I didn't set out to be a Cookie Diva. I am more a maker of savory things and would rather bake a big pan of lasagna over anything else. Shrimp and grits ranks pretty high, too.
I credit you, dear readers, for placing me on the path of being rolled in dough and dusted in sugar. In fact, I can identify some of you by name: Patricia Kucera, Jeri Emery, Florence Tirabassi, Gayle Hackbarth and Lisa Banzanella Smith.
These five are among the hundreds who, since 2002, have submitted cookie recipes for the Times’ annual holiday section, which publishes for the ninth time on Dec. 1. And now, dozens of these recipes are part of my new cookbook, Cookielicious: 150 Fabulous Recipes to Bake & Share.
I hope you'll join me for cookies and punch — or coffee — at the Cookielicious launch party from 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Coliseum in downtown St. Petersburg. (See accompanying box for more details.) I would love to meet readers who opened their recipe boxes and Internet stashes to me, as well as those who have enjoyed the recipes over the years.
In case it's not obvious, we — that would be me and the Keeler Elves — have had a blast testing and tasting over the years. If there are better jobs out there, I don't know what they would be. All the cookie recipes in the book were tested in home kitchens by the eager elves, who have no formal training but lots of experience. I think they are a lot like you.
Cookielicious, a joint project of the St. Petersburg Times and Seaside Publishing, is a 224-page compilation of reader favorites and staff originals, including Peanut Lover Chocolate Cookies, Joyful Almond Blondies and Chocolate Raisin Oaties. I also offer lots of tips on baking, equipment and techniques, along with ideas on how to wrap cookies as gifts.
It's a great-looking book, too, thanks to Times designer Nikki Life. A color photo accompanies each recipe. I always like that in a cookbook, so I have that visual goal.
While the Times’ annual cookie project focuses on Christmas treats, Cookielicious spreads the sweets throughout the year, with chapters called Anytime!, Sharing!, Kids!, Chocolate! and Holiday! I am especially partial to the recipes in the kids chapter, many of which can be made with the help of children and others that will simply appeal to young tastes.
Those of you who purchased O Christmas Treats two years ago will be happy to find 75 new recipes. Among those are Kucera's Licorice Snaps, one of my all-time favorite cookies.
Really, though, I am a fan of all of them. There isn't a so-so one in the bunch. I think you'll find plenty of tempting choices for cookie exchanges, after-school snacks and just because.
"These are not dainties, they are what you want to grab a handful of, sniff and savor, nibble away, dip in milk or coffee or tea and feel just as happy as you did when a cookie was a reward for good behavior," writes John Mariani, food and travel columnist for Esquire Magazine, in the foreword.
By studying the recipes and accompanying photos, Mariani fully understood the concept of the book. These are recipes for everyday cooks, not culinary school graduates or people who aspire to Martha Stewart fanciness. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but a Domestic Diva does not live at my house.
A Cookie Diva? Absolutely.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8586.