Homemade Class Cookbook: A New Twist on Apple for the Teacher

Last February I got a nice handwritten letter from a friend’s grandson who was studying the history and geography of major cities in the United States. He asked most politely if I would send him a postcard from my town so he could pin it up on the classroom bulletin board with postcards other students were getting from around the country.

This was such a brilliant class project that I couldn’t help but admire the teacher for coaching the students so well, and also for providing a wonderful activity and lesson that will be remembered long after the school year ends.

Teachers truly are some of the most important people in our children’s lives, and they deserve extra special surprises now and then that will delight them and show how appreciated they really are.

Sometimes classes will take up collections of cash to buy the teacher a special gift for Christmas or as a farewell thank you before summer break.  Wouldn’t it be nice to give a class cookbook to the teacher, created by each child in the class submitting at least one recipe?  What a wonderful memento for the teacher of that moment in time!  It is possible (and it’s not such a formidable project) when using my Matilda’s Fantastic Cookbook Software.

Here are some other thoughts to help you personalize the class cookbook for the teacher:

Notify Parents
If there is a class den mother (as we used to call them), that person could coordinate the collection of class recipes. If possible, send a note home with each child indicating the surprise nature of the class cookbook and a submission deadline.  Better yet, obtain parents’ emails and communicate that way so the teacher doesn’t know. After the recipes are submitted, perhaps another volunteer could type them into my recipe template (or cut-and-paste them from parents’ emails into the recipe template).

Choose a Theme
If you know the teacher well, you could customize the class cookbook by asking for recipes using a certain ingredient the teacher likes. Perhaps the class is very international, so a class cookbook of international recipes would be perfect. Recipes featuring apples and cherries make nice theme additions, too. In this instance, you could name the cookbook “Mr. Sheridan: You are the Apple of Our Eyes – Fifth Grade Class Cookbook, June 2019,” or something similar.

Keep Recipes Simple
Remember that busy teachers or their families often don’t have a lot of time to cook fancy or expensive dishes, so some easy family favorites would be welcome for sure. Recipes with only a few ingredients would be preferable, although don’t be afraid to include more complicated dishes if they are favorites the child wants to share.

Add Photos & Stories
Using my Matilda’s Fantastic Cookbook Software, a photo of each child could be included with the recipe. And be sure to include a little story about how the teacher has influenced each child in the class, or why this particular recipe is the child’s favorite, or just a thank you note written in the child’s own handwriting, scanned and added as a photo in the “People” template.

I am sure that any teacher receiving a class cookbook as a gift would be overwhelmed by the emotion of receiving it, as well as the entertaining aspect of reading all the recipes and stories. It is destined to be a treasured gift for many years to come.

By the way, my friend’s grandson got the top award in his class for having received the most postcards from around the country. Wonder how that happened, tee hee!

Happy cookbooking


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

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

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

– 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,


Photo from Customer of Alice in Wonderland Recipe Box

Looks like Krystle designed her own recipe cards to match the Alice Recipe Box we made for her! Nicely done!


Budget Stretchers for The Frugal Kitchen

“Oh, look at that,” Ruth remarked as she hefted a gigantic container of powdered coffee creamer to read the ingredients on the label. “Wow, the first thing on the list is corn syrup solids, and then partially hydrogenated coconut oil.”

As she droned on and on about the odd-sounding ingredients that seemed more chemical than food, my mind wandered (it often does when Ruth begins one of her investigative reports). I began thinking about how to stretch the dollar in lean times.  Here we were in one of those bulk food warehouse stores being dazzled by 60-ounce containers of coffee creamer for less than $6.00, and all I could think of was how expensive everything seemed to be.

Bulk food warehouses are not a good place to shop if you want to keep a frugal kitchen, I thought.

