Photo of Lemon Drink on yellow background overlaid with text: "2 Ways to Make a Thirst-Quenching Lemon Shake-Up"

Shake, Shake Shake…Shake, Shake, Shake…Lemon Shake-Ups, Lemon Shake-Ups!

Sweet…tart…sugary…lemony…can you think of a better thirst quencher than a Lemon Shake-Up?

Don’t they bring back happy memories of carnivals and festivals?

But from what I can see in my recipe box, there are two totally separate opinions on the best way to make these satisfying, thirst-quenching lemon drink drinks.  Should you use a sugar syrup or just sugar?

I pulled two recipes from my trusty recipe binder (which, by the way, features luscious lemons!) – one of each type. Try them both. Then let us know which is your favorite!

EASY Lemon Shake-Up

1. Pour 1/2 cup sugar into a 16 oz. cup.
2. Cut 2 lemons in half.
3. Hand squeeze lemons; drop juice and lemons into cup.
4. Add ice as desired, and fill cup with water.
5. Cover the cup and shake it vigorously until the sugar is dissolved.

Sugar Syrup Lemon Shake-Up

Ingredients

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (reserve rinds)

Preparation

1. Combine sugar and water.
2. Boil for 5 minutes; cool to room temperature.
3. Add lemon juice.
4. Strain and keep refrigerated.

To make Lemon Sugar Syrup Shake-Up

1. Add approximately 2 tablespoons of syrup to each glass of ice water.
2. Add the rind of one/half lemon that you squeezed to get the juice.
3. Cover glass and shake to blend.

So….what do you think? Easy or sugary – or both? Let us know! Or if you have a BETTER way to make lemon shake-ups in YOUR recipe box, please share!

tomato sauce ingredients on wooden planks with text "Tomato Sauce Base That Should Be in Every Recipe Box"

Tomato Sauce Base That Should Be in Every Recipe Box

Tomato sauce. It’s ubiquitous in Italian-style dishes. You use it so frequently that you probably never write it down. But why not take a few minutes and write it down for the rest of us? Once you’ve got your tomato sauce base in your recipe box, it’s going to be much easier to share with other family members and friends.

Here’s my tried and true recipe for a fabulous tomato sauce.

Basic Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

• 3/4 cup chopped onion

• 4-6 cloves minced garlic (minced)

• 1/4 cup olive oil

• 2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes (yes, I know fresh is better. But sometimes…)

• 2 teaspoons salt

• 1 teaspoon sugar

• 1 bay leaf

• 1(6 ounce) can tomato paste

• 3/4 teaspoon dried basil

• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

  1. In a pot over medium heat, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until onion is soft.
  2. Stir in tomatoes, salt, sugar and bay leaf.
  3. Cover, reduce to low, and simmer 70-100 minutes.
  4. Stir in tomato paste, basil, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and simmer 30 minutes more.
This tomato sauce recipe takes a while to cook, but the whole house smells like Italian steamy goodness!
Want to share your tomato sauce recipe? Add your suggestions on our Facebook here or leave a comment below.

A Jumble-lotta Creole and Cajun Cooking Brings the Taste of New Orleans & Mardi Gras to a Regional American Cookbook

With Mardi Gras festivities officially underway in New Orleans on Feb. 24, it seems only fitting that we let the good times roll with a better understanding of Creole and Cajun food. The spicy delights of both cuisines are finding their way into my current cookbook project, which is creating a family cookbook collection of regional American foods.

The last time I was in New Orleans (or Nawlins, Nola, N’orluns, if you prefer), I attended a wedding. It was some time ago, and I managed to sneak away from the pre-nuptial activities one morning to have breakfast at Brennan’s. It is still the most expensive single off-the-menu breakfast I have ever eaten, and it was glorious.

While dining in New Orleans, it never really bothered me that various dishes I ate while there mostly came from two very different French-speaking cultures: Creole and Cajun. While I’m not going to discuss the history of the region, suffice to say that Creoles are considered descendants of immigrant colonials from Spain and France, while Cajuns are descended from French Canadian exiles.

