The Three Essential Kitchen Knives

A loud pounding sound radiating from the kitchen captured my attention and curiosity. Upon arrival, I caught my husband using my best French chef’s knife to jab frozen mango Tang out of my favorite clear plastic Kool Aid-style pitcher. I wasn’t too happy about the potentials of his act: breaking the knife; breaking the pitcher, cutting himself.

My husband is known for using kitchen objects to do the jobs of other tools. I’ve found steel whisks coated with cement, boning knives used as letter openers, egg turners as wallpaper scrapers, and butter knives bent from their stint as screwdrivers. (I try to credit these transgressions to his inventive, creative mind rather than his laziness to go to his workbench.)

My chef’s knife was fine, much to the credit of the manufacturer. I attribute its survival to the fact that it was made of high carbon stainless steel, the tang (blade steel) ran all the way through the whole handle, and it was the best chef’s knife I could afford (the three basic rules of buying kitchen knives).

My thoughts turned toward ways to protect my knives from future misuse. I could always downsize. I read somewhere that a cook really only needs to buy three kitchen knives:

Paring Knife
Blade between 2”-4” long.  Used for cutting fruits or vegetables and for making small or decorative cuts.

Serrated Utility Knife
Blade between 6”- 9” long.  Used for cutting larger vegetables, slicing larger foods, trimming/cutting meat. Note: A longer 9”-12” serrated blade bread knife will easily cut a crusty baguette or tomatoes.

Chef’s Knife
Blade between 6”-12” long that curves to a pointed tip. Used for chopping, dicing and mincing meat, vegetables, and anything else.

Of course, buying kitchen knives is okay for specialty purposes, too, such as boning, filleting, and carving. And then there is the meat cleaver.  I can’t imagine needing a meat cleaver any more, though, since butchers do the work for us quite nicely. Meat cleavers can be heavy and quite awkward. (The most important rule of thumb for buying kitchen knives is to buy what is comfortable in your hand.)

Maybe I should put my knives out of my husband’s sight!  I currently keep my knives on a wall-mounted magnetic strip. They don’t get banged around (unless you-know-who is looking for another tool), and I don’t waste valuable counter space using an ugly wooden knife block.

So that’s my new plan. Instead of buying kitchen knives to replace the broken ones, I will downsize my collection of kitchen knives to the three basics and hide them away. (Out of sight, out of mind, they say.)  But first I have to go to my husband’s workbench and take inventory of what kitchen knives I don’t need or use any more.

By the way, in the process of cracking up the frozen mango Tang, my husband broke the pitcher’s handle completely off and poked a hole in the bottom of the pitcher.  He repaired both with some miraculous glue stuff, and (you guessed it) a paring knife!

Happy cookbooking,

Erin

Cream of Broccoli Soup

I remember the time President George Bush the Elder made a snide comment about a certain green vegetable that he did not — would not — eat. The resulting fluff in the media was nothing short of a scandal as I recall. The broccoli lobby and every broccoli farmer in America claimed insult.

Funny, why George didn’t like broccoli? It has quite a nice earthy green flavor, and my favorite use is steamed with salt and drizzled with melted butter (sorry, I haven’t quite got the hang of drizzling olive oil on everything).  Broccoli, along with its cousins cauliflower and brussels sprouts, are all DNA derivatives of cabbage, I’m told, so it stands to reason if you like one of these vegetables, you might like them all.  Not sure what George’s stance was on the cousins to broccoli, but we defended his right to dislike it.

During the coming fall season, a lovely way to use fresh (or even leftover broccoli) is in Cream of Broccoli Soup. I use the whole stem and florets of the broccoli rather than trimming it down to just the broccoli crowns.

Cream of Broccoli Soup

1-1/2 pounds of broccoli
1 cup minced onion
1/2 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup minced celery
2 teaspoons stick butter or margarine
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups water
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup evaporated milk
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

To make Cream of Broccoli Soup, cook washed broccoli in salted water until a fork easily pierces the stem. Drain and cool. While broccoli cools, sauté the onion, carrot and celery in butter until onion is translucent. Add the flour to the vegetables and stir to make a roux.  Set aside.  Puree the cooked broccoli with a little water in a food processer until smooth.

Heat broth, the rest of the water, and evaporated milk until warm.  Stir broccoli, onion, carrot and celery mixture into the heated broth.  Add salt and pepper seasonings to taste, and cook until flour roux begins to thicken the soup (add a bit more flour if necessary). Heat Cream of Broccoli Soup again if necessary and serve with toasted cheese or ham sandwiches.