A frugal kitchen operates without a lot of fluff and extra stuff and a lot closer to the (soup) bone, so to speak. When one runs a frugal kitchen, one is more apt to use these budget stretchers:

– Cook dried beans instead of opening a can
– Bake treats instead of buying packaged ones
– Use fresh produce instead of frozen or canned
– Use spice blends instead of spending money on individual spices
– Keep fewer items in the pantry (e.g. one box of cold cereal instead of four)
– Not overcook or overeat
– Be creative with meal stretchers like rice and pasta
– Eat at home most often

Stocking just a few choice items (instead of everything one desires) is the mark of a frugal kitchen. Only very seldom would stocking up at a bulk food warehouse be prudent; there are so many more important things to buy than keeping my grocery money tied up on kitchen shelves.

I have to agree with Ruth when she says: “I can’t imagine buying this container of creamer; it would last me a year. I’d rather have that money in my pocketbook to use on things that matter”.

Whew! That was a close call. She had the creamer in her shopping cart. I was cringing at the thought of stirring creamer into my tea at her house. Bad economy or not, some things just aren’t tolerable! Thank goodness she came to her frugal kitchen senses.

Happy Cookbooking,


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A Recipe Binder Can Prepare Your Teen For What Lies Ahead

They’re about to head out on their own – but a recipe binder you’ve put together for them to use will help them stay healthy and organized.

As teens move through the high school years, we want to prepare them for what’s ahead.  We want them to be able to fend for themselves when they are out on their own, especially if they’ll soon be heading off to college.  Here’s one way you can help them get started – put together a recipe binder.

Some great recipe binder designs your teen will love!

Some great recipe binder designs your teen will love!

recipe binder can contain all the dishes you fixed for them over the years – perhaps starting out with the simpler ones.  Since organization is key to getting anything done, that’s where to start.  Simply label dividers for your recipe binder, preferably with pockets, to have a place for the different types of recipes that you want to put in.

You might want to include how to read food labels and price information.  How to select the right equipment.  How to measure dry versus wet ingredients.  A glossary of cooking terms is helpful too.

You might also want to include an extra section for general household tips.  These might cover how to do anything, from sorting laundry to putting together a grocery list to polishing shoes – or even tying a tie!

To make the binder extra special, add photos of your teen making the dishes and cleaning up. The illustrations are important, especially in a how-to manual.

Making a recipe binder is a fun and practical way to prepare your child for the things to come, and it’s a nice way to spend time together and build memories,too.  And, wherever your son or daughter are heading, enabling them to enjoy those great meals you provided for them as they grew up will mean they’ll always feel close to you.  What better way to stay connected?

For more information about creating a recipe binder, contact us.

5 Rules You Need to Know About Beans

Although I’ve eaten beans all my life from many family recipes, I don’t really know a hill about them. Recently, I experimented with cooking small portions of different kinds of dried beans just to see which ones I like the best (and to prepare myself for eating more beans and rice during this extended recession).

Beans have been a food staple since ancient times (just check your family cookbook for some bean recipes). The economically-challenged have always liked beans because they are filling as well as nutritious. The health conscious seek beans because of their nutritional value and fiber content. (I haven’t verified this, but somewhere I heard that eating beans and rice together creates the perfect protein of essential amino acids, the building block of cell rejuvenation.)  So, they really are beneficial for you as well as taste good.

Interesting how we associate certain bean dishes with cultures or other influences: red beans and rice (New Orleans), black beans and rice (Cuba/Caribbean), Fava beans with a nice Chianti (Hannibal Lechter), hoppin’ john/black-eyed peas and rice (the South), pinto beans and rice (Mexico), baked beans (Boston).  I bet your family cookbook has several other bean recipes that are family favorites.

Canned beans are great for short order recipes. I particularly like to cook spiral pasta, add pureed marinated artichoke hearts, and a can of small white beans (a wonderful dinner dish with salad and crunchy bread.)

5 Rules About Beans
These are wisdoms that might be useful next to a bean recipe in your family cookbook.

1. Don’t salt the beans before you soak them or cook them. It makes them tough.

2. Soak the beans overnight if you can. It helps ease the traf* factor and makes them cook quicker.

3. Beans are great when cooked with some form of flavorful meat or vegetable. (Another of my favorite easy meals is adding the ubiquitous 15-bean soup packet to a crockpot with some beef or chicken bones, or a smoked ham bone.)