Their two very different origins make for some very interesting dishes, some that I’m including in my family cookbook collection. Here are some ways to tell the difference between Creole and Cajun food:

Characteristics of Creole Food
– Spanish/French colonial influence with African and Italian undertones
– From cosmopolitan city dwellers (The French Quarter)
– Rich glorious sauces made with herbs and mild spices
– Lots of butter, cream and high-end ingredients
– Jambalaya will be reddish and made with tomatoes
– Not usually hot in spice intensity
– Can be quite showy, colorful

Characteristics of Cajun Food
– French Canadian influence with French and Southern undertones
– From country swampland dwellers who fish, trap and hunt (The Bayou)
– Features local victuals, such as alligator, possum, turtle
– Ingenious rustic gravies made with inexpensive ingredients (port fat, spices, fresh garden patch pickings)
– Jambalaya will be brown, without tomatoes
– Usually hot in spice intensity, and may be blackened
– Generally modest one-pot food, plain and simple

As I’ve said, which cuisine I eat is of little matter to me as long as it tastes good. And I haven’t had a single thing in New Orleans that I didn’t like. I can’t wait to add several more Creole and Cajun recipes to my new family cookbook collection of regional American foods. I bet you might enjoy doing the same thing!

Happy cookbooking,

Erin

Secrets to Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

Let me in on some of my favorite tips for perfect chocolate chip cookies that will definitely be going in my own family cookbook:

  1. Resist temptation and let the dough sit for 36 hours in the fridge. This allows the liquids in the dough to penetrate the flour. Deeper penetration gives the chocolate chip cookies a richer flavor and a more consistent color and texture. Apparently all the great cookie bakeries in New York follow this advice.
  2. Six inches is the ideal size for chocolate chip cookies. It gives you three zones–the crunchier rim, the soft center, and that great in-between zone that has the most flavor. Any smaller and they lose those interior zones. Any bigger and I find them impossible to flip!
  3. Sprinkle some sea salt on top to give it added dimension right before baking.

Here are the ingredients listed in my personal recipe:

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour

1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract

1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or feves, at least 60 percent cacao content

Sea salt. Bake at 350° F for 18-20 minutes.

My advice is to forgo the chocolate disks if you can’t get them and just use good ol’ fashioned Nestle semi sweet chocolate chips.

Erin

Acorn Treats For Squirrely Kids

I made these last year for Thanksgiving and they were such a hit.  I was asked to please, please make them for this year!  So here you go.  So simple!  You only need three ingredients to make these super simple Acorn Treats, and it made my kids, ahem, squirrely for more! 

TOTAL TIME: Prep: 35 min. + chilling

MAKES: 48 servings
Ingredients1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
48 milk chocolate kisses
48 Nutter Butter BitesNutritional Facts1 cookie equals 47 calories, 3 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 1 mg cholesterol, 16 mg sodium, 6 g carbohydrate, trace fiber, 1 g protein.
Ingredients1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
48 milk chocolate kisses
48 Nutter Butter BitesAdd to Shopping List
Nutritional Facts1 cookie equals 47 calories, 3 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 1 mg cholesterol, 16 mg sodium, 6 g carbohydrate, trace fiber, 1 g protein.
Directions In a microwave, melt chocolate chips; stir until smooth. Spread the flat side of each kiss with a small amount of melted chocolate; immediately attach each to a cookie.
Cut a small hole in the corner of a pastry or plastic bag; insert a small round tip. Fill with remaining melted chocolate. Pipe a stem onto each acorn. (I found it much easier to stick a chocolate chip or peanut butter chip to the top.) Place on waxed paper-lined baking sheets; refrigerate until set. Store in an airtight container. Yield: 4 dozen.

2 Quick, Simple, Tasty Artichoke Recipes Anyone Will Like

Sometimes I wonder who first tried to eat an artichoke (and why). Was it some hungry creature searching for moisture in the artichoke being watched by an equally hungry caveman (no offense intended to the Geico Neanderthals)?  Either one must have been pretty desperate to rip off all those prickly artichoke leaves.

Nowadays, most people use a very sharp knife to cut through the fibrous artichoke leaves to remove the thorny leaf tips. Personally, I like to peel off any scruffy outer leaves from the artichoke, and then snip off the remaining artichoke leaf tips with my kitchen shears. (I find that I have better control and won’t slice my fingers in case I have a senior moment.)

