SALLY’S BAKING ADDICTION: Irresistible Cookies, Cupcakes, and Desserts for Your Sweet-Tooth Fix by Sally McKenney

PUBLISHER: Race Point Publishing, 3/2014
GENRE: Cookbooks/Baking
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: A-

FROM PUBLISHER: Named by Huffington Post as one of the “Top 10 Food Blogs to Watch” in 2013, Sally’s Baking Addiction has skyrocketed in popularity since its inception in late 2011. Baking addict and food blogger, Sally McKenney loves to bake. Her famous Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Cookies won Nestle’s Dark Chocolate contest in 2013, and now, in her first cookbook, Sally shares her baking secrets with fans everywhere.

Try her No-Bake Peanut Butter Banana Pie, her delectable Dark Chocolate Butterscotch Cupcakes, or her yummy Marshmallow Swirl S’mores Fudge. Featuring a brand new selection of desserts and treats, the Sally’s Baking Addiction Cookbook is fully illustrated and offers 75 scrumptious recipes for indulging your sweet tooth–including a chapter of healthier dessert options for those who follow a vegan or gluten-free lifestyle. With dozens of simple, easy-to-follow recipes, you get all of the sweet with none of the fuss!

THINGS I’VE BAKED

DARK CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER CAKE

This isn’t moist at all. It’s dense and very dry. This went into the trash can after eating just one piece. I made half the recipe in an 8″ square pan and it baked in 18 minutes. The toothpick came out with moist crumbs on it so I know the dryness wasn’t due to overbaking. The full recipe only has three tablespoons of milk in it. I followed the recipe and I’m convinced the lack of milk in the recipe is what ruined it. The frosting is good but that’s the only positive thing about this. I made half the frosting and used just 2 1/2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, which was about three tablespoons less than called for, and less milk. Anymore and it would have been too bitter for my liking.

PEANUT BUTTER CHUNK OATMEAL BARS
These are pretty good. They use chunky peanut butter, old fashioned oats, mini semisweet chocolate chips, milk, and a few other things. No egg. They’re not too sweet. They’re made in an 8″ square pan. I cut mine into six bars, not twelve. I didn’t make the chocolate peanut butter drizzle for the top. I think I’d like these better with creamy peanut butter instead of crunchy because the peanuts fall out when you take a piece off with the fork.

FROSTED SUGAR COOKIES

I wish you knew how good these are. I added about 3/4 teaspoon of lemon extract to the dough because I’m obsessed with lemon sugar cookies. I didn’t make frosting for these but rolled the dough balls in granulated sugar instead. I got 25 dough balls using a 1 1/2″ diameter/1 tablespoon scoop. I chilled the dough an hour, stirring once halfway, which is how long it took for the dough to be firm enough to scoop out without the dough sticking to the scoop.

These are excellent with lemon added. I baked the first batch for 10 1/2 minutes and the next batch for 11 minutes because the first batch wasn’t crunchy enough. The dough spread out nicely and produced a cookie that’s got some thickness to it. They’re crunchy on the outside and chewy, not cakey, on the inside. The bottoms are a deep golden color. I have nothing bad to say about these. This alone is truly worth the price of the book. You could roll the dough in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar too.

When I baked the last six, for some reason they didn’t spread out as much as the two other batches though they were baked on the same temperature, in the same oven, and the dough sat at room temperature for fifteen minutes like before. Go figure!

OATMEAL SCOTCHIES

Theses cookies taste very good but mine didn’t spread out much, only by about 1/2″-3/4″. I used mini semisweet chocolate chips in place of butterscotch and I omitted the cinnamon. I made just half the recipe and got 27 dough balls using a 1 1/2″ diameter/1 tablespoon scoop. They baked in 10 minutes. To the rest of the dough, I warmed it slightly in the microwave and spread each dough ball out slightly with my fingers on the cookie sheet. They baked up nicely that way and looked normal. They need more salt.

CHUNKY PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

Excellent recipe. I didn’t press down on the cookies with the tines of a fork to make the criss cross pattern before baking. The recipe uses salted butter and no added salt. I used unsalted butter and added 1/4 teaspoon of salt but they needed a bit more. I didn’t add peanuts either. The cookies are very sweet. I got 31 dough balls using a 1 1/2″ diameter/1 tablespoon scoop. I had to chill the dough for 2 1/2 hours before it was firm enough to use the scoop.

With the first batch I flattened the dough balls slightly because I was scared they wouldn’t spread out. I baked them for ten minutes. They spread out too much for my liking. I wanted the second batch crunchier so I baked for eleven minutes and I didn’t flatten them at all. The cookies were crunchy on the outside and chewy inside and they looked great.

BROWN SUGAR MARBLE POUND CAKE

This is very, very moist. It’s made with vegetable oil and equal parts sugar and brown sugar. It tastes a bit off and I can’t taste the chocolate much. I made my own chocolate frosting for it. I made half the recipe in a 1 qt. loaf pan. It baked in 53 minutes. I also doubled the salt to 1/4 teaspoon but it’s not enough. I also used less vanilla extract. I wouldn’t make this again. It looks good but doesn’t taste so great.

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE MUFFINS

These muffins are made with vegetable oil, yogurt, and cocoa powder and require no mixer, just a large bowl and spoon. I made half the recipe and got nine standard size muffins using a 1/4 c. measuring cup to measure out the batter for each. I used muffin liners and the muffins didn’t stick to them at all when I peeled them off.

