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.

Four Ways You can Add Spice to Family History in Your Family Cookbook

Don’t you just love to watch those television shows about different people’s lives? By adding biographical stories about relatives to your family recipe cookbook, you can create your own mini-series of sorts using characters from your own family history! Just imagine the amazement of family members when they find out Great Uncle Jack was a circus clown and a cross-dresser!

You probably know that many best-selling biographies (usually of the rich and famous) can span several volumes. In your family recipe cookbook, the biographies will be simple short stories about the people whose recipes are included in your cookbook, or about people in the family who loved the recipes. (Or whomever you want, really.)

Here are some ideas to get your writing juices flowing for family biographies in your family recipe cookbook:

1. Ask Questions
Find out more (if possible) about the subject of your family bio. The person’s thoughts about a variety of topics can prove to be priceless to future generations, as well as fill in gaps in popular history. Ask about:

– Favorite holidays and why
– Childhood memories, popular fads
– Military service
– Values, beliefs, and dreams
– Favorite candy and ice cream
– Happy experiences, relationships, significant accomplishments
– Favorite meals, movies, pets, clothing styles
– Vacations and travel
– Teen pranks, embarrassing moments
– Hobbies and musical interests
– Admired heroes, and special honors or awards
– Memorable firsts, and feelings about major news events
– Words of wisdom for others

2. Do Some Research
Talk to relatives about relatives! This can sometimes create a common thread of comment from several family members, which can give you a better perspective.
You can also search for information about your relatives online by typing names into the search bar. (Be careful that you get the right relative). Letters, diaries, newspaper clippings, and family scrapbooks are also great sources of information. In the case of someone who has passed away, you can cut and paste in their obituary in the cookbook software’s People section. I did this recently when re-creating an old cookbook for my local historical society, and it worked out great.

3. Make an Outline
To help you focus on what to write, it is helpful to make an informal outline for each person so you can decide if more information is needed. List the stories or anecdotes you know, or have been told about each relative. Be sure to list any available photos that can be included.

4. Write What You Know, Get What You Don’t
Start writing about the person you know best or have the most information about. Remember, your purpose of a family bio is to present a brief recognizable sketch of your family member so others can immediately recognize the person’s “essence.”

You’ll want to include the basic facts of when he or she was born and other important dates, but chronological order is not as important as capturing the person’s character.

If you have too much information, narrow the focus of the family bio. Since this is a cookbook, perhaps discussing the person’s favorite recipes and cooking style would be useful. Always check your facts and dates.

Think of a theme. For example, if a relative is known for her sense of humor, try to include a story she told that made you laugh.

Of course, these bio-writing ideas are not intended for you to drop your family recipe cookbook project and write a best seller. Just some short loving paragraphs will do. But who knows, you might find enough family intrigue for a movie!

Happy cookbooking,

Erin

Organize your family cookbook using our cookbook software

7 Reasons Not to Make a Family Cookbook in Word

There are lots of really good reasons to use Word. Making a family cookbook isn’t one of them. Here’s why:

1. It’s distracting. You will spend more time worrying about formatting your Word document than you will thinking about writing Cousin Dilbert’s Peanut Brittle recipe.

2. You won’t make your cookbook in Word consistently. Sometimes you’ll remember to Bold it. Sometimes you won’t. Sometimes the picture of the recipe is above it. Sometimes below it. With our cookbook software all the consistency is built-in for you.

3. One word: “indent.” If that doesn’t make you scared of Word, how about “bullets and numbering?” At some point, you’ll try to use it in Word and things will get out of alignment, and you’ll go crazy.

4. Adding new recipes in the middle of the cookbook. You’ll want to do it, but scrolling down to find that spot will be a pain in Word. Once you are there, all the pages after it will get re-formatted. Our software lets you easily find any recipe you want, and adding a new recipe is as simple as clicking “Add new recipe.”

5. You will have to re-type the same thing over and over. With our software, you just select an author name from a menu. You can’t mis-spell it. Same thing for recipe categories (Fish, Salad, Breads, etc).

6. You’ll have to manually figure out a Table of Contents section. Unless you can figure out how to do references, creating a TOC in Word is not easy. With our software you hit a button and your Contents section prints out. It’s that easy.

7. How do you add a degree symbol (°F)? A spanish N (±)? How do I add in a Birthday Calendar? An address book? Our software makes it simple to do all these things, and more, with a few clicks.

Check out our family cookbook software. It’s extremely affordable, and it’ll save you a lot of hassles over using Word.

Erin

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

Preserving Family Recipes Means Being Precise

One powerful feature in using my cookbook software to preserve family cooking traditions is the ability to standardize family recipes that have been handed down for generations. Standardize the macaroni casserole so beloved by your grandfather? Sacrilege!

Not really. Let me explain.

Standardizing family recipes can be the single most important way to preserve the taste of the dishes over time (aside from creating the actual cookbook, of course).