Here are two quick, simple, tasty artichoke recipes (most) anyone will like:

1. STEAMED ARTICHOKES & LEAF DIP
My favorite way to eat an artichoke is steamed. Honestly, they aren’t much of a stomach filler. Just a “green” taste, really, and fun for party conversation. Although lots of people eat the steamed artichoke leaves dipped in melted butter, my version of a leaf dip is richer and a good excuse to eat something more satisfying.

Here’s How:
Steam trimmed artichokes until the heart is soft (when you can easily stick a fork into the bottom and feel no resistance). The cooking time will vary, depending on the size of the artichoke. Drain and set aside to cool. Serve artichokes on a salad plate (or small bowl) with Leaf Dip, as follows, on the side.

Leaf Dip:
Use about ½ cup of mayonnaise for every artichoke serving. For each serving, add garlic powder, ground oregano (or ground marjoram), lemon juice, and salt to taste.  Add enough of the garlic and oregano until you are scared you’ve added too much. Mix well. The dip should have a green tint to it. Let it sit and mellow while the artichokes cook. Serve in small dipping dishes with the artichoke. (Great for other vegetables, too.)

2. ARTICHOKE PASTA SALAD
This artichoke recipe is so easy, I shouldn’t even include it here. But we all need some quick, simple and tasty recipes once in awhile. I like this dish because pasta salad is usually so bland, and this “recipe” has a bright piquant flavor thanks to marinated artichoke hearts.

Make your favorite pasta salad recipe, using bow tie pasta, some capers, black olives and chopped roasted red pepper for color. Take a whole jar of marinated artichoke hearts (any size) and puree them in the blender. Pour over the pasta salad and toss. Instantly better, no matter how much dressing you had in it previously. (This is a great quick, simple, tasty sauce substitute for pesto or red tomato sauces, too.)

Try my artichoke recipe ideas next time you want to do an artichoke dish. If you like them, I wouldn’t mind if you want to add them to your family cookbook using the recipe template provided in our cookbook software.  Check out more artichoke recipes via your favorite search engine on the Internet.

Happy cookbooking,

Erin

 

 

Recipes Can Inspire Creativity, If You Dare

How many of us really follow untried clipped-out recipes? I will try to follow a new recipe the first time exactly as written. I have a tendency to get creative and want to step out of the box, perhaps too often, so following a recipe exactly is pretty taxing for me. But, out of respect for the recipe’s creator, I will follow it, but only once.

After that, I am inspired to take license and go with the flow. Perhaps I don’t have any nutmeg to enhance the lobster thermidor. Well, allspice might just do. Or, maybe that particular day I prefer a different twist by adding jalapeno peppers to a cream cheese spread instead of the usual olives (because I forgot to stock up on them last time I went to market). A creative approach can often improve a timid recipe and make it outstanding enough to include in your family cookbook.

What kinds of creative spice substitutions can be successful? In general, it seems spices that we naturally associate with sweet dishes (cinnamon, nutmeg, Chinese 5-spice powder) can most likely be substituted for one another. Likewise for the savory-dish herbs, such as oregano, thyme, or marjoram, or something else from your spice rack.

(Product plug! Our adjustable spice rack lets you be especially creative with your spices!)

 

Of course, only your own taste buds will know for sure, but don’t be afraid to experiment. You may have a family winner to star in your next cookbook software creation.

Erin

Ripe Home Grown Tomatoes in Winter Mean Erin’s Christmas Tomato Pie

During the summer, I simply cannot eat enough fresh home grown tomatoes. The flavor of a just-picked tender home grown tomato is unsurpassed, and conjures a fond memory of grandma’s table with loads of fresh vegetables from her bountiful garden.

Perhaps that is why I still have a tomato bush, year in, year out. There is something compelling about home grown tomatoes. In fact, I once heard someone say that if you don’t know what to talk about with a stranger, even a famous one, the subject of home grown tomatoes always breaks the ice.

To make one of my favorite Christmas dinner dishes — a simple savory pie made with fresh home grown tomatoes, mayonnaise, cheese, and a pie shell — I have to plan ahead. Before the frost hits, I ceremoniously pick any remaining tomatoes on my vine (which typically are still green). I wrap up the tomatoes in newspaper or paper towels and place them in a lightweight container (like a Styrofoam cooler). Then I add one medium size apple (any kind) to the container, and cover it all with the lid.  Like a Christmas miracle, the home grown tomatoes will ripen slowly and burst with flavor as if they’d been kissed by the sun.

