You Are What You Eat…and Read, 2.0! Ate by Ate’s Favourite Foodie Murder Mysteries & Other Novels

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The Donut Shop Mysteries by Jessica Beck!

This past week I made a startling discovery: I am THISCLOSE to running out of precious real estate on my bookshelf.  Translation?  I’m going to have to figure out, in Sheldon Cooper’s words, “a new organizational paradigm” or stop buying books.

Yeah, that’s not an option.  New organizational paradigm it is.

I know this won’t be easy but there’s just no other way around this snafu.  I love books too much to stop buying them.  I just bought 5 Nancy Drews yesterday from a used book sale to add to my collection for goodness sake.  And I know off the top of my head there will be 3 new books coming out this year for a few of my favourite series.  Not to mention there are plenty of books that I haven’t gotten around to buying yet (and series that I haven’t even gotten around to reading/starting/collecting yet, like the Coffeehouse Mysteries by Cleo Coyle or the Orchard Mysteries by Sheila Connolly) because I believe in pacing myself.  So before anyone says, “oh, well, that’s easy, just get a kindle/kobo/e-reader/whatever other tablet device that’s available out there and you won’t run out of space” I should warn you that if you dare to utter anything even remotely close to that sentence I will chase you down with a wooden spoon.  I don’t do e-readers.  End of story.

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So, how did this mini bout of panic over bookshelf space come about in the first place?  After posting the recipe for the Twin Chocolate Delights cookies from Joanne Fluke’s Blueberry Muffin Murder last Friday and tweeting about the first book of the series being made into a tv movie (I was so excited that I squealed after finding out about this), I received a very enthusiastic response from friends who were really intrigued by the foodie murder mystery genre.  Being the aficionado that I am, I started yammering about how much I loved the series and mentioned how I read and followed a number of other foodie murder mystery series.  Well, that just opened up a can of worms: “There are other series?!” and “Wait, this [genre] is a thing?!”  I haven’t posted about my love for the foodie murder mystery genre in a long time so it’s understandable folks may not have seen those posts.  So I took inventory of my growing collection and took brand new photos to show you all.  And that is when I realized I really needed to reevaluate things!  I am queen of organization and squish though so I have no doubt I’ll come up with a solution to remedy the situation.

Here is my book collection in all its glory and may new ones find a comfy space on my bookshelf in my soon-to-be new “organizational paradigm”.

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I love the Donut Shop Mysteries by Jessica Beck but unfortunately, my collection has to stop at 9 because if I’m not mistaken, the series went exclusively digital from the 10th book onward and are now only published as e-books.  This makes me sad, sigh.  Anyway, below you will see:

  • the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries by Jenn McKinlay
  • the Cookie Cutter Shop Mysteries by Virginia Lowell
  • the Ice Cream Shop/Mystery a La Mode Mysteries by Wendy Lyn Watson
  • the Magical Bakery Mysteries by Bailey Cates
  • the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries by Victoria Hamilton
  • the Fresh Baked Mysteries by Livia J. Washburn
  • the Pizza Shop/Lovers Mysteries by Chris Cavender
  • the Lucy Stone Mysteries by Leslie Meier (the series isn’t a foodie one but there are a number that are food-themed, like this one!)
  • and while the Icing on the Cupcake and the Christmas Cookie Club aren’t mysteries, they are food-themed and they are wonderful novels that I adore to itty bitty pieces and I highly recommend both if you love food as much as I do.
  • And finally, my beloved Hannah Swensen Mysteries collection by Joanne Fluke!  This is, hands down, my favourite foodie murder mystery series and one of my all-time favourite book series in general which is saying a lot because I am a die-hard Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley, and Nancy Drew fan!  I love these books like crazy and I get so excited every time a new one is released.  I am waiting with baited breath for the latest one, Blackberry Pie Murder, to be released in paperback at the end of the month and for the newest one in the series, Double Fudge Brownie Murder, to come out next month in February!

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Good Eats, Good Reads – A British Cookbook, and Ice Cream & Donut Shop Mysteries!

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If you’re anything like me, you have a bookshelf (or even multiple bookshelves!) full to bursting with books of all kinds: novels, comic books, coffee table books, and one of my loves, cookbooks!  It’s been a long time since I posted anything related to food books and reading material so I wanted to share with you all some of the things I’ve been head over heels in love with as of late.  I am a cookbook addict.  I’m one of those people that loves them for the photography and art direction even more than the actual recipes inside.  There are so many different styles of cookbooks though and while not all of them are practical, straight-forward, or even remotely useful to the average homecook, I think there is value and beauty in all of them no matter what the focus may be.  Everyone has their own priorities when they go about hunting for great cookbooks and it’s all about what you gain the most insight from. 

