Saturday, March 26, 2011

Heartwarming Sweets and a Giveaway

One of the benefits of writing a food blog is that occasionally you are offered the opportunity to review cookbooks or try out new products and give your opinion. I don't accept every offer I receive but now and then I find one to be a good fit. I imagine they do the same thing before offering...take a look at the blog and see if they go well together.

Recently I received an e-mail from a publicist at Thomas Nelson, long time publisher of a variety of books. After checking out a few of the titles online I became enthused about trying out some recipes in their books.

The first book I've tried is Bless Your Heart, Saving the World Once Covered Dish at a Time with Recipes by Patsy Caldwell and Stories by Amy Lyles Wilson. It organizes recipes around gatherings like church suppers, tail gate parties, and bookclubs.

There is a pure Southern sensibility, particularly in the stories at the beginning of each chapter. These recipes are often created to be given as gifts of the heart so, although there are some recipes that are super healthy, many are comfort foods where no one is counting calories.

I belong to a women's scholarship group and we have luncheons twice a month. Many of the casseroles like Scalloped Potatoes with Country Ham and salads like Norma's Pretzel Salad with strawberry gelatin look very familiar even though we are far from the South. Quite a few recipes in Bless Your Heart are American classics like deviled eggs and peanut butter cookies and others are classics with a twist. There are lots of great photos of the recipe results, too (although all these photos are mine).

The first one I tried is a tea or quick bread familiar in that it is leavened with baking powder and baking soda and perked up with spices and nuts. The twist is that you grate pears to add to the batter and they add flavor, moisture and a subtle perfume. I used two firm but ripe red pears and followed the recipe with only two changes: I used half granulated sugar and half brown sugar instead of all white sugar and I used 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup water instead of 3/4 cup oil. I'm a fan of brown sugar and have found in the past that I prefer a bread with less oil, particularly if there is fruit in it to keep it moist.

This sweet bread was really lovely. I like the moist but firm crumb, the understated spiciness and that it isn't too sweet. Sweetie isn't a big fan of pears but he really liked this bread. Some tea breads need embellishments like a glaze or powdered sugar but this one is perfect as is.

I made it on Tuesday and it was still delicious today at tea time so it seems like a good keeper, too. It's nice because it gets stirred up with a spoon in one bowl so the cleanup is quick, too. The next time I make it I'm going to double the recipe so that I can bake three large loaves because I bet it will freeze well, too. It's always nice to have something like Bebe's Pear Bread in the oven to serve to unexpected guest.

The next recipe I tried was old-fashioned peanut butter cookies. These couldn't be simpler and are always a hit with peanut lovers. The only change I made was to include 1/2 cup chopped peanuts since I like crunchy peanut butter and think that some crunch is great in cookies, too. For about half the batter I also added some dark chocolate chips. Peanut butter and chocolate are also a classic combo, so why not? I'm sure they are delightful without either mix-in, too.

A note on quantities: Since I didn't follow the recipes exactly that probably explains the differences, but I found that the Pear Bread only made one large and one tiny loaves, not two large ones. I also found that the Peanut Butter Cookies made closer to 4 dozen than 2 dozen. Since I was eyeballing the amount of dough instead of using a measure and because I added a full cup of additional mix-ins it's not too surprising...and extra cookies are a good thing, right?

In the spirit of full disclosure, I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I'm disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16CFR Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Now for the giveaway...Katherine R. at Thomas Nelson Publishers has generously offered to send copies of the book to up to three readers. All you have to do is comment on this post. I'll post the winners on March 29 from comments received up to noon PDST that day, after which time the winner will need to e-mail me their mailing address so that I can pass it on to the publisher. Winners outside of the U.S. can expect delivery to take up to six weeks.

You'll be glad you have this book the next time you need to bring a dish like Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pie or Cabbage Slaw with Red and Green Apples to a family reunion or pot luck. You will also find recipes for dishes your family will enjoy for weekday meals and special occasions like Fresh from the Garden Tomato Pie or Beef Tenderloin with Blue Cheese Topping.

You can order a copy for yourself at Amazon HERE or at your local bookstore, too. Here is the information on the book: Bless Your Heart, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nov. 2010, ISBN 978-1-4016-0052-5. (BTW - no kickback from Amazon, either, nor from local bookstores.)

BeBe's Pear Bread
Makes two medium loaves - Perfect for a bake sale or for tea

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar (I used 1 cup each granulated and brown sugar)
1 cup chopped pecans
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup canola oil (I used 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup water)
2 cups grated pears (2 large pears)
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pans. Set aside. In a large bowl add the flour, sugars, pecans, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, baking soda and salt. Stir to combine. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the oil, water, pears, eggs and vanilla. Stir until just moistened. Pour into the prepared loaf pans. Bake for 50 - 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes 2 loaves or 24 servings.

Note: If you are making this recipe for yourself, it is wonderful served with cream cheese.

Peanut butter cookies are a childhood favorite, great in a bagged lunch or for an after school treat. This recipe is just right...tender, buttery, robustly peanutty and perfect with a glass of cold milk.

Classic Peanut Butter Cookies
makes at least 2 dozen medium cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped peanuts (optional)
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a large cookie sheet and set aside.

In a large bowl cream teh butter, sugar, brown sugar, and peanut butter until smooth. Add the egg and mix well. In a small bowl combine the flour, baking soda, and salt together and add to the creamed mixture. Add the vanilla and mix well. If you are using chopped peanuts add them and mix well. You can add the chocolate chips instead of or in addition to the peanuts and can add them now or mix in later as I did.

Scoop the cookie dough 1 tablespoon at a time and roll into a ball. Place each cookie on the prepared cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Flatten with a fork or the bottom of a glass. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool.

Now where's that glass of milk?


  1. Gosh I'm craving peanut butter cookies ...

  2. Thanks so much for offering this giveaway. The book looks wonderful!

  3. Hi Elle,

    What a wonderful bread. So far, I tried bread making three times and only successful on the third try!

    Will give BeBe Pear bread a go soon and give you a shout when I do!

  4. Mmm, those look deliscious! I think I may make some before I leave for school again today. Thanks for the post and thank you for the giveaway! :)

  5. Mmmm...pear bread! That sounds interesting.

  6. Again the idea of a potluck or a luncheon where everyone brings something nice is so tempting! Although it's called "going Dutch" something like that is not common here and I wish it was!
    (Btw.. when my mom was younger they used to have something they called an American party... where each guest was expected to bring something LOL)

    I need to try quick bread again! Pear sounds great

  7. I didn't think I was in the market for a cookbook -- but, I am surprised, more often than not, that I don't have a recipe for something as simple as PB Cookies - and must rely on memory (bad idea), peanut butter jars (the natural stuff doesn't usually have recipes on it), or the internet, where there are hundreds of competing recipes. I'd like to have ONE recipe, and write notes in the margins and have it be MY one recipe... I am now going to look in my current cookbooks to see if I have this somewhere!!

  8. The book looks great.

  9. Hi Elle,

    I baked BeBe's Pear recipe twice, loved it the second time around!