Believe it or not, I found this recipe for Cream of Broccoli Soup in one my grandmother’s old recipe card boxes. It was hand-printed on a well-worn recipe card. She used to make this soup during the first days of fall. The Cream of Broccoli Soup carries through well during winter, and even if you use frozen broccoli instead of fresh (or leftovers) it is a good result.

Happy Cookbooking,

Erin

Pizza Cutting Julienne Meat, and Other Scary Ideas

Sometimes I scare myself. Does that ever happen to you?

Sometimes I will come up with an idea that I think is absolutely brilliant.

Like my little brilliant thought for today.  I was preparing a nice Chef’s Salad for lunch, expecting Ruth to drop by a touch early as she usually does.  I had boiled and peeled my eggs, and was just about to slice them with a small knife when I remembered an old kitchen gadget I acquired years ago.  It was an egg slicer, which cuts thin, even slices of egg using taut wires that easily slide through the cooked egg without making a mess or squishing the yolk.  It is very handy if you eat a lot of sliced boiled eggs.

Then I turned my attention to the meats and cheeses for the Chef’s Salad. I always hate to slice up the meats and cheeses. They never behave as neatly as I like, always moving around on the cutting board while I’m trying to create matchsticks (properly called julienne strips) of them.

As I was putting away the egg slicer (hand-washed and towel-dried, mind you), I spied my pizza cutter and said, “Why Not?”  So I took the pizza cutter in hand, and proceeded to slice through the meats and cheeses so effortlessly that it was astonishing.  The blade on my pizza cutter is about 3-1/2″ in diameter, so in less than 30 seconds I had enough ham, turkey, Swiss and Cheddar to generously serve us both.  Brilliant!

It scares me to think what I might have done if I had applied myself. Not that having a cookbook software company is small potatoes. It is really brilliant, too. But who knows, I may have invented some kitchen gadget that was really useful. (Maybe more useful even than my spice rack?)

Now, what did I do with that plastic radish garnisher?

Our Toy Shelf is a Hit! (Even though it’s supposed to be a spice rack)

When one of our sons started playing with our spice rack as a toy shelf, well, we thought maybe there’s a new market for it! So here’s the video he helped us make.

Take Alfred Hitchcock’s Blue Food Party to New Levels

Back in the 1960s, Alfred Hitchcock had a famous dinner party for an intimate gathering of his Hollywood friends.  As an experiment (and most likely a joke), he asked his chef to prepare all blue foods: blue martinis, blue meat, blue mashed potatoes, and blue peas.

He was fascinated with human psychology, and the fact that blue is not a natural color for food. He wanted to see if blue food would turn people off.  It did. Many of his guests became a bit queasy and some couldn’t even eat, if I remember the story right.

Hitchcock loved to entertain, and guests never knew when a “blue dye” dinner party would strike his fancy.  While a blue food party may be a bit inhospitable to spring upon guests unexpectedly, if you have them involved beforehand, it can be quite a lot of fun and a clever conversation starter, too. I have a party like this once in a blue moon. I use either all white or blue themed plates, napkins and cups, and ask everyone to wear something blue.

Of course, you can do any other color theme, such as red, yellow or orange. Here are food ideas for a blue food party, purple food party or green food party to get you started:

“BLUE” THEME PARTY FOODS
Blue food coloring added to any dish (note: can be repulsive)
Blue corn chips
Blue potato chips
Boo Berries cereal
Blue crab
Bluefish pate
Bluefin tuna sushi
Blue cheese
Concord grapes
Blueberries
Blue Jell-O
Blueberry muffins
Blue food coloring frosted cupcakes
Blueberry juice
Gatorade
Jones’ Soda
Kool-Aid
Blue Hawaiian Punch
Blueberry flavored bubblegum
Charm’s Blowpops
Blue M&M’s

“PURPLE” THEME PARTY FOODS
Purple food coloring added to any dish (note: can be repulsive)
Grape juice
Kool-Aid
Blueberry juice
Grape jelly/jam and peanut butter sandwiches
Eggplant
Purple potatoes
Purple onions
Purple cabbage
Purple wax beans or peppers
Concord grapes
Blackberries
Plums
Prunes
Grape Jell-O
Blueberry-Pomegranate sherbet

“GREEN” THEME PARTY FOODS
Green food coloring added to any dish (note: can be repulsive)
Artichokes
Guacamole (with tortilla chips)
Avocado slices
Celery sticks
Lettuce
Stuffed green bell peppers
Green bean casserole
Green pasta
Asparagus
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage
Cucumbers
Green beans
Green peppers, other peppers,
Peas
Spinach
Zucchini
Gatorade
Limeade
Green grapes
Green apples
Pears
Kiwi
Honeydew melon
Lime Jell-O
Mint chocolate chip ice cream
Key Lime pie

Once you’ve had a color-food party like this, don’t forget to record all the fun recipes and ideas into your family cookbook using the cookbook templates in my cookbook software!