Below is a family recipe from my family cookbook for single-crust home grown tomato pie, a Christmas tradition in our house that is lovely served warm as a side dish, and just as wonderful all by itself.

Matilda’s Christmas Tomato Pie

frozen pie shell, baked 15 minutes according to package directions
5 ripe medium tomatoes, sliced thick
1 cup Best Foods mayonnaise (do not use Miracle Whip)
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Salt & pepper, to taste

Slice the ripe home grown tomatoes and fan the slices around the bottom of the partially cooked pie shell. Sprinkle tomatoes generously with salt and pepper. Combine mayonnaise and cheddar cheese, then spread this mixture evenly over the top, making sure all tomatoes are covered. Bake for 30-35 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Topping should be slightly browned. Slice and enjoy.

Some cooks, like Paula Deen, prefer their tomato pie with herbs and several cheeses, but I’m more of a purist and prefer the true tomato taste. See which one you like best, and by all means, please include this recipe in your family cookbook, if you so desire. Once you try home grown tomato pie, you’ll wonder how you’ve survived Christmas dinner without it.

Happy Cookbooking,

Erin

Five Reasons to Make a Christmas Cookbook Now

It’s early September and yes, you really should be thinking about Christmas. At least a little. If you want to put together a lovely family memento that everybody will love, get started now on making a family cookbook.

Here are 5 reasons to start now:

  1. It will save a lot of money. American families averaged $830 in Christmas presents last year. With our software, plus printing and binding and maybe a recipe binder or two, you can still come in at under $85 and have gifts for 7-10 people! That’s around $8/person. And it won’t be a “cheap” gift–it’ll be something sincere and heartfelt!
    Grandma-baby-cover
  2. Making a cookbook as a Christmas gift is pretty easy. Get our cookbook software (Matilda’s Cookbook Software), type up your recipes, add some photos, select a template and print. Stick them in our recipe binders or have them spiral bound at a local photocopy shop for a few dollars (or do both–the nice binder for the real cooks and spiral bound for everyone else).
  3. It does take a little time though to do it right. You’ll want to pick through your recipes, collect recipes from others in the family, get photos if you want them. Do you really want to be doing this in December with everything going on? Do it now and save yourself the headache.
  4. It will be something everybody will talk about. You’ve just made something that is filled with memories of great meals. You WILL hear somebody say, “I haven’t had that in ages!”
  5. It will be a family tradition. A few years from now others will have used your cookbook and have suggestions to add. Add them in, hit print, and voila, another year of Christmas presents covered!

We’ve had thousands of great stories from our customers who have put together their own family cookbook, and you can do it to. Get started with our software and plan for a really fun Christmas present!

Good cookbooking!

Erin

Oiling Wooden Spoons and Wooden Spatulas

So you’ve bought a wood spoon or spatula (or both) from somewhere (hopefully us right here!) If you bought bamboo, you are pretty much done. It’s such a hard, non-porous wood that it’s not going to absorb a lot of oil. If you bought something of another hardwood, such as the beechwood in the above example, you should apply a quick coat of oil to it to give it a much more interesting, pretty color, as well as vastly improve it’s life span.

We really recommend walnut oil. It gives this really rich, interesting color, and it smells absolutely fantastic.

Just go to your local grocery store’s olive oil section, and you’ll probably find one bottle somewhere in there of walnut oil. Buy the smallest bottle, because you’ll really only use a tablespoon or two of it. Pour it onto a paper towel, give it a wipe, and in 20 seconds you’ll be shocked at the difference!

If you’re likely to cook for somebody with very extreme nut allergies, there are other (less deep and pretty) alternatives. Coconut oil, rapeseed oil and mineral oil all work well.

Here’s a look at own tests of oiling spoons and spatulas with different household cooking and mineral oils:

Here’s a link to our spoons and spatulas:

Spoonset_Lavendaria_001_Main__03621.1470149808.1280.1280

The 9 Best Organized Recipe Websites

A quick google search of course brings you to heavy hitters like AllRecipes.com and FoodNetwork.com, but sometimes you want quality over quantity (and clever people who know how to top search engines). Besides, a lot of the recipes on those sites are kind of bland, or have been modified 20 ways until Tuesday to make palatable in the comments, which means what gets voted up isn’t actually what was cooked.

