When you are a new mom and you can barely find the time to wash your hair much less figure out how to calm your wailing two-month-old who just developed an ear infection and fever, the last thing you want to do is try cooking new recipes.

I’ll be honest here: It was not an easy couple of weeks in our household.
My son is now about two months old and going through what the experts say is the peak of fussiness. On most days, I’m lucky if I can find the time to warm the instant oatmeal in the microwave.

Despite all this, I managed to make four recipes from the new cookbook “Two Dishes” (McClelland & Stewart) by Linda Haynes and Devin Connell : coconut French toast with pineapple maple syrup, lemon and Parmesan orzo mac and cheese with chicken meatballs, Nana’s heavenly rice pudding, and Cheeky Monkey ice cream cake. The recipes were easy to follow, quick to make, and divinely delicious.
You’ll notice the common thread here is they are all variations on favourite comfort foods. And it’s exactly that time of year, when the air gets crisp and I pull my favourite sweaters out of storage, that I begin to crave warm, dense, creamy or fried foods that remind me of my childhood.

Indeed, this cookbook came out right on time as the holiday season approaches, showcasing seasonal produce such as squash, pumpkin, and sweet potato (keep reading to the bottom for three great recipes).

“Two Dishes” was one of those cookbooks I may have walked right past in the bookstore. I didn’t recognize the names, even though Linda Haynes is the co-founder of ACE Bakery and author of the bestselling The Ace Bakery Cookbook.

Fortunately for me, I took the time to leaf through this book, about a mother and daughter’s two different approaches to cooking, and I was smitten. It was instantly relatable. Not only is it approachable, this mother-daughter team takes tried-tested-and-true meals and puts its own fresh spin on them. There are large coloured photos, pull-out “Kitchen Hints,” and anecdotes about how or why these recipes came to be.

It’s the kind of cookbook that will be dog-eared and splattered with oil and batter rather than the kind you will keep in pristine condition on your coffee table because you don’t have the equipment or you can’t find the ingredients to make the hard-to-pronounce recipes.

More importantly, the ingredients listed are not hard to find and the recipes turned out as promised.

My quick and dirty reviews on the recipes I tried:

 

The coconut French toast with pineapple maple syrup was a clever take on the breakfast favourite that substituted coconut milk for milk to dip the bread in, and involved warming pineapple chunks in maple syrup with nutmeg. It was easy, fast, and looked impressive. Next time, I will do my own version with blueberry maple syrup and I’ll use day-old brioche instead of the crusty white bread the book called for.

The lemon and Parmesan orzo mac and cheese with chicken meatballs was delicious and a big hit. Who knew chicken meatballs could be so delicious? And this passed the reheat test as well. I do wish, however, that there was more colour in this dish. Appearances can be deceiving, but we do eat with our eyes.

Nana’s heavenly rice pudding used Arborio rice rather than regular rice. This recipe was comforting, aromatic, just simply delicious. Although it took mere minutes to make, I think next time I might take more time and follow the traditional risotto guidelines which call for adding small amounts of liquid to the rice and waiting for it to be absorbed before adding more. I think that might help to make this rice pudding more creamy.

The Cheeky Monkey ice cream cake is one of those recipes you can whip up and throw in your freeze for when company is coming and you don’t know what to serve. This recipe combines vanilla ice cream, ginger snap cookie crumbs, peanut butter, and banana slices. I think in the future, however, I may substitute toffee chips for the cookie crumbs, and maybe even some shavings of dark chocolate. One complaint, however, even with the plastic wrap lining the loaf pan, the end result was beige and boring. I think in the future I will freeze this ice cream in decorative bakeware such as mini bundt cake or muffin pans and serve the individual portions alongside some berries.

Below you will find, courtesy of McClelland & Stewart, three recipes from the book, including baby pumpkin puddings with cinnamon whipped cream and pecan brittle, honey-roasted squash with crumbled feta and walnuts, and turkey shepherd’s pie with sweet potato crust.
Baby Pumpkin Puddings with Cinnamon Whipped Cream and Pecan Brittle
By Linda Haynes and Devin Connell, authors of Two Dishes

I have a confession to make. These delicate baby puddings scented with a touch of rum and orange zest started life as the filling for my mother’s pumpkin pie. But since I don’t have Devin’s deft hand in the pastry department, I decided to skip the crust and make these sweet little desserts instead. (Though for Thanksgiving dinner Devin and I work in tandem and turn out a pie that would make Mom proud.)

The puddings can be made a day ahead and refrigerated, but bring them to room temperature before serving.

Serves 6

Pecan Brittle
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup pecan halves (about 3 oz/90 g), broken in rough quarters
Pinch of kosher salt

Puddings
14-oz (398 mL) can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling), about 1 3/4 cups
3/4 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground mace
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk (not condensed) or 18% cream
2 Tbsp dark rum
1/2 tsp lightly packed grated orange zest, preferably organic

Cinnamon Whipped Cream
1/2 cup 35% (whipping) cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

For the brittle, melt half the sugar in a small heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Once the sugar starts to melt around the edge of the pan, stir until all the sugar has melted. Add the remaining sugar and stir until it has turned a caramel color. This could take up to 15 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer, it should register 250°F (120°C), just below hard boil.