4. Beans make great leftovers because they can be reheated and used in various ways, such as whole, mashed, pureed (add pureed beans to soup as a thickener.)

5. Beans need lots of water to cook. You can always strain it out (preferably to use in soup later) if there is too much water when they are done.

In my house, every time I cook beans in a certain pot, I burn them because I forget to add enough water. This pot has acquired the name “the bean pot,” and it certainly has had its share of Brillo pads scrubbing its stainless steel surface.  One time I didn’t think the pot would recover, but fortunately, it did.

Now that I think of it, I’d better stop writing about beans and go and check my bean pot before I char it once again!

Happy cookbooking,


* Spell it backward; you’ll get my drift.

assorted cooking utensils on a floury table overlaid with text: Organize your kitchen with a recipe binder

Planning to Get Organized This Year? Start in the Kitchen with a New Recipe Binder

A recipe binder might not help you keep all your New Year’s resolutions – but it’s a great start!

So many of us start the year with good intentions, only to get overwhelmed before the first month is out. When it comes to organization in the home, it can be hard to know where to begin. If you’re anything like me, that feeling starts when you look around your kitchen.

Recipe Binders

Cooking for family and friends can be a joy, but it can result in your kitchen looking like a hurricane blasted through it.

If your recipes are scattered across your kitchen counter, getting lost in the mess, cooking your favorite recipes gets extremely difficult. One thing that can save you from having to look through heaps of disorganized notes is a specialized recipe binder.

There are various types of recipe binders that can work in your favor – whether you’re a big time chef or someone who is new at cooking up meals. Full page recipe binders can hold 8.5″ x 11” paper as well as 4″ x 6″ and 5″ x 7″ recipe card holders. You can easily organize these binders with divider tabs to group recipes by type.

If you or someone you know is getting the hang of cooking and needs a little extra help, why not try a mini recipe binder? These binders are small enough to stack on a tiny shelf for safekeeping. Each binder comes with protective sleeves that will guard your precious recipes from the grease splatters and sauce spills.

A handy-dandy recipe binder in any size will carry on the family tradition of home cooked meals for generations.

If you’re not sure which kind of binder will best keep your recipes well- organized, contact us! We’ll help you find the perfect binder for all your cooking needs!

Some Old Favorites

Every once in awhile I take a break, sit down with a cup of tea, and re-read some of my favorite old cookbooks. The most fascinating thing about reading old cookbooks is the history they tell us about the people who lived in a certain neighborhood during a specific time period.

That is perhaps one of the beauties of making your own family cookbook – you have control over favorite heirloom recipes, as well as a time capsule of all the people in your family.

If you haven’t started your family cookbook yet, no worries, there is still time to complete one for a sure-to-be-favorite Christmas gift. Meanwhile, below is interesting information about some old favorites:

Favorite Ancient Egyptian Breakfast
Ham and eggs (in 1500 B.C.)

America’s Favorite Fruits
1951 = Bananas, apples, seedless grapes, and oranges.
2008 = Strawberries, bananas, grapes, apples, and oranges.

Favorite Yuletide Treats

In Norway, the favorite sweet treat is Julekake (Christmas Bread), a sweet bread flavored with cardamom, citron and raisins.

Mark Twain’s Favorite Meal
Pan fried porterhouse steak with mushrooms and peas.

Favorite Tangy Fruit in Old China
Lemons are big in China, dating back to the Chinese Emperors, who liked lemonade. Lemons were brought to the Americas by Catholic Missionaries, and lemon trees were subsequently planted in California and Arizona.

French Monk’s Favorite Meal
In France, monks favored rabbit as a meal because it was considered fish and could be eaten as a meat substitute on “abstinence” days.

Cleopatra’s Favorite Fruit
As long as 6,000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians enjoyed eating figs, both fresh and dried. They were a favorite of Cleopatra, and figs were said to be grown in the lush Hanging Gardens of Babylon (in present day Iraq).

