BLACK CHRISTMAS by Thomas Altman

PUBLISHER: Bantam, 12/1983
GENRE: Fiction/Contemporary Horror
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: C

FROM PUBLISHER: Christmas in Murdock. A time of cozy safety, snowy sidewalks, and carolling children. But this holiday season someone is bating Sheriff Dunsmore in a bizarre and deadly game. Someone is stalking the young women he knows and loves...seducing them with icy steel...leaving them for him to find - far too late. It's the night before Christmas. The frightened town edges toward panic. And Dunsmore is about to receive the most terrifying gift of all.








MY THOUGHTS: I should state that this novel has nothing to do with the 1974 film Black Christmas (though that was novelized in 1976 by Lee Hays).

This was fairly boring. Three young women from the same town are murdered at different times within a short period of time in the days leading up to Christmas, and a fourth was almost killed. It wasn't until shortly before the killer was revealed that I'd guessed who they were.

There were the usual suspects- ex-husband, odd boy in town, ect., neither of which turn out to be the killer. I don't understand the significance of the number thirteen; each victim was stabbed thirteen times. The reason for killing two of the three doesn't make any sense and it wasn't explained why the killer had those two on their radar anyway. The ending is odd too, somewhat happy, and I'm not at all satisfied with it. The novel needed to be slightly longer so we could have gotten some answers as to what the killer was thinking.

This wasn't suspenseful enough and it wasn't good enough to recommend.


SWEET HELL ON FIRE by Sara Lunsford



PUBLISHER: Sourcebooks, 11/2012
GENRE: Nonfiction/Memoir/Prison
AUTHOR TWITTER: link
MY GRADE: A

FROM PUBLISHER: As a corrections officer at an all-male maximum security prison, Sara Lunsford worked with the worst of the worst, from serial killers to white supremacists. She knew that at the end of every day, she had to try and shed the memories of the horrors she had witnessed in order to live a happy existence. But the darkness invaded every part of her life. And dealing with a stressful divorce and a mother sucumbing to cancer led her to a complete immersion in her work and eventually the bottom of a liquor bottle. Sweet Hell on Fire takes the reader on a journey with the author, from hitting rock bottom to becoming a woman who understands the meaning of sacrifice, the joy of redemption and the quiet haven to be found in hope.


MY THOUGHTS: I've been interested in nonfiction, specifically true crime, since the mid-1990s and jumped at the chance to review this. I like reading and watching shows about the darker side of life. I thought it would be real interesting to read about working in the prison system from a woman's point of view.

The book was everything I thought it would be- disturbing and disgusting. Did I mention the cup of semen Sara found in an inmate's cell? The author's narrative is raunchy and unfiltered and is a bit much at times. I'm not offended but some of her language made me cringe. If you're bothered by foul language, you'll want to skip this. Her calling herself 'fat' was way too repetitive, as was her constantly telling us how tough she was. We get it- you're 6' tall, 'fat' and tougher than any man you've ever come across. Move on to something else. I'm interested in knowing if she'd like to find her birth parents and how old she is.

This was a very entertaining read and I do recommend it to those interested in prison life.

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


À LA MODE: 120 Recipes in 60 Pairings: Pies, Tarts, Cakes, Crisps, and More Topped with Ice Cream, Gelato, Frozen Custard, and More by Mark Scarbrough and Bruce Weinstein

PUBLISHER: St. Martin's Griffin
GENRE: Cookbooks/Baking
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: B

FROM PUBLISHER: Are you ready to take your baking over the top? Here are sixty decadent and delightful ice creams and the sixty desserts that are their vehicles. A la Mode offers not just solid dessert recipes, from raspberry oat bars to bear claws, from chocolate pecan pie to a white chocolate pavlova, but also gives you the unforgettable pairings that make these desserts smash hits: apple cranberry pie with Camembert ice cream, chocolate sheet cake with salt caramel frozen custard, and espresso cream jelly roll with mascarpone ice cream.

Let's face it: vanilla can sometimes be so... vanilla. A great a-la-mode pairing should be as decadent as finding the perfect wine to go with your cheese plate. With À la Mode, IACP winners and cookbook dynamos Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough show you how to create innovative delights such as creamy hazelnut gelato atop coffee-poached pears, or maple frozen custard with a mouthwatering cinnamon roll cake, alongside simpler classics like confetti ice cream with layered vanilla birthday cake. You haven't lived until you've had peanut brittle pie with popcorn ice cream, a Cracker Jack fantasy!