Here are a few of my own favorite recipe websites organized for carefully curated cooking content:

  1. Serious Eats has a fantastic Food Lab column that I love.  Beautiful easy-to-follow photographed instructions and fantastic recipes. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is a genius! Plus, they describe not only what you are doing but why, which can be helpful in learning cooking in general.
  2. The Kitchn is another genius recipe site organized with just fantastic quality. You’ll be in there for years trying to get through it all.
  3. I love Nonna’s Cooking for it’s super-simple interface and lots of user additions.

    Beth from Budget Bytes

  4. Budget Bytes is the best site on the internet for cooking within your means! Beth not only tells you how to cook, but what it’ll cost per dish. Smart.
  5. BBC Good Foods proves that the British do indeed cook well.
  6. Food Wishes does a really good job with photography and youtubes of the dishes. Browse there and get hungry! Here’s a nice one I made recently:

  7. Saveur has more of an international, experimental flare, as does
  8. Smitten Kitchen is great for it’s fantastic recipes organized by seasonality.
  9. The New York Times cooking section is brilliant because they thoroughly test everything, and the selection is enormous.

Well, these are my faves. What do you look for?

Good cookbooking!

Erin

Look-a-Like KFC Fried Chicken

Want to try making fried chicken like the Colonel? We don’t have the Official Recipe, but our test kitchen came up with the closest equivalent. Give it a shot!

1 frying chicken, cut into frying pieces
1 1/2 cups flour
1 Pkt. (dry) Good Seasons Italian Dressing (The 11 or so herbs and spices!)
1 Envelope Lipton (or other brand) Tomato Cup of Soup
2 eggs, well beaten
2/3 cup milk
Vegetable oil to cover bottom of your skillet; about 1/2 inch deep.

1. Combine eggs and milk. Set aside.
2. Combine flour with the Italian dressing and soup mix.
3. Dip chicken pieces in milk-egg mixture and roll them in the
flour-seasoning mixture. Repeat procedure.
4. Fry pieces over medium heat for 25 to 30 minutes, turning often.
5. Remove from fire. Drain and serve.

Cold soup for you!

The New York Times has a fantastic collection of cold soup recipes on their site. The secret to cold soup is that it has to be ICE COLD, not luke warm. Not even kind of cold. It must rattle your teeth with its icy goodness!

I took the above screenshot of the page because I just loved the layout. Follow the link to learn all the recipes, but here’s my favorite:

Vichyssoise
Ingredients

Butter

Potatoes

Leeks

Stock

Cream

Chives

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large pot. Add 3 peeled and cubed potatoes and 3 trimmed and chopped leeks. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring, until softened. Add 4 cups stock. Boil, cover, lower the heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Purée, then let cool. Stir in 1/2 cup or more cream before serving. Garnish: Chopped chives.

(And yes, the title of this post is a slight allusion to one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes.)

21 Rotten Foods Found in Your Family Cookbook

How many recipes for rotten food are in your family cookbook?  Or, how many recipes in your family cookbook include ingredients classified as rotten food? I bet you have quite a few!

Consider that some of the most beloved rotten food tastes from the Americas and Europe (especially France) are based on some form of decomposition, decay, or the result of deliberately drying, fermenting, spicing, or injecting foods with “good” bacteria.

It is always amusing to try and fathom why someone would taste, let alone eat, some of the most disgusting rotten food products out there (and pay extra for them). Culture certainly has a lot to do with rotten food being coveted.  Smelly, salty things don’t seem like such attractions, however, go most anywhere in the world and you’re bound to find at least one food that is prized for its putrid qualities.

Still think you don’t have any rotten food recipes in your family cookbook? Try these on for size:

21 Rotten Foods Found in Your Family Cookbook

Aged meat
Beer
Cheese
Creme fraiche
Cassoulet
Confit
Cured meat & hams (Parma, Rosette, Smithfield)
Fish paste
Fish sauce
Kim-Chi
Pate
Rillette
Salt cod
Sour bean curd
Sour cream
Soy sauce
Sun-dried tomatoes
Surstromming herring
Wild game birds
Wine
Yogurt

Most of the rotten foods in the list above are an acquired taste. And, coincidentally, most rotten foods are the result of someone trying to extend the usefulness of a food by extending its due date (aka preservation to prevent spoilage), thus staving off hunger.