Favorite Dessert in 1951
A survey of the U.S. armed forces in 1951 showed that banana cream pie was tops on the list for servicemen. However, their least favorite dessert was rice pudding.

Happy Cookbooking,

The Better Mouse Trap Inside the Better Rat Alongside Red Dead Redemption

Despite owning a software company, I’m pretty dumb. I’m too dumb to figure out how to program my DVD player. How anyone can stare at those 80 buttons and not give up immediately is beyond me. I’m too dumb to buy any watch with a digital interface. Frankly, I’m too dumb to enjoy reading any sentence with the word “digital interface” in it. Or just “interface,” for that matter.

I’m ok with my stupidity, though, because there seem to be a lot of us idiots out there, and a few companies have finally noticed. Modern console games are proof that us morons, both young and old, actually like something that’s easy to use. We prefer thinking about our Instant Pot or beating the next mission in Red Dead Redemption. Certainly beats contemplating audio format compression rates or whether to mash the X and Triangle buttons in a particular order six or seven times in rapid succession.

(I don’t know if our own software is built for everyone as dumb as me. I hope so, and our ranking among the very best sellers on Amazon cookbook software seems to point to it. I’d love to hear your feedback, though.)

Anyway, as one of the legion of stupid, I’d like to personally apologize to all the manufacturers out there who build the better mouse trap inside the better rat maze. I’m sure you are very clever and very sophisticated to have devised an 80 button remote control for my smart TV. I know I couldn’t do it.

You may not get my money ever again, but I certainly appreciate that you are much, much smarter than me.


Now I’m going to go get some Red Dead Redemption 2 in before my son wakes up. That no good varmint always tells me where the loot is! I like to do it myself!


What are you favorite mouse traps? How about rat mazes?

Recipe Ingredient Substitutions Can Make Family Cookbook Recipes Better

How many times on a cold winter night has the urge to make something gooey, sweet and comforting drifted across your mind? Time to pull out your family recipe cookbook and find the perfect easy-to-make snack recipe.

But what if you don’t have exactly the right ingredients that Grandma used in her special chocolate ginger snap cupcakes?  Easy.  Just substitute a similar recipe ingredient, and chances are you won’t notice the difference enough to complain while satisfying your snack attack.

Here are a few classic recipe ingredient substitutes you can use if your pantry is low on some items needed for an impromptu snack:

Dry bread crumbs
Tear up whole fresh bread slices into small pieces and toast them on high in a toaster oven (use the tray, dears). Watch carefully so the bread pieces don’t burn, then crumble as needed. I’ve also heard you can sautee the bread in butter until browned, but that may be too rich for some recipes, or family recipes that require a bread crumb coating.

I don’t usually keep buttermilk, so when I need buttermilk for a recipe, I have been known to add a tablespoon of lemon juice or a little vinegar to a cup of milk (which will usually sour curdle the milk within 5 minutes).  The flavor always seems odd to me.  Now I prefer to use plain yogurt or thinned sour cream, which gives a richer texture.  I’ve even substituted creme frache instead (but it’s rare that I would have that in my fridge either).

Anytime I am baking sweets and I need an egg, I confidently substitute 1/4 cup applesauce, pumpkin or squash puree, or any thick pureed fruit. These will bind the dry ingredients, but just won’t add the extra fluff that an egg would. To me, this substitution is best used for baked goods recipes like bran muffins or blueberry muffins. Not recommended for omelets!

I have used confectioners’ (powdered) sugar as a substitute for granulated sugar, but I will usually use 25% less (that is ¾ cup instead of 1 cup). Depending on the recipe, honey is also a good substitute. Which one to use really depends on the type of bulk needed in the recipe, and whether the finished dish is more dry or moist.

Cake Flour
If you are making a cake for your late night snack, and don’t have cake flour (which is forever on your shelf like that unused box of Bisquick, right?), don’t fret. I’m told you can sift 7/8 cup all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons cornstarch (for every cup of cake flour you need) and come up with a reasonable substitute. Honestly, if it is a one-time emergency snack recipe, just use all purpose flour. No one will hold you responsible for the recipe results. However, if the texture is so critically important to you at 9 p.m. and you need a chocolate cake fix, go get cake flour!

