Menu Planning Notepad Evolves From a Big Idea


Call me old fashioned, but I like to write my menu planning ideas on a sheet of paper using my favorite pencil or pen of the day. Sometimes I feel guilty using a whole sheet of paper to jot down menu planning ideas. (Guess my green conservative ways leak out now and again.)

To curb my penchant for “give an inch take a mile scribbling,” I used to fold a whole sheet of paper in half, and then write my menu planning ideas on the vertical half sheet of paper. (By writing my menu planning ideas with the half-sheet positioned vertically, I felt I had more room to be creative.)Continue reading

Tales of Time, Food History & Family Cookbooks

The year 5,000 BC was a pretty significant one when it comes to food, according to the
Food Timeline, a fun website that traces the history of food since the beginning.

The Food Timeline tells us the year 5,000 BC brought the world:

– Olives & olive oil
– Cucumbers & squash
– Chili peppers, avocados & taro
– Potatoes
– Milk & yogurtContinue reading

Create a Heritage Cookbook to Preserve Family Genealogy and Heirloom Recipes

Grandpa Joe’s banana splits by the river in summer.
Auntie Marie’s enormous Cranberry Fluff served once a year at Thanksgiving.

Cousin Linda’s hot French fries with tartar sauce on a cold beach day.

Such memories of food and family may not be yours personally, but you can relate to them because you may have many similar memories of your own. They are a precious link to another era, when life was seemingly less complicated. A time softened by reflection, and where relatives become oddly appealing with the passage of time.

Preserving the essence of such memories in a family cookbook is becoming very popular these days as we seek comfort in familiar, less-tech touches to our daily lives. Many of us are choosing to preserve both heirloom recipes and family genealogy all in one place — in a family heritage cookbook. Continue reading

RSVP: Ideas to Get Your Head Count Faster

Suppose you gave a party and nobody came.

You would be hurt, insulted, and ticked-off all at the same time. Your time and money would have been wasted when you were just trying to be friendly, sociable, and sharing.

You did include an “RSVP” on your invitation, but nobody replied.  And you didn’t have time to chase everyone you invited to confirm their attendance. So you forged ahead creating the party, only to be stood up by everyone but the family. What happened?


Your invited guests probably didn’t realize “RSVP” meant they needed to let you know they would not be coming (due to the playoff games, obvious conflict, or some other obligation or event they would rather attend). Sometimes they don’t respond because they don’t want to commit to a schedule in case something better comes up, such as sailing on the lake, or a fast trip to Cancun.  Maybe their poor behavior is just a lack of etiquette training. Continue reading

I Coulda Used a Birthday Record Keeper Template

“You forgot my birthday again,” said Aunt Agathene mercilessly as I hung my head in guilt and shame, a day late for the celebration, as usual.

“I wrote it down, but forgot where I put my note,” I defended. “Next thing I knew, your birthday was here, then gone.”

“Well, if I was as important to you as that new-fangled Jitterbug dance you keep busy with, I guess you would remember your old Auntie.”

At that moment I vowed to keep a list of all the birthdays, anniversaries (and other important dates in our family) all in one place. That was also when I established the groundwork for what would later become the birthday record keeper template, a popular feature of my Matilda’s Fantastic Cookbook Software.Continue reading

Cookbook Recipes & the Grocery Shopping Checklist Notepad

My name is Erin and I am a habitual list maker.

There, I said it. My family has made fun of me for years for making lists. They say I am too “organized” (however, they use a different hyphenated word that I prefer not to repeat in polite company.)

Anyway, I like to make lists to keep my mind free for more important thoughts. I get things done by making lists. Like grocery shopping.  I used to make a grocery shopping list every time I needed something from the grocery store, but I got tired of writing down the same grocery items (milk, bread, eggs were always at the top).

So I created a grocery shopping list that was versatile enough to use every grocery shopping trip and contained most of my usual items with room to write new ingredients, say, for a family recipe or a new food product I wanted to try. Continue reading

Spring Cleaning and the Family Cookbook

Okay, there it is. The calendar has told us loud and clear that it is spring. Never mind that some parts of the country are still embedded in snowfall.

Sure as the bunny hops at Easter and the flowers begin to bloom, many of us just itch to remove the year’s accumulated dust from behind books (especially cookbooks), and other nooks and crannies that rarely see the light of day (let alone lamplight). Continue reading

Rediscovered Tiramisu Twinkies Recipe Still Substitutes Well for the Real Thing

The other day after making my Matilda’s Pretty Good Lasagna, my taste buds drifted over from savory to wanting something sweet and creamy.  So, I thumbed through the printed copy of my family cookbook and came across a Tiramisu Twinkie dessert recipe that I had quite forgotten about (but would have gone perfectly with the lasagna).