Can’t really blame/credit any one person for the “discovery” of cheese, or the process of fermenting soy sauce or beer. It is just interesting to imagine why anyone would try rotten food in the first place.

Well, I wouldn”t recommend adding a section in your family cookbook called “Rotten Foods,” but it is fun to think about and perhaps use for idle conversation during lulls in the Super Bowl competition (when you are working on your family cookbook, recipe cards, family reunion, or fundraiser).

Happy Cookbooking,

Erin

Top 5 Hot Comfort Beverages to Spice Up a Cold Autumn Day

One of my favorite ways to warm up, after crunching through snow or enduring a cold windy day, is to enjoy a hot comfort beverage that soothes and relaxes. After all, when you have a warm, full tummy, you are so happy and content that a nap just inevitably creeps up on you, doesn’t it?

Here are recipe ideas for five of my favorite hot comfort beverages. I keep ingredients for all of them in my pantry so they are easy to make, and easier still to add to your family cookbook. Just cut and paste them into your recipe template and feel free to tweak them to your own taste:

1. CHAI
This lovely Indian-inspired hot tea beverage is about the most comforting hot comfort beverage I know. It is creamy, spicy and very relaxing.
Key spice: Cardamom
Shortcuts: Chai spices, tea bags, evaporated milk

3 cups water
3 teaspoons loose black tea
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2-1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar

Place water, tea and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer a few minutes. Strain. Add milk and sugar, then return mixture to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Serves 4-6 (I like this a lot).

2. HOT CHOCOLATEContinue reading

How to Tell if Fruit is Fresh

Here’s a handy guide somebody emailed to me years ago about how to tell if your fruit is fresh. Feel free to add it to your cookbook. (I should probably add it to our cookbook software!)Continue reading

Nectarines Cooked in a Crock Pot: A New Favorite

I did something this week that I never thought of before. Twice, as a matter of fact. I liked the first result so much that I had to try it again, and I am considering adding the easy recipe to my family cookbook.

You see, my local market discounts less-than-perfect produce in addition to day-old bakery items. I’m not proud when it comes to saving money. Especially these days! So, when I saw a several-pound bag of very ripe nectarines (marked down to the price of two nectarines I might add), I immediately snatched them up. Roasted nectarines with crumbled graham crackers, walnuts, and vanilla yogurt seemed like a wonderful dessert idea.Continue reading

Bacon & Brown Sugar: AKA Pig Candy

pig candy recipe

Here is something that will haunt you until you make it. A week ago I saw a restaurant review in a local magazine, and the food writer was all agog at the neighborhood bistro’s version of pig candy. Now, pig candy has been around awhile, but I was intrigued that such a foo-foo place had it on the menu, let alone was becoming the talk of the town.

Pig candy, for the uninitiated, is simply cooked bacon topped with caramelized dark brown sugar, and a little chili powder or paprika, if desired. Continue reading

The Ultimate Kitchen Conversion Chart

We’ve built a pretty unique all-purpose printable kitchen conversion chart. A lot of nifty features arranged nicely on just two pages. (I’ve already printed out a copy and put it on my own refrigerator.)

Converts cups, teaspoons, gallons, Celsius, and more.

Charts how many cups will fit into different baking pans.

Charts how long food can stay frozen

Gives roasting guidelines for chicken, pork and beef

Advises on how to cook a steak medium rare

Extensive ingredient conversion list

Two rulers (inch and centimeter)

If you are using our software to make a family cookbook, I strongly recommend you download this and put it into your book!

If you are just stumbling through, download and print it anyway! It’s the perfect kitchen reference tool.

We took a lot of the information from this chart and built a handy magnetic conversion chart that looks great on your refrigerator. It’s only a little over $12, and it’d look nice in any kitchen.

 

Get a free, printer-friendly chart by clicking here.