By the way, if you have used substitutes in family recipes successfully, be sure to indicate those options in your family recipe cookbook. Some family member may actually prefer the altered recipe instead of the original, due to diet considerations, allergies or other taste preferences.

Happy Cookbooking!

woman getting fruit from fridge overlaid with text: "Inspiration for a healthier pantry and fridge"

Eat This, Not That – Inspiration for a Healthier Pantry & Fridge

I’ve been reading the book series “Eat This, Not That” by David Zinczenko of Men’s Health magazine. There are several books in the series, and all have eye-opening information about the foods we innocently eat.

What I’ve discovered from reading these books is that we should all be saying “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.”*

There are so many unnecessary calories, additives, and preservatives in our food that it is no wonder that America is sick with diabetes, heart ailments and such.

Did you know there are 79 ingredients and 1,330 calories in a Baskin-Robbins Oreo-layered sundae?

Some of the things I learned from reading “Eat This, Not That” books:

  • Read nutritional labels carefully.
  • “Reduced fat” is a bunch of hype and means nothing.
  • Pay attention to trans fats; they are killers (eat no more than 2.5 grams of trans fat a day)
  • Avoid ingesting high-fructose corn syrup (it’s in just about everything)
  • Grind your own sirloin to make hamburgers; don’t eat fast food hamburgers (most are processed with ammonia gas as a “processing agent”)
  • Be wary of restaurants and fast food spots; it’s a mystery how they can pack thousands of calories into a salad.
  • Use smaller dishes to keep portions under control.
  • Throw away your deep-fat fryer.
  • Go for whole grains (not multi-grains, which are nutritionally inferior).
  • Shop the outside rim of the supermarket where fresh produce, meats and dairy are located (instead of the center aisles of canned, packaged, processed foods)
  • Eat at home so you know what you are eating.
  • Prepare foods that are close to their natural form.
  • Spend a little more sometimes to buy a better quality food that is better for you.

I could go on about “Eat This, Not That,” but instead I’m inspired to eliminate all of the “bad” stuff from my pantry and refrigerator that I didn’t realize was causing for the pudge around my middle!

Let’s be realistic here. I’m responsible for buying and eating the stuff, but food manufacturers are responsible for the crap they put in it. I should know better, but I succumb to the marketing ploys just like everyone else. But the truth is, we are all able to boycott foods that are not healthy simply by not buying them.

Now to clean out that refrigerator and pantry and stock up on healthier foods.  Think I’ll also write the FDA and tell them “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to EAT it any more.”

Happy Cookbooking,

* From the 1976 movie “Network”

14 Baking Tips & Techniques from a 1977 Collective Cookbook

In my ever-present quest to clear out “stuff,” as the late George Carlin used to say, I found one of my old collective fundraiser cookbooks that had some serious baking tips and techniques nestled in the “Cake” section of the cookbook.

Although the collective cookbook was published a mere 31 years ago, some of the ideas must have come from still farther back in time. Yet, the basic helpful wisdom of the cookbook’s contributors, long gone by now, still reaches out across the decades to anyone who cares to be the best baker possible.

You might find these baking tips and techniques as fascinating and amusing as I did.

Baking Tips & Techniques

1. Creaming butter and sugar: A little hot milk added will aid in the creaming process.

2. After using the oven, leave the door open until the oven is cool so that moisture will not condense and rust the metal.

3. To decorate a cake without a decorator, cut an envelope from one of the top corners to the middle of the bottom of the envelope. Cut a little piece off the corner.

4. An apple cut in half and placed in the cake box will keep the cake fresh several days longer.

5. When making a cake, always add 2 tablespoons of boiling water to the butter and sugar mixture. This makes a fine textured cake.

