Writing Cookbook Headings…or Expositing on Fantastic Categorizations of Recipe Collection Subcategories

Writing a cookbook the long way

Marty in our support bulletin board asked me why he couldn’t get the title “Holiday Cooking” to fit as a recipe heading in his cookbook. It’s normally not a problem, but I explained that this can be an issue in our half page formats if you’re writing a cookbook with a really large font size. There’s just not much space to work with!

But it got me thinking about a bigger issue that applies to everyone writing a family cookbook. When it comes to recipe headings, sometimes less is more.

Obviously, I myself can be a little wordy sometimes. (You never hear about Bill Gates’ Fantastic Word Processing Software. He just calls it “Word.”) But even I can see that when it comes to organizing recipes, short headings make it much easier for cooks to find the right page in your cookbook.

I advised Marty to just call the heading for Holiday Cooking “Holidays.” It’s in a cookbook, so it’s already implied that it’s holiday cooking.

It’s just much easier to skim through a cookbook with headings like “Entree” and “Dessert” than “Continental Dinner Fare” and “Cakes, Pies and Other Sweets”.

Do I follow my own rule? To be honest, no. But I tend to be a bit quirky about it. Instead of “Salads” I like writing “Green Things.” “Fish” are “Scaly Swimmers.” “Cookies” are “Grandkid Appeasers.”

Is my own cookbook a pain to use for the uninitiated? Undoubtedly. But it’s my cookbook and mostly my recipes. And if you want to use it you’re just going to have to humor my writing.

Erin

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Top 6 Questions to Ask Yourself About Online Recipes

I’m not a big fan of hosting my personal family recipes on a website. There are a number of pitfalls in putting hundreds of hours into maintaining an online recipe book:

1. Will they be around?
What happens if the website service goes bankrupt? Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but maybe next year.

2. What do you do if the recipes vanish?
Is there a backup? I’ve heard several stories of people entering all their recipes online and they just vanish. *poof*

3. What if they become obnoxious?

It may be free now, but what about three years from now? Five? Ten? What if they suddenly start flooding you with advertisements? If you build up a huge collection of recipes online, it’ll be really hard to just walk away.

4. How likely is it that you’ll share your family recipes with your grand daughter if it’s a bookmark on some web page?
Sitting in front of a computer, even online, is an inherently isolating event. Handing somebody a printed cookbook is inherently social.
Imagine you just died. (I know it’s horrible, but play along.) Are your descendants likely to stumble into your family recipes at website XYZ under the user name GrannyCookMachine537?

5. Are you comfortable with not having control over how your family recipes will be used?
If you carefully read the license agreements to these online recipe websites, you’ll notice that even though you own the recipes, they have publishing rights. They can make their own recipe book using your recipes and not pay you a dime. Melissa A. Trainer writes about this issue here.

6. Who wants to look up a recipe on a computer when your hands are covered in butter and eggs?
I’ll start making the pot roast as soon as my computer boots up. And my internet access starts. And I log on to the website. And I do a search for the recipe I want. And I do the search again because I typed it wrong. And–oh heck, let’s just order a pizza.

As Napoleon Dynamite’s brother said, “Yes, I love technology.” But not so much that I don’t see the value of a good ol’ fashioned printed cookbook. Obviously, as the owner of a cookbook printing software company, I’m pretty biased. But I could’ve just as easily started an online recipe storage website like all the others. I didn’t.

That’s because I believe the best way to manage your family recipes is from your own computer. Off line and in control.

For more about my cookbook printing software, click here.

Microsoft Word, Cookbooks and a Rolled Up Newspaper

“What do you need special software for to just make a recipe book? What’s wrong with Microsoft Word?” My nephew eyed me suspiciously. It was two years ago and I needed his software skills if I were going to make a quality recipe book.

Because I needed his help, I used the newspaper instead of the phone book to whack him in the noggin.

“Because,” I started, trying to seem patient, “Microsoft Word is designed for making letters. Microsoft Word does reports. Microsoft Word does resumes. Microsoft Word does Christmas letters. Microsoft Word does NOT organize recipes very well.”

“Huh?” he replied. (For an MBA he’s pretty thick.)

“I want a recipe book that’s alphabetized. I want a recipe book with a table of contents. I want a recipe book broken up by ‘cookies’ and ‘salads’ and ‘fish’. And I want to spend my time thinking about each recipe, not about how to make the indent in Microsoft Word go away.”

