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Bloggers make sweet solutions out of cooking conundrums

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 2 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

Tortellini sausage soup is one of the recipes included in Tortellini sausage soup is one of the recipes included in "Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites" by Sara Wells and Kate Jones. (Provided by Our Best Bites)

Two newly released cookbooks have one very unique thing in common: They were never intended to be cookbooks at all.

“Favorite Family Recipes” (Covenant Communications, $25.99) created by four sisters, Erica Walker, Emily Walker, Elise Donovan and Echo Blickenstaff, and “Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites” (Deseret Book, $27.99) by Sara Wells and Kate Jones both started out as food blogs intended for sharing recipes with family and friends. The support and interest others found for their blogs, however, fueled the publication of these cookbooks.

While “Favorite Family Recipes” is made by four members of the same family, all four sisters have different tastes and styles of cooking, so the cookbook contains a wide variety of recipes. Additionally, the book includes a section for “restaurant recipes at home” with versions of recipes from Café Rio, Rumbi Island Grill and other restaurants.

Glazed maple pecan cookies is one of the a fall recipes in Glazed maple pecan cookies is one of the a fall recipes in "Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites" by Sara Wells and Kate Jones. (Provided by Our Best Bites)

“Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites” is Wells and Jones’ second cookbook. The recipes are organized by season and the book includes tutorials and “Crafty in the Kitchen” sections scattered throughout its pages.

Each of these authors has a family of their own and has found solutions for common cooking conundrums. Meal planning can be a daunting task and these cooking gurus have some tips to help control the planning process without letting it control you.

Before going shopping, Jones recommends looking at what’s on sale and what ingredients are already on hand.

“I think going to the store and just going crazy, that’s a great way to spend a lot of money and not use your ingredients,” Jones said. “But if you have a plan, and if you stick to it, I think it’s really easy to get out of the grocery store not spending a ton of money.”

Chili verde is included in Chili verde is included in "Favorite Family Recipes," which was created by by four sisters, Erica Walker, Emily Walker, Elise Donovan and Echo Blickenstaff. (Provided by Covenant Communications)

Emily Walker had similar sentiments in regard to using leftover ingredients.

“When you’re menu planning, try and make things that are going to use a lot of the same ingredients so that those ingredients aren’t going to waste,” Walker said. “That way, you don’t have to go to the grocery store and get 50 different ingredients for all the different types of dishes you’re making that week. If you can get ingredients that are going to go across several dishes, it kind of cuts down what you need to buy.”

This idea is featured in “Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites” in the “rollover index.” The section helps readers find other recipes that use unusual or perishable leftover ingredients so they don’t go to waste.

Caramel apple french toast is one of the recipes in Caramel apple french toast is one of the recipes in "Favorite Family Recipes," which was created by by four sisters, Erica Walker, Emily Walker, Elise Donovan and Echo Blickenstaff. (Provided by Covenant Communications)

Another fun feature in the book can be found on the dividers for each season; these pages list the produce that are in season during that particular time of year. Many of the recipes in each section include the ingredients that are in season as well.

“One of the most economical ways to cook is using things that are fresh and in season because they’re going to be available, they’re going to taste the best and they’re going to be cheaper,” Wells said.

Still, maybe the Achilles’ heel isn’t meal planning, but rather getting the kids to eat things that smell funny, look weird or simply are on their plates. These ladies have advice for that, too.

Emily Walker hated onions as a child and still does not like them to this day. Grateful that her mom was very understanding of her great dislike for onions, she has learned ways to be accommodating for her children, as well.

"Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites" is by Sara Wells and Kate Jones. It's the bloggers' second cookbook. (Deseret Book)

“There are a lot of our different recipes, like our soups or our salads, where you add all the ingredients on yourself,” she said. “That’s really great, I think, for families that have picky eaters because people can just add on the ingredients that they want.”

As Wells put it, sometimes when kids don’t want to eat “the slimy green thing” in their soup, a lot of the reason for it is the unknown. Her solution: Involve them in the cooking process. Sometimes Wells brings her kids with her to the garden to get herbs so they can see, touch and smell the herbs before she cooks with them.

“We do the same things with spices,” she said. “I always put a little pinch of the spices in their hands and let them smell it and feel it, and I tell them where it’s from. If we’re having Indian food I’ll say, ‘This is just like Aladdin — this is what Aladdin eats!’”

