December Cook the Books! The Homemade Pantry Review and Wrap-Up!

People. It is January. This means that Cook the Books has come to an end!  I guessed that December would be a very slow month for Cook the Books and likely low on participation and that ended up being true. We know people have a lot going on this time of the year and, while there is generally a lot of cooking happening, it tends to be fairly specific cooking.  Perhaps cooking a big holiday meal for family. Or maybe some cookie-making from family recipes and traditions to keep intact.

Your fearless leader did very little cooking at all. In fact, I went into a major funk the end of November, then fell into a hole of relative debauchery mid-December, and shortly afterwards went to Oregon for the rest of the month and I made only 2 items.

grow and resist december cook the books

Deschutes Brewery, Bend, OR.  Instead of cooking.

Despite my vow to finally make yogurt, it didn’t happen. Neither did the crackers I promised I’d create.  I even gathered up all the ingredients to make chocolate pudding for the Babylady and my nephews at one point. But, it just didn’t happen.  No, I decided that zoning out, watching movies, practically live-streaming my random vacation thoughts and activities on Facebook, while drinking entirely too many assorted cocktails, would be a far better way for me to get through this first holiday without my Dad.

Sometime around Thanksgiving, I started emerging from my grief fog and began tallying up the losses of the past 3 years.  I began to open my eyes to the full spectrum of loss, beyond the obvious sense of loss surrounding my sweet Dad’s death. The things that were going on while my Dad was sick that I just couldn’t deal with or attend to during that time so they got pushed aside. For years. A grief and loss pile up. The loss of both our chocolate labradors, the ill effects of 3 years of intense stress on my health, on my relationship, on parenting, on our kiddo, my business, my career, friendships, finances, and just about everything that goes on in day-to-day life.  The inventory pretty much blows and the depth of it all has completely broadsided me.  And, while I know all I can do is wave my white flag and surrender, I don’t actually how to do that. So, I’ve been in a pretty bad place. Sad and totally overwhelmed at how to pick up all the pieces and shards of my life and put it back together again.

I didn’t cook much of anything in December. I don’t even really know what we ate.  I think I probably continued my arugula salad obsession and supplemented with peanut butter and jelly or breakfast-for-dinner until we went to Oregon.

grow and resist december cook the books

Metolius River near Sisters, OR (tributary of the Deschutes)

The Cooking:

Ready Mix Pancakes and Waffles (p.142):  The Babylady woke me up one morning and wanted to make pancakes. It was still somewhat dark outside (such is Seattle in winter) and I didn’t want to get out of bed, but it seemed a perfect time to mix up a batch of ready mix to have on hand since we make pancakes or waffles every week. In the past I’ve used Alton Brown’s version, which has all the same ingredients in slightly different proportions. If you haven’t whipped up your own pancake/waffle mix, I recommend it! It takes no time at all to make pancakes under any circumstances, but if you already have the dry ingredients mixed up ahead of time, it is even better. No pulling out recipes if you are like me and don’t remember proportions even if you make something 100 times, less dirty dishes, and it doesn’t take any longer to whip up a giant batch than it does just one.  The Homemade Pantry worked well!  I’d need to do a side by side with the AB version to see if I have a preference, but this is good!  With the dry ingredients mixed all you have to do is add the wet ingredients (buttermilk/milk/egg/butter/vanilla) and you are in action.

grow and resist december cook the books

Pancake helper

Best (Chocolate) Frosting (p.157):  The Babylady turned 6 a few weeks ago and got to bring cupcakes to school. She wanted a repeat of last year’s yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting and sprinkles. You can’t go wrong with a classic.  The Ladyfriend begged me not to do anything different because the result last year was nothing short of perfection.  I promised not to mess with the yellow cake (I used Smitten Kitchen’s yellow cake recipe) even though I wanted to try the recipe in Homemade Pantry. Though, I couldn’t remember what recipe I used last year for the chocolate frosting.  It might have been the one attached to the yellow cake recipe. Or maybe this method. I’m still not sure. Though, not knowing gave me license to try the Homemade Pantry version, which is a cream cheese-butter-powdered sugar frosting with melted chocolate and cocoa (for the chocolate version). I gotta say, I wasn’t wowed. It was fine for sending cupcakes to kindergarten, but it was pale and just sort of blah. There are far better frosting recipes out there, so I wouldn’t use the chocolate method again. It just wasn’t very chocolately. However, if you are tempted to use that vile stuff in the can, then stop that nonsense and still make this.  Even though I won’t make this version again, it was easy, quick and a gazillion times better than the shelf stable chemical goop you’ll find in a can. Just don’t go there. Ever.