6. Do not grease the sides of cake pans. How would you like to climb a greased pole?

7. To cut a fresh cake, use a wet knife.

8. Do not discard rinds of grapefruit, oranges, or lemons. Grate the rinds first, put in a tightly-covered glass jar, and store in the refrigerator. Makes an excellent flavoring for cakes, frostings, and such.

9. When you do not want to heat your oven for a shortcake, make a short biscuit dough with a little sugar added to a thin batter and bake in a waffle iron.

10. A good, quick frosting is made by boiling a small potato, mashing it, and adding powdered sugar and vanilla.

11. To keep crisp cookies crisp, and soft cookies soft, place only one kind in a cookie jar.

12. Any cake will be greatly improved if a teaspoon of lemon juice is added to the butter and sugar. This makes a cake very light and shorter. Fresh milk makes cakes close-grained and more solid.

13. For a nice decoration on white frosting, shave colored gum-drops very thin and stick on. They will curl like little roses.

14. Baking pans:  For best results use correct size pan. The time and oven temperature should be adjusted to the type of pan being used. For shortening-type cakes, bake cup cakes at 375 degrees for 18-20 minutes; layer cakes at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes; and loaf cakes at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.

2019 Family Cookbook Making Hint: Ask family members for similar old baking tips and techniques and incorporate them into your own family cookbook. Use the “Recipe” tab in my cookbook software, select the field called “Choose this recipe’s type,” then select “Tips” from the drop down menu. You could create a whole section of tips about all kinds of cooking techniques that would add more family flavor to your cookbook.

Happy Cookbooking!


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!)

Olives Make the World Go ‘Round

Last week I visited a fancy food market and was particularly impressed with the fine selection of olives available from around the world. There were 8-10 bowls laden with beautiful olives of all kinds in a special showcase devoted to olives and olive eating.

Since olives are so versatile, it makes sense to use them often as both decorative and flavorful accents to many dishes. I use them quite often, and have been known to eat them off my fingertips when no one is looking. In fact, I am thinking about devoting a whole section in my family cookbook to recipes containing olives. It will be easy using the recipe template in my cookbook software.Continue reading

Holiday Parties on the Cheap

I have a friend who invites all her neighbors and friends over the day after Christmas to have a “leftovers” party!  She provides the beverages and they provide the potluck. How’s that for being ingenious in having a no-fuss holiday party on the cheap with a chance to see friends during the holidays without any hassles whatsoever.

If you are contemplating a last-minute gathering, it is perfectly okay during these tough economic times days to involve your guests in the plan. Here are three ideas to make your holiday party on the cheap quick and easy for everyone:

Limit the food group to desserts and coffee or bubbly and you have a smash hit. Have an Ice Cream Social with syrups and toppings (everyone loves ice cream, even when snow crunches underfoot). Or, ask everyone to bring their favorite brownies for a Best Brownie Tasting. Of course, there are various Christmas cookies, pies, cakes and fancy pastries to consider. Let your guests be your caterer on this one, and don’t be shy in telling them what to bring.

This is a lovely holiday party on the cheap because it is styled after the famous stone soup fable of sharing food, which is a perfect finale to the Christmas holiday. Ask guests to bring their choice of one of the following:

– Any fresh or frozen vegetable (onion, tomato, carrot, green beans, or potato, etc.)
– A small amount of raw meat, chicken or seafood (if desired)
– A favorite seasoning, such as garlic, celery, oregano, etc.
– A small amount of noodles, rice, barley, or canned beans

You provide the big pots, some chicken, vegetable or beef stock (at least 8 ounces per expected guest).  A hearty supply of bread, butter and wine is also recommended (all stuff guests can bring, too). As they arrive, have your guests dump their contributions into the soup pot.  In about an hour of festive cooking and catching up, you’ll have a great dish that everyone will love because they helped fix it!

Make-your-own-eggrolls are a great and inexpensive dim sum food and party activity for your holiday party on the cheap.  Have all the eggroll ingredients ready (including the deep fat fryer), and instruct guests how to fill and roll large wonton wrappers with chopped bean sprouts, cabbage, shredded chicken (or pork), green onions, water chestnuts, and sauces. Guests can also be invited to bring side dishes such as fried rice, stir-fry vegetables, and even fortune cookies.