Have fun!

Erin

That has too much cheese. Said nobody, ever.

I Love Cheese! Chart for Recipes, Cookbooks & Just Plain Eatin’

Without a doubt, cheese is one of my favorite foods. Not just for recipes in family cookbooks, mind you; how about just eating it straight, with maybe a little cracker or two?

Yes, I love cheese. That may not be politically correct to admit in this allegedly fat-free conscious society (where zero body fat is an absurd goal for tweens and teens alike), but I bet there are many closet cheese eaters out there looking for the perfect hit of creamy Brie, sharp cheddar, or a pungent hard white.

One of my life’s dreams has always been to have enough money to try one of every type of cheese in the world. When I was visiting the famous Harrods department store last year in London, I nearly swooned at the sight of the stunning fromagerie cheese counter in the ground level food hall. Ahem, the cheese AISLE, that is. You can try many cheese samples, or you can sit and taste a variety of cheeses, carefully measured and portioned according to whatever your pocketbook can stand. With the rate of exchange on the U.S. dollar being so cringingly unfavorable, I opted to watch other cheese lovers instead of indulging in what most certainly would have been a most expensive cheese-filled afternoon.

Back at home, however, there are marvelous wonders of the world in our own well-appointed cheese cases, according to the American Dairy Association.  Yet, I am always uncertain exactly what I am buying in terms of portion, and especially when I need a type of cheese converted for a recipe, or serving to guests.  I do know that most soft cheeses are shredded, hard cheeses are grated, and the blues and feta are crumbled, but I still don’t automatically know how much shredded cheese I will net out of a whole brick of ungrated cheese. With the help of The Recipe Writer’s Handbook, my dilemma has been resolved for most cheese types:

 ‘I LOVE CHEESE’ CHART

Ingredient

Packaging Size

Home Translation

Blue

4 ounces

1 cup crumbled

Cheddar

1 pound

4 cups shredded;

16 slices

Cottage

8 ounce container

12 ounce container

1 cup

1-1/2 cups

Cream

3 ounce package

8 ounce package

1/3 cup

1 cup

Feta

4 ounce

1 cup crumbled

Mozzarella

1 pound

4 cups shredded

Parmesan

or Romano

3 ounce package

1 cup grated

Swiss

1 pound

4 cups shredded;

16 slices

Source: The Recipe Writer’s Handbook, Page 235
By Barbara Gibbs Ostmann & Jane L. Baker
© 2001, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.Â

I carry this little chart with me when grocery shopping, as it helps me visualize what I am buying. I try to buy only natural cheeses, not the process cheeses (have you ever made the mistake of buying that awful shredded artificial cheese? Yuck!).

Yes, I do love cheese. Oh look, there is that blue Brie I was coveting at Harrods’¦ Whoops, what cheese?

Your cheese-loving, cookbook-making friend,

Erin

 

Catfish & Congress

Have you had your catfish today? Apparently August is National Catfish Month. Didn’t you get the memo?

National Catfish Month seems to be the only ”national month” designation for the month of August. (There are rumors that August is National Peach Month, National Watermelon Month, and National Sandwich Month, but I couldn’t confirm them.)

Other months have several ”national” titles, such as September being designated National Mushroom Month, National Rice Month, National Biscuit Month, National Chicken Month, AND National Honey Month.

Such national observations are helpful for the particular industry they promote, and some even raise awareness.  However, a true national holiday requires an act of Congress to make it official.  So, if any of these commemorative days and months are actually government-sanctioned, the food industry must have some very busy lobbyists.

Below is a list of just-past ”national” days in August.  Most of the days seem to appeal to those with sweet tooth’s, all except the mustard celebration on August 5.  (Note to President Obama’s critics, Grey Poupon Mustard is made by Kraft Foods , so it is American!).