I didn’t bake these at a very high temperature for five minutes then lower the temperature like I was supposed to do. I just baked them on 350 degrees F for 18 minutes. They’re very moist and not too sweet. I did add vanilla extract though the recipe called for none. I used mini semisweet chocolate chips. These needed a pinch more salt. I love the way they look, with the cracks on top and I would definitely make these again.

MY THOUGHS: This is a very nice hardcover book that has a photo of every recipe but not always one of the finished product, with the oatmeal scotchies being an example of that. At the time of this review I’ve made seven recipes. All but two of them turned out good. The sugar cookies and peanut butter cookies are truly great recipes with the sugar cookies being the most versatile since you can add anything to the dough- nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit, ect. There’s a great variety of flavors too, like peanut butter, apple, chocolate, caramel.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

BAKING STEP BY STEP: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO START BAKING NOW! by Better Homes and Gardens

PUBLISHER:  BHG, 3/2015
GENRE: Cookbooks/Baking
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: A-

FROM PUBLISHER: Better Homes and Gardens Baking Step by Step is the ultimate guide and idea-generator for anyone who wants to learn to bake or hone their technique. This stunning book uses clear, step-by-step photos—more than 900 of them—to illustrate essential skills from folding batter to forming a lattice pie crust. Home bakers can make 350 classic and modern treats, both sweet and savory.

Learn to roll and bake the perfect flaky tart or frost and decorate a celebration-worthy cake—or start simple with Peanut Butter Blondie Bars or Blueberry Crisp; Skill Level icons flag recipes easy, easier, or easiest to make. Complete with an Intro to Baking covering everything from stocking the kitchen to using a rolling pin, this colorful book makes baking fun and accessible for everyone.

Review with photos here.

CHOCOLATE CHIP SWEETS: FAVORITE RECIPES FROM CELEBRATED CHEFS by Tracey Zabar

PUBLISHING: Rizzoli, 9/2015
GENRE: Cookbooks/Baking
PURCHASE: link
AUTOR SITE: link
MY GRADE: A

FROM PUBLISHER: Chocolate chip cookies, bursting with melted bits of chocolate, are the perennial favorite of many Americans. For this compilation, Zabar has reached out to the celebrated icons of the baking world to collect an amazing array of user-friendly recipes beyond the classic cookie. There are the signature creations of such top restaurants as Manhattan’s Daniel, Gramercy Tavern, and Betony, and California’s the French Laundry, while others are treasured family recipes. Chefs such as Jacques Torres, Daniel Boulud, Lidia Bastianich, Dominique Ansel, and Sherry Yard share such classics as shortbread cookies and angel food cake studded with chips. Some reinterpret the cookie and make giant variations, such as Florian Bellanger’s Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookies, while others include add-ins like fresh fruit and nuts, or fold in pretzels and candied orange rind. Puddings, pies, ice-cream sandwiches, cakes, doughnuts, brownies, marshmallows, and waffles, oozing with chocolate, are part of the mix. In this beautifully photographed volume, Zabar discusses how to bake with the variety of flavorful chocolate bits available—ranging from traditional chips and pistoles (or coins) to pearls. Chocolate Chip Sweets will appeal to discriminating chocolate chip lovers who crave this satisfying taste sensation.

THINGS I’VE MADE
JACQUES TORRES CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

This cookie is the one on the books cover. It looks a lot better than it tasted. It’s very buttery. It’s attractive but I don’t care for the flavor of them and wouldn’t make them again. The dough balls spread out nicely and I love the crackle top. The ones in the photo were from my first batch. They were baked on 325 degrees for 15 minutes but that was too long. 13.5 minutes is the perfect time for 1 tablespoon of dough.


RASPBERRY MUFFINS

These miniature muffins are actually called’ chocolate chip berry muffins’. I left out the chocolate and used whole milk in place of cream. They’re supposed to be made with cake flour but I used all-purpose and just left out two tablespoons of it. I made half the recipe and got 23, using a 1 tablespoon cookie scoop to measure out the batter. They baked in 14 minutes, six minutes less than the recipe stated. The full recipe (using 1 1/2 c. flour) states you’ll get about 24, which is clearly wrong. You’ll get double that amount, or 12 regular size muffins. I added vanilla extract and a bit of almond extract to the batter but it needed more almond.

These are incredibly moist, almost too moist because of the raspberries. The tops were gummy the next day. They’re not quite sweet enough. Despite those things this is a very good recipe. The muffin cups are almost 2″ in diameter. The baked muffin tops are flat like in the photo in the book.



PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

These are beyond great and worth the price of the book. They have oats in them and only three tablespoons of peanut butter. I was positive I wouldn’t be able to taste the peanut butter but I was wrong. I can taste and smell it. I think someone experimented with an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe by adding a little peanut butter to it and that’s how this recipe came to be. Just for the heck of it I’ll add an extra tablespoon of peanut butter to make 1/4 cup/4 tablespoons.I used a 1 1/2″ diameter/1 tablespoon cookie scoop and got 35 dough balls. The dough is soft and took ninety minutes to be firm enough to scoop out without sticking to the scoop. The cookies in my photos were baked eleven minutes and were too crunchy after they cooled but ten minutes was perfect for the other batches, at 350 degrees. My cookies actually look better than the photo in the book.