Sara Wells, left, and Kate Jones are the authors of Sara Wells, left, and Kate Jones are the authors of "Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites." It's the bloggers' second cookbook. (Provided by Our Best Bites)

On another occasion, Wells made mango salsa on pork chops and called it “Captain Jack Sparrow food,” and she let her kids wear pirate hats to the dinner table. Not surprisingly, her kids didn’t mind at all.

“If (food) can be relatable and familiar to them, they’re much more likely to eat it. I think a lot of it’s just that unknown and they’re just confused and scared of it.”

One other thing Wells does is let her children make choices about what they’re going to eat.

“Sometimes I give my kids a choice between two good choices,” she said. “If I ask them, ‘Do you want vegetables on your pizza?’ they’ll say no. But if I say ‘OK, you guys get to pick, do you want red peppers or do you want olives on the pizza?’ they’ll pick one of them, usually.”

“Favorite Family Recipes” was created by four sisters — Erica Walker, Emily Walker, Elise Donovan and Echo Blickenstaff. (Covenant Communications) “Favorite Family Recipes” was created by four sisters — Erica Walker, Emily Walker, Elise Donovan and Echo Blickenstaff. (Covenant Communications)

Another issue some have with cooking is that it can sometimes be time consuming.

Erica Walker said that because she and her sisters all have families of their own, they don’t have the luxury of having all day to cook. With limited time to cook, quick and easy meals are important to her, and utilizing things like the crockpot can be a lot easier than spending all day in the kitchen frying and sautéing.

Doing the dishes can also be harsh reality after spending time making dinner for you and your family, and it can take up more time than you might like.

Four sisters Echo Blickenstaff, left, Emily Walker, Erica Walker and Elise Donovan, compiled Four sisters Echo Blickenstaff, left, Emily Walker, Erica Walker and Elise Donovan, compiled "Favorite Family Recipes," published by Covenant Communications. (Provided by Covenant Communications)

“I try to do a lot of (meals) that don’t take a lot of dishes,” Erica Walker said. “I hate preparing meals that I have like five pots that I have to clean up afterwards. I really like the one-dish dinners.”

The index in “Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites” can also aid in planning meals ahead of time that will be easy to prepare when you are in a crunch. Included in the index are categories for freezer meals, slow cooker meals, and make-ahead meals.

“I know there are times when I am just going to have a crazy week, and I could look up what all the slow cooker recipes are,” Jones said. “Or if you’re getting ready to have a baby or you’re going to be out of town, and you don’t want to leave your family without food, then you can go to the freezer meal section and all of those can definitely help.”

“The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook” has been recently released by the America's Test Kitchen. (America's Test Kitchen) “The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook” has been recently released by the America's Test Kitchen. (America's Test Kitchen)

Another recently released cookbook is “The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook” (America's Test Kitchen, $34.95). Throughout the book are kitchen tips that can help save time and simplify the cooking process.

The book also includes a “knife school” and “prep school” section. These can help readers learn about different kinds of knives and how to use them properly so they can cut down on prep time. The book guarantees all the recipes in the book to be “on the table in 45 minutes or less.”

“Favorite Family Recipes” can be purchased at Seagull Book, Deseret Book and amazon.com, and Idaho and Utah Costco stores in the near future. “Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites” can be purchased at Walmart, Barnes and Noble, Deseret Book, amazon.com and select Costco and Sam’s Club stores. “The America’s Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook” can be purchased at Barnes and Noble in addition to several online book sites.

CARAMEL APPLE FRENCH TOAST RECIPE

1 loaf French bread

6 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

6 apples, peeled, cored and sliced

Cinnamon, nutmeg, granulated sugar, and brown sugar to taste

Cut bread into large slices (about 3 inches wide) and arrange in a 9 by 13 pan lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, beat eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla. Pour mixture over bread slices. Arrange apples on top of bread. Sprinkle cinnamon, nutmeg, granulated sugar and brown sugar over the apples (sprinkle the brown sugar the most generously).

Cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning bake at 350 for 1 hour, until golden brown. Top with your favorite caramel topping.

To make your own caramel topping, combine 1 package wrapped caramels (unwrapped) and 2/3 cup whipping cream; melt in microwave.