To be fair, here are the celebration ”days” we have already observed for the month of August:

August 1  National Raspberry Cream Pie Day
August 2  National Ice Cream Sandwich Day
August 2  National Ice Cream Soda Day
August 3  National Watermelon Day
August 4  National Chocolate Chip Day
August 5  National Mustard Day
August 6  National Root Beer Float Day
August 7  Raspberries ‘n Cream Day
August 8  National Frozen Custard Day
August 9  National Rice Pudding Day
August 10  National S’mores Day
August 11  National Raspberry Bombe Day
August 14  National Creamsicle Day
August 15  National Lemon Meringue Pie Day
August 17  National Vanilla Custard Day
August 18  National Ice Cream Pie Day
August 19  National Soft Ice Cream Day
August 20  National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day
August 21  National Spumoni Day
August 22  National Pecan Torte Day
August 23  National Spongecake Day
August 24  National Peach Pie Day
August 25  National Banana Split Day
August 26  National Cherry Popsicle Day
August 27  National Pots de Créme Day
August 28  National Cherry Turnovers Day

Just so we don’t lose out on the rest of the celebrations, here are the remaining designated “days” for the month of August:

August 29  More Herbs Less Salt Day
August 30  National Toasted Marshmallow Day
August 31  National Trail Mix Day

So looking forward to National Chocolate Milkshake Day on Saturday, September 12. My dear friend Ruth and I will make it a point to enjoy a favorite indulgence. Now if I can only remember where I put my appointment calendar to jot it down. Perhaps I tucked it in my family cookbook.

Happy cookbooking,

Erin

herbs in ice-cube containers covered with olive oil. Text: Preserve Your Herbs for Winter Cooking

Preserve Your Herbs for Winter Cooking

You don’t have to suffer the elevated prices and short shelf-life of fresh herbs from the grocery store in winter. With a little preparation, you can freeze your lovely summer herbs for use all year long.

Instructions for Freezing Herbs

Freezing herbs in water causes them to crystalize, damaging the flavor so the key to preserving herbs is to use olive oil.

Olive oil preserves the herbs by preventing contact with the air.

  • Finely chop your herbs
  • Sprinkle the herbs into an ice-cube tray
  • Fill the compartments of the tray with olive oil
  • Freeze

You can make an entire tray of one herb or create a herb mix such as rosemary, basil and oregano – perfect for Italian dishes.

When you’re ready to use the herbs, just add one or two cubes to your frying pan or favourite sauce.

The frozen olive oil will have a similar consistency to butter and will easily reconstitute when melted without loss of flavor.

5 Simple Steps to a Meaningful Wedding Cookbook (and the most memorable wedding favors ever!)

A personalized cookbook not only makes a great wedding gift, but you can get your guests to contribute their own favorite recipes to the book. As if that wasn’t enough you can also print the recipe collections to use as wedding favors.

Wedding Recipe Binder gift

Here’s how to do it:

1. Include a single recipe card with each of your invitations, and a note asking that they include a favorite recipe on it with their RSVP.

2. Enter all the recipes you receive into Matilda’s Cookbook Software.

3. Print the cookbooks at Staples for around $2-$4 each, one for each guest.

4. Make one cookbook for the bride and groom that’s bound into a beautiful recipe binder.

5. Each guest will leave the wedding with a unique gift they helped create and the bride and groom will receive a memorable gift containing recipes from all their families and friends.

Fluid Measurement Filler & Cheat Chart for Your Family Cookbook

Sometimes I have senior moments that can be embarrassing when I am making recipes from a family cookbook. Like yesterday, when I wanted to double a recipe, I wasn’t sure how many pints there are in a quart. Isn’t that silly?

Yet, unless you do conversion math every day, you can find yourself in such a recipe pickle where you have to really sit down and do the math. (I readily admit I am no good at metric measurements. I just think of liters as big quarts to make it easy on my old brain – sorry all you metric lovers out there). But even the simple stuff is harder to remember if you don’t pay attention when you cook.

To refresh my memory, I reviewed our fantastic Kitchen Conversion Chart, a marvelously useful kitchen tool (that I printed out and now keep folded up in my purse), and extracted a few fluid measurement equivalents from it in the little cheat chart below.

When you make your own family cookbook, this little bit of information might be handy to include as a reference (or cheat chart, really, as in my case).

CHEAT CHART

Liquid Measure Equivalents

Fluid Oz

Cup

Pint

Quart

Liter

Gallon

8

1

.5

.25

.24

.06

16

2

1

.5

.47

.13

32

4

2

1

.95

.25

34

4.23

2.11

1.06

1

.26

64

8

4

2

1.875

.50

128

16

8

4

3.75

1

If you want the whole two-page Kitchen Conversion Chart to include when you make your own cookbook, you can download it from our website by clicking this link to the Kitchen Conversion Chart and adding it when you print your family cookbook from our cookbook software.

Now I can put away my trusty little pocket calculator!