For me, cookie cookbooks are, hands down, the most practical and useful for me.  I know I’ll use the recipes, I know I’ll go back to them time and time again for inspiration, for actual baking, and for resourceful things like measurement conversions.  Then there are the coffee table type of cookbooks.  The type that most likely have some great recipes in them, but are so pristine and beautiful you can’t bare to crack the spine much less use them in the kitchen.  And then there are the ones like the one I’m posting about here.

I was in conniptions when I saw the magazine advertisement for Cook Britain by Canadian Living ($15.99, Transcontinental Media).  Sure, I’m absolutely amoured by Prince William and the darling Kate Middleton (I love her to pieces), but my motivation for getting this book had far more to do with my desire to learn more about British food than just a trivial fascination with the British royalty.  There’s no doubt that I love food.  But I am far from a global eater.  I’m a girl who’s just soaking it all in, learning day by day and when I saw the ad for the book, I knew there was no better time to get my feet wet in learning about British cuisine. 

I will be the first to admit that I know nothing about British food but that I’m SO excited about this book and what I’ll learn from it.  I certainly won’t turn into an expert after reading it, but it’ll give me insight and a very basic knowledge to springboard from because I can’t talk about British food on the blog until I start learning about it and I think this will be a great start.  This book is wonderful because it’s a mix of everything: recipes, beautiful photos of food, and plenty of food history and information about regional British, Scottish, and Irish food including steak and kidney pudding, Irish champ, and Scottish shortbread.  Along with the incredible amount of fun I had during my last visit to Sorauren Park farmers’ market back in June tasting, photographing, and learning about some British and Irish eats, this is, in my opinion, the best way to dip my toes in the water.

Annnd cookbooks can also be disguised as beautiful, adorable, colourful and amazing murder mystery novels!  If you’ll recall, I am all hugs and squishes over the Hannah Swensen mysteries by Joanne Fluke and I’ve continued building my collection and reading my way through the series (newest book in the series that I don’t have and need to read?  Cinnamon Roll Murder!), but my oh my has this particular genre ever exploded!  There are SO MANY foodie murder mystery series out on the market and I am ecstatic about it!  The two series that I’ve been spending a little more time on are Wendy Lyn Watson’s ice cream shop mysteries (A Mystery a la Mode) and Jessica Beck’s Donut Shop Mysteries.  I’m missing one book from each series (the first one in the ice cream shop, I Scream, You Scream, and I believe the 4th one in the Donut Shop Mysteries, Evil Eclairs) and the latest two, Killer Crullers and Drop Dead Chocolate I just purchased last weekend!  These books are so much fun (and yes, they do have recipes in them) and I could spend eternity reading these from cover to cover.

In addition to these two series, I’m eyeing a whole truckload of others including Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries, Sheila Connolly’s Orchard Mysteries (apples!), Livia Washburn’s Fresh-Baked Mysteries (Ooo, killer crab cakes and pumpkin muffin murders!), Chris Cavender’s Pizza Lovers Mysteries (mmm, pepperoni), AND – get this – a CUPCAKE BAKERY MYSTERY SERIES!  I just discovered this series over the weekend and like any avid bookworm foodie, I snatched up the first one in the series: Sprinkle with Murder.  The series is written by Jenn McKinlay and there are, I believe, 3 books so far.

There’s nothing like a fresh new food magazine, novel, and cookbook to cuddle up with, so if you get the chance, definitely take a look-see at some of these fab reads and feel free to share your favourites too!

The Perfect Milk-and-Cookie Cookie! Rich, Chewy, Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies With Sprinkles!

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The Cookie Monster (aka. ME!) just can’t get enough of cookies and cookie baking.  All I want to do is bake cookies all the live long day.  I feel all sorts of happy envisioning myself in a cheery kitchen whipping up cookie dough with music on in the background and the fresh aroma of cookies coming from the oven.  I rifle through my Joanne Fluke foodie murder mysteries checking off all the ones I want to eventually try (this one comes from Plum Pudding Murder!), I just bought a brand new, super thick cookie cookbook the other day, and I’m “crazy” enough to bake through an oncoming thunderstorm.  I put “crazy” in quotations because only my mother thought I was off my rocker mixing up dough with thunder clapping in the distance.  I, for one, did not.  She took a gasket, told me I was out of my mind, and asked me what I was going to do when the power went out.  I scoffed and continued washing dishes and mixing all by my lonesome because my intuitive sense told me the rain was going to be nothing.  And I am proud to say that the power wasn’t even close to going out (the rain lasted all of 2 minutes) and I ended up with two batches of fresh chocolate oatmeal cookies.

