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Food As Muse: Cookbooks, Kitchen Essentials And A Recipe For Tasty Blondies

Ileana Morales Valentine

Cookbooks can be both inspirational and useful, making them exceptionally good gifts, according to Tampa Bay Times cookbook reviewer Ileana Morales Valentine.

As part of the recent Florida Matters episode "Food As Muse," WUSF's Bobbie O'Brien visited the kitchen of the 28-year-old writer and columnist as she was testing a recipe:

Reprinted with permission from MY TWO SOUTHS: Blending the Flavors of India into a Southern Kitchen © 2016 by Asha Gomez with Martha Hall Foose, Running Press 

peanut sesame blondies with chocolate chunks

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing baking dish

1 cup packed light-brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Credit MY TWO SOUTHS by Asha Gomez with Martha Hall Foose
MY TWO SOUTHS by Asha Gomez with Martha Hall Foose

1/2 cup (4 ounces) creamy peanut butter

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted, divided

1/2 cup (4 ounces) roasted salted peanuts, roughly chopped and divided

1/2 cup (4 ounces) bittersweet chocolate chips, divided

Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8 x 8-inch baking dish and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, combine the melted butter and light-brown sugar by beating at medium speed for 1 minute. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each, then add the vanilla extract and beat on medium speed for another 30 seconds. Add in the peanut butter and beat for another 2 minutes; scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure all of the ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Add the salt, baking powder, and flour, and beat on low speed until the ingredients are well combined and the batter is thick and smooth, about 2 minutes. Let mixture sit and cool for a minute or two. Add 1½ teaspoons of the sesame seeds, ¼ cup of the peanuts, and ¼ cup of the bittersweet chocolate chips; mix, on low, for another 30 seconds.

Evenly spread the batter into the baking dish using a plastic spatula. Sprinkle the remaining sesame seeds, peanuts, and chocolate chips on top and gently press them into the surface of the batter.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with cakey crumbs attached, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Notes: These bars keep well in an airtight container for one week or well wrapped and frozen for three months.

Credit Bobbie O'Brien, WUSF
Peanut Sesame Blondies With Chocolate Chunks

Morales Valentine also provided some cookbook recommendations below, as well as a list of her kitchen must-haves: 

Some of my top cookbooks to give as gifts this year:

Cookbooks make for a gift that is both practical and thoughtful. There are so many niche cookbooks available, which allows for selecting a book that specifically matches someone's interests or style.

"Taste & Technique" by Naomi Pomeroy with Jamie Feldmar

Ten Speed Press, 400 pages, $40

"Small Victories" by Julia Turshen

Chronicle Books, 304 pages, $35

"Classic German Baking" by Luisa Weiss

Ten Speed Press, 288 pages, $35

"Dorie's Cookies" by Dorie Greenspan 

Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 528 pages, $35

A few of my essential kitchen tools:

Kitchen scale: For easy, accurate measuring. Scales are very affordable and don't take up much space.

Microplane zester/grater: Best grater. Perfectly zests citrus and grates nutmeg and hard cheeses. It will turn your Parmigiano-Reggiano into fluffy cheese snow.

Glass bowls: I have small glass bowls in a few different sizes to lay out all my ingredients before cooking or baking.

Dutch oven: I have an enameled cast iron Dutch oven and I use it all the time. It's great for stews, soups, frying, baking bread, or cooking beans. It does everything.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.