Happy Cookbooking,

Erin

No Fat/Oil Free Cookies Made with Applesauce

Every so often I like to use applesauce instead of butter or margarine (or oil) when making baked goods such as cookies or muffins. In addition to cutting down on my fat intake, the texture of the cookies or muffins made with applesauce tend to be no different than those made with butter or margarine.

Also, I found there really is no appreciable taste difference between cookies or muffins made with applesauce vs. cookies or muffins made with butter or margarine (or oil). To my mind, opening a can or jar of applesauce is easier than melting butter or margarine (no oily mess in the measuring cup to clean up).

I’ve experimented with substituting applesauce for butter or margarine (or oil) in other recipes, too. They all seem to come out palatable and presentable.

So if you have other no fat/oil free recipes for cookies or muffins in your family cookbook, you might want to add this recipe for no fat/oil free cookies alongside.

Here’s the basic recipe I used to bake these no fat/oil free cookies made with applesauce:

No Fat/Oil Free Cookies Made with Applesauce

Moisture
3 egg whites
1 cup unsweetened apple sauce

Binders
1-2/3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup oatmeal

Leavening Agents
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt

Sweeteners (or sugar substitutes to taste are okay)
1 cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar

Flavorings
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup chopped walnuts
2 tsp cinnamon
½ cup raisins

Mix all ingredients well until dry ingredients are moist. Add more applesauce if mixture appears to be too dry. Drop by tablespoonfuls on oil-sprayed cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degree for approximately 15 minutes until slightly brown around the edges. Makes about 20 substantial cookies.

Try these soft, not-too-sweet, semi-healthy cocoa-flavored oatmeal cookies for breakfast with a cup of coffee or tea. They can really satisfy you for most of the day (which can really help if you are trying to take off a few pounds to wiggle into that summer swimsuit).

Happy cookbooking,

Erin

Photo of wheat field overlaid with text: Build a binder of safe foods for allergy sufferers

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!

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.

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.

Family Cookbooks Record History As It Happens

A fascinating item in The Recipe Writer’s Handbook inspired this writing about the evolution of cookbooks and cookbook authors. As can be guessed, most of the few early cookbooks were written by men (from the late 4th to 14th centuries).

Around 1390, for example, a chef of King Richard II is credited with writing the first English cookbook (cookery book) called Forme of Cury. This book was actually a vellum scroll of recipes that included how to use exotic spices in everyday cooking. (The word cury is the Middle English word for cookery, and not a spice blend, I’m told.)

As literacy grew in the upper classes, women starting writing cookbooks and other running-the-household instructional books. These served to record the rich variety of food, tastes, cooking methods, eating habits, and even the local dialects. Some of the notable women cookbook authors through modern times have included:

Hannah Wolley (c. 1622-1674)
In 1661, she became the first female author to try and make money from writing and publishing a cookbook with her The Queen-Like Closet, or Rich Cabinet, which included easy-to-follow recipes.

Hannah Glasse (1708-1770)
Her The Art of Cookery was published in 1747 to assist the lower classes in cooking for their employers. Hannah wrote the book to help support her family, but ended up in debtor’s prison for a time. In 2006, she was the subject of a BBC documentary that called her the “mother of the modern dinner party.”

Elizabeth Raffald (1733-1781)
In her 1769 book, The Experienced English Housekeeper, Elizabeth’s 800 recipes have such clear directions and quantities, that you can still cook from them today.

Amelia Simmons (an American orphan)
American Cookery was published in 1796, and was the first cookbook to feature all-American ingredients (e.g. turkey, cranberries, cornmeal), and included recipes for hoecakes, cookies, and pumpkin pie. Her original work was often plagiarized relentlessly by less ethical cookbook writers.

Maria Rundell (1745-1829)
Publishing A New System of Domestic Cookery in 1806 was in response to a need for a domestic family cookbook (instead of one for large households or taverns).

Eliza Acton (1799-1859)
Her Modern Cookery for Private Families was aimed at the domestic reader instead of cooking professionals. She introduced the now common practice of listing ingredients and cooking times with each recipe.

Isabella Beeton (1836-1865)
The bestselling Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management in 1861 (aka Mrs Beeton’s Cookbook,) was a compilation about running a Victorian household and included recipes in a format still used today.

Fannie Farmer (1857-1915)
Her Boston Cooking School Cook Book of 1896 was the first cookbook to emphasize accuracy in measurements to obtain uniform results, which helped standardize the system of measurements used in cooking in America.

Irma Rombauer (1877-1962)
The Joy of Cooking, published in 1931, has become an American institution and one of the most influential cookbooks of the 20th century. It is an outstanding reference for preparing traditional American food.

