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!

Matilda

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!

Matilda

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.

Turn a Pirate Birthday Cake into a Treasure Hunt

We stashed chocolate coins into various places of the chocolate cake, being sure to stash a Grand Prize trove in the volcano. Let the kids pick where they’d like their slice to come from. The 8 ten-year-old boys at the birthday party loved this Pirate Birthday Cake!

Chocolate coins

Secret cave with big stash of coins

 

Here is the World’s Best Baked Potato

xXblHBh[1]

This is a Hassleback-style baked potato, although one might argue the real hassle goes into forcing your arteries to work afterwards. Run a skewer through the bottom so it stops your knife from going all the way through. Oh, and don’t forget to sprinkle some chopped green onions on there so it’s healthy. 😉

Recipe Binder of Safe Foods for Allergy Sufferers

A special recipe binder devoted to allergy-safe recipes can make cooking for others a lot simpler – and safer!

recipe binder helps organize allergy-safe recipes

If you have children or work with children, or if you enjoy entertaining with meals that you lovingly prepare, it’s a good idea to create a recipe binder that contains helpful hints and recipes for allergy sufferers.

With more than one in 12 children in the United States suffering from food allergies, it’s a safe bet that many of the favorite treats that you meant to share with your child’s class will be banned from the classroom.  After all, no one wants to risk an allergic reaction in any child – or any adult, either.

On the other hand, no one wants to deprive them of the treats and socializing that come with parties both inside and outside of classroom either.

One way to avoid this dilemma is to build a recipe binder that contains helpful medical information and tried and true recipes for the goodies that you want to be able to enjoy and share with friends.

The following 8 foods are responsible for more than 90 percent of allergic reactions:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree Nuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Wheat

In your recipe binder, keep a list of these allergens and include with them the symptoms and treatments for each, along with emergency medical procedures and contacts.

Also, include safe food substitutes that will work in favorite recipes.

You can find safe recipes at the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network at http://www.foodallergy.org/recipes, and The Kids with Food Allergies Foundation at  http://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/recipes.html

Check them out and try them. Pick out a few favorites that you can make to ensure that everyone who visits your home – or any event where you have a hand in the food – can feel welcome and safe.

For more information, contact us.

Tidy Caramel Apples

Makes 24 slices
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cool time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
• 3 large Granny Smith apples (or any apple of your choice)
• 1 large lemon
• 2 cups caramel squares, unwrapped
• 2 tablespoons corn syrup
• 1/4 cup chopped pecans
• Chocolate sauce (optional)

Directions
Cut your apples in half and use a melon baller to scoop out the insides, leaving the walls intact at about 1/2 to 1/4 inch thickness.

Squeeze the juice from the lemon onto the apples and allow to set. (This will keep them from turning brown right away.)

To make the caramel sauce, melt the caramel squares in a sauce pan over low heat, with the corn syrup. Allow to cool for about 10-15 minutes.

Using a paper towel, wipe your apples down, removing the lemon juice as much as possible. If the inside of your apple is too wet, the caramel wont stick.

Pour the caramel into the hollowed out apples until just below the top. Sprinkle with pecans.

Chill in the refrigerator until the caramel has set, about 20 minutes. Cut into slices and drizzle with chocolate sauce, if desired.

 

The 7 Commandments for Avoiding Muffin Armageddon: Recipe Box Tip

1. Thou shalt not filleth muffin cups more than 3/4 full. Beyond that gets you the dreaded flat frisbee top.
2. Preserveth thy pan. Put 3 tablespoons or so of water in any unused muffin cup. This keeps the pan from warping.
3. Round mound must abound. To get a rounded top on your muffin, only grease the bottom of the cup and halfway up the sides. It’s the bottom that always sticks anyway, and that upper grease-free part gives the ingredients something to “climb” on.
4. Feareth not the sticky muffin. If your muffins stick to the pan, put the hot pan on a wet towl for two minutes or so.
5. Cast false geological artifacts aside from your muffins. Your muffins have tunnels or peaks? Probably either too much mixing or liquid.
6. Go not into the muffin genesis without donning protection. Paper liner in cups make it much easier to clean up.
7. Seek ye the perfect muffin. The ideal American muffin has a rounded top, a thin brown crust with a slight cruch (add a little sugar glaze for this effect) and a nicely moist center.

