Should a Dead Dog Be in your Cookbook?

dog in family tree

Ruth looked distressed. “Do you think Arnie should be in my cookbook?”

Arnie was her poodle. He passed on to the Great Fire Hydrant In The Sky last year.

“I should hope not,” I said. “He’d be much too stringy even to slow cook with by now.”

She scowled. “No. I mean in my Family Tree section. Should Arnie be in the Family Tree section of my family cookbook? Is that weird?”

“Let’s put it in perspective,” I replied. “Your cousin Graham. He borrowed $800 from you six years ago. Never repaid it. He hogged down half your peach cobbler last Christmas. He hasn’t said five civil words to you in half a decade. Is he going to be in your cookbook?”

“Yes.”

“Is he more family to you than Arnie?”

She smiled.

“Family,” I said, “has little to do with time or life or death or even species. Family is love, and family is forever.”

“Hmmmm. Maybe,” she said. “Now I wonder if there’s some form of slow cooking I could do to Graham that would get my $800 back….”

Microsoft Word, Cookbooks and a Rolled Up Newspaper

Microsoft Word recipe book photo

“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 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!

Grandmas, Chippendales and Bad Salsa

Picture Red Hat Party

“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.

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.

Blank Recipe Cards vs The Cranky Granny

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

Blank Recipe Card Madness

Ruth and I collided as I pulled ginger snaps out of the oven. “Oh my goodness, Matilda, 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, Matilda! 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.

For more information about cookbook software, click here.

Bill Cosby Does Not Sell Yorkshire Pudding

From time to time I’ll add in some of my favorite recipes. This one is a favorite of mine from the Olde Country. The “e” in Olde stands for England.

Yorkshire Pudding Recipe

Yorkshire Pudding, despite what the Yanks may think, has absolutely nothing to do with Bill Cosby or Jello. Yorkshire Pudding came about some time ago when food supplies were short and the squalid masses needed something to stretch out a stringy piece of meat. Originally it was referred to as “English Meat Grease Bread,” I believe, or I could be making that part up. The people of Yorkshire have a reputation for bluntness, so maybe not.

Anyway, despite its meager beginnings, it’s a delightful way to use the delicious drippings from a nice roast or steak or even sausage. Always cook it right before you serve it. It doesn’t keep, unless of course you work in a Yorkshire pub, in which case they will serve it to you months after it should be thrown out.

INGREDIENTS

3/4 cup flour (4 oz)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon water
2 eggs

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 450.
Sift flour and salt into a bowl.
Make a well in center and add milk and water gradually, beating with a wooden spoon.
Beat eggs separately until fluffy.
Add to flour mix.
Beat until bubbles rise to surface.
Pour batter into a pitcher and refrigerate for 1/2 hr.

When meat is done, remove from pan and place on a warm platter.
Re-beat batter and pour quickly into still hot cooking pan.
Bake in oven for ten min at 450.
Reduce heat to 350 and cook for 15 min more, or until it is well risen and has turned golden brown.
Serve immediately from pan in which it was cooked.

The Top 3 Family Cookbook Mistakes

cookbook ideas

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.

Warning: Armed and Cranky

I go and put together this software for making family cookbooks, and next thing you know my nephew Willie is saying, “Grandma, you need a blog on MySpace.”

Ammunition.

I tell him I’ve got all my space I need, but he won’t leave me alone. So I hit him with a large turnip. Crack! Right in the melon. Wiped that know-it-all look right off.

But you know he’s a smart little firecracker, even if he had to wear a diaper until he was 8. He’s some hotshot marketing executive now, and if he says I need one of these blogs to help me sell my cookbook software, well, then I guess I’ll give it a try.

So here I am. I (and a team of scurilous ne’er-do-wells that I’ve kept in line with a sharp stare and good aim) put together Matilda’s Fantastic Cookbook Software, and this is the blog I’ll use to give you handy hints on how to use it.

While I’m at it, I’ll throw in some tips on how to print out your cookbook at Kinko’s without letting those eggheads get all snooty on you. (Hint: bring them a tray of macademia cookies.)

I might also spread some gossip about my nephew, reply to any comments you have, and just generally waste too much time here when I could be cooking. Please feel free to comment on our software, or better yet buy it. Whatever you do, keep it polite.

I’ve got a turnip and I know how to use it.