Julia Child (1912-2004)

In 1961, her Mastering the Art of French Cooking became a best seller and one of the most revered cookbooks ever written by an American author. She became a television icon beginning in 1963 and paved the way for today’s popular food-oriented programing.

What I learned from this brief glimpse into cooking and cookbook history, is that cookbooks written by women have played an extremely important role in capturing the essence of a society at a particular era in time.

For an excellent commentary about this subject, read “Understanding Women’s Lives through Their Cookbooks” by Jean Robbins, from Virginia Culinary Thymes, Winter 2005.

A passage from Robbins’ narrative: “The cookbook heir and subsequent reader not only inherits a domain of cultural knowledge about cooking and household recipes, but receives a token of her female kin. A bond is created by possessing a kin’s physical artifact and is the means by which members of different generations become entwined with one another.”

When making your own cookbook, keep this concept in mind. You are preserving heritage not just for your own family, but for generations of others (perhaps non-relatives) who may one day see your cookbook as a window to life in the early 21st century.

Creating a cookbook is really recording history in the living of it!

Happy cookbooking!

Erin

Oscar-Watching Party Tradition Continues Sunday For 82nd Academy Awards

My dear friend, Ruth, and I are positively girlie giddish about watching the Academy Awards show on Sunday (and every year). We watch all the movies we can during the 12 months prior (thank you, Netflix), so we are usually very familiar with all of the Best Picture and Best Actor/Actress nominees.

We plan our own festive Academy Awards affair with friends and neighbors (mostly the ladies) so we can relax and ogle all the beautiful outfits, jewelry, hairstyles and make-up of the silver screen’s glitterati.

Because my husband thinks the Academy Awards are irrelevant, he has never joined us to watch one of the red carpet pre-pre shows, pre-show, show, and post show festivities. But he always hangs around to eat with us. And for good reason. This year I’m going to pick from:

Academy Awards Dinner Appetizers
Buffet-style Kobe beef mini-cheeseburgers
Baby Sirloin Burgers with Cheddar Cheese & Remoulade
Vegetable Spring Rolls with Chinese Hot Mustard
Pizza with Smoked Salmon & Caviar

Academy Awards Dinner First Course
Crispy potato galette, smoked salmon, dill cream and baby greens.

Academy Awards Dinner Main Course
Organic chicken pot pie with black truffles and root vegetables.

Academy Awards Dinner Dessert
24-carat gold wrapped chocolate Oscar statuettes. (Or maybe just some ice cream? I’m stuck on this one.)

Academy Awards Dinner Glamour Cocktail
¼ ounce vanilla liqueur
1-1/2 ounce passion fruit juice
4 oz Chandon Imperial champagne
Mint sprig, for garnish

Not bad. Ruth and I and our friends will have a wonderful time at our Academy Awards party (sans the dress-up glamour; we’re strictly casual with no high heels allowed). I hope you will take a moment to enjoy the frivolity of the moment. For no matter what my husband thinks, we still do need escapism.

Happy Cookbooking,

Erin

Grandmas, Chippendales and Bad Salsa

“Honey, you don’t want to get feathers in the salsa,” I shouted to Ruth over the song “It’s Raining Men.”

It was a Red Hat party, and Ruth was drinking a daiquiri. It was virgin, but the grandmother of seven still seemed a little dizzy. Maybe it was the Chippendale dancer beefcake strutting on the stage in front of her. She pulled her red feather boa away from the dip. “It could only improve it,” she giggled. “Honestly, Sharon makes a much better salsa. Her trick is to use fresh pineapple.”

This wasn’t exactly a Red Hat party, to be honest. There were only ten of us. The real Red Hat party was in three weeks. We were supposed to be the Red Hat Party Planning Committee, but as is often the case we were easily distracted.

Sharon set a folded dollar bill on the stage and smiled smugly. I think it was about the salsa compliment, but it might have had something to do with the blond hunk with the rock hard abs who’d just wiggled in front of her. She was the one who convinced us “The Official Red Hat Party” Organizing Party of the Red Hat Party Planning Committee had to happen in front of male strippers.

“You know,” she said, “we ought to use Matilda’s software to make a cookbook for the upcoming party.”

I was stunned. I hadn’t thought we’d actually get around to talking about the “real” party. But I was also ready. “Well,” I said, “I’ve got a template designed with lots of red hats in it. Nice and red and purple. It’s not officially endorsed by The Red Hat Society or anything–”

“Neither is Butch over there!” Ruth blurted, her eyes fixed on a very uncomfortable-looking thong.

