Stacy Adimando loves to cook and bake at this time of year. But even though she values the simplicity of traditional recipes, she doesn't like to bake the same old cookie year after year.
As food editor of Every Day with Rachael Ray, the native New Yorker spends a lot of time studying aspects of various dishes, testing recipes and perfecting meal preparation techniques to pass on to her readers. She also travels back to her ancestral home of Italy fairly often, seeking inspiration from the traditional cuisine she enjoys there for her cooking classes at the Sunday Suppers studio in Brooklyn.
But her true passion is tweaking classic dishes - such as grilled eggplant with citrus-mint vinaigrette, whole baked fish or ricotta fritters with fruit sauce - to make them her own and empower the people who come to her workshops to relax, have fun and take risks in the kitchen.
"A lot of people are intimidated by baking, but our philosophy at Rachael Ray, as well as my own personal one, is it's only as hard as you make it," she says. "Certain recipes, people are afraid to tweak in any way, (they think), 'If I change this, I'm going to blow it.' I want them to have fun with baking, change it up, go over the top."
Despite her busy schedule, Adimando makes time to cook and bake at home. In fact, she had so many desserts in her head, she had to narrow them down to about 50 original recipes to include in her cookbook, "The Cookiepedia: Mixing, Baking, and Reinventing the Classics."
She'll show techniques and share some tips from the book, such as her secrets for making cookies "chewier vs. more crisp" and when it's OK to swap vanilla extract for coconut, 2 p.m. Saturday at the Barnegat branch of Ocean County Library.
Adimando uses a conversational tone in the binder-style manual, adding "visual cues" describing how a batter should smell or look at a certain point in the process, or what texture the dough should be, to reassure novice cooks they're on the right track. She includes variations on recipes, such as a classic oatmeal cookie with directions for adding raisins, chocolate chips or dried berries. And she leaves space for cooks to scribble notes on their own kitchen quirks, taste preferences or substitutions.
Some of the pastries also have been featured in Ray's "365: No Repeats" cookbook.
Adimando says she loves all her recipes equally, but some - like the pistachio butter cookie - she loves a little more. She adapted the ingredients from a classic peanut butter cookie, aiming to modernize it. The result is easily her favorite confection of the book.
"It turned out just this epic cookie," she says. "The flavor of the pistachio really comes through and the brown sugar gives it that smokey sweetness. It's chewy and soft, really, really unique."
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If you go
Stacy Adimando, author of "The Cookiepedia," demonstration and book signing, 2 p.m. Saturday at Ocean County Library, 112 Burr St., Barnegat. Call 609-698-3331