 

OATMEAL RAISIN COOKIES

These turned out great. I made half the recipe. I left out the chocolate chips and added chopped pecans and cinnamon. We were told to let the melted butter cool ‘slightly’ so I let it cool for just ten minutes. The temperature dropped 30 degrees, from 136 down to 106 Fahrenheit. I got 38 dough balls using a 1 1/2″ diameter/1 tablespoon scoop. It took eighty minutes for the dough to be firm enough to scoop out. The dough spread out good and these baked in 10 1/2 minutes. My only complaint is that the dough needed more salt. I think I’ll use 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon next time, not 3/4 teaspoon. I’ll definitely make these again and maybe divide the dough in half, adding chocolate chips to one half.

MY THOUGHTS: The four things I baked turned out great in appearance and I liked the taste of them all except for the chocolate chip cookies, the first thing I baked out of this. There are still quite a few things I want to make out of the book, including several more chocolate chip cookie recipes. There aren’t enough photos of the finished products and I wish publishers would understand the importance of them. I prefer to see what I’m baking before I actually bake it.

There’s a good variety of recipes, like cookies, cakes, muffins, pies, and so on. I like that you can omit chocolate chips and substitute other things in place of them, like dried fruits and nuts, and create your own recipes.

I’m pretty happy with this book and can’t wait to try more recipes.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

MUG MEALS by Leslie Bilderback

PUBLISHER: St. Martin’s Griffin, 9/2015
GENRE: Cookbook/Quick Cooking
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: C

FROM PUBLISHER: Here are over 100 mouthwatering, lightning-fast, easy microwave recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Whip up a mugful of Huevos Rancheros to start off your day, then lunch on a steaming cup of French Onion Soup or Pork Chops and Apple Sauce. Serve dinner to your whole family in mugs stuffed with Poached Salmon with Dill, Pasta Puttanesca, or Candied Sweet Potatoes–and finish things off right with a decadent Pumpkin Cheesecake. The options are endless, and you can’t beat the clean-up!

Mug Meals makes a wonderful gift, college cookbook, or addition to your collection of mug cake recipes. The ease and convenience of these single-serving recipes are perfect for busy families, singles, teens, college students, and seniors who want to whip up easy food using fresh ingredients or even leftovers.


THINGS I’VE MADE
MINESTRONE

This soup has macaroni, carrot, onion, beans, oregano, basil, and tomatoes in it. I doubled the recipe to make two servings and made it in a 2qt. pot instead of two jumbo mugs. I used celery flakes in place of fresh celery, tomato paste in place of tomatoes, since I don’t like them, and I used onion in place of scallions. I used half the amount of dried oregano and way less basil. I sprinkled dried chives on top for color.

This is a decent recipe and worth making again. Though I used less basil, salt, and oregano it was still a little too much for my liking so I’ll use a little less next time. I undercooked the elbow macaroni and boiled the mixture together at the end for five minutes, so the macaroni was cooked for fifteen minutes total.


APPLE CINNAMON OATMEAL

This is a really good, basic recipe. Just butter, oats, milk, apple, sugar, and cinnamon. I made this in a bowl, not mug, then transferred it to a 5 oz. ramekin and sprinkled chopped lightly toasted pecans on top. I used white sugar in place of brown, quick oats in place of old fashioned, a few dashes of cinnamon instead of 1/4 teaspoon, which is beyond too much, and added a large pinch of salt before microwaving because salt is extremely necessary when cooking oats. I cooked this for the full amount of time, 2 1/2 minutes, but it was overcooked. It makes a small serving but it’s enough because it’s more like a dessert.

Edit: I’ve made this a few times since, cooked it 2 minutes and it was perfect.


MACARONI AND CHEESE

This made a huge serving of mac and cheese, using 1c. cooked pasta*. I used mild cheddar cheese in place of white cheddar and a pinch of ground mustard in place of Dijon. I cooked my pasta in a pot, not in a huge mug in the microwave. After taking my cooked elbow mac out of the pot with a slotted spoon, I cooked 3/4c. frozen broccoli in the same water, then added that to the macaroni that was in a bowl. I discarded the water and made the sauce in the pot, then added the macaroni and broccoli to it and cooked it together for a few minutes.

It tastes very good but the sauce was loose because it had no flour in it like a proper cheese sauce does. Adding broccoli to this was an option so I used it. I’ll definitely continue to make this but I’ll add about a 1/2 teaspoon to the butter before adding milk. The recipe has us add 1/4t. salt but that would be way too much. I only needed a pinch because the pasta was cooked in salted water and the cheese was salty.

*My Barilla elbow macaroni tripled in volume, so 1/2c. uncooked turned into 1 1/2c. cooked.


ALBÓNDIGAS

This Mexican soup uses raw Italian sausage instead of meatballs, carrot, celery, potatoes, cumin, oregano, and onion. I omitted diced zucchini, a diced chile, and diced tomatoes. I used some tomato paste in place of tomatoes. I made this in a 2qt. pot instead of two jumbo mugs in the microwave. The flavoring is off in this but it’s edible. The Italian flavoring clashes with the cumin or something. I wouldn’t make this again.


CHEESY TWO-EGG OMLET

Boy, was this easy to make. I used two jumbo eggs, milk, butter, dried chives in place of scallions, left out the thyme, used half the amount of shredded cheese, salt, pepper, and cooked it for 2 minutes. As you can see the chives rose to the top. It was a little undercooked on the bottom so I put it in the microwave upside down on a plate for 20 seconds. It still wasn’t cooked so I gave it another 20 seconds and it was cooked through on the bottom but the sides were very tough but the inside was moist. I’ll experiment with this so that it’s not overcooked again. I’ll also use a smaller bowl. You’ll need one with a 1 1/2 c. capacity. The photo on the bottom is the cooked egg upside down on a plate.

