Happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s Another Cute Recipe Box from a Customer

Love, Laughter and Happily Ever After

I love it! Hope you have a lovely Valentines Day. Check out the recipe box here. 


3 Easy Sour Cream and Cream Cheese Baked Potato Toppers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy cookbooking,


tomato sauce ingredients on wooden planks with text "Tomato Sauce Base That Should Be in Every Recipe Box"

Tomato Sauce Base That Should Be in Every Recipe Box

Tomato sauce. It’s ubiquitous in Italian-style dishes. You use it so frequently that you probably never write it down. But why not take a few minutes and write it down for the rest of us? Once you’ve got your tomato sauce base in your recipe box, it’s going to be much easier to share with other family members and friends.

Here’s my tried and true recipe for a fabulous tomato sauce.

Basic Tomato Sauce


• 3/4 cup chopped onion

• 4-6 cloves minced garlic (minced)

• 1/4 cup olive oil

• 2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes (yes, I know fresh is better. But sometimes…)

• 2 teaspoons salt

• 1 teaspoon sugar

• 1 bay leaf

• 1(6 ounce) can tomato paste

• 3/4 teaspoon dried basil

• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper


  1. In a pot over medium heat, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until onion is soft.
  2. Stir in tomatoes, salt, sugar and bay leaf.
  3. Cover, reduce to low, and simmer 70-100 minutes.
  4. Stir in tomato paste, basil, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and simmer 30 minutes more.
This tomato sauce recipe takes a while to cook, but the whole house smells like Italian steamy goodness!
Want to share your tomato sauce recipe? Add your suggestions on our Facebook here or leave a comment below.

More Kitchen Gadgets, Decluttering & the Modern Cook

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

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

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

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

Miracle Kitchen

Gadget VS.

Matilda’s Declutter Alternative

Hamburger patty mold


Tomato slicer


Pineapple cutter


Apple corer


Tea bag parker


Lettuce knife

Hands (tear lettuce)



Cheese slicer


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

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

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

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

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

Happy cookbooking!


5 Tips for Making Family Recipes Jump Out of Your Cookbook (And Into Your Reader’s Kitchen)

Many of my family recipes were tucked away in cardboard shoeboxes on well-worn recipe cards until I developed my cookbook software. The margins of the recipe cards were often decorated with cryptic comments and sage advice regarding the taste, texture, and preparation techniques that gave the recipe its unique place in the repertoire of our family’s cooks.

Such comments are wonderful insights from the past for anyone trying to recreate the family recipe, so make sure you include these observations and advice when creating your own cookbook. (In my Matilda’s Fantastic Cookbook Software, scanned recipe cards can be included as a photo within the recipe page, thus retaining the “flavor” of the original.)

When you choose recipes for your family cookbook or other cookbook-making project, consider the following 5 tips for making your family recipes even better:

1. Introductory “Sell Copy”
Include a brief introduction to the family recipe that sets the tone for why it was a favorite of Aunt Josie’s, or how old it is, and maybe how you think it got changed over the years. Tell stories about how it came from the Old World, or it was the first solid thing your daughter ate. Make each recipe a way to tell a little of the story of your family.

2. Quantity
Always try to provide an expected number of servings for every family recipe. You’ll want to include the serving size (ounces or ½ cups portions) as well as the number of servings that the recipe will yield. For some foods volume of yield is more useful, such as “makes one quart,” or “makes two large bowls.”

3. Specific Descriptions
Describe how a mixture should look or feel at a certain stage if there could be variances in how someone interprets the family recipe. It is better to add “The crepe batter will be quite thin” if there is a chance someone could misinterpret the family recipe.

4. Visual Prompts for Doneness
Let’s say your family recipe called for sauteed onions. Instead of just saying “cook and stir about 10 minutes,” you could include “or until onions are soft and translucent.”

5. Give Reasons
Include a reason for doing something if it is a unique or a less common cooking technique. For example, most cooks know that you stir sour cream into a hot dish just before serving to prevent curdling. But some may not realize the importance of “Rinse bean sprouts” unless you include “to remove salty, canned taste.”

Hope these 5 tips help in making your family recipes better when creating your cookbook!

Happy cookbooking!


4×6 Recipe Card is 60% larger than a 3×5 Recipe Card

We’ve put together the most complete information possible about recipe cards (including 400 free printable recipe cards) on a special section of our recipe card site. We added an info graphic about recipe card sizes too. I’m posting it here in case you haven’t seen it yet.

Here’s a snippet from the page, but you can read the full text here:

Recipe Card Sizes: There are generally 3 sizes of recipe cards to consider. The 3×5” card is the standard card for most of the last 100 years. (Our own 3×5 recipe cards can be found here.) The old recipe card boxes they fit into were designed for America’s small kitchens. As kitchens expanded, so did the capacity of recipe boxes and binders to allow for the now standard 4×6” recipe card. (Our 4×6 recipe cards are here.) The vast majority of all current recipe cards are this size. In the past decade a few brands have expanded to 5×7” recipe cards. (Ours are here.) You may want to avoid these, however, because while they may fit your own binder they may not fit a friend’s binder you wish to share with.

The reason 4×6 cards are about 77% of the cards we offer is because they are so much larger than 3×5 cards (a full 60% bigger) while being much more reasonable to handle than the enormous 5×7 recipe cards.

Ted and I have put in a lot of work on this new section of our site. I hope you enjoy it!


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

10 Tips for Taking Better Food Photos for Your Family Cookbook

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

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

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

Homemade family cookbook

Here’s a nice link to a homemade family cookbook. “Thimbleanna”once made with her sisters.

I really like the design. We might have to cook up a template with a similar theme for our software.