THINGS I'VE MADE


RASPBERRY OAT BARS


These turned out really good and they have great crunch. The dough is made from butter, white and brown sugar, rolled oats, flour, almonds, egg white, salt. I left out the cinnamon. I added a little vanilla extract to the mixture and added 1/8t almond extract to the raspberry jam.

I think this could have used just 3/4c. jam instead of 1c. Of course you could substitute any other jam for the raspberry. I cut my bars, which were made in a 9" square baking pan, into six pieces. If you happen to have a 7" square pan you could probably make just half of this recipe.


CHERRY-VANILLA FROZEN CUSTARD


This has egg yolks in it, vanilla extract, milk, cream, sugar, salt, and canned sweet cherries. I don't like that you can taste the egg, but I knew this was custard so I expected an egg taste. It was very easy to prepare in a sauce pot and my cold mixture took about 30 minutes in the ice cream maker before it thickened enough to pour into my container to freeze. When I went to eat some twenty hours later it was of a perfect scooping consistency. I used less vanilla extract than called for but it was still way too much. I'd make this again using less vanilla. When I ate the last of it four days after freezing the mixture, I didn't even notice an eggy taste.


CHOCOLATE SOUR CHERRY LAYER CAKE


I made half the recipe in an 8"x2" square pan and didn't layer sour cherry jam between layers. It baked in 26 minutes. I made my own buttercream frosting for this. This is very bitter. It's made with both unsweetened cocoa powder and melted semisweet chocolate. It's dense like a brownie.

I'd never make this again and words can't describe my disappointment. I've made countless chocolate cakes and none have ever been bitter.



ORANGE SHERBET


This is made with milk, cream, sugar, clear corn syrup, unflavored gelatin, salt, orange juice, and orange zest. It has a very pale orange color. It tastes good, like a Creamsicle® but it's got ice crystals all through it and it's not creamy like you'd expect and falls apart. My mixture took 28 minutes in the ice cream maker  After freezing 24 hours it was pretty firm. I'm not sure what the gelatin did for this, or the corn syrup. I'd make this again but only if I couldn't find a creamier recipe elsewhere.


LEMON POLENTA CAKE


This buttery cake has good flavor and smells good too. It's made with fine ground polenta, flour, plain yogurt, lemon juice, and lemon zest. It's dense and slightly moist. The texture is not that of a standard cake since this has polenta in it. It's more coarse. I made half in a 9"x1.5" round pan. It sunk in the middle slightly. It baked in 19 minutes. I made my own thick vanilla glaze for it. I used the zest from one lemon for this and it's the right amount.



SOUR CHERRY COBBLER


This recipe uses all sour cherries but I used just one drained can of them and a 16oz. bag of frozen dark sweet pitted cherries. I used a 1.5qt baking dish. The topping has ground almonds in it. My topping was wetter than it should have been though I used the exact amount of milk specified in the recipe. It didn't taste good either and was a little too salty. The bottom of the topping was wet from the moisture from the cherries. I wouldn't make this again.




PEACH ICE CREAM


This uses fresh peaches, milk, cream, salt, cornstarch, and peach nectar. It took just 23 minutes in the ice cream maker to thicken. The peach flavor is very subtle, as is the peach color. Because you can barely taste the peach I wouldn't make this one again.


APPLE-CRANBERRY STREUSEL PIE


I left out the crust and cranberries, so this really isn't a pie. In the topping I used light brown sugar instead of dark. I added salt to the apples, as well as cinnamon. The topping is pretty good but after processing it, it wasn't like cracker crumbs but was thick and creamy. I dolloped it evenly over the apples and it spread out nicely. The top of it was crispy but the underside was moist from touching the apples. Not the best topping because it softens.




MY THOUGHTS: Though I'm happy with six of the eight things I made, I'm disappointed in this book. There are two more chocolate cake recipes and one brownie recipe in here but sadly I'm not comfortable making any of them because of how awful the one chocolate cake I made turned out. There are a few other ice cream/frozen custards I'd like to make and only a couple more baked goods.

There's not a basic chocolate ice cream recipe in here. The one basic vanilla ice cream recipe has chopped chocolate added and was given a fancy unpronounceable name. I wish there were a few more fruit sorbet recipes, those using no dairy.