A glimmer of sentience seemed to appear behind his dull eyes. “Huh. Are there a lot of older women like you?”

“Yes. And don’t call me older.” Whack!

“And would they also like to be able to add photographs easily?”

“Yes. It’s a pain in Microsoft Word. The text goes everywhere when you put a picture in.”

“How about other features?”

“Well,” I offered, “it’d be nice to have an address book built in. And a birthday calendar. And a family tree—”

“And Microsoft Word can’t do that?”

“Well,” I admitted, “I guess it could. If you spent time organizing it all beforehand and you were willing to fight with it to make it look right.”

“What do you think about starting a software business?” he asked. “We could help thousands of people make their own recipe books.”

“And I’d get my own recipe book? Without having to use Microsoft Word?” I considered it. “Maybe…”

It’s two years later and our little cookbook software business is breaking sales records every month. We’ve helped a lot more people than I ever dreamed. And I got my own recipe book without using Microsoft Word.

But the best news is that my nephew has finally got his act together. I almost never have to use the newspaper anymore.

Cut Down on Hassles for the Kid’s Next Birthday Cake

Mint Chocolate Chipe Ice Cream Cake Recipe

I love throwing birthday parties for the grandkids, but we all know what a zoo it can be. You are the only thing standing between a dozen grabby little hands and sugar. So why not take a little of the stress out of doling out the cake and ice cream by doing it all in one fell swoop?

The problem with traditional ice cream cakes is that the ice cream is too thick and it gets hard to cut. That’s where Matilda’s 4 Layer Chocolate Chip Mint Ice Cream Cake comes in.

First, make a traditional chocolate sponge cake in two round pans. Out of the box works fine–the kids want sugar after all, not an epicurean gastronomical experience.

Let them cool, and then slice them in half lengthwise with a sharp knife. You’ll have 4 thinner round cake layers. For best results, freeze these 4 cakes for about an hour or two. If you don’t, some of the melted ice cream will soak into the cake. This is not a bad thing, necessarily, if you don’t mind that. (I like it either way.)

Microwave the mint ice cream for a few seconds to soften it a little, or just put it in the mixer to get it that easy-creamy consistency. Then put a thin layer of ice cream on top of one of the cakes. Add a cake layer on top of that. Put in a layer of chocolate frosting. Another ice cream layer. Another cake layer. Repeat until you are left with a cake layer on top. Put frosting on the exterior. Use as many ice cream layers as you want–I think two layers is about right. I’ll use a whole gallon of ice cream, but you are free to dial it down.

Make sure to use chocolate fudge icing, as the normal fluffy stuff won’t always do a great job of containing melting ice cream. Also, you’ll need about twice as much icing because the ice cream will make the cake a lot taller.

Cover it and stick it in the freezer until an hour before your party. Letting it thaw a little makes it easier to cut.

This trick may save you ten minutes of ice cream scooping, and those ten minutes can seem like ten hours when you have kids screaming and ice cream melting! My youngest son, now 40, still requests this cake every birthday from his lovely wife!

Blank Recipe Cards vs The Cranky Granny

Blank Recipe Card Madness

Ruth and I collided as I pulled ginger snaps out of the oven. “Oh my goodness, Erin, I’m sorry,” she said. We both creak over to pick up the mess of recipe cards scattered across her kitchen floor.

“Ruth,” I say patiently, because Ruth sometimes needs a little patience. “Recipe cards? Why not punch cards? Or better yet scrawl some symbols on slabs of stone or papyrus?”

“I like to be able to pick up any card for any time to get cooking at a moment’s notice.” She looks at me a little shy. Like she isn’t 64, hasn’t cooked for 7 grandchildren, and hasn’t ever seen anything as confrontational as a cranky granny who owns a cookbook software company.

“Ruth,” I say, maybe a little less patiently. “I can’t even make out some of these, scrawled out in pencil and nearly rubbed out with butter and grease. And how long does it take you to find a card? It takes a moment’s notice to stuff a card in that old box, but how long does it take to find it again?”

“But I just like blank recipe cards. You take a blank recipe card and you can write anything you want on it. A blank recipe card is like a new day. Anything can happen.”

Ruth is a romantic. Romantic grandmas can be very stubborn people. But she’s only 64, still young and impressionable. So I put up my best argument.