You remember that macaroni from childhood days, but when you make it from the tattered sheet of paper your mother gave you that your grandmother wrote, you say, “It just doesn’t taste the same.” Why? Because ingredients can change as ideas about food (who thought of trans fats 50 years ago?) and new food manufacturing techniques come into play.

Take a look at that original family recipe. Does it tell you enough in detailed terms to really be able to duplicate the taste you remember? Chances are it does not. The specific brand of butter, the type of cheese, the exact cooking time, all make a difference in the final dish.

Being able to clarify both measurements and ingredients serves to improve the quality and integrity of the dish over generations rather than dilute it. (Who wants to preserve a generic family recipe?)

So, be sure to describe a family recipe’s ingredients as specifically as possible. For example, using the term 1 teaspoon of fresh baking soda suggests NOT digging out the open box that has spent several years in the back of the refrigerator as a deodorizer.

Also, add sizes to the vegetables or fruits called for in the family recipe. The juice of 3 medium lemons is better than “juice of 3 lemons.” Better yet is “½ cup of lemon juice, freshly squeezed.”

I think you see what I mean. So, when you are using my cookbook software to make your family recipe book, keep in mind that it is better to name names. Precisely!

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

How many recipe cards will fit in a recipe box?

We answer this age-old question in our Recipe Box Overview, where we try to put everything you need to know about recipe boxes in one place. However, the main infographic I’ve posted here from there tells you most of what you need to know!

Hope this helps!

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.

A family cookbook is a spiritual document.

A family cookbook is more than just a compilation of recipes. It’s a spiritual document.

Go ahead. Laugh and roll your eyes. (My husband Ted did. He laughed and laughed right up until I sold the 50th copy of my software, Matilda’s Fantastic Cookbook Software. Then he started paying attention. Now that it’s the best selling Cooking & Health software on Amazon, a lot of people are paying attention.)

What makes a family cookbook spiritual? Look into the eyese of your granddaughter. Those eyes have atoms swirling in them that were once in your Aunt Maureen’s Top Secret Cheesecake. Same goes for the strong back of your husband and a lemon-yellow lock of your grandson’s hair. The hippies were right–all things really are connected. And some things, like the food we all ate as children and the lives we live as adults, are even more connected. Not just in sight and sound and taste and smell, but in our very beings.

Maybe that’s why thousands have used their family cookbooks to commemorate a mom or grandma who passed on. A family cookbook can connect us across countries, decades…even death.

I can go online and find a thousand different recipes for meatloaf. But there’s only one meatloaf that smells like the one my own grandmother used to make. She’s dead now and the recipe died with her, and that’s a real shame.

Look at your own family recipes and think about those you love. You may have a will to cover who gets exactly how much money, but money and things are forgotten. Have you given them a way to remember how connected they are to you?

Obviously, I’d prefer it if you went out and bought my software. But there are lots of other options, whether you just write a cookbook by hand, in Word or online. The important thing is to get those family recipes written down and passed on. The recipe book you create will indeed become a spiritual document.

Much of that spirit will be yours.

Erin

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

Photo of Lemon Drink on yellow background overlaid with text: "2 Ways to Make a Thirst-Quenching Lemon Shake-Up"

Shake, Shake Shake…Shake, Shake, Shake…Lemon Shake-Ups, Lemon Shake-Ups!

Sweet…tart…sugary…lemony…can you think of a better thirst quencher than a Lemon Shake-Up?

Don’t they bring back happy memories of carnivals and festivals?

But from what I can see in my recipe box, there are two totally separate opinions on the best way to make these satisfying, thirst-quenching lemon drink drinks.  Should you use a sugar syrup or just sugar?

I pulled two recipes from my trusty recipe binder (which, by the way, features luscious lemons!) – one of each type. Try them both. Then let us know which is your favorite!

EASY Lemon Shake-Up

1. Pour 1/2 cup sugar into a 16 oz. cup.
2. Cut 2 lemons in half.
3. Hand squeeze lemons; drop juice and lemons into cup.
4. Add ice as desired, and fill cup with water.
5. Cover the cup and shake it vigorously until the sugar is dissolved.

Sugar Syrup Lemon Shake-Up

Ingredients

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

Preparation

1. Combine sugar and water.
2. Boil for 5 minutes; cool to room temperature.
3. Add lemon juice.
4. Strain and keep refrigerated.

To make Lemon Sugar Syrup Shake-Up

1. Add approximately 2 tablespoons of syrup to each glass of ice water.
2. Add the rind of one/half lemon that you squeezed to get the juice.
3. Cover glass and shake to blend.

So….what do you think? Easy or sugary – or both? Let us know! Or if you have a BETTER way to make lemon shake-ups in YOUR recipe box, please share!

Cats Love Breadboxes (and so do we)

I think he’d look a lot happier in one of our bread boxes.…