“–but,” I continued, “I think it’d be perfect. We’ll ask everybody to email each other their favorite recipes, and we can vote on which ones we’ll put in our Unofficial Completely Unauthorized Underground Illegal Red Hat Party Cookbook at the party. I’ll take the recipes we decide on there and get a cookbook done in a week or two.”

Ruth looked at me for the first time in an hour. She mumbled something I couldn’t quite hear about pineapple and feathers. I mouthed “What?”, and the music cut suddenly as she shouted, “I want that man dipped in salsa!”

Needless to say, the business portion of “The Official Red Hat Party” Organizing Party of the Red Hat Party Planning Committee adjourned in shrieks of grandmotherly cackles.

Grandma

If your Red Hat group is interested in making it’s own Unofficial Completely Unauthorized Underground Illegal Red Hat Party Cookbook, click here for the template.

Basic Rice Recipe, Ruth, Brides, The Rice Game, and All That

“1-2-3 is the basic recipe,” I said to Ruth, who was having a slight senior moment regarding how to cook rice.  “One cup rice and two cups of water makes three cups of food.”

“Oh yes,” Ruth said. “I was thinking 3 cups of water to one cup rice was how my mother used to make rice. It was always so moist and tender. I forgot the 1-2-3 rule.”

“Well, all I know is that one cup of rice can feed three people. I play The Rice Game quite a bit, and it is amazing how one cup of rice can swell up and make a difference for people in so many countries. It is one staple that truly has global reach.”

That little conversation got me thinking about all the rice in the world, and how odd it is that June brides of the past could waste such a precious food by having guests throw rice at weddings. (While I understand the custom, I much prefer the more recent rose petal tossing or bubble blowing activities at weddings instead of getting whacked in the eyes by errant grains of rice.)

To each her own, however, so here are some of the rice choices we have these days to eat or toss, as desired:

ARBORIO – An Italian rice with short, thick grains that are firm, creamy and chewy due to their high starch content. Arborio is mostly used in making risottos (an Italian rice specialty made by stirring hot stock into sauteed rice).

BASMATI – A fragrant, long-grained rice primarily from the fertile Punjab region (India/Pakistan) with a nutty flavor and aroma. It should be rinsed in cold water and soaked before cooking. Basmati is fabulous in any recipe, from starters to entrees and pilafs to puddings.

BROWN – Unpolished short or long-grain rice with only the husk removed so the high-fiber bran coating is still intact. It has a chewy texture that requires a longer cooking time than white rice. Brown rice is prized for its higher nutritional value and mild nutty flavor. It can be used in most recipes with great results.

CONVERTED (A.K.A. par-boiled) – White rice that has been steam treated before it is husked so it takes less time to cook and has more nutrients than white rice. It has a slightly beige color. The most famous brand is Uncle Ben’s. Converted rice is versatile enough for most recipes.

GLUTINOUS  – An Asian short-grained rice that becomes very clumpy and sticky when cooked. It is mostly used for sushi, molded salads, and various desserts, such as the Thai dessert dish “sweet sticky rice with mango.” Yum.

INSTANT (or quick cooking) – White rice that has been fully or partially cooked before being dehydrated and packaged so it cooks quickly (in about 5 minutes) when rehydrated. It is mainly a last-minute convenience food useful when waiting for traditional rice to cook won’t do.  That expediency makes it relatively expensive, and some say flavor and texture are sacrificed. Minute Rice is a well-known brand.

WHITE – A common polished long-grain or short grain rice with the husk, bran, and germ removed to make the rice tender and fast-cooking, and to prevent spoilage. (Enriched white rice on the label means some of the nutrients have been restored.) White rice is great for a side dish or as a bed for sauces.

WILD – Not really a rice but a long-grain marsh grass with a nutty flavor and a chewy texture. It takes longer to cook and can be used in a wide variety of foods such as stuffing, casseroles, soups, salads, and desserts. Wild rice has also been used in breakfast cereals, and mixes for pancakes, muffins, and cookies.

To satisfy my curiosity (and to verify my memory), I did look up a basic white rice recipe for Ruth and forwarded it to her by email. Many other rice recipes call for more or less water, depending upon the variety of rice used. But for now, you can’t go wrong with this basic white rice recipe:

Basic White Rice Recipe

While this recipe isn’t unusual, it certainly can help Ruth in the future if she adds it to her family cookbook. After all, she might not remember 1-2-3 again, and, frankly, I might not either!