The Tiramisu Twinkie recipe reminded me of the days when tiramisu was the dessert rage of the decade after the 1993 movie “Sleepless in Seattle” introduced the word tiramisu to Americans (tiramisu had been enjoyed in Italy and some other countries, I’m told.  I do remember thinking that “tiramisu” sounded much more Japanese than Italian for “pick-me-up”).Continue reading

How to Burn a Boiled Egg

1. Put 2 dozen eggs on the stove to boil.
2. Make sure the pot is full of water.
3. Turn on medium heat.
4. Forget to put on timer.
5. Talk to best friend on the phone for over an hour.
6. Go investigate strange popping noises from the kitchen.
7. Remember the eggs!
8. Turn off burner.
9. Turn on exhaust fan to remove smell similar to burnt popcorn.
10. Remove eggs from burning pan with tongs. Let cool.
11. When eggs are cool enough to handle, see what damage has been done.
12. When pan is cool enough to handle, add soapy water and scrub.
13. Make smoked egg salad (or throw away).
14. LOL

(P.S. This is not a recipe I would recommend for the family cookbook!)

Happy cookbooking anyway,


Kill Salmonella & E. Coli in Your Family Kitchen the Old-Fashioned Way

The recent scare about salmonella in our food products reinforces my simple idea that controlling my own food using my own recipes is one of the safest practices around.

I don’t know about you, but I have never gotten sick from preparing food from family recipes in my own kitchen. (I have been very sick from restaurant food and such, but never once have I had a bout with salmonella or E. coli from fixing food and family recipes at home.)

Having an ultra clean kitchen (not!), or having hand-sanitizers everywhere in the house is not the main reason I have avoided salmonella or E. coli contamination. I think it is my clean-as-you-go-with-hot water procedure that has most likely saved me from unpleasant illnesses, especially on my cutting boards. (I always have a hot kettle, even though my instant hot is used obsessively, too.)

Back in the early ’90s I was fascinated by a report that claimed wooden cutting boards in the kitchen were health hazards. So everyone tossed their wooden cutting boards. A few years after that, plastic cutting boards were the darling of kitchen cooks everywhere

Then, in the mid-’90s, scientific studies redeemed wooden cutting boards somewhat. A report said that wooden cutting boards were bacteria-free in just three minutes after use and cleaning, whereas plastic cutting boards were bacteria harbors. (Instead of absorbing bacteria-nurturing moisture, like wood does, plastic cutting boards reportedly enabled salmonella bacteria to move around, incubate and multiply on kitchen surfaces.)

So, it was back to the wooden cutting boards for those who secretly hid theirs (when being PC, politically correct, wasn’t even in our vocabulary.)

More recent microbial reports on wooden and plastic cutting boards have compromised and suggested the cutting board type is not as important as how well a cutting surface is cleaned after use. Duh! Here are some of the more recent scientific reports:

University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Hospitality Institute of Technology & Management

That being determined, it remains a bit scary to know that commercial kitchen sanitation (which should be superior) is most likely not set up to constantly clean and disinfect wooden, plastic, stainless steel and other non-porous surfaces with the most basic cleaning technique of soap and hot water.

No wonder our food handling and food production plants have salmonella or E. coli problems. Their gleaming stainless steel counters and plastic surfaces are probably over-sanitized but under-cleaned. And what about plastic gloves, isn’t it logical that unchanged plastic gloves can also transfer bacteria instead of preventing it from spreading?

As for me, I use wooden cutting boards when preparing food from family recipes. Always have, always will. I wash them with soap and hot water when I use them, and every so often I squeeze on lemon juice and add salt, and let them sit awhile before scrubbing with a brush — an old-fashioned “exfoliating” treatment I found in an old family cookbook that seems to work.

Like I said, I’ve never battled salmonella from my own kitchen.
Knock on wood.


Read more about the battle between wood vs. plastic cutting boards at these websites:

Opinion sites:
Reluctant Gourmet
What’s Cooking America
Essortment – Culinary Arts
Vermont Cutting Boards

Research sites:
U.C. Davis Food Research Laboratory
University of Missouri Extension

Interpreting Old Heirloom Recipes for Today’s Modern Family Cookbook

Occasionally, while browsing through old heirloom recipe books (mainly in those cookbook collector bookstores), I see some puzzling ingredient measurements that somehow have been lost over time to the modern family cook and modern family cookbooks.

Ingredient Measurements for Liquids
For most of us, the terms “gill” and “tumbler” for measuring liquid ingredients are most obscure, having been trained to use cups and ounces as our mainstay for measuring liquids. The other term I find odd is “scant,” not because it means “barely sufficient in amount or quantity,” but because the word was created to provide an explanation for why something measures less than an ordinary measurement! Here are some liquid measurements you’ll find in old heirloom recipe books:Continue reading

Top Fast Food Choices for those New Year’s Resolutions

Fast food isn’t something you have to give up to meet the objectives of your new year’s resolutions. In fact, fast food is better for you.  The natural kind of fast food, that is.

I’m talking about the kind of fast foods that are simple to eat and still satisfy your sweet tooth or savory-craving taste buds. These fast foods are always in a more natural state, and you don’t