Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook

In this season of festive gatherings, there's a virtual dinner party going on today, with bloggers cooking different dishes from a new cookbook, Made With Love: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook.

Meals on Wheels is a community-based program that delivers nutritious meals to seniors who are unable to make their own. For their cookbook (which aims to raise funds to support their cause), they have gathered up favorite family recipes from a variety of people, including several celebrities and public figures.

The result is a vibrant collection of beloved recipes that are as diverse as you can imagine- simple fixes with store bought ingredients (Mexican pinwheels made simply with tortillas, cream cheese and jarred salsa) and elaborate made from scratch ones (Martha Stewart's recipe for potato pierogi); homely fare (Fried rice with egg) and fancier dishes (Mario Batali's spinach and goat cheese gnocchi).

Like all good family cookbooks, this collection has (a) Funny family stories to back up the recipes, like the one where the noodle kugel recipe was attributed to the wrong aunt, and (b) Recipes with the word "surprise" in it. And of course there's a recipe or two with Jell-O in it.

I've been in baking mode lately, and also in hot-beverage-sipping mode, so I chose to make dunkable cookies- Papa's Mandelbrot, a recipe shared by the food writer Josh Friedland.

I loved the story behind these cookies. Any cookie recipe that comes from the baking repertoire of a beloved grandfather is all right with me. Mandelbrot are traditional Jewish cookies that are very similar to almond biscotti. This recipe was simple and fun to make, using ingredients that are always on hand in my kitchen. I've adapted the recipe to add a touch of salt and some of my favorite extract called Fiori di Sicilia which has notes of citrus and vanilla. I also changed baking times and temps for the second round. Here is the recipe in my own words.

Mandelbrot (Jewish almond cookies)
(Adapted from Made With Love: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook)

1. Blanch 1 cup almonds: It was my first time blanching almonds and it was not a pain like I thought it would be. Start with 1 cup raw almonds. Place them in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 3 minutes. Pour off the hot water and add ice cold water. After 5 minutes, press each almond in your fingers and the skin should pop right off. Dry the skinned almonds on a clean dishtowel, then chop roughly and set aside. Or make it easy and simply use 1 cup raw slivered almonds. 

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients:
2.5 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients:
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. Fiori di Sicilia (optional; this is an extract with notes of citrus and vanilla)

4. Mix. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the chopped blanched almonds. The dough will be thick and sticky. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 3 hours.

5. Bake once: Preheat oven to 350F. Using oiled hands, divide the dough into 2 portions and pat each one onto a long loaf shaped rectangle on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes.

6. Bake again: Slice each loaf crosswise into 1 inch wide cookies. Lay them cut side down (I needed a second baking sheet this time) and bake at 300F (note reduced oven temperature) for 20 minutes. Flip over and bake with the other cut side down for another 15-20 minutes or until pale golden. These cookies should not be over-baked because they burn easily.

Cool completely and then dunk into a cup of coffee or chai! With just the right amount of sweetness and crunch, I adored these cookies. V thought they were a bit eggy- I didn't. If you're worried about that, increase the amount of vanilla extract. The dough can be embellished with dried fruit or chocolate chips or other spices, but take my word for it- sometimes simple and traditional is as good as it gets.

Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of the Made With Love: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook by the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own. 

I've baked more cookies in the last 2 weeks than I have in the first 49 weeks of 2012. There's definitely something in the air. We had a friend staying over for 2 weeks in our newly furnished guest bedroom. She was in town for work, though, and rarely had time to just hang out. The one evening that she did not have to work, she shyly asked me, "Can we bake after Lila goes to bed?" Of course I gave a little cheer and quickly pulled out butter to soften. We made fruit and nut cookies from King Arthur, using pecans instead of pistachios. They were ever so tasty, mildly sweet and bursting with flavor. I highly recommend this recipe for anyone looking for an easy and tasty cookie this holiday season. All the taste of fruit cakes inside a shortbread cookie. What's more, the dough can be made and refrigerated/frozen for freshly baked cut-and-serve cookies. 