There's not a photo of everything but there are quite a few and they're beautiful.


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


SWEET MORNINGS: 125 Sweet and Savory Breakfast and Brunch Recipes by Patty Pinner

PUBLISHER: Agate Midway, 3/2016
GENRE: Cookbooks/Baking
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: C

FROM PUBLISHER: Sweet Mornings collects more than 100 sweet and savory options for breakfast and brunch. From donuts to crumb cakes to sweet rolls, these are the kind of treats that evoke feelings of warmth and comfort like only good, old-fashioned breakfast food can.

Author Patty Pinner has been collecting breakfast recipes for as long as she can remember. She comes from a long line of breakfast bakers, and many of the recipes in this book have been passed down from the "Greats"—great-grannies and -aunties—as well as cousins and other influential women in Pinner's life. To pore through these recipes, and then to bake them at home, evokes in Pinner memories of the many women who created them. Pinner includes charming, often comical stories about her life and family throughout the cookbook.

With generations-old recipes that range from the familiar (Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes) to the fun (Pineapple Upside Down Biscuits), Sweet Mornings is a reliable, well-tested addition to any kitchen. These recipes are ideal for slow weekend mornings and afternoons when you want to lure family and friends to the table with the intoxicating aroma of a homemade sweet treat baking in the oven.




THINGS I'VE MADE

LEMON-CORNMEAL MUFFINS


These taste good and are very dense. No hand mixer required, just a mixing bowl and whisk. You can't really taste the cornmeal and there's only the slightest bit of grittiness from it. I omitted the blueberries. I used water in the glaze in place of lemon juice. I made half the recipe and got seven. Though these have good flavor, I don't know if I'll make them again because of their density.



MISS ROSE'S BACON QUICHE


This was very easy to make but it did have a few extra steps, including cooking the bacon. I left out the mushrooms and used a little less bacon than called for. I used a premade store-bought pie crust instead of making my own like the recipe called for. This was too much mixture for a standard 9"/1 qt. pie pan so I used one that was almost 10". This was very good, made with eggs, milk, onion, bacon, and lots of cheese, but I think I'll use precooked sausage next time instead of bacon and make just half.



CHOCOLATE SWIRL COFFEE CAKE


This is terrible, borderline unedible, and an epic fail. Dry, crumbly, and bitter bitter bitter from way too much unsweetened cocoa powder that wasn't mixed with enough sugar  layered between the batter. I really wanted to use less but stuck to following the recipe.

The full recipe is to be made in a 9" square baking dish and uses a staggering mixture of 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder (that amount I suspect was a typo) and just three tablespoons of sugar in the swirl layer. I made half the batter and swirl mixture and baked it in an 8" x 1 1/2" round pan. The recipe didn't state to stick a knife down into the batter and swirl it around to mix the chocolate layer in but I did it anyway. I've never heard of a 'swirl' cake that omitted that step. I made a chocolate glaze for it and that didn't help at all.


MORNING APPLE CRISP


Very good. I left the cinnamon out of the topping and put it in the apple mixture instead. In the filling I used white sugar in place of brown sugar. I'm very familiar with baking apple crisps and I knew I wouldn't want brown sugar in the mixture. This topping has too much brown sugar in it and the rolled (old fashioned) oats are very large and the mixture just sort of fell apart though it tasted good. In fact, the whole recipe uses way too much brown sugar.

The apples took a lot longer to bake than specified (35-45 minutes) in the recipe. I did use a slightly shorter baking dish so the apples weren't spread out as much. Raw apples, like raw potatoes, take quite awhile to cook. After 40 minutes the topping browned as much as I wanted but the apples were still hard. I covered the top of the baking dish loosely with foil and let it bake for an additional 35 minutes. I used a 2.5qt/11"x7" dish.


BLACKBERRY BUCKLE


This is very good. A buckle is cake batter that you top with fruit, fresh, frozen, or canned. The batter cooks up around the fruit, covering most of it. The recipe said to use a 9" square dish (which is usually 2" deep) but this was so much mixture. I smartly used a 10"x2.5" 7c. capacity dish, and it was perfect.

I used slightly more than 2c. frozen berries, and it was a little too much. They weren't as sweet as they should have been so I sprinkled close to 1/4c. white sugar on top, which gave the cooked cake a nice sweet top. Mine took 47 minutes to bake and the recipe stated to bake it 30-35 minutes. I didn't make the crumb topping. I felt it was very unnecessary. This was very easy to make and I'd make it again. I also doubled the salt in the batter for a total of 1/4t. and it was perfect.