grow and resist december cook the books

‘cakes on the griddle! (cue John Denver)

The Participants:

Aimée at Homemade Trade had an impressive month, especially for a December.  She made beef stew, cereal snacks (car snack 1), chocolate pudding, peanut butter, buttermilk ranch dressing, potato leek soup, roasted butternut squash soup, and fruit gelatins.  Not too shabby! And, I will have to give the cereal snacks a try since I’m always on the look out for a new bar recipe!

Karen at Prospect: The Pantry is no stranger to the kitchen and DIY-kitchen projects. She decided to buy Homemade Pantry as a gift for someone who she thought would like making more things at home. Pretty great, right?  She tried out a few recipes including, potato chips, mixed roasted nuts, wheat crackers, chai, and vanilla extract.I think her recipient was pretty happy! She also had a broken camera, so no gorgeous photos from her this month!

The Review:

In full disclosure, a lot of the convenience or pantry items in the book are items I already regularly make, or have made, for our family. So, while there were a lot of items I wanted to try out for comparison sake, it wasn’t new information for my kitchen.  Yet, I know that, in that respect in the general population, I am probably an anomaly. I suspect many of you are in that as well given the niche of this blog.

  • Did the recipes taste good? They were good, basic recipes and a really good introduction to DIY pantry.

  • Would I use it again?  Yes. There were a few things I’d still like to try. The versions of granola bars and crackers, especially, since I’ve yet to find a go-to recipe for those items.

  • Is it reliable? Yes, the directions were clear and instructive and would be perfect for helping a new home cook feel confident in their ability to step away from pre-packaged foods and staples.

  • Can I replicate the recipes and are the results worth the effort?  I, regretfully, only tried 2 recipes with mixed results. I’d make the pancake mix again. And, as I mentioned, even though I didn’t love the frosting, for someone who is making their first frosting it was perfectly passable and light years ahead of canned versions.  So, in that context, I’m still calling it a win.

What I loved about this book, really loved, is that it makes so many things approachable for a beginner. So many people would love to start making their own bread, crackers, tortillas, buttermilk, vanilla, hummus, waffles, cake, etc from scratch but are totally intimidated on where to begin. This book is PERFECT for that person. Alana Chernila will hold your hand and walk you through the process of making hamburger buns, spaghetti sauce, salad dressings, soup, and more.  She discusses reasons to cook from scratch (real scratch, not the fake “I mix two processed boxed items together= cooking from scratch” idea) and helpful gadgets to have on hand. She does a great job encouraging the cook to get curious, find their sense of adventure, and just try something. More than likely, the cook will find that it isn’t hard, didn’t take much time, and tastes infinitely better than anything they could have purchased.  All that is to say, that The Homemade Pantry is perfect for a cook that wants to branch out and start making pantry staples on their own.

It’s a wrap. I’ve been picking out my favorite recipes from the full year of Cook the Books and will get that out in a few days.  If you’ve been following along, thank you. So much. It has been a really fun experience cooking with such focus this year. If you are curious, the list of all the books, with links to the reviews, is below.

grow and resist december cook the books

Three Fingered Jack from Black Butte Ranch (near Sisters), OR

Want to catch up with the year in review?

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2 Responses to December Cook the Books! The Homemade Pantry Review and Wrap-Up!

  1. Happy New Year Meg! Here’s to a better 2014! I totally wanted to participate in the December’s Cook the Books, so I would have one more month under my belt and because the cookbook looked interesting, but I was one of those people that got too busy. I did pick up the book today though, because I saw it at the book store, got to look through it and it looked like there were a lot of useful recipes in it that I don’t already have. Maybe I will do December’s Cook the Books in January!

  2. cookcanread says:

    I fell off a bit at the end but REALLY enjoyed Cooking the Books with you in 2013. Thanks to you and Oh Briggsy for organizing, providing inspiration and collecting our posts. Here’s to continued cooking success and experimentation, and many great books to guide us, in 2014 and beyond–

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