By the way, if you need a fun activity for your holiday party on the cheap while the food is being prepared, have your Matilda’s Fantastic Cookbook Software open on your computer, and have everyone add a recipe to your family cookbook!

Happy Cookbooking!


The Christmas Orange

While shopping for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day supplies, I saw a beautiful display of Christmas oranges, polished and shining in the produce section of the supermarket. These were big, beautiful oranges, and made me recall the old story of the Christmas orange.

The Christmas orange story goes something like this:

A little girl who lived in an orphanage was excited to learn that there would be a beautiful Christmas tree in the great hall downstairs placed by Santa Claus himself! There was also a rumor going around the orphanage that each good child would receive a fresh juicy orange –a Christmas Orange — as a special Christmas gift.

Back then there were no toys, or electronic gadget, to anticipate; precious fruits and nuts from the exotic parts of the world were highly prized and a great delight for anyone who received them. A Christmas orange was like gold for most. But the little girl was so curious, and the stern supervisor of the orphanage would not allow any rules to be broken.

The little girl woke up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve and crept downstairs to witness the Christmas miracle of Santa Claus delivering the tree. Unfortunately she was caught by the stern supervisor and banished to her bed with the promise of no Christmas orange for a bad little girl. She cried all the rest of the night, and did not join the other children at breakfast.

Suddenly a large robed figure placed an object wrapped in a napkin in her tiny hand. It was an orange! How could this be? It was a Christmas orange made up of ragged orange peeling and orange sections. The other children in the orphanage had each given a section of their orange so that she, too, could taste the joy of Christmas.

Merry Christmas & Happy Cookbooking,


3 Ingredient Chocolate Peppermint Delicious Still Makes the Grade

When I was quite young (no cracks about how long ago that was), I remember helping make a simple recipe around Christmastime that made a wonderful, frozen dessert that we called chocolate peppermint delicious.  It blended the holiday flavors of chocolate, peppermint, and whipped cream into a deliciously creamy, and somewhat addicting, ice cream-like sweet.

Years later, I think a version of the simple chocolate peppermint delicious recipe was published in the now classic first edition of Better Homes & Gardens New Junior Cookbook.

Here’s what I remember about this simple recipe for chocolate peppermint delicious that is perfect for kids to make this Christmas:

Chocolate Peppermint Delicious

18 Chocolate wafer cookies, evenly crushed
6  Candy canes, finely crushed
1  Pint carton whipping cream

Place the chocolate wafer cookies in a brown paper bag (use a plastic bag now). Use a rolling pin (I think we actually used a hammer) to crush the chocolate wafer cookies into even crumbs. Do the same with the candy canes, but make sure they are finely crushed so the peppermint flavor will be distributed better than big chunks in the chocolate peppermint delicious.

Transfer chocolate wafer crumbs and crushed candy canes into a bowl and add the whipping cream direct from the carton (not whipped). Stir well and freeze in a shallow pan until solid. Before serving, take the pan out of the freezer so the chocolate peppermint delicious can be cut into squares more easily.

This was a favorite frozen dessert treat at Christmastime because we kids loved to crush up the wafers and candy canes, and considered this a traditional Christmas dish of our early years. I suppose the recipe could have been made any time of year using peppermint candies, but we weren’t as smart then.

I haven’t made this frozen dessert in at least 20 years, so I plan to try chocolate peppermint delicious again and maybe add it to my family cookbook as another option for Christmastime dessert. Won’t you join me and try it, too?

Happy cookbooking,


4 Things You Always Wanted to Know About That Mysterious Holiday Mincemeat But Were Afraid to Ask

No need to avoid mincemeat this holiday.

I know what you are thinking. Ick, I wouldn’t touch mincemeat pie with at 10 foot pole (what exactly is it anyway¦some weird combination of meat and fruit?). Well, yes, and no. It depends on where you are from. Ironically, many family cookbooks will have at least one recipe for mincemeat (even if no one in the family ever makes it).