— "Favorite Family Recipes," by Erica Walker, Emily Walker, Elise Donovan and Echo Blickenstaff (Covenant Communications)

CHILI VERDE

2 pounds pork, diced (I used boneless pork ribs)

1 cup onion, chopped

14 ounces chicken broth

1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 1/2 tablespoons chicken stock

1 teaspoon celery salt

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1 tablespoon cumin

1/2 tablespoon jalapeño

4 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1/2 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon green Tabasco sauce

10 ounce green enchilada sauce

27 ounce canned green chiles, chopped or diced

8 ounce canned green chiles, pureed

1–2 cans white beans, drainedand rinsed (optional)

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large stock pan, brown pork; drain. Add onion and chicken broth (the broth will not cover the meat); simmer 1 hour, stirring often. Stir in garlic powder, chicken stock, celery salt, cornstarch, oregano, cumin, jalapeño, cilantro, chili powder and green Tabasco sauce. Simmer 1 hour, stirring often to avoid sticking. Stir in green enchilada sauce; simmer 1/2 hour. Stir in chopped green chiles and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in pureed green chiles, white beans, and salt (can add more or less salt as desired). Heat through. Serve with cheese, sour cream, chips, and/or flour tortillas.

Slow-cooker directions: In a skillet, brown pork; drain. Sauté onion. Put pork and onion in slow-cooker; stir in chicken broth and cook on low heat for 3 hours. Stir in remaining ingredients and cook an additional 2 hours on low heat.

— "Favorite Family Recipes," by Erica Walker, Emily Walker, Elise Donovan and Echo Blickenstaff (Covenant Communications)

TORTELLINI SAUSAGE SOUP

This recipe from our friend Jen has become a family favorite for both of us, as well as a favorite of our blog readers. It’s loaded with vegetables, it’s hearty and satisfying, and we’ve never met anyone who didn’t like it. This, along with a loaf of garlic bread or a batch of breadsticks, is Kate’s go-to meal when taking dinners to friends and neighbors.

3 links Italian sausage

1 onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

1⁄2 cup apple cider (don’t leave this out!)

1⁄2 cup water

2 (15-ounce) cans chicken broth

1 cup sliced carrots

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

2 tablespoons dried parsley

2 medium zucchini, shredded (a great way to use your food processor if you have one)

1 (8–10-ounce) package cheese tortellini (see Tip)

Parmesan cheese

1. Remove the casings from link sausage. Use a sharp knife to cut a slit down one side of the sausage and then peel back the casing. Crumble sausage into a large soup pot and begin cooking it over medium heat.

2. Add onion and garlic to the pot. Continue cooking until onion is translucent, the sausage is cooked, and your house smells like heaven.

3. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, apple cider, water, chicken broth, carrots, oregano, and basil. Cover and simmer 1/2 hour. Add parsley and zucchini and simmer another 15 minutes or so. Add tortellini and cook until tender. Serve with bread and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Tip: Refrigerated tortellini can be quite expensive, so check out the frozen pasta section; we can almost always find some there for a fraction of the cost. Some brand-name dried cheese tortellini can also be very good, but stay away from brands you’ve never heard of.

— "Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites," by Sara Wells and Kate Jones (Deseret Book)

GLAZED MAPLE PECAN COOKIES

Sweet, buttery, and light, these melt-in-your-mouth cookies dipped in a maple syrup glaze are great for delivering to neighbors or snacking on while making Thanksgiving dinner.

1 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour, lightly spooned into measuring cups and leveled with a knife

1⁄4 cup cornstarch

1 cup butter, softened

1⁄2 cup brown sugar

1⁄4 cup powdered sugar

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon maple flavoring

1 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted (see Tip)

Glaze:

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon real maple syrup

1–2 tablespoons milk

Additional chopped or halved pecans for garnish, if desired

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2. Whisk flour and cornstarch together and set aside.

3. Mix together butter and sugars at medium speed until creamy. Add egg yolk and maple flavoring, beating until well mixed. Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour and cornstarch mixture and toasted pecans. Measure dough by the scant tablespoonful and shape into balls. Place dough balls on baking sheets and press down lightly with fingers or the flat bottom of a drinking glass until dough is about 1/2-inch thick. Bake 9–12 minutes or until cookies puff and are very light golden brown.

4. For the glaze: Combine butter, powdered sugar, and maple syrup in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add enough milk to make a glaze and whisk mixture until smooth.

5. When cookies have cooled, dip tops of cookies in the glaze and allow it to drip down the sides. Garnish with pecan halves or chopped pecans, if desired.

Tip: To toast pecans, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spread chopped pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake 5 minutes and then stir to redistribute nuts. Bake an additional 2–5 minutes, watching closely so nuts don’t burn. Remove from oven when light parts of nuts are golden brown. Set aside to cool.

— "Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites," by Sara Wells and Kate Jones (Deseret Book)

Kaylene Morrill Wheeler is a freelance writer. Email: kmorril07@gmail.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company