PUFFED CHERRY PANCAKE CASSEROLE


This is very good but it's nothing like a pancake. It's made with eggs, sugar, butter, flour, milk, and flavorings. It bakes up into a thick slab of firm custard and the cherries rise to the top.

I made half the recipe in a 1.5qt baking dish and baked it 25 minutes. It's 1" thick. I added a little almond extract to the mixture because of the cherries and used just a few dashes of cinnamon. It needed more salt so I added a little extra but that wasn't enough. I think four tablespoons of butter was too much because it was squirting and running out of every crack so I'll use half that amount next time.

I'm very happy with this and I'll make it again. I already make a similar version. You could use fresh or frozen raspberries or blueberries in place of cherries, or chopped canned peaches.



LEMON-COCONUT BREAD


This was terrible. Dry, dense, flavor's not good, and was a waste of ingredients. Most sweet quick breads are moist but this one is truly drier like yeast batter bread. I made half in a 1qt. loaf pan and baked it for 38 minutes. I was only able to eat two pieces of this before it went into the trash.



PEACH COBBLER


This recipe calls for fresh or canned peaches so I used three 15oz. cans of peach chunks and some of their juice. I used a 10"x2.5", 7c. capacity round baking dish and it was barely deep enough. I added cinnamon to the peaches and left the nutmeg out of the topping. The topping is a very very sweet, thin eggless batter that gets poured evenly over the peaches. I added a little vanilla extract to it. It needed a little more salt but other than that, it's very good. I'm happy with how this turned out. 


MY THOUGHTS: Of the eight things I baked there are only four that I'd make again. None of the cakes turned out so I'd never bake another cake from this book. There's also a mistake in the brownie muffin recipe. It calls for 'semisweet cocoa powder' when there's no such thing. There aren't many photos in this book either.

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


THE COOKIES & CUPS COOKBOOK: 125+ sweet & savory recipes reminding you to Always Eat Dessert First by Shelly Jaronsky

PUBLISHER: Gallery Books, 4/2016
GENRE: Cookbooks/Baking
AUTHOR SITE: link
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: C

FROM PUBLISHER: Wildly popular Cookies & Cups blogger Shelly Jaronsky’s eagerly anticipated cookbook features all-new, mouth-watering, delectable sweet treats 100% guaranteed to make you want to eat dessert first.

Now you can bring Shelly’s signature style into your own kitchen with more than 125 no-fail recipes, including some reader-approved favorites and a special bonus section dedicated to the quick and savory side of cooking. Authored in the witty, intimate style of the blog that draws more than three million monthly page views and a social following of more than seven hundred thousand fans, The Cookies & Cups Cookbook is the go-to source for all things flavorful, accessible, and irresistibly tasty.



THINGS I'VE MADE

COOKIES AND CREAM COOKIES


I made half the recipe and got 28 cookies. I omitted the chopped Oreo's and white chocolate chips. I added chopped lightly toasted slivered almonds and 1/4c. mini semisweet chocolate chips. My dough balls didn't spread much at all during baking and were very thick. When they came out of the oven I flattened them with the back of a measuring cup. I flattened the rest of the dough balls before baking. These are bland-tasting, not sweet enough, and I'd never make them again. Dense too.


EPIC CHOCOLATE PUDDING PIE


This pie couldn't have been easier to make. You bring ingredients to a boil on the stove, pour into prebaked pie shell and refrigerate for hours. I used a store-bought Keebler® shortbread pie crust and thawed frozen whipped topping instead of homemade whipped cream (I don't like it). I made half the recipe. The pie is a little bitter and not quite sweet enough. I think it would still be bitter with less chocolate so next time I make it I'm going to use bittersweet chocolate in place of unsweetened to see if that helps.



CRISPY CHEWY OATMEAL COOKIES


These turned out great but needed a little more salt. I used unsalted butter when the recipe called for salted so I needed to add a little more salt than the recipe called for. I did but not enough. I omitted the coconut and white chocolate chips and added mini semisweet chocolate chips and finely chopped lightly toasted pecans. I'd definitely make these again. I made half and got 24 cookies. My first batch, pictured, were overbaked by about one minute and they got harder as they sat in a sealed container.