Edit: I’ve made this quite a few times and I usually cook the egg for 90 seconds, run a fork around the egg to loosen it from the bowl, flip it over and microwave it another 30 seconds or so.


CORNCAKE

Not good, folks. I microwaved this in a 3 cup bowl, not two jumbo mugs. It’s extremely dense and tastes like nothing more than cornmeal with a little onion flavor from dried chives, which I used instead of scallions. The bottom had a raw area and there were pockets of raw egg inside. The corn just falls out of it too when you cut into it. I was able to eat most of it but I wouldn’t make again. You have to use several bowls to make this too.

 

OKLAHOMA CHEESE GRITS

These were surprisingly good. They don’t taste like corn or egg at all, just cheese and chives. I made mine in the bowl I eat cereal in, 1 1/2 c. capacity. You use a small amount of quick cooking grits (corn meal made from hominy for Quaker® brand) and water, microwave a short time, let the mixture sit, microwave again, add in egg, cheese, flavorings, and microwave until risen and firm.

My complaints- After the grits had sat for ten minutes we were to microwave it another two minutes before adding in the other stuff. We weren’t told to stir that mixture after it had sat ten minutes. My final product had quite a few large lumps in it that I think may have been avoided had I stirred the grits/water mixture before adding in the other things. After adding in the eggs and cheese the center of mine was raw on top so I stirred the mixture together and microwaved another thirty seconds, then it was fine. I had to add about three tablespoons more water to the mixture after they cooked because the mixture was too thick. I’ll have to experiment with the timing next time so I can get it just right. These tasted good and I’ll continue to make these.

BEAN SOUP

This recipe is called Split Peas and Ham. You’re supposed to mash up a drained and rinsed can of split peas, add some water to thin it slightly, ham, salt, pepper, onion, and garlic. I used part of a can of navy beans and some drained canned white meat chicken instead. I also added broccoli and used a 14.5 oz. can of low sodium chicken broth plus 1/2 c. of water to make two large servings.

No surprise that this need much more flavor. Onion and garlic are base flavors. You need more seasonings than those to create a flavorful broth. I added some celery but this desperately needed more flavor. I added a little bit of canned chipotle in adobe sauce and that helped some but this still needs some work. Next time I’ll use more broccoli, use half a can of mashed beans and just put the rest in the soup and try to find some way to add more flavor to this. It wasn’t bad at all the way I made it.

 

ORECCHIETTE ALFREDO

This was extremely good. I used spiral pasta instead of orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta). The sauce is made with cream (I used half and half) and parmesan cheese, that’s it. I added raw broccoli and carrot, which I cooked in the water with the pasta, and 1/2 cup canned chicken. I didn’t add any salt at all (the recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon!) because of the salty parm. This was very simple to make and tastes great and I’ll continue to make this.

MY THOUGHTS: These are pretty simple recipes that require you to either cook rice or pasta in the microwave, and chop some vegetables. Easy. The recipes are severely lacking in flavor but it’s easy to experiment with your own seasonings. Most recipes use just scallions and garlic for seasoning. I tried to use the ingredients called for but I don’t like tomatoes so I had to use tomato paste in place of it. I didn’t want to buy celery just to use probably less than two stalks total so I used my handy celery flakes. Most of these recipes use scallions but I prefer to use onion since I almost always have onion on hand, or dried chives.

I’m disappointed that no recipes use lentils, which are a legume and are cooked basically like you cook raw rice. I’m disappointed too that only one recipe uses barley.

Most of these recipes would have you use two jumbo mugs to make one large mug-full of soup. I don’t like that method, I like to have plenty of room to mix things around, so I chose to use a 2 quart pot for most things I made because I doubled some recipes. The method used to cook pasta is silly. You boil it a few minutes in a ‘jumbo’ mug, let it sit a half hour, then boil it again for a few minutes. It’s quicker to boil pasta on the stove in a pot.

This cookbook is alright for giving you ideas but to make the recipes exactly as they’re written, they’re not good. Most things I made turned out but I had to doctor them up and make some changes.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

SALLY’S CANDY ADDICTION by Sally McKenney

PUBLISHER: Race Point Publishing, 9/2015
GENRE: Cookbooks/Candy
MY GRADE: C

FROM PUBLISHER: Sally McKenney, creator and author of Sally’s Baking Addiction, is back with a brand-new cookbook chock-full of a whole new host of treats for your sweet-tooth fix. If you’re a candy and sweets lover, then look no further. Complete with over 75 brand new recipes, indulge in truffles, fudge, caramels, and marshmallows. And if you like Oreos, Reese’s, Snickers, or other candy bar favorites, Sally will show you the best ways to incorporate these into cookies, cupcakes, bars, and more.

Complete with easy-to-follow, step-by-step recipes, Sally’s signature photography for every recipe, and snippets from Sally’s own kitchen experiences, Sally’s Candy Addiction has a recipe for every candy lover in your life.

THINGS I’VE MADE
ULTIMATE PEANUT BUTTER BROWNIES

This is a chocolate brownie with peanut butter ‘filling’ that I used as frosting. It’s supposed to have a layer of chocolate frosting on top of the peanut butter filling with chopped Reese’s Pieces on top of that, but I left those two off. The batter has both melted semi-sweet chocolate and a little unsweetened cocoa powder. They’re bitter and wet-looking, not at all like Sally’s photo of them. I made half the recipe in an 8″ square foil lined pan and baked for 22 minutes. The filling/frosting is very good but needed more milk to make it creamier, but the brownies themselves aren’t good at all. I’d never make these again.

