being said, the sauce was tasty and made for an excellent addition to vegetables and rice later in the week.


Anjali’s Candied Popcorn and Nuts
Score: 4.0

This recipe was very easy and the result was a very addictive snack! I liked the saltiness of the sunflower seeds and popcorn along with the sweetness of the maple syrup and the hint of spice with the cayenne.


Pineapple Upside Down CakeJackie’s Pineapple Upside Down Spice Cake
Score: 3.8

In my own nerdy baking way, this cake was pretty fun to make J  Breaking out my new-ish turquoise cast iron pan, I got to try a new baking technique -- this recipe called for boiling together butter, maple syrup, and sugar, gently placed the pineapples in the buttery goodness, and then poured the cake batter on top.  Popped the pan into the oven for about 30 minutes and then after two minutes of cooling, flipped over the cake to see the pretty golden rings of pineapple inserted into the spice cake.  The cake itself tasted pretty wholesome – made with some whole wheat flour and buttermilk, it wasn’t overly sweet.  The pineapple/sugar/butter/maple syrup mixture on top gave the cake a boost of sweetness with a touch of caramel.  The only thing I wished was that I had eaten a slice right out of the oven – I saved it to bring to our cook club party, so it cooled down by then.  But nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a quick zap in the microwave.

And comments from our DC contingent: “Moist and yummy!  I liked the crunchy bottom (top?) and the spongy texture.”    “Very moist.  4.0.”  “Moist and great fall flavors.  4.0.”  “This is a very good PUDC.  It’s just not my favorite kind of cake.  3.0.”

Rachel’s Dreamy Almond Bars
Score: 3.5

These are delicious, and a nice combination of two of my favorite flavors - maple and almond. I didn't calculate the calories for these, but the ingredient list kind of tells you everything you need to know. While these would probably be popular at a party, for that calorie load I'd rather have ice cream, or spice cake with maple frosting. A preparation note: Use a BIG pan for these. I used the bigger of the two pan sizes suggested in the recipe, and the filling still spilled over the edges onto the bottom of my oven and filled my apartment with sugar smoke.

Comments from the DC Cook Club: “Sweet and salty – I loved the combination and the crust was a nice shortbread texture.”  “The shortbread crust had a great buttery flavor that balanced the crunch and sweetness of the almond topping.  4.5!”  “In love.  Definitely decadent and can’t eat many more than… two in one sitting.  Loved the balance between sweet and slight saltiness.”  “Liked the combination of salty and sweet.  Very buttery.”

Maple Apple PieAmanda’s Maple Apple Pie
Score: 3.0

The name of this recipe is a little misleading. To me, this seemed to be more of an apple crisp than a pie. It had an oat crumb topping, which was very tasty, but the bottom had a pie crust. The crust got a little too soggy, and I would have just eliminated it altogether. Next time, I will modify this recipe either without a bottom crust, or with a crust on top, instead of the oat crumb topping.


Amanda’s Maple Mustard Barbecue Sauce
Score: 5.0

Condiments are pretty much my favorite food item in the world, and given that I am a Tennessean, barbecue sauce always catches my eye. So, this recipe seemed to be the obvious choice! This sauce was very simple to put together, and had many great components--mustard, garlic, of course, maple syrup. I made this sauce on 2 separate occasions, and it was a big hit both times. I think it compliments both pork and chicken very well. This one is a keeper!

And a dish from a past Cook Club cookbook...

IMG_0042Sonia’s Brussels Sprouts & Tofu
Score: 4.5

The marinade was sweet and spicy and very flavorful.  I enjoyed the cooking method of the sprouts (cut into thirds and pan fry) as it made them crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.  The sautéed tofu retained a lot of flavor from the marinade and went well with the vegetables. 

DC Cook Club comments:  “Loved this dish.  Combination of tofu and Brussels sprouts was perfect, especially with Asian flavors.  5.0.”  “OMG SO GOOD.  I want to eat this everyday.  Any kid would eat these Brussels sprouts.  5.0.”  “Loved this!  Fantastic flavors and enjoyed the mix of the crunchy Brussels sprouts versus the softer texture (yet firm) of the tofu.  5.0.”  “Best tofu ever – really nice with the sprouts.”