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.)

Recipes That Should Be In Every Recipe Box

tomato sauce recipe for your recipe box

There are some basic ones that are so frequently used you almost wonder why you ever wrote it down. But why not take a few minutes and write it down for the rest of us?

I’ll start:

Basic Tomato Sauce

• 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, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until onion is soft.
2. Stir in tomatoes, salt, sugar and bay leaf. Cover, reduce to low, and simmer 70-100 minutes.
3. Stir in tomato paste, basil, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and simmer 30 minutes more.
It may take a while to cook, but the whole house will smell like nice Italian steamy goodness!
Add your own suggestions on Facebook here or our blog here.

12 Quick Lessons from a 5-Star Chef

1. The best cuts of meat are the ones that scare you. Buy them anyway.
2. No milk in scrambled eggs. Creme friache, if you can, and if not then just butter.
3. Restaurant cookbooks dumb down recipes for you.
4. At fine restaurants, everything goes through a mesh sieve after leaving the pot or pan.
5. No matter how good the restaurant, in-season veggies will always taste better.
6. Don’t crowd your pots and pans! Put too much food in a single pan and it will decrease the heat more than you want.
7. Never let a sommelier push you into overpriced wine. He’s there to serve you, not be impressed by you.
8. Being a cook in a restaurant has little to do with creativity and much more to do with consistency, speed and efficiency.
9. One great knife is better than a whole block of mediocre knives.
10. Always keep lemons, onions, garlic, vinegar, oil, and butter in your kitchen. Especially butter.
11. We blanche green veggies to get them to stay green. It’s really the only way that they wont look grey and lifeless after they’re cooked.
12. Fat and salt are your friends. They can be healthy in moderation, and our palates are designed to love them.

Bonus: Keep some extra recipe cards around. Somehow scribbling a note on some scrap paper or emailing a recipe just doesn’t have that personal feel of a real, printed card. Writing it out by hand on a pretty card tells the recipient how much you value the recipe (and them!)

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? The kind you get at carnivals and festivals? I sure can’t! And from what I can see in my recipe box, there are two totally separate opinions on the best way to make these satisfying 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!

First, the EASIEST way:

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.

Next, the “sugar syrup” way:

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

Can Cake Balls Conquer the Cupcake Craze?


They look like donut holes dressed up to look like what we used to call petit fours. Now they are “cake balls” (an unappetizing name to be sure), cake bites, cake bon bons, cake drops, cake-sicles or cake truffles. 

All I know is that the bite-sized cake ball trend started a few years ago as bakers thought of ways to use the cake trimmings they carved when making specialty-shaped cakes (ala Ace of Cakes). I’ve actually overlooked them for years….thinking they were truffles…not realizing they are something else.

Now Starbuck’s is on the band-wagon and has started selling cake balls on sticks as “cake pops,” another term used for the sweet little darlings. They are the rage at bridal showers, baby showers, weddings, birthdays, and business functions seemingly coast to coast.

To be sure, the golf-ball sized treats are easier to eat than cupcakes (see my previous blog on cupcake eating).

Basically, to make cake balls you bake a cake of your favorite flavor, crumble it up, and then mush it together with the frosting of choice.  Roll the mixture into a ball, then coat it with a hard coat icing.  I suppose you could cover them with fondant or marzipan, too.

There are some advantages to cake balls:

– Cake balls are cuter than cupcakes.
– Cake balls are smaller than cupcakes.
– Cake balls are easier to eat than cupcakes.
– Cake balls are less expensive to make or buy than cupcakes.

However, cake balls are probably more time consuming, and therefore, harder to achieve a pleasing outcome, than making cupcakes For example, with cake balls you have to make the cake, crumble the cake, combine it with frosting, form it into balls, cover the balls with icing, and decorate (optional). Six steps, including the decorating.

On the other hand, with cupcakes you make the batter, bake it, then frost and decorate (optional). That’s only four steps — two fewer steps, including the decorating, than cake balls.

Either treat is great to enlist the help of kids (their small hands are the perfect size for rolling up the cake balls, hopefully with their hands safely in plastic baggies.)

