Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Book Review: Treat Yourself: 70 Classic Snacks You Loved as a Kid (and Still Love Today) by Jennifer Steinhauer

As part of Blogging for Books, my second book selection came in the mail about a week ago. Treat Yourself: 70 Classic Snacks You Loved as a Kid (and Still Love Today) by Jennifer Steinhauer is a fantastic collection of vintage desserts, snacks, and confectionables that most people have only been able to find in the grocery store in a little cardboard box. Think back to childhood in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, or 80s – what was more prized in your Care Bear lunchbox? A Ding Dong? Maybe a Ho-Ho. Or maybe some Nutter Butters, Raisinets, or a MoonPie? Or crunchy, cheesy, Cheez-Its? Any of the above were delicious, coveted, and easily traded, if you were truly willing to depart with it for somebody else’s lunchbox treasure.

As time has gone on and we have become adults, these confections are still coveted, by us and the children around us, but with the rising concern about health and the food we consume, many of us want to find a better alternative to the saturated, trans-fats, excess sugar and salt, and oftentimes, lower quality ingredients that most of these desserts and snacks are laden with. Enter Jennifer Steinhauer.  Her unique book filled with fun facts, baking tips that parallel America’s Test Kitchen-quality knowledge, and beautiful pictures is not only filled with 70 mouth-watering recipes, but the actual writing is quite delectable, as well.

Jennifer has been writing for twenty years at The New York Times (where else can you truly earn your chops?), as well as a weekly food column for called Weeknights with Jenny (where she actually writes about chops). But this is only part of what makes her book so special. The food, the pictures, the writing, the ever-so-desired treats and snacks that we all love, but no one wants to eat without feeling guilty. Not anymore.

Now, I’m not a fan of eating with or without guilt. I say, eat what you want. Everything has its place, unless you are literally living on Twinkies. Your shelf-life may end up being as long as the Twinkie’s itself, as long as you’re preserved and full of cream. But there is an alternative…and Jennifer Steinhauer is releasing it to the world. Cupcake lunches, here we come!

Okay, enough sweet treat soapboxery. We all know that sweets in moderation might prove to be okay, as long as you balance them out with a long list of healthy other-things. And Jennifer is the first to point out in her introduction in Treat Yourself that some of the recipes have less calories/sugar, some have more. This isn’t about making these treats healthy by hiding fruits and veggies in them (unless the original did), but the book is all about deconstructing and reinventing the beloved classic snacks from Pinwheels to Ritz Crackers to the ever-loved-by-nearly-all-children popsicle. Now you can rest assured that life is good and so is your food when you bake a little sweet something right in your own kitchen. And in my kitchen, that means gluten-free and probably dairy-free.

So, here is where the true test begins – how are the recipes?

Jennifer’s recipes aren’t gluten-free, nor dairy-free. But over the years, I have mastered the art of gluten-free baking, for the most part. Yeast doughnuts are tricky. So are cinnamon rolls. But as I pawed through her new cookbook, I could tell most of these would easily translate to gluten-free (the trickiest part), and dairy-free has become pretty much a piece of cake. I had so many that I wanted to try (can you say, Chicken in a Biskit?!), but I chose something where I already had everything on-hand – Nutter Butters.

Oh, I used to love a Nutter Butter every now and again. The peanut-shaped cookies sandwiched with a soft, yet firm peanutty filling. Just like an Oreo, I’d peel the two cookies apart, lick or roll the peanut filling off the inside, then eat the two cookies separately or with milk. They were as much fun to eat as they were to taste. I haven’t had a Nutter Butter in years.

Until yesterday.

Now, here is how I can tell a cookbook is truly legit. If the gluten-free version is as good as the Nutter Butters were, the glutened version will be equally outstanding. The texture, the taste, the quality was just like eating a Nutter Butter right out of the package, gluten and all. I was truly amazed. I never really know how a recipe is going to turn out (although usually I can tell by the ingredient list ratio); most of the time, you just have to give it a try. The recipe will tell you what it’s worth. And this one is worth about a million bucks. Okay, maybe more like $19.99, or probably less on Amazon.

The cookies were crisp and peanutty, but not like a peanut butter cookie exactly. And I used a combination of gluten-free flours, xanthan gum, and natural peanut butter to boot. They reminded me exactly of a Nutter Butter. Even if I haven’t had one in a long time, the memories came flooding back. And who cares, anyway? These cookies were outstanding! I’d eat the cookie by itself.

But then, there’s the filling. A soft, peanutty, slightly salty flavor with just the right amount of rollability. Because that’s important. The one downside to this whole baking experiment: the recipe says it makes about 22 medium sandwich cookies (to which she used the top part of a bikini cookie cutter – I used a heart cutter) with enough filling to fill them. I made 44 medium-heart-shaped sandwich cookies. And no, it wasn’t 44 individual cookies, hence the 22 sandwiches – I had 44 sandwiches when I was done. Great! Some to share. This made not quite enough filling and it would have been an easy double, but I ran out of peanut butter. Not complaining. They were still freakin’ awesome! But double-filling is so good too. Just look at the Double-Stuf Oreo. Twice the trans-fatty goodness. Unless you make Jennifer Steinhauer’s.

Back to the Nutter Butter. These cookies were spot-on. The texture was great, the flavor was incredible, and I adore them. So far, no complaints from friends either – gluten-free or not. That’s how I can tell this is a great book. Gluten or no gluten, the cookies rock. I am excited to try a few more recipes. Maybe every single one.

Happy eating! 

Finished product with a little heart-y bite. 

Check out the Nutter Butter recipe here

*I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. 

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