Make the Copy Shop Bow to Your Cookbook with 6 Easy Steps

You’ve waited 15 minutes in a line at Kinkos. You don’t mind, though. This family cookbook is a labor of love you’ve been working on for four months, and you are so excited to finally be at the point where you are ready to print out 25 cookbooks for your family, your friends, and most importantly your mom. You finally get your turn to place your order, and the magic crashes down around you like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

“Look, lady,” some pimply grandkid behind the counter sneers at you, “What paper stock do you want? How do you want it output? What weight you want? Doublesided or single?” He rolls his eyes. “Never mind. I’m on break.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. So I thought I’d offer some advice on how to take back control of printing your cookbook at a local copy shop. You might still run into that pimply jerk, but at least you’ll be armed for battle:

1. Output the files to PDF. Your local copy shop probably doesn’t know what Matilda’s Fantastic Cookbook Software is, and if you used Word (shame on you) they won’t like handling it anyway. Creating PDF (or Acrobat) files “freeze” the cookbook so text can’t re-flow to different pages and fonts can’t get lost. Nothing is more frustrating to printers and copy shops than missing fonts and files created in software they’ve never heard of. Download a free PDF creator following the link at the bottom of this page.

2. Take it to a good local print shop. I don’t generally recommend Kinkos as I personally find them to be overpriced and of mediocre service. Ask around and find a good copyshop. I always like copy shops where the owner works in the store.

3. Ask for a heavier cover stock for the front and back cover, and 20lb text paper for the interior. There’s a huge variety of paper stocks out there, so why not be a little adventurous and go with a linen or a nice recycled paper. Make sure to have them use clear plastic sheets over the top of the front and back cover, as that will protect from spills. Fancier paper and the plastic sheets shouldn’t really add more than 25% to the cost to the job. If it does, seek a different printer.

4. If you have a limited budget, print a couple of cookbooks out in completely full color. Give those copies to the few people who will really care the most about the book. Your mother should definitely get the full color. For everybody else, just do black and white interior and color front and back cover. The number of color pages in your entire project will have a HUGE impact on the cost of the job. Plan on spending 3-5 times as much on a full-color cookbook as on a black and white cookbook.

5. Have them spiral bind it together. They may default to just using black, but if you ask a lot of print shops have a variety of spiral bind colors. Make sure you get it SPIRAL bound and not comb bound. Comb binding is like this:

Spiral binding is like this:

I hate using cookbooks that are comb bound because it looks cheaper (although it’s not) and it doesn’t lay flat on the counter when you wrap the page back. Spiral and comb binding cost about the same.

6. You can also save money by writing a printing specification and shopping it around to multiple printers to find the best price. A printing specification for your job might look like this:

“I need 20 8.5×11 cookbooks output from my PDF files in black and white double sided interior with full color doublesided covers. I’d also like an additional 5 cookbooks printed in full color throughout, also doublesided.
“For both versions, there are 45 interior sheets for a total of 90 pages of copying in the interior, plus the cover sheets. The interior sheets will be on 20lb laser text/gloss, and the cover will be 60 pound cover gloss. This is an 8.5×11” book when finished.
“Please use a clear plastic cover sheets over the front and back for protection, and spiral bind each book with white spines (if available).
“Please provide for me a quote and an estimated amount of time it will take to complete the job.”

By writing up a printing specification like this, you can just print it out and hand it to three different printers, and they can each put a bid together on what it will cost. Most printers have email, so you can send them the specification and your PDF files without even having to go in the shop. Also, a printing specification takes some of the guesswork out of it for both the printer and you. The printer may be more inclined to give you a better price because he can tell you have your act together.

I guarantee that if you try three printers, one will be at least 25% less than the other two. However, don’t necessarily go with the cheapest. Also think about which one was the most helpful and which one has the best reputation. You might also consider having the copy shop you like the most print up a single book for you to see if it’s up to snuff.

I don’t have a lot of faith in samples that a printer has sitting around in his drawer. You don’t know if the copier used to make those samples is still around, or if that sample is just the very very best they can do. I’m not bashful–I’ll often ask to see a sample of a project they are working on right now.

Regardless, always always ALWAYS print out a single book before you print up 25 books. Look over it closely. Use it for a week. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll find something (if not many things) you’ll want to change before you do the 25 book print run.

I’ve been working with printers and copy shops for 15 years, and I know how intimidating they can be to the uninitiated. They tend to seem more rude and patronizing the less you know about what you want. But then a lot of us can come off more standoffish than we mean to in the heat of the moment. 😉

No matter what, never let a copy shop or anyone else take away the magic of what you are doing. Making a family cookbook is a truly special and noble act. It can be a little easier if you go into the copying part of the job prepared for the experience.

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