Stir in the pecans and salt and quickly pour the mixture onto a lightly buttered counter or baking sheet. Use a lightly oiled spatula to smooth the brittle into a thin layer (about ¼ inch thick). Allow to cool and then break into shards. Extra brittle will keep in a closed container for a few days.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

For the puddings, combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and mace in a large bowl.

Whisk together the eggs, evaporated milk, rum and orange zest in a separate bowl. Stir the egg mixture into the puree.

Divide the custard among six 6-cup ovenproof ramekins and place in a roasting pan. If there are any small bubbles on top of the custards, draw the tip of a small knife across the top to break them.

Make a bain marie by pouring warm water into the roasting pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Place a piece of foil lightly over the top and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the puddings are barely quivering in the middle.

Remove the ramekins from the oven, cool on a rack and refrigerate, covered, until an hour before serving.

For the whipped cream, combine the cream and vanilla in a bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and cinnamon. Whip until the cream is soft and billowy. Refrigerate.

Garnish the flans with a dollop of whipped cream and a shard of pecan brittle.

Honey-Roasted Squash with Crumbled Feta and WalnutsThis is a wonderful autumn salad that’s a snap to put together. If I roast the squash a day ahead I can assemble the salad in 10 minutes – the time it takes to warm the squash in a 350°F oven. I like to serve Devin’s grilled shrimp next and finish with an almond tart.

Don’t overdress the mâche. It is very delicate and wilts easily.

Serves 6
1 lb (500 g) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut in 1/2-inch slices (about 12 oz/375 g after seeding and peeling)
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp liquid honey, warm, divided
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp walnut oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 oz (175 to 250 g) mâche or baby mixed greens (about 6 cups lightly packed)
1/2 cup crumbled feta (about 3 oz/90 g)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Toss the squash and olive oil in a large bowl. Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and lightly brush with half the honey. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn and brush with the remaining honey. Bake for another 15 minutes, or until the squash is cooked through.

While the squash is baking, place the walnuts in a small ovenproof dish and bake for about 5 minutes, or until lightly toasted.

Whisk together the lemon juice, walnut oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

Toss the mâche with the vinaigrette in a large bowl and place on serving plates. Top with 3 to 5 slices of squash. Sprinkle with walnuts and feta and a touch more salt and pepper. Serve while the squash is still warm.

KITCHEN HINT
Walnut oil is more expensive than vegetable oils and olive oils because of the difficulty of extracting oil from the nut. It also has a shorter shelf life and should be stored in the refrigerator once opened. It is not suitable for cooking at high temperatures, and is usually used to add flavor to cooked foods and salad dressings.

Turkey Shepherd’s Pie with Sweet Potato CrustYou might think that the words “comfort food” and “healthy” don’t belong in the same recipe, but here they certainly do. I am such a sucker for shepherd’s pie, but sometimes find that its heavy richness can be a bit much — at least after my third serving. So this recipe uses ground turkey, skim milk and low-fat yogurt, reducing the fat but none of the flavor. The sweet potato crust is a great alternative to your typical white potato and really adds a punch when perked up with cayenne pepper and cinnamon.

Serves 6
2 large sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs/750 g total), peeled and cut in 2-inch chunks
2 baking potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs/750 g total), peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup coarsely chopped cooking onion (about 1 medium)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 cup diced carrot
2 stalks celery, diced
1 cup frozen peas
2½ lbs (1.25 kg) ground turkey
1 tsp grated gingerroot
2 tsp kosher salt, divided
1/2 tsp cayenne, divided
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 cup skim milk, warm
1/2 cup low-fat yogurt, at room temperature

Place the sweet potatoes, potatoes and whole garlic clove in a large pot of salted water. Bring to a boil and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain, return to the pot and set aside.

While the potatoes are cooking, heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, or until transparent and soft.

Add the chopped garlic, carrot and celery. Reduce the heat to medium and sauté for 5 minutes.

Stir in the peas and cook for 1 minute.

Remove the vegetables from the skillet, transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel and return to medium-high heat. Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp oil.

Add the ground turkey, ginger, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp cayenne, cumin and cinnamon and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.

Sprinkle on the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until the turkey is cooked through and the juices have thickened.

Return the vegetables to the skillet, combine with the turkey and remove the pan from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Place the pot of drained potatoes over low heat. Add the warm milk, yogurt, the remaining 5 tsp salt and 4 tsp cayenne. Mash together with a hand masher or hand-held mixer.

Spoon the turkey mixture into a 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Spread the potato mixture on top in an even layer.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Excerpted from Two Dishes by Linda Haynes and Devin Connell Copyright © 2009 by Linda Haynes and Devin Connell. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.