These chocolate oatmeal cookies turned out great!  I was so happy with how these turned out.  I couldn’t believe how great the crackling on the cookies turned out (I had no idea there was supposed to be crackling in the first place so it was a pleasant surprise) and the oatmeal was so apparent on and inside the cookies.  Anyone looking at these cookies would have no doubt in their mind that they’re chocolate oatmeal ones.  The exterior has a lovely crunch to it and the insides are moist, chewy, and chocolatey rich! 

If you’re looking for a great milk-and-cookie type of cookie, this cookie is your ticket.  Milk complements the richness of the chocolate really well and sprinkles taste great with these too!  The recipe is basic enough that you can integrate your own add-on decorations in the cookie dough as you’re rolling them into balls.  I didn’t think of this until after I baked them though, so I simply stuck my thumb in the middle of the cookies to create a little crater for the sprinkles soon after the came out of the oven.

Recipe for Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies (yields 3 dozen chewy, chocolatey cookies)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup softened butter (1 stick, 4 oz., 1/4 pound)
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 2 one-oz. squares unsweetened chocolate (*Deb’s note: I didn’t have any squares of chocolate so I used unsweetened chocolate chips instead.  I used around 1/3 cup of chocolate chips)
  • 1 beaten egg (just whip it up with a fork)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 3/4 cup of flour (pack it down in the cup when you measure it)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups dry oatmeal (quick cooking oats or old-fashioned will do)

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 325°F, rack in the middle position.
  • In a large bowl, mix the softened butter and the sugar until it’s fluffy.
  • Unwrap the squares of unsweetened chocolate and melt them in the microwave (*Deb’s note: I used unsweetened chocolate chips, but I still melted them the same way.  I blast them for 20 seconds at a time, stirring between each blast until it’s smooth and all the chocolate is completely melted).  Add the melted chocolate to the butter and sugar mixture and mix well.
  • Feel the bowl.  If the bowl is cool enough, add the beaten egg, mixing until thoroughly incorporated.
  • Mix in the baking powder and the salt.  Then add the flour, mixing it in thoroughly.  Add the oatmeal and stir until the mixture is completely blended (*Deb’s note: it’s important not to use the electric mixer when you incorporate the oatmeal because the mixture gets thick and stiff and will gummy up the mixing blades/beaters!).
  • Drop my teaspoonfuls onto greased cookies, 12 to a standard-sized cookie sheet (*Deb’s note: I used parchment paper and instead of using the drop method, I rolled the dough into balls with my hands.  It can get a bit messy with the chocolate, but it’s fun nevertheless.  I also fit 15 on each of my cookie sheets).
  • Bake at 325°F for 13 to 15 minutes or until slightly brown (*Deb’s note: my oven runs hot so I only baked mine for 11 minutes, and I left them in the oven for another minute after switching the oven off).  Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes and then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely.

*****

Recipe taken from Joanne Fluke’s Plum Pudding Murder.  New York: Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2009.  Photographs taken by me.  The recipe can be found on page 213.

Baking is No Monkey Business – Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies!

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Happy Monday everyone!  It’s the start of another busy week, so I’m kicking it off with some good old fashioned chocolate chip cookies.  But they’re not just any ordinary chocolate chip cookies.  Oh no, they’re BANANA chocolate chip cookies!  I don’t know about everybody else, but there are always bananas in our kitchen.  For those of you who know me well or who’ve been following the blog, you know that I have pretty bad allergies to a number of different fruits.  I’m allergic to the raw fruit flesh of apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, honeydew melon, and pineapples.  And those are the allergies that I’m currently aware of – there could be others lurking around! 

Thus, bananas are a staple in our household because it’s one of the few fruits that 1) I can eat without swelling up like a blowfish, 2) are pretty much available in good condition all year-round, and 3) won’t make baked goods and foods like pancakes soggy.  Bananas are one of my favourite thickening agents, not to mention it soothes an achy stomach.  So in the words of Ralph Wiggum, “Go banana!” 😀

I baked two sets of cookies over the weekend for my grandpa’s birthday (chosen from my foodie murder mysteries by Joanne Fluke) and these were definitely the winner between the two kinds I made.  I chose the Pineapple Delights recipe from Key Lime Pie Murder and Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies from Plum Pudding Murder.  These are SO INCREDIBLY SOFT.  Like melt-in-your-mouth soft.  Handle with care soft.  You get the idea.  I’m pretty sure the softness of the cookies is due to the combination of butter and icing sugar.  The resulting batter is practically like whipped cream, so airy and fluffy.  These cookies are thin, delicate, flavourful cookies and I love them.