TACO PASTA


This was pretty good and required just one deep skillet to cook the pasta in then the meat mixture. It uses ground beef, taco mix, chili powder, cumin, corn, crushed tomatoes, salsa, shredded cheese.

I made half the recipe but used even less pasta than called for. I used about 1 1/2 c. dry (5oz) instead of 8oz. I omitted the black beans. The salsa almost ruined this as the flavors didn't mesh with the other seasonings. I'll definitely make this again, minus the salsa.


TEXAS SHEET CAKE


I made half of this chocolate cake in a 9"x1.5" round pan*. The cake is made with equal parts butter and shortening, melted. It uses a small amount of unsweetened cocoa powder. It's dense and very good. I added extra salt because I used unsalted butter, not salted like the recipe states. I made my own vanilla frosting for this, not the chocolate one in the recipe.

*An 8"x2" round or square pan holds the same amount.




CATAGORIES: So You Think You Can Bake?, Eat Cake For Breakfast, Cookies, Brownies and Bars, Cake, Frosting, Pie, Party Snacks, Pizza and Pasta, Salads and Sammies, Family Favorites

MY THOUGHTS: I'm pretty disappointed in this book. I've made five things and there are only about six more I'd actually make and there's no telling how they'd turn out.

Of the things I've made only two were what I'd call really great, the sheet cake and oatmeal cookies. The great thing about the oatmeal cookies is that you can add whatever you want to the batter if you'd like, like chocolate chips, chopped dried fruit or nuts.

There's an attractive color photo for each and every recipe, which is very nice, and I love the cover. There's maybe eight recipes that have silly childish sprinkles or cereal decorating the top or stirred into the batter, which is very unappealing to me as an adult.

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




HOLIDAY COOKIES: Prize-Winning Family Recipes from the Chicago Tribune for Cookies, Bars, Brownies and More by Chicago Tribune Staff

PUBLISHER: Agate Surrey, 10/2014
GENRE: Cookbooks/Baking/Cookies
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: C

FROM PUBLISHER: For nearly three decades, the Chicago Tribune has run its annual Holiday Cookie Contest, asking readers to submit recipes that are both unique and meaningful to them. Each recipe is accompanied by a brief description or story explaining why the cookie is special to the reader and their family. The Chicago Tribune's award-winning food writers and editors carefully consider these essays, select the finalists, and then publish winning recipes.

Good Eating's Holiday Cookies is a comprehensive collection of the best holiday cookies as curated from nearly three decades worth of reader submissions. These delicious recipes represent an eclectic mix of traditional and modern recipes from diverse cultural background and skill levels, such as Tropical Nuevo Latino Cookies, Dorie's Dark and Stormies, and Grandma Grump's Peanut Butter Drizzles.

Complete with full-color photography and helpful baking tips, this gorgeous compilation brings the warmth and expertise of a cross-generational baking community home for the holidays. From cookie classics to twists on old standards, Good Eating's Holiday Cookies provides the home baker with a plethora of possibilities for any holiday party.



THINGS I'VE MADE

JOAN'S LITTLE JOYS


I'm not impressed with these cookies at all. This baked cookie looks nothing like the one in the book. Based on the appearance of these cookies while they were baking, the way they were getting very brown around the edges before the minimum baking time was up, I realized the dough was exactly like a Linzer cookie, which is basically like a shortbread cookie; no egg, baking soda, or baking powder in the dough. The photo of the finished cookie in the book shows a very pale cookie that's decorated with a green-tinted glaze. That's why I decided to make it- because it looked nothing like a Linzer cookie. This type of cookie softens up soon after baking and makes for a terrible sandwich cookie. They taste good, though. But because of how quickly the cookie gets soft, I'd never make these again.


WHITE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES WITH DRIED CHERRIES


This is a good-flavored sweet cookie that has ground oats in the dough. They're a little dry. I omitted the white chocolate and added lightly toasted chopped slivered almonds, almond extract, and cherries to half the dough. To the other half I added mini semisweet chocolate chips and finely chopped almonds.

I used a 1T. cookie scoop/1 1/2" diameter and got 36 dough balls. My cookies didn't spread out like the ones in the photo did.


MY THOUGHTS: This is an attractive book, inside and out, but I'm very disappointed in it. I only like one of the two recipes I tried and there's only about three more recipes I'd try.


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