“If you use my software to print your own recipe book, all your recipes will always be in alphabetical order every time by recipe type. All your cookies will always be with all your other cookies. All your soups will be with all your other soups. And when it gets so warn out that you are embarrassed to show it to your best friend–ahem–you can just print another copy. And print out a copy for her too.”

She flinches a little. “But the blank recipe cards, Erin! I love the blank recipe cards!”

I knew I had her. “So you can still use the blank recipe cards. Write on them all you want. But then staple them to the blank pages inside your recipe book. That way they stay organized. A cookie recipe card gets stapled to a cookie page in your cookbook. Once a year, type all the cards into my software, hit print, and just like that you’ve got an updated cookbook.”

She stayed silent, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I had another customer. She may have only been 64, and a romantic 64 at that. But she was old enough to see a little reason.

Buy blank recipe cards from us (Cookbook People) by clicking here.

The Top 3 Family Cookbook Mistakes

There are many reasons to make a cookbook (church, business, etc), but this story focuses on ideas for family cookbooks.

Maybe you buy my fine software. Maybe you go it alone using Microsoft Word. Or maybe (heaven forbid) you go with one of those scoundrel competitors. Whichever you do, let’s be clear on one thing: You are a saint.

Really.

It was your idea to put together a document of the most precious things you give to your most precious people–the food you feed your family. Someday you’ll be dead and everyone will be very grateful. For the coobook you left them, that is. Not that you’re dead.

But I’m afraid, my poor dears, you are going to screw it up along the way.

Can’t be helped. Nobody every published anything perfectly the first time, and if it’s your first crack at it that’ll be especially true. The following tips won’t prevent all the mistakes, but they’ll at least clear the way for some new ways to goof. Alas, life is about learning.

Mistake #1. Making the One Final Perfect Family Cookbook.

Oh, I see it all the time. You spend hundreds of hours pouring over every recipe, quibbling over every detail. You go with one of these big Vanity printing presses that charge you thousands of dollars to get them printed. You proudly hand them to every family member. And have no idea why they get buried at the bottom of a cupboard.

Why? Because there’s no such thing as The One Final Perfect Family Cookbook. There are ALWAYS new ideas and new recipes to add. There are always little typos you missed along the way. And even if there weren’t, what does that tell the rest of your family when you foist on them a giant tome? “It’s not yours.” That’s what.

Go with a lower budget! Give everyone a cheaper book and say, “Mark it up and return it to me next Christmas!” Make your Family Cookbook a living, breathing document that gets added to every year, not just by you but by everyone. It won’t get buried in the cupboard, dear, if it belongs to everybody.

Mistake #2. Making the Family Recipe Book About Recipes

Last Christmas did you run into the house, tear open the presents and leave without talking to anyone? I certainly hope not. The holidays are the one chance to see everybody. Even the smelly ones are nice for a little while.

Building a family recipe book with just recipes is like ripping open presents and running out the door. Stay a while. Put some photos in there of big events. Write some scuttlebutt. (Nothing too scandalous!) Throw in an address book and birthday calendar if you want. (My software helps you do that, at the risk of tooting my own horn.) The point is to make it a family recipe book and a family year book. Will Great Uncle Larry really care about your new peanut brittle recipe? Probably not. But he’ll take a look at it if it’s got a photo of him at third base seats in Shea Stadium.

The idea of Christmas isn’t the presents. The idea of a recipe book isn’t food. It’s feeding people you love. Let your book reflect that by involving people in the book.

Mistake #3. Bad Proof Reading.

If you are writing your family cookbook, you are going to be a lousy editor. Even if you are a good editor most of the time, you will disappoint yourself with what you missed. Get two or three people to help you.

I always tell my proof readers there’s a Waldo on every page. As in “Where’s Waldo.” The Waldo is a mistake that I know about. “If you are half as clever as you think you are,” I say, “you’ll see it.” Sometimes there isn’t a Waldo, but more often than not the proof reader will find it anyway.

That’s all the mistakes I can think of for now. I suspect I’ll be adding to this as I continue to make more. The most important thing to remember about your cookbook, and life, is that the mistakes mostly don’t really matter. If you’ve shown people you love them and you pass on a little knowledge, the hiccups along the way tend to sort themselves out.

If you are interested in some really great cookbook software, come check it out at CookbookPeople.com.