Here is a simple how-to-make cake balls recipe for the uninitiated:

Cake Balls

Ingredients
1 (18.25-ounce) boxed cake mix plus ingredients called for on box
1 (16-ounce) can prepared frosting
3 ounces Almond Bark Coating or flavored Confectionery Wafer Coating

Directions
Prepare the cake according to package directions. When cool enough to handle and while still warm, crumble the cake into a bowl, then use a hand mixer to break up the cake into fine crumbs. Mix in frosting thoroughly to make a paste. Chill the mixture for 2 hours. Form the mixture into golf-sized balls. Place on wax paper and freeze for at least 6 hours. Remove the balls from the freezer a few at a time and dip them into the warm melted coating using toothpicks or forks.  Place on wax paper to harden. Decorate as desired. Makes about 36 cake balls.

Some recommended cake ball combinations:
Dark Chocolate over Carrot Cake & Cream Cheese Frosting
Milk Chocolate over Strawberry Cake & Strawberry Frosting
Dark Chocolate over Devil’s Food Cake & Fudge Frosting
Orange/Vanilla Coating over Yellow Cake & Buttercream Frosting
Milk Chocolate over White Cake with White Frosting
Milk Chocolate over German Chocolate Cake with Coconut-Pecan Frosting
White Chocolate over Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
White Chocolate over Lemon Cake with Lemon Frosting
Mint Chocolate over Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Frosting

Hints:
– An ice cream scoop or 1-1/2 ounce cookie dough scoop are helpful to keep portions even
– Roll freshly-coated cake balls in sprinkles, crushed nuts, or flaked coconut.
– Use chopsticks, fondue forks, or skewers to manipulate the cake balls while coating with chocolate or icing.
– Dipped balls will keep well at a cool room temperature for days; if you refrigerate them, the coating may sweat and become icky.

Can you imagine how someone will look back at our family cookbooks and recipe card boxes and wonder what cake balls were … and why they were listed in the index or table of contents or card list?  I hope by then cake balls will have a better name.

Happy Cookbooking,

Matilda

8 Ways with Black Bananas


Stashing overly-ripe bananas, aka black bananas, in the freezer for safekeeping is a common occurrence at my house. One that happens so often that I now have an over abundance of black bananas. What to do with too many black bananas?

Here are 8 ways with black bananas:

● Black banana nut bread
The darker the ripe banana, the darker the bread.

● Chocolate chip black banana cake
There’s nothing like the flavors of good chocolate and bananas!

● Black banana milkshake or smoothie
Make it with low fat ice cream or yogurt for a healthy version of a classic.

● Black banana muffins
Add some nuts and raisins for more nutritional value.

● Black banana cow
A beverage with banana liqueur, Crème de Cocoa, Gran Marnier, and whipped cream, Yum!

● Black banana pancakes or black banana waffles
Several drops of good vanilla and heaping teaspoons of cinnamon can bring out the full banana essence.

● Black banana mango ice cream
Twist it up with another favorite tropical fruit and top with shredded coconut.

● Black banana pudding
For a more powerful pudding, cook the overripe bananas in a little bourbon and rum before combining with vanilla pudding and vanilla wafers.

Granted, none of the black banana dishes named above has earth-shattering originality, but I’m glad I have a big list to help me use up all my black bananas. This weekend I’ll defrost all of them and see how far down the list I get.

P.S. The black bananas in my freezer got that way because I waited too long to eat them and they started to go black on their own. Once I stashed them in the freezer they went completely black, but did not deteriorate. 

Happy cookbooking,

Matilda

Thanksgiving Ideas Shared by Top Chefs


Just back from vacation. It’s nice to sit back and know that my suitcase is unpacked for a long. long while. During my time away, I met with some great chefs, and they shared some interesting ideas for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  Some of their Thanksgiving ideas and menu suggestions may be a bit radical for some, but they are fabulous all the same. See which Thanksgiving ideas shared by top chefs will work for you. They might make it into your family cookbook:Continue reading

Tea Party Hostess With the Mostest


Recently it was my turn to host the monthly tea gathering and I was in a tizzy over what to make for the ladies.  The last time I was in charge, we had finger sandwiches, which were quite delicious, even if I do say so myself. But this time, I wanted to make something different to see if I could be the tea party hostess with the mostest.Continue reading