I had to tweak the oven temperature after the first batch came out though because the edges were too charred for my liking (I’m picky, what can I say?) and they were teetering on the edge of burned.  Had I not taken the first batch out when I did, they definitely would have been crispy to say the least!  So what you see in the photos is the second batch, which I adjusted by 50 degress fahrenheit.  Perfect cookies!

Recipe for Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies (yields 3 dozen large or 5 dozen small cookies)

Ingredients

  • 2  sticks (1 cup, ⅟₂a pound) softened butter
  • 1 and ⅟₂cups powdered (confectioners) sugar (only sift it if there are lumps)
  • 1 medium banana
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅟₄teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups flour (pack it down when you measure it)
  • 6 oz. package (or 1 cup) semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
  • ⅟₂teaspoon lemon extract

Directions:

  • Beat the softened butter and the powdered sugar together until they look light and creamy.  Add the half teaspoon of lemon extract and mix it in.
  • Peel the banana and break it into chunks.  Mix them in until they’re thoroughly mashed and the powdered sugar and butter mixture is smooth again.
  • Sprinkle in the baking powder and salt, and mix them in thoroughly.
  • Add the flour in half-cup increments, mixing after each addition.  When the cookie dough is thoroughly mixed, mix in the chocolate chips by hand until they are evenly distributed throughout the dough.
  • Line with your cookie/baking sheets with foil (**Deb’s note: I used parchment paper and it worked fine).  Use a teaspoon to drop cookie dough 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets, no more than 12 cookies to a sheet.  (**Deb’s note: you can always use a larger spoon to make larger cookies, or scoop as little or as much dough as you want to get the desired size.  The cookie dough does spread, so just keep that in mind when dropping the dough on the cookie sheets).
  • Bake the cookies at 400 degrees F. for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.  (**Deb’s note: 400 degrees was way too hot for mine so I decreased the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. and the cookies turned out perfect.  I also just baked them for 8 minutes).
  • Remove them from the oven and let the cookies sit on the cookie sheets for 2 minutes.  Remove the foil (or parchment paper) and cookies from the sheets, foil/paper and all, to a wire rack to cool completely.

*****

Recipe taken from Joanne Fluke’s Plum Pudding Murder.  New York: Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2009.  Photographs taken by me.  The recipe can be found on page 178.

White Chocolate Heaven – Oatmeal White Chocolate Chip Viking Cookies Hot Out of the Oven

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One of my weaknesses is white chocolate.  I remember how ecstatic I was as a kid when I went over to a family friend’s house and saw white chocolate chunks in a candy bowl in their living room and how squealy I was when my friend gave me homemade white chocolate almond bark for Christmas this past holiday.  I’ve had many a birthday cake with white chocolate shavings on top, and I’ve never turned down a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie or a Hershey’s cookies ‘n’ creme bar.  It’s any wonder why I haven’t gobbled up the white chocolate cupcake at Short & Sweet Cupcakes yet given my love for the decadent stuff.  Anyway, I picked up some white chocolate chips awhile ago with the intention of creating and testing out my own original cupcake recipe but because I hadn’t finished tweaking measurements for it, I opted to use them to bake cookies for the time being instead!

This time around I chose a cookie recipe from Joanne Fluke’s Carrot Cake Murder, which was actually the first book from the murder mystery series I purchased nearly two years ago.  The recipe worked out perfectly with what I had on hand.  I already had white chocolate chips in my baking bag and I had oatmeal oats left over from the cranberry oatmeal crunch cookies I baked last month.  I LOVE these cookies so much!  These cookies have such a warm, creamy sweet flavour to them and I’m so happy they turned out well as I halved the recipe.  I adore the crackling on top and really, I would recommend this recipe to anyone who needs a simple, uncomplicated cookie recipe that is still decadent with that “wow” factor.  I ate 3 yesterday and another 2 today 😀  Why the cookies are called Viking cookies I’m not entirely sure though.  Your guess is as good as mine!