October/November Cook Club Part 1: Pumpkin Lovers Cookbook


by Betty Gabbert
Top Scoring Dishes: Curried Mexican  Pumpkin Seeds, Pumpkin Spaghetti, and Maple Pumpkin Cheesecake
Lowest Scoring Dishes: Praline Pumpkin Pie

pumpkin lovers cookbook
For October/November Cook Club, we decided to do something a little bit different...  At the DC Cook Club party back in September, we talked about how much we loved PUMPKIN and how awesome it would be to cook many things PUMPKIN.  Well, as luck would have it, our cook club member, Rachel, had a cookbook devoted to all things pumpkin -- the Pumpkin Lovers Cookbook.  To further amp up the autumnal nature of this round, Rachel also offered her copy of the Maple Syrup Cookbook for us to use for this round.  So we bring to you a flurry of fall flavors broken into two blog entries.  This first one is devoted to all our pumpkin creations (and at times, butternut squash creations) (to check out our maple syrup reviews, click here).  In addition to the recipes from the Pumpkin Lovers Cookbook, cook club members had the chance to make pumpkin recipes from our past cook club cookbooks.  These reviews are at the end of this entry -- the scores were not averaged into the scores for the Pumpkin Lovers Cookbook. 

The title of the Pumpkin Lovers Cookbook really speaks for itself.  Chock full of straightforward and simple recipes that star the pumpkin with random bits of trivia ("Pumpkins grow faster when fed with milk or sugar water through a slit in their stalks.  Some double their size in only a few days," "Morton, Illinois is the pumpkin capital of the world," and "One of the best varieties of pumpkin for pies is the Small Sugar.") and a listing of pumpkin events around the country and places to enjoy "fall activities."  Who knew you could make so many things out of pumpkin?

Recipes from two of our top dishes for your cooking pleasure...


1/4 cup curry powder
1 1/4 cups water
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 1/2 tsp. salt
juice 1/2 lemon
2 cups salted pepitas (Mexican pumpkin seeds)

Mix together in saucepan the curry, 1/4 cup warm water, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and lemon juice.  When well blended, add 1 cup water; then heat, stirring constantly until mixture simmers.  Add the pepitas and simmer for 5 minutes.  Drain (save curry mixture for currying more pepitas), spread pepitas out on a baking sheet, dot with butter, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and toast in very low oven, 275 degrees, for about 1 hour, until they are crisp.  Yield: 2 cups.  (To curry more pepitas, mix 2 teaspoons curry into the remaining mixture, add water to make 1 1/2 cups of the mixture and repeat as before.)


1 cup solid pack pumpkin
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 cup softened butter
12 oz. thin spaghetti, cooked and drained
freshly ground black pepper

Mix pumpkin, cream, 1/2 cup cheese, and nutmeg in small pan.  Bring just to simmer over low heat, stirring once or twice.  Remove from heat.  Add butter to spaghetti in large bowl.  Toss till butter is melted.  Pour pumpkin mixture over pasta.  Toss.  Transfer to serving dish.  Season to taste.


Creamy Pumpkin SoupNeena’s Creamy Pumpkin Soup
Score: 3.5

I chose this recipe because I have been looking for a quick and easy soup. And, this recipe ended up being perfect. The instructions called for the "cooking" to all take place in the microwave, so it was definitely a quick make. Rather than using orange juice from concentrate, I just used regular orange juice, and I also eliminated the chicken boullion granules from the recipe. The consistency of the final product was not perfect, so I used a little bit more milk. I also added a dash of nutmeg for a bit of a kick.

PepitasNeena’s Curried Mexican Pumpkin Seeds
Score: 5.0

I chose this recipe because I have been looking for a healthier snack while I study rather than the usual potato chips, granola bars, etc. And these pumpkin seeds definitely fit the bill. I absolutely loved this recipe-very easy and absolutely delicious. I altered the recipe a bit by using 4 cloves of garlic and about a tablespoon of paprika, and it turned out great! My guests were taking handfuls at a time!