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,


Save those stained recipe cards

Just because you’ve efficiently typed all your recipes into your computer doesn’t mean you have to toss out the grease- or vanilla-stained recipe cards they are written on. If they are scribbled in your own writing, well, go ahead and re-write them neatly if you like. However, if they are written in your Mother’s hand, or that of your Grandmother’s, keep them.

Get some of our recipe card protectors and put them in the back cover of your cookbook and place these precious bits of personal history in them to preserve from further deterioration. Nothing brings back the memory of a treasured recipe, or the person who used to make it, than seeing it scribbled down on a piece of brown bag or paper towel in the original author’s handwriting. Trust me, one day you’ll be glad you saved those recipe cards, no matter what shape they may be in. Any comments?


Get a Great Set of Personally Engraved Spoons for under $19

We just added this 2 minute video overview of our best-selling Engraved Wood Spoon and Spatula Gift Set. Hope you like it!

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!

400 Free Recipe Cards: How to Type and Print Free Recipe Cards

Here’s a short video overview of how our 400 free recipe cards page works:

However, if you want to just go straight to the page and start downloading and printing any of our 400 free recipe cards, please be our guest!

A Jumble-lotta Creole and Cajun Cooking Brings the Taste of New Orleans & Mardi Gras to a Regional American Cookbook

With Mardi Gras festivities officially underway in New Orleans on Feb. 24, it seems only fitting that we let the good times roll with a better understanding of Creole and Cajun food. The spicy delights of both cuisines are finding their way into my current cookbook project, which is creating a family cookbook collection of regional American foods.

The last time I was in New Orleans (or Nawlins, Nola, N’orluns, if you prefer), I attended a wedding. It was some time ago, and I managed to sneak away from the pre-nuptial activities one morning to have breakfast at Brennan’s. It is still the most expensive single off-the-menu breakfast I have ever eaten, and it was glorious.

While dining in New Orleans, it never really bothered me that various dishes I ate while there mostly came from two very different French-speaking cultures: Creole and Cajun. While I’m not going to discuss the history of the region, suffice to say that Creoles are considered descendants of immigrant colonials from Spain and France, while Cajuns are descended from French Canadian exiles.

Their two very different origins make for some very interesting dishes, some that I’m including in my family cookbook collection. Here are some ways to tell the difference between Creole and Cajun food:

Characteristics of Creole Food
– Spanish/French colonial influence with African and Italian undertones
– From cosmopolitan city dwellers (The French Quarter)
– Rich glorious sauces made with herbs and mild spices
– Lots of butter, cream and high-end ingredients
– Jambalaya will be reddish and made with tomatoes
– Not usually hot in spice intensity
– Can be quite showy, colorful

Characteristics of Cajun Food
– French Canadian influence with French and Southern undertones
– From country swampland dwellers who fish, trap and hunt (The Bayou)
– Features local victuals, such as alligator, possum, turtle
– Ingenious rustic gravies made with inexpensive ingredients (port fat, spices, fresh garden patch pickings)
– Jambalaya will be brown, without tomatoes
– Usually hot in spice intensity, and may be blackened
– Generally modest one-pot food, plain and simple

As I’ve said, which cuisine I eat is of little matter to me as long as it tastes good. And I haven’t had a single thing in New Orleans that I didn’t like. I can’t wait to add several more Creole and Cajun recipes to my new family cookbook collection of regional American foods. I bet you might enjoy doing the same thing!

Happy cookbooking,


Family Photo Tips: How to Capture Hard-to-Photograph Family Members

If you are including family photos in your family cookbook, you probably have a few family members who are delaying your project because they don’t have a photo of themselves. You know the ones; they always look like a scared rabbit with the whites of their eyes showing (or with their eyes half-closed).

You volunteer to take the family cookbook photo you need, and each of them reluctantly agrees. Here are some tips to help make your family photo subjects feel more at ease, and you won’t need any fancy hot-shot photo equipment. For the sake of getting away from that dreaded his/her grammar awkwardness, let’s call your family cookbook photo subject Aunt Clara:

1. Ask Aunt Clara to wear her favorite outfit (not what she thinks she should wear).

2. Have her bring an object that she would feel comfortable holding (such as a book, flower, hat, toy, sweater). Holding something while having a photo taken gives her something else to think about.

3. Take the picture in a familiar part of the house, perhaps in the kitchen or in a favorite easy chair. Maybe outside by the roses, or in the glider on the porch.

4. Have Aunt Clara sit away from a wall, if possible, perhaps on a chair edge, stool or step ladder. (This is more important if she is taller than you).

5. Tell a joke or two (or reveal a funny family secret!) Laughing relaxes the muscles and reduces tension.

6. Before you snap the photo, tell Aunt Clara what you are going to do so she knows what to expect and when. In this step, she should feel you are the “director” in the scene and she is the star, and everything is under control. This builds trust (that you are trying to make her look as good as possible).

7. Take the camera in hand and focus. Now, tell Aunt Clara to move her head down and look at your shoes. That’s right! Your shoes! The absurdity of this crazy situation usually puts anyone off guard and relaxes them enough to cooperate instead of freezing up.

8. Quickly tell her to continue looking at your shoes, and on the count of 3 to move her head up and smile her biggest, brightest smile right at the camera. (Chances are Aunt Clara will let her guard down just long enough for you to capture her real essence).

8. Take a few more photos using this method. One of them is bound to be a winner of Aunt Clara, and good enough to include in your family cookbook’s biography section.

9. This technique can work for a group family photo, too.

One of my cousins so dreaded having her photo taken that she ate multiple antacid tablets the day before. After I took her photo this way, she was no longer camera shy–she turned into a ham!

Happy cookbooking!