COCONUT CANDY BARS

You’re supposed to chill the mixture, cut it into tiny rectangles, and dip each one into melted chocolate. As you can see I made balls out of this candy instead. I think I got 46. These are made from sweetened condensed milk, a whole bag of sweetened coconut, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. After mixing this up by hand (you can’t use a mixer for this) I was very worried and almost threw it in the trash because it was so dense and sticky and unlike anything I’d ever worked with before.

I added one more cup of powdered sugar (3c. total), almond extract (3/8t.), and ground lightly toasted almonds. After pressing the mixture into a lined square pan and chilling it for a short time I decided to roll the mixture into balls. I quick-chilled the balls in the freezer on a wax paper-lined baking sheet, just until the mixture was firm enough to be dipped into melted chocolate. My balls flattened because the dough wasn’t firm enough, but that’s fine. When I make candy like this, such as peanut butter balls, I stick a toothpick in each ball for easy dipping. You don’t need to mess with dipping the candy with two forks. I always use milk chocolate chips melted with paraffin wax.* The wax thins the chocolate, making it much easier to work with. The chocolate/wax mixture, when you dip something in it, will run off almost like water.

This is a really good recipe. Next time I’ll chill the mixture in the mixing bowl for one hour, roll it into balls, chill those for another hour in the fridge or for 20 minutes in the freezer, then dip them in chocolate.

* Gulf Wax is a brand of paraffin wax. It’s sold in a 16 oz. box and can be found in the baking isle of your grocery store. It has four 4 oz. blocks inside. You’ll need half (2 oz.) of one block per 11.5-12 oz. bag of chocolate chips of your choice.

Chop the wax finely, add it, along with the chocolate, to a small bowl so you can melt it using the double boiler method. Sit the small bowl on top of a small pot, 1 qt. size if you have one, that’s filled with 1″ of simmering water. The bowl that’s on top shouldn’t touch the water beneath it. Keep stirring the wax/chocolate mixture until all the wax has melted. This could take ten minutes or so. I then pour the mixture into a very small (13 oz.), deep bowl (don’t use a shallow bowl) and dip my candy into that. I also stick the toothpick into the side of the very cold candy because it’ll leave a small hole when you remove it and the hole looks better on the side of the candy than on the top. Cover any remaining chocolate tightly and store in refrigerator. It will probably keep for a few months. To reuse, uncover and melt in the microwave.

MY THOUGHTS: Only one of the two recipes I tried turned out. There’s a good variety of sweets in the book, mostly fudge and truffles, but not much that interests me. Some of the recipes are just variations on another recipe in the book. I’m pretty disappointed in this book but I may fiddle with a couple more recipes in the future.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

MURDER MOST MALICIOUS by Alyssa Maxwell

murderPUBLISHER: Kensington, 12/2015
GENRE: Historical Mystery
SETTING: England, December 1918
SERIES: A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mystery, #1
PURCHASE: link
AUTHOR SITE: link
MY GRADE: B-

FROM PUBLISHER: December 1918: As a difficult year draws to a close, there is much to celebrate for nineteen-year-old Phoebe Renshaw and her three siblings at their beloved family estate of Foxwood Hall. The dreadful war is finally over; eldest daughter Julia’s engagement to their houseguest, the Marquis of Allerton, appears imminent; and all have gathered to enjoy peace on earth, good will toward men.

But the peace of Foxwood Hall is shattered on the morning of Boxing Day, when the Marquis goes missing. Not entirely missing, however, as macabre evidence of foul play turns up in gift boxes given to lady’s maid Eva Huntford and a handful of others. Having overheard her sister and the Marquis in a heated exchange the night before, Lady Phoebe takes a personal interest in solving the mystery.

As the local constable suspects a footman at Foxwood Hall, Phoebe and Eva follow the clues to a different conclusion. But both young women will need to think outside the box to wrap up this case–before a cornered killer lashes out with ill will toward them. . .

MY THOUGHTS: This sounded very interesting and indeed parts were, like the foul ‘gift’ included in several gift boxes for several of the employees of Foxwood Hall. The whole story was very ordinary, slow-paced, and not a whole lot went on. It certainly isn’t action-packed. This was a very mild mystery that seemed like it was for young adults.

There were entirely too many characters to keep track of and I have about 1 1/2 pages of names written down in my notes so I could keep up with everyone…and still had trouble remembering who’s who. I think some of them were added just to help fill pages.

There’s no depth to the story or characters. I like Eva a lot and would have liked to have gotten some background information on her. Julia, Phoebe’s older sister, is very unfriendly, even to Phoebe, and I didn’t get to find out why, or much else about her.

I’m not happy with who the culprit was, his reasons for doing what he did and passing out the ‘gifts’ he did though I loved what the author chose for him to do. Not original but imaginative. I’m sick and tired of authors’ having the culprit confess to at least one person, usually his next potential victim, right at the end of the story, then he/they’re captured and the story is wrapped up with a pretty bow. That doesn’t happen in real life.