IMG_0035Rachel’s Pumpkin “Spaghetti”
Score: 5.0

This dish is awesome. I will make it again and again for parties and potlucks. It's so simple - it takes less than 20 minutes to make, and it reheats well. It's not a healthy choice, so I'm going to try to lighten it up for everyday use by subbing in wheat pasta and lighter dairy ingredients, and maybe adding spinach. But the original recipe is perfect for special occasions.

And some thoughts from the DC contingent: “Delicious! Very creamy and good flavor. 4.5.” “LOVED! Perfect for a wintry day.” “Creamy.” “My new favorite version of mac & cheese. I want more! 5.0.”


whole wheat pumpkin breadMonica’s Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread
Score: 4.0

The whole wheat pumpkin bread uses a lot of honey (2.5 cups!), so don't think you can just whip this up when you're bored one day unless you're also a part-time beekeeper. The bread was moist and delicious, and it made three loaves, which is great if you're feeding an army. I am not, so next time I'll just halve the recipe. I think because of its moisture content it wouldn't keep very well for more than a few days, but that's okay because it was gobbled up in half a day by my small office and will probably have a similar result in your kitchen. You might try adding a little less moisture (honey? water?) if you want to avoid this. I think cranberries would be a nice addition to the recipe if you were feeling feisty.

And some thoughts from the DC contingent: “Just the right amount of sweetness and moist. 4.0.” “Nice pumpkin flavor, but would have liked more spice.” “Super moist and reminiscent of banana bread (good thing!) 4.0.” “Yum! Nice and moist. 4.0.”

Cranberry Pumpkin BreadJackie’s Pumpkin Cranberry Bread
Score: 4.5

This bread was a WINNER. Definitely fits under the banana bread family – a bit sweet, perfect for eating in chunks, and happily married with chocolate chips. The recipe made two loaves, which I divvied up, half a loaf to work with J, half a loaf to work with me, and one loaf to serve to my out of town guests. I admit that I added in chocolate chips… I can’t help myself with these types of breads to do that. In truth though, not sure how well the dried cranberries and chocolate chips worked with one another, but I could have devoured both loaves myself, so… The recipe itself was super straightforward – no mixer required, just a little elbow grease, and a handful of ingredients. Would definitely make again.


pumpkin cheesecakeSonia’s Pumpkin Cheesecake
Score: 4.0

The Pumpkin Cheesecake was a big hit at the birthday party I attended. The cake had a subtle pumpkin flavor that was enhanced by the spices in the recipe. I made some changes to the recipe, including using gingersnaps for the crust instead of zweiback (I had to Google it) crumbs and nixing the sour cream topping. Instead, I drizzled the cheesecake slices with a whiskey caramel sauce, which complemented the other flavors very nicely. My only complaint was that the cream cheese didn't blend completely smoothly, resulting in a slightly lumpy texture.

IMG_0033Monica’s Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Drop Cookies
Score: 4.5

These are reminiscent of what I call "kitchen sink cookies" in that they combine a variety of different ingredients that work well together into one dessert buffet of a cookie. Double the chocolate, cook them for 15 minutes, and you've got a winner on your hands. It made a lot of cookies (the recipe ain't jokin' when it says 6 dozen), but I was eating them by the handful so the fact that they might not keep well (same problem as the whole wheat pumpkin bread -- super moist, almost too much so) shouldn't be a deterrent to your making them. I suspect the batter would freeze well if you only wanted to bake a few cookies at a time, but I can't be sure. Easy and a crowd-pleaser.

And comments from the DC contingent: “Moist and chocolatey.” “Could have eaten the whole plate – delicious! 5.0.” “These were AWESOME. Fantastically soft (as chocolate cookies should be…) and a great balance of pumpkin and chocolate.”

