Notes from the Farmers’ Market Chef

Barbara Cornell

The other night I had visions of sugar plums dancing in my head.  I had promised to bring some goodies to a concert reception on Sunday and a staff holiday party on Monday.  What to bring? What to bring?

If I think well of the people who are going to eat these treats I should be making something healthy, right?  …Right?  Well, in my experience desserts and sweets are usually made with things like sugar and butter and chocolate and cream and are inherently unhealthy.  What to do?  What to do?

Well, things might not be as bad as they first seem.  Sugar can be used in moderation (unless you have a tendency toward diabetes) and many recipes allow for the substitution of Splenda or other ingredients for half the sugar. (Full disclosure—I have not tried substitutions for my sugar, so I can’t give my take on what works well.)  As for the butter, studies have shown that the transfats and polyunsaturated fats in margarine and “shortening” are more culpable than saturated fats in heart disease.  This news makes me a little more relaxed about my dessert choices, but it is clear that portion control is necessary!

I tried to find some books at the library that would help me make my choices and I found some “gems,” that is, perfect little things that will satisfy!  One could try Little Cakes by Susan Waggoner.  She offers recipes for tea cakes and cupcakes as well as a wide variety of old-fashioned cakes—just smaller and just right for a small family or a couple.  This isn’t quite what I’m looking for to feed a crowd on a healthy scale, and I do miss photographs.

How about Petite Sweets, Bite-Size Desserts to Satisfy Every Sweet Tooth by Beatrice Ojakangas?  Her beautifully photographed and creative recipes surely tempt both the eye and the appetite, but they seem more appropriate to an intimate dinner party than a buffet table.

It seems like cupcakes might fit the bill.  There is a little book called, simply, Cupcakes by Joanna Farrow.  Wonderful basic recipes but with creative twists to make them fun fill the 64 pages of this pretty little book. And Two-Bite Cupcakes by Viola Goren, offers beautiful presentation, wildly creative ideas, and in a size that lets you try more than one kind.

The Artful Cupcake by Marcianne Miller, 2004, is another gem.  It is subtitled “Baking and Decorating Delicious Indulgences,” and it includes some truly gorgeous ideas.  You will find crystallized flowers (with egg white and superfine sugar), a beautiful lacy chocolate dome (using a balloon), and, wait, I’m supposed to be finding something I can replicate on a grand scale.  I got carried away!

Just for fun I checked out some books with endearing titles like Hello, Cupcake, and What’s New, Cupcake? both by Karen Tack; Hey there, Cupcake, by Clare Crespo; and Who You Callin’ Cupcake? 75 in-your-face Recipes that Reinvent the Cupcake by Michelle Garcia, 1010.  The last will introduce you to “the infamous spinach and apple” cupcake and a “candied white bean with grapefruit” cupcake.

I was headed for serious sugar overload just from reading when I happened upon Carrots ‘N’ Cake: Healthy Living One Carrot and Cupcake at a Time by Tina Haupert.  The difference between this book and the previous titles is that this is in the “Health” section of the library, not the “Cooking” section.  I’m so happy to be introduced to Haupert’s blog, Carrots ‘N’ Cake.  She engagingly relates stories of her life as she tries to get a handle on her own exercise goals and healthy eating habits.

Oh, about my search for a recipe for goodies to share.  I think Cookie Swap! by Lauren Chattman will help me find something.  After all, it’s a holiday get-together and no one expects things to be healthy!  Just practice portion control.

Barbara Cornell joined the Howard County Library System in 1993 as Assistant Branch Manager at the new Elkridge Branch.

Since 2000 she has enjoyed a shorter commute to the Glenwood Branch.

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