Though my review is mostly critical I still enjoyed the story. It was slightly boring because of the pace and I did wish it would move along faster throughout most of it but it still held my interest. I liked both lead characters, Phoebe and Eva. Not quite thirty pages into the story is when the mystery began, and for that I’m happy. I’m impatient so I appreciated not having to get halfway through the story before anything big happened.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

THE JEZEBEL’S DAUGHTER by Juliet MacLeod

jezebelPUBLISHER: Casa Cielo Press, 9/2015
GENRE: Historical Fiction
SETTING: Bahamas, 1715-1719
MY GRADE: C

FROM PUBLISHER: Loreley Jones, daughter of the governor of the British Colony of Antigua, is orphaned when a hurricane sinks the ship taking her and her family from London to the Caribbean. After washing up on the shores of the Pirate’s Republic of Nassau, she is sold into slavery and her virginity is auctioned off. The highest bidder is the notoriously sadistic Gideon Graves, captain of the pirate ship Jezebel, who holds Loreley against her will and repeatedly assaults her, until she is rescued by the Jezebel’s quartermaster, Sebastian MacIssac.

Sebastian promises Loreley freedom, but only if she disguises herself as a man and works off the cost of her passage aboard the Jezebel. She soon discovers, however, that the freedom she finds at sea is more attractive than the gilded cage of her former life, and even death can’t keep her from fulfilling her destiny.

MY THOUGHTS: The beginning of this story was reminiscent of a ‘bodice ripper’ but it only lasted for about the first third of the book, unfortunately. Loreley was almost sixteen (born 10/1699) when the story began and nineteen when it ended. I didn’t like or dislike her, which is a strange way to feel for a main character.

I like for there to be bad characters in fiction, even romance, so I liked Gideon and wish he could have lasted throughout the entire story. He’d have definitely made the story more interesting. We got zero background information on him. Once he was out of the picture the story changed drastically and became boring and slightly mundane. Loreley became a crew member and Sebastian’s lover. That about sums it up.

Twenty-seven year old Sebastian was very boring. He was uninteresting to me and I didn’t care a thing for him or about him. He was generally a nice guy but once he told Loreley that if she left, after saving up enough money, and went back to England no man would want her because she wasn’t a virgin. He was being selfish, saying anything to make her stay with him on the ship. That comment was out of character for him. No background info on him either.

I think the two main characters were pretty emotionless and the story left me feeling that way too. The synopsis made this sound much better than it actually was.

I received this from the author in exchange for an honest review.

 

FLAVORFUL: 150 Irresistible Desserts in All-Time Favorite Flavors by Tish Boyle

PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 9/2015
GENRE: Nonfiction/Cookbooks/Baking
AUTHOR SITE: link
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: B

FROM PUBLISHER: Pastry chefs have a secret weapon—an insiders’ list of customers’ most popular flavors. Vanilla, berry and cherry, apple, citrus, cheese, nuts, caramel, coffee, and chocolate: These are the surefire hits that appear on menus across the country time and again. Author Tish Boyle has translated this list of go-to ingredients into a stunning collection of more than 150 recipes for baked goods and other desserts, with a chapter dedicated to each singular flavor. Recipes range from easy cookies and brownies to gorgeous layer cakes to spoonable parfaits to playful takes on donuts, cream puffs, candies, and ice cream. Boyle is a favorite among pastry chefs and bakers in the know for her reliable and pitch-perfect recipes, which are given here in both volume and weight measurements. Combined with luscious photography and a timeless, classic design, this is a must-have for bakers and dessert-lovers of all stripes.


CATEGORIES: Vanilla, Berries and Cherries, Apple, Citrus, Sweet Cheese, Nuts, Caramel, Coffee, Chocolate
THINGS I’VE MADE

CHOCOLATE-CHOCOLATE CHUNK BROWNIE COOKIES

This recipe produced a soft dough that needed to be refrigerated several hours before baking. The dough is nice and sweet but a bit too bitter. I used bittersweet chocolate (60%) when the recipe called for dark chocolate (64%). I used 50% more salt and I doubled the amount of vanilla extract, as chocolate requires more vanilla than usual and this certainly needed more. I added mini semi-sweet chocolate chips to the batter instead of chopped dark chocolate, and I added 1c. lightly toasted finely chopped pecans. My chocolate was slightly sweeter than the recipe called for and though the dough is sweet, 6 oz. was too much melted chocolate. I would definitely make this again but I’d use 4 oz. of melted chocolate, not 6 oz. and I wouldn’t add any chocolate chips at all to the dough, as that only helped make it more bitter, and I’d add an extra 1/2 c. of nuts. I used a 1 1/4″ diameter/2 teaspoon cookie scoop and got 57 dough balls.

The cookie, depending on how long you bake it, is slightly crunchy on the outside and chewy and brownie-like on the inside. It spread out nicely but not as much as I thought it would. That’s why I used a smaller cookies scoop but I’d use a slightly larger one (1 1/2″/3 teaspoon) next time. This is a good looking, nicely textured cookie.

 
EXTRA-CRUMBLY MUFFINS

Very good and very moist. These are actually called Extra-Crumbly Blueberry Muffins are have lemon zest and cinnamon added to the batter and just cinnamon added to the crumb topping. I used frozen raspberries instead, no zest or cinnamon, as I don’t like blueberries and I’m particular about what I put cinnamon in. I used slightly more raspberries than called for and I cut them in half before adding to batter. I also added a little almond extract but couldn’t taste it. I made just half and got six. I baked them in a square muffin pan using square liners (Wilton brand) for 25 minutes.