Sadly, there are the legions of Americans who have never eaten, let alone tasted, any form of mincemeat in their entire lives. Those who have tried it aren’t so adverse. Men seem to like it particularly. Especially if it is topped with a brandy-laced hard sauce.

According to the Epicurious food dictionary, mincemeat is “A rich, spicy preserve made of fruit (usually chopped cherries, dried apricots, apples or pears, raisins and candied citrus peel), nuts, beef suet, various spices, and brandy or rum. Old-time mincemeats included minced, cooked lean meat (usually beef), hence the name.”

Back in the day, when sweet spices (such as nutmeg, cloves, allspice, cinnamon), became available, the spices and fruits were easily combined for a tasty dish to accompany meats. When both were combined into a pie is basically unknown, (perhaps as the first all in one entree-dessert leftover casserole?)  More likely, think of cooks adding sweet spices and fruits to mask the stench and taste of rotting meat, or to preserve it.

Today, it seems mincemeat is more misunderstood than in olden days. Following are 4 things you always wanted to know about that mysterious holiday mincemeat but were afraid to ask:

1. Meat or Fruit?
YES. Mincemeat can be both meat and fruit, or just fruit, which is the more modern interpretation. A traditional recipe would include:
– Meat, either pork, lamb, or beef
– Suet (hardened beef fat¦get those arteries primed)
– Available fruits, such as apples, raisins, currants, cranberries, sour cherries
– Spices and vinegar
– Sweetener, such as brown sugar or molasses
However, today a mincemeat pie in the British Isles is typically a savory dish made with two pastry crusts, ground (minced) beef, onion, and beef bouillon gravy with no fruit (think Shepherd’s Pie without the fluffy mashed potato topping).

2. Entree or Dessert?
DESSERT (in U.S). In the beginning, mincemeat pie was a main course because it contained more meat than fruits (which most likely were added as an extender to meat, which may have been scarce). Today in the United States, mincemeat pie is typically a dessert to a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal.

3. Pie or Topping?
PIE. You can buy mincemeat filling in jars to make your own pie, or buy ready-made pies in the frozen food section of the supermarket. Years ago, such frozen pies are were labeled mincemeat pie, but in an attempt to broaden the pie’s appeal to the uneducated masses, many brands have switched to the more common “mince” pie name (presumably so people will buy it).  A modern twist is to use mincemeat filling with ice cream as a topping or as a new version of the pie. Recipes for Mincemeat Ice Cream Pie includes mincemeat (some spiked with brandy), chopped nuts, French vanilla ice cream and whipping cream. Yum.
Mincemeat Ice-Cream Pie
Brandied Mincemeat Ice Cream Pie

4. Low calorie or high calorie?
HIGH CALORIE. Although a typical slice of sweet-tart mincemeat pie has fewer calories per slice (about 360) than apple pie (410) or pecan pie (480), it has an intense sweetness and is very rich. Depending upon the recipe, the pie’s sweetness is driven by raisins, currants, prunes, dates, candied fruits, with sugar, molasses, or fruit juices added.  Slivers of mincemeat pie instead of slabs may be preferred. The sweetness can also be tempered with whipped cream, ice cream or the favorite previously-mentioned hard sauce. (By the way, pumpkin pie weighs in at 180 calories a slice, without the whipped cream, mind you).  Mincemeat pie is not a light and fluffy ending to a meal, so you either hate it or love it.

So what is mincemeat?  Apparently anything you want it to be.
Mincemeat is nothing to shy away from, and just might be a fresh tradition to your holiday table.
Try it, you might like it, and add it to your family cookbook!

Learn more about mincemeat and its traditions:

Mincemeat Pie History

Happy cookbooking,


Leather Recipe Binder A Customer Photographed in January

Meant to post it before now! Don’t know how I forgot it so long! Click here to see this binder in our store. Or you can also just check out our whole collection of recipe binders.