Jackie’s Frosted Spicy Pumpkin Bars
Score: 4.0

I love pumpkin baked goods… I was intrigued by this one because of the “spicy” twist. I think the “spice” was supposed to come from the ground ginger. I’m not sure if my ground ginger was a bit old, so less spicy, but nevertheless, these bars tasted delicious. They were quite moist and perfect for snacking on any time of the day. The “frosted” part was really more of a viscous icing – a spoonful of it would spread quickly on top and drip down the sides of the bars. Not that I’m complaining – there wasn’t a lot of sugar in the bars themselves, so anyone looking to satisfy their sweet tooth would enjoy the extra oomph of the icing. All in all, I would make these again!

Jackie’s Praline Pumpkin Pie
Score: 2.5

This was actually the first recipe of the bunch that I picked – I wanted to bake some sort of pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and this cookbook offered a ton of options. I picked this one because it was (1) a little different and (2) J loves praline. The one hiccup was I couldn’t find the no-bake custard mix that it called for, so substituted it with a vanilla pudding mix. That apparently was not a good call. Although the pie itself tasted good, it didn’t set… and was really a pie of candied pecans on the bottom and pumpkin pudding on top. I think it would be better with the no-bake custard mix (which would have resulted in a firmer consistency), but I probably wouldn’t make this again.

Leanne’s Maple Pumpkin Cheesecake
Score: 4.8

Really easy cheesecake to make, and received rave reviews from everyone who ate it!

From Nigella's Christmas

Two of our lovely cook club members cooked up Nigella's Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Lasagna.  Here were their takes:

Monica’s Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Lasagna
Score: 3.0

Very labor intensive, and Nigella way overestimates the cooking time of EVERYTHING! The pumpkin needs less than half an hour to become soft enough to put into the lasagna, and the lasagna itself dries out if you leave it in the oven for an hour -- I should know, I did it. I had none of the "shallow tomatoey cheesey pool" at the bottom of my pan. It was not "gorgeous." Solution? Extra pasta sauce served with each slice of lasagna. I omitted the sage and used pre-made pasta sauce, but everything else was according to the recipe, and it was yummy (though dry until I realized all it needed was more sauce). My advice would be to cut the cooking time in half on both the pumpkin cooking part and the baking part, and to cover the lasagna in the oven for the first 20 minutes it cooks so you don't lose any of that moisture. Also, this makes a HUGE batch of lasagna so I'll probably cut it in half if I make it again.

Pumpkin LasagnaLeanne’s Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Lasagna
Score: 4.5

Also received rave reviews. Only thing was it didn't taste as good the next day--this one really needs to be eaten the same day it is made. Also easy to make. I used regular lasagna noodles instead of fresh ones, and it turned out fine.

From Giada's Kitchen

Anjali and Neena’s Butternut Squash and Vanilla Risotto
Score: 2.0

So it turns out Neena (my sister, newest member!) and I both picked this recipe, so we decided to make it as part of Thanksgiving dinner. I was super excited to finally be trying my hand and risotto, a dish that has previously scared me off due to its high maintenance. While the texture of the final dish was exactly has it should be, the resounding response from everyone was "Oh my, it takes like vanilla!" Seriously, the vanilla was borderline offensive. The final dish definitely needed something to balance the vanilla, perhaps more parmesean cheese or other savory ingredient. I probably will not make this exact recipe again, but I am glad I finally tried making risotto. (Neena approves this review)

From Molto Gusto (Mario Batali)

IMG_0040Sonia’s Butternut Squash and Mushroom Salad
Score: 4.0

The combination of cooked and raw mushrooms was a nice textural contrast and complemented the squash well. The dressing was simple, but really brought the dish together (the truffle oil didn’t hurt!).  DC Cook Club comments: “I wish the mushrooms had been cooked, but otherwise quite yummy.” “Nice mix of the soft butternut squash against the mushrooms.” “Flavors were a little plain, even though I loved the veggies.” “Good flavors, maybe marinate the mushrooms more?”

Pumpkin with ApplesJulie’s Broiled Pumpkin with Apples
Score: 3.5

Very simple (to make and also in terms of ingredients and flavours) and very tasty - I love butternut squash-sage combos and almost anything with apples so it was hard to go wrong here. The first time round, for my taste the squash was overcooked and the amount of dressing too much (a bit too overpowering/ acidic) but I had faith in the high potential of this dish and the second time round it was a lot better.