I think the crumb topping shouldn’t have been equal parts sugar and flour but should have used half the amount of sugar. Glaze wasn’t part of the recipe but I made some, adding almond extract and vanilla, and drizzled/spread it on top of the muffins when they were only a little warm. I think almond goes great with raspberries but not cinnamon. The muffins need a pinch more salt but other than that, they’re perfect and I’d definitely make them again but without the crumb topping. I don’t really care for crumb toppings on cakes and muffins. I think they should be for crisps only. I almost always make a powdered sugar glaze for muffins. You could make the full recipe in a 9″ square pan.


SWEET CHERRY AND PEACH CRISP
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I wasn’t sure how well cherries and peaches would go together since I’d never mixed the two before. I’d only used sweet cherries (canned) once before many years ago and the cake went into the trash. A sweet cherry by itself is not good so I didn’t know what to expect from this recipe. I always use almond extract with cherries and sometimes with peaches so I did so with this recipe. This is one good tasting crisp.

I was supposed to use fresh peaches and cherries but I used two one-pound bags of sliced unsweetened peaches and one 12oz. bag of frozen cherries. I used an 11″ x 7″ 2 qt. baking dish and the filling filled it perfectly. The crumb topping is very good but a little too sweet. It has ground almonds in it. I didn’t add more sliced almonds to the topping. I also used white sugar in the filling in place of brown sugar. This recipe is a definite keeper but I think I’d use one drained can of tart pitted cherries in place of the sweet ones.

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LINZER COOKIES WITH SOUR CHERRY FILLING

These are actually called Pistachio Linzer Hearts with Sour Cherry Filling. I used lightly toasted ground almonds in place of pistachios and used a round fluted 2″ cookie cutter in place of a heart shaped one. They’re good, you can use any preserves/jam/frosting in place of sour cherry fruit spread, but the cookies softened up very soon after assembling them, making them delicate, even when stored in an airtight container. Because of that I wouldn’t use this recipe again.

I divided the dough into thirds, not just two pieces like the recipe stated, because I didn’t want the dough, once rolled between two sheets of wax paper, to extend past the sides of the paper so I needed to use less dough to ensure that didn’t happen. After cutting the cookies out I got another long strip of dough from all the scraps from the three parts, for a total of four. I got 79 cookies, which made 39 sandwich cookies, three less than recipe stated. I layered the cutout dough between the eight strips of wax paper that was used to roll out the dough and stored it in a large plastic container in the refrigerator until I was ready to bake some, then stored the remaining dough in a smaller container in the freezer.

This same recipe is in her previously published book that I just bought, The Good Cookie, under the title Linzer Hearts, page 276.

I used a Wilton® linzer cookie cutter set that I bought 11/2014 at Walmart for just under $5. I used Smucker’s® fruit spread.


APPLE CRISP WITH PECAN-OAT TOPPING

I love me some cooked apples with cinnamon. After I mixed up the topping it was too wet so I added more flour then it was very firm. I added a bit of water to it to soften it up because I didn’t know what else to do and didn’t want to add anymore butter to it since it hadn’t turned out as it was. That worked OK. The topping doesn’t look like it should but it tastes good. But I wouldn’t make it again.

I didn’t follow the instructions for the filling because I’m very familiar with baking with raw apples and they take quite awhile to cook. I covered my dish with foil and baked the apples without the topping for 40 minutes, removed it from the oven, stirred the apples, put the topping on and baked them at a lower temperature for an additional 25 minutes. I basically followed my own recipe for the filling but followed the recipe for the topping and it’s not one I’d make again. This was the first time a crumb topping didn’t turn out.


CORNMEAL SCONES

These are actually called Blueberry Cornmeal Scones. I used dried cherries instead of blueberries and made just half. Though I measured out the flour and cornmeal by weight my dough was too wet so I had to add extra flour, then they seemed perfect. I patted it out into about a 7″ circle, then cut into four pieces. They browned beautifully without using egg wash on top. I made glaze for the tops. They taste pretty good with dried cherries and a bit of almond extract in the dough. There’s no egg in these.

MY THOUGHTS: I really enjoyed baking from this book. I’m happy there were some recipes using cherries. There are a few things I wanted to make but didn’t get around to it, like two different lemon cakes and orange cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, ect.

The book is beautiful, I love the deep burgundy spine, but like a lot of cookbooks, this one needs more photos of the baked goods. There aren’t many. Many of the recipes seem a little too fancy for me and two of the categories I wasn’t interested in at all, sweet cheese and the other, coffee. The majority of recipes I’m not interested in.

 

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

HE KILLED THEM ALL: ROBERT DURST AND MY QUEST FOR JUSTICE by Jeanine Pirro

durstPUBLISHER: Gallery Books, 9/2015
GENRE: True Crime
AUTHOR SITE: link
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: C

FROM PUBLISHER: Former prosecutor Jeanine Pirro—the “true hero” (New York Post) of the hit HBO documentary series The Jinx—offers the transfixing true story of her tireless fifteen-year investigation into accused murderer Robert Durst for the disappearance of his wife Kathleen Durst.Former district attorney Jeanine Pirro was cast as the bad guy fifteen years ago when she reopened the cold case of Kathleen Durst, a young and beautiful fourth-year medical student who disappeared without a trace in 1982, never to be seen again. Kathie Durst’s husband was millionaire real estate heir Robert Durst, son of one of the wealthiest families in New York City—but though her friends and family suspected him of the worst, he escaped police investigation.