Happy cookbooking,

Erin

3 Easy Sour Cream and Cream Cheese Baked Potato Toppers

How do you decide whether to use sour cream or cream cheese to top a baked potato? Well, I don’t decide. I use both to make my baked potato toppers. I make a basic baked potato topper recipe by beating together an 8 ounce package of regular cream cheese (that’s been softened), and an 8 ounce carton of dairy sour cream. All the lumps should be gone and the remaining mixture should be on the fluffy side.

Then, depending upon my mood or taste craving for the moment, I use the basic mixture to create several flavorful baked potato toppers.  Baked potatoes are always great to eat, whether baked in traditional oven or microwave (a good summer alternative).

If I’m in the mood for something garden fresh on my baked potato, I will add chopped cucumber, diced up tomatoes, salt and chopped fresh cilantro to the basic mixture. A little jack cheese shredded over the top is nice, too.

For a quick curry-flavored baked potato topper, I often stir in chopped up smoked almonds, chopped dried fruit pieces, curry powder, and garlic salt. An entree baked potato like this could also handle bits of chopped chicken or beef in the baked potato topper.

If you have a few boiled eggs, a deviled egg baked potato topper can be made by blending diced hard-cooked egg, chopped fresh parsley, salt, Tabasco sauce, and lemon pepper.

Sometimes I just grab a random spice off my spice rack (yes, I’m plugging my spice rack!) and see what happens! Not a fan of the cardamom one, but the paprika was MADNESS!

With summer officially coming soon, having some quick and tasty recipes as a staple in your summer menu-planning arsenal is a great way to enjoy all those outdoor activities on the agenda much faster.

Baked potato toppers, using the ideas above and many of your own creation, are so simple and inexpensive, yet the results can be quite satisfying.  Best of all, they are easy additions to your family cookbook.

Happy cookbooking,

Erin

More Kitchen Gadgets, Decluttering & the Modern Cook

We got a few comments offline about the blog entry I did last week about kitchen gadgets. I’d like to revisit that topic just a bit, because I apparently gave off the impression that I am a packrat for kitchen gadgets.

Not True!  I am a minimalist regarding kitchen gadgets. The fewer the better in my opinion. Ever since I saw the Electric Paper Towel roller back in the ’80s, I have resolved to have as few of those alleged work saver kitchen gadgets as possible.

Why? Because most of the tasks these kitchen gadgets are designed for are single focus, not multi-purpose, which clutters my drawers and cabinets. And, because most of the “work” they save does not create the yin-yang harmony one is led to believe in those “wait, there’s more” style infomercials. For every onion you chop in a food chopper, there is a blade, container, top AND scraper to wash.  With a knife, all you do is wash the knife and wipe the cutting board. (That’s half the work if done the old-fashioned way.)

I have my own “modern” ideas about decluttering. A few of my alternatives that don’t require extra storage space and are multi-purpose are noted in the table below:

Miracle Kitchen

Gadget VS.

Matilda’s Declutter Alternative

Hamburger patty mold

Hands

Tomato slicer

Knife

Pineapple cutter

Knife

Apple corer

Knife

Tea bag parker

Saucer

Lettuce knife

Hands (tear lettuce)

Whisk

Fork

Cheese slicer

Knife

Granted, there are a few kitchen gadgets that I do find fairly useful, mainly because they can be applied to more than one type of food. Some of you may think these are kitchen utensils, but I just lump them all into the kitchen gadget category:

Bottle opener
Funnel
Grapefruit spoon (well, okay, this is specialized, but they stack neatly)
Grater
Ladle
Measuring spoons, cups (but not scoops)
Potato peeler
Strainer
Tongs
Egg Turner

You have my permission to include a similar list in your family recipe cookbook if you are using the recipe templates in my cookbook software. I’m sure you can add to this list based on your personal preferences, too.

I used to have kitchen gadgets that I didn’t even know what they did, and had no clue how to use them anymore. Off to the thrift store donation bin they went. It was quite freeing, I might add.

After all, we are trying to reduce our energy costs and be more efficient in the kitchen, and what better way than to declutter the gadget drawer, cut down on extra work, and simplify.

Happy cookbooking!

Erin

Dishes on table overlaid with text: 10 Tips for Taking Better Food Photos for Your Family Cookbook

10 Tips for Taking Better Food Photos for Your Family Cookbook

I know. I’ve tried it. Food photography is one of the hardest types of picture taking. It can make taking photos for your family cookbook more of a trial than a pleasure.

Many of our cookbook software customers have written to ask how they can improve their photo skills when taking pictures of their recipes to include in their family cookbook.

Below I give you the best tips I’ve learned over the years for taking food photos for your family cookbook.Continue reading