Recipe for Viking Cookies (Oatmeal White Chocolate Chip, yields 10 dozen cookies)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups butter (4 sticks, melted)
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom (nutmeg will also work)
  • 4 ⅟₂cups flour (**Deb’s note: I used regular all-purpose white flour)
  • 3 cups white chocolate chips (make sure you use real white chocolate chips with cocoa listed as an ingredient, not vanilla chips.  If you can’t find chips, you can chop a block of white chocolate into chip-sized pieces)
  • 3 cups rolled oats (uncooked oatmeal)

Directions:

  • Melt the butter in a large microwave-safe bowl, or on the stove in a small saucepan.  (**Deb’s note: I microwaved my 2 sticks of butter in a bowl for 1 minute on high).  
  • When the butter is cool, mix in the white sugar and the brown sugar.
  • Add the baking powder, baking soda, salt, eggs, vanilla, and spices.  Make sure it’s all mixed in thoroughly.
  • Add the flour in half-cup increments, mixing after each addition.  Then add the white chocolate chips (or pieces of white chocolate if you chopped up a block) and stir thoroughly.
  • Add the oatmeal and mix.  The dough will be quite stiff.
  • Take the cookie dough in your hands and roll the dough into 1-inch balls (or however big or small you’d like depending on how big you want your cookies) and place them on a greased cookie sheet or on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Flatten the cookies with the back of a spatula or with the palm of your hand.  You don’t need to smush them all the way down so they look like pancakes, just one squish will do.
  • Bake at 350°F for 11 to 13 minutes or until they’re an attractive golden brown (**Deb’s note: mine took 11 minutes).
  • Cool the cookies for 1 to 2 minutes on the cookie sheets and then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely.

*****

Recipe taken from Joanne Fluke’s Carrot Cake Murder.  New York: Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2008.  Photographs taken by me.  The recipe can be found on page 10.

Mocha (Coco)Nut Butterball Cookies – A Foodie Murder Mystery Baking Mission

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I’m so excited to be sharing my first batch of fresh baked co0kies on the blog!!  I haven’t baked cookies since I was little and that was under the supervision and guidance of my aunt, so this is a big deal for me.  Reading through all the amazing recipes from my favourite Joanne Fluke foodie murder mystery novels got me all fired up and this recipe is from my most recent read, Apple Turnover Murder.  The cookies were incredibly easy to make, they didn’t take long to bake in the oven, and they taste freakin’ fantastic!  This is a no-egg recipe, so if you or anyone else you know has an aversion to eggs, bookmark this!  The cookies are a cross between Timbit donuts and regular cookies shape-wise, and they’re crunchy with bold flavour.  They have this delicious roasted coffee and flavour (hence the mocha) and hints of fudgy chocolate, and because I used shredded coconut for mine (the recipe originally calls for nuts, but you can substitute for shredded or flaked coconut), the texture is amazing.

Recipe for Mocha (Coco)Nut Butterballs (yields 3-4 dozen cookies, depending on size)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup softened butter (2 sticks, 1/2 pound)
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder***
  • 1/4 cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (no need to sift)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans, or any other nuts (I substituted this with shredded coconut)

***if the only instant coffee you have on hand comes in granules or beads, just crush them into a powder with the back of a spoon before adding it to the cookie dough

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 325°F, rack in middle position.
  • Soften the butter.  Mix in the white sugar, vanilla extract, instant coffee powder, cocoa powder, and salt (Deb’s note: if you’re using an electric hand mixer, make sure you fully break down and incorporate the sugar so that you’re not left with any sugary “grittiness” hanging out in your mixing bowl.  You’ll hear it and know it while you mix because it will sound “scratchy” if it’s not fully incorporated).
  • Add the flour in half-cup increments, mixing after each addition (you don’t have to be exact, just make sure to add the flour in 3 parts).
  • Stir in the nuts or coconut and make sure everything is evenly distributed.
  • Form the dough into 1-inch balls (squeeze and roll them tight so they won’t crumble) and place them on an ungreased baking sheet (Deb’s note: I used 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper laid on top, with 15 cookie dough balls on each).  Press them down very slightly so they won’t roll off on their way to the oven.

  • Bake the cookie balls at 325°F for 12-15 minutes, until they are set (Deb’s note: I was able to fit both of my cookie sheets in the oven, with the rack in the middle position, by placing them in “vertically” side by side.  Mine took 13 and a half minutes).
  • Move the cookies from the cookie sheets to a wire rack.  Let them cool completely.
  • When the cookies are completely cool, dip them in powdered sugar to coat them (Deb’s note: I just left my cookies naked).

The cookie balls don’t deviant much in shape, so don’t freak out if you don’t see them flattening while they bake; they’re supposed to retain that round, ball shape for the most part.  I taste-tested (okay, more like gorged) on these cookies at multiple stages of “cooling”.  I had one when they were still warm, I had one when they were completely cool, and I had one the next morning.  The cookies taste AMAZING with age.  Although they were great when they were still warm, they were even more awesome the morning after.  The chocolate, coffee, and coconut flavours and textures are so much more pronounced the next day.  Cookie baking mission accomplished! 😀

*****

Recipe taken from Joanne Fluke’s Apple Turnover Murder. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 2010.  Photographs taken by me.  The recipe can be found on page 69.