Then last weekend, Neighbor Girl came down to see our new home and spend the weekend with us. She got off the plane, hugged me and said hello and the next thing out of her mouth: "Can we bake World Peace cookies?" We can and we did. With the weather taking a turn towards the wet and chilly side, we stayed home and did all sorts of cozy things, like baking those cookies, and knitting a hat, and watching movies while sipping on soup.

Tiny gifts for Lila's daycare teachers: crocheted face scrubbies
paired with my favorite soap
A third friend is arriving to spend Christmas with us, so excuse me while I log off to continue planning the holiday meals and to go shop for some stocking stuffers. Have a wonderful weekend, all. 


  1. You have put me in the mood for baking cookies. I am going to try both the World Peace and fruit and Nut cookies this weekend! Yay!

    1. Happy Baking! One thing I should mention about the World Peace cookies is that the dough is very crumbly and tends to fall apart while slicing. But just mash it together for ugly yet tasty cookies.

    2. Thanks for the heads up!

  2. Baking cookies with friends is the best thing ever! Loved reading about all the fun you are having this holiday season, wishing you lots of happy times ahead.

    I really appreciate your thoughful gift for Lila's day care teachers, would like to know more about your favorite soap, I like carrying a few good ones for family on my India trip since they are more used to soap bars than shower gels we get here.

    I am going to check out that book real soon from the library. Btw, I am currently reading 'My Berlin kitchen' by Luisa Weiss and enjoying it a lot, I have a feeling you'd like it too. :)

    Thanks a ton for introducing me to the Cast Iron skillet, I might have thanked you before but my love for it keeps growing day by day. So lots and lots of heartfelt Thanks!

    Happy Holidays to you, your family and friends! You and your blog is one of the many many things I am thankful for this year.

    - Priti

    1. Thanks for the sweet wishes and wishing you the same!

      My current favorite soap is the Ginger Almond Oatmeal bar from Trader Joe's- HUGE bar, very small ingredient list, smells fresh and milder than most soaps and lathers beautifully.

      I'll for My Berlin Kitchen- I used to read Luisa's blog.

  3. Hi Nupur,
    I am back with 2 more questions for you.

    1. Returned from Mumbai with 2 intriguing masalas: (a) Sunday masala (b) shengdana chutney. Have you ever used these & do you have a suggestion on how they may be used? Tried shengdana chutney on some buttered toast this morning and liked it far better than peanut butter.

    2. Can you suggest a hassle-free Christmas menu for two?

    Thanks and happy holidays,

    1. Ruma- I can't remember ever using Sunday masala but from what I know, it is a good all-purpose masala for curries, such as egg curry. I think the name comes from these special curries which get made on Sunday. Shengdana chutney is a versatile condiment. See the last paragraph of this post for lots of ways to use it:

      About the menu, define hassle free :) and how traditionally Christmassy do you want it to be? Anyway, here's a suggestion: For the main course, fresh ravioli (sold in most Gourmet stores or Italian markets) with a pecan brown butter sauce, roasted vegetable salad on the side, and trifle pudding (made with store bought pound cake) for dessert. Or buy a pie and serve with ice cream.

      Another idea for a festive meal for two: make a meal of appetizers, like stuffed mushrooms, fancy cheese and crackers, bruschetta, good wine. My parents often do this when they are just the two of them for a special evening like New Year's Eve or whatever.

  4. Nupur, your posts always make me so happy :-) I heart the ginger almond oatmeal bar from TJs too. Have to try both those cookie recipes. Happy Baking and Happy Holidays!

  5. Baking is so contagious - got to be careful with that one ;)

    I love your use of doilies as face scrubbers and now must try the ginger almond oatmeal bar from TJ! Have a very happy holiday season, Nupur.

  6. Merry Christmas and all the best for a wonderful New Year and beyond to all of you, particularly little Lila!
    I hope Dale is doing well.

  7. I also have learned Crocheting this December and since then cant stop. its so addictive.
    the nut loaf looks perfect, bookmarked it for vegetarian guests.
    a very happy new year to you and lil Lila


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