Pirro, now the host of Justice with Judge Jeanine on Fox News, always believed in Durst’s guilt, and in this shocking book, she makes her case beyond a shadow of a doubt, revealing stunning, previously unknown secrets about the crimes he is accused of committing. For years, Pirro has crusaded for justice for the victims, and her impassioned perspective in the captivating HBO documentary series The Jinx made her one of its breakout stars. Featuring Pirro’s unique insider’s perspective on the crimes, as well as her exclusive interviews with many of the major players featured in the The Jinx, this comprehensive book is the definitive story of Robert Durst and his gruesome crimes—the one you didn’t see on television.

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MY THOUGHTS: Unfortunately this book is mostly about Jeanine. I couldn’t even estimate the amount of times she mentioned by name her designer clothes, shoes, and handbags. I didn’t learn anything about Robert at all. Nothing about his family either. I was really wanting to know more about his father but the man was hardly mentioned. Same goes for his mother, Bernice. She didn’t say much about Susan Berman’s background or current wife-in-name-only, Debrah Charatan. Debrah seems interesting enough to me to write at least a few chapters on but Jeanine couldn’t be bothered to. She didn’t tell us anything that wasn’t in The Jinx already. She goes on ad nauseam about how poorly she’s been treated in the press since getting involved with this case in 2000 and is constantly defending herself.

If someone didn’t know who Robert was and decided to read this they’d be confused, I’m positive. The flow is terrible. I like for true crime books to start at the beginning with the criminal’s background and work their way up to modern day but this book is all over the place. I’m stunned and disappointed in this book, to be honest with you. It’s a shame Jeanine had such great subject matter but didn’t know what to do with it!

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

GRANDBABY CAKES: Modern Recipes, Vintage Charm, Soulful Memories by Jocelyn Delk Adams

grandbabyPUBLISHER: Agate Surrey, 9/2015
GENRE: Cookbook/Baking
PURCHASE: link
AUTHOR SITE: link
MY GRADE: C

FROM PUBLISHER: Grandbaby Cakes: Modern Recipes, Vintage Charm, Soulful Memories is the debut cookbook from sensational food writer, Jocelyn Delk Adams. Since founding her popular recipe blog Grandbaby Cakes in 2012, Adams has been putting fresh twists on old favorites. Adams has earned praise from critics and the adoration of bakers both young and old for her easygoing advice, rich photography, and the heartwarming memories she shares of her family’s generations-old love of baking.

Readers will love this cookbook for its eclectic and bold recipes steeped in equal parts warm Southern charm and fresh Midwestern flavors. Not only will home bakers be able to make staples like yellow cake and icebox cake exactly how their grandmothers did, but they’ll also be preparing impressive innovations, like the Pineapple Upside-Down Hummingbird Pound Cake and the Fig-Brown Sugar Cake. Grandbaby Cakes is a collection for both new-aged and traditional bakers, but mostly it’s for anyone who wants a fresh, modern take on classic recipes as well as cakes full of heart and soul.

CATEGORIES: Pound Cakes, Layer Cakes, Sheet Cakes, Baby Cakes, Celebration Cakes, Seasons and Holidays

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THINGS I’VE MADE

SOUTHERN COCOA-COLA CAKE

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This chocolate cake is made with a small amount of cocoa powder and has cola and melted marshmallows in both the batter and frosting. The cake needs a little more cocoa, salt, and wasn’t quite as moist as I’d hoped it would be but was good. I like the frosting better than the cake.

 

ARNOLD PALMER CAKE (Lemon)

This cake is very very moist and dense. It has sour cream, butter, and a bit of vegetable oil in it. I didn’t make the frosting that went with it. I made half in a 9″ X 5″ loaf pan and added poppy seeds just for looks. I used less lemon zest than it called for but it was enough. My cake sunk in the middle but that may have been my fault. I’m impressed with this cake and will add the recipe to my permanent collection.

 

LIGHTER LEMON CAKE

This cake is make with a lot of Greek yogurt, oil, and lots of lemon juice. It tastes very good, is moist, and I can actually taste the lemon juice in it. It needs a bit more salt. It’s a bit spongy and I’m not happy with that. I made half the recipe. It was a lot of batter, too much for a 9″ x 1 1/2″ round pan, so I used one that was 9 1/2″ x  2″ round. It filled it completely. If you make half, just know that about the batter.

I added poppy seeds because I like how they look. I also used a bit of clementine zest and juice to make up for not having quite enough lemon juice but I can’t taste it, which is disappointing. I made my own glaze for it (melted butter, vanilla extract, water, powdered sugar) and didn’t use the recipe in the book. I wouldn’t make this cake again because of it’s texture.

 

STRAWBERRY COCONUT CAKE

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This was very good but not quite sweet enough. It uses puréed strawberries and sour cream. I didn’t use strawberry extract like the recipe stated and this cake needed a bit of it. I could taste strawberry without it. Just not quite enough. I made half the recipe in a 9″ square pan and baked it for 26 minutes. FYI- 1 c. of strawberries turned into 1/2 c. puréed. The cake was supposed to have cream cheese frosting with coconut sprinkled on it but I made my own vanilla frosting, as I don’t like cream cheese. I added 3/4 c. ground toasted coconut to the batter. This is a cake I’d make again and I’d add 2 1/4 t. poppy seeds to the cake batter.

 

MY THOUGHTS: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in this book. There’s a pretty good variety of cakes but there’s not much more I’d make of out it but two or three more. Only two of the four I made were decent tasting and I’m not really comfortable making anything more from this. The layer cakes look like a whole lot of work, too elaborate, like the one on the cover.
It’s physically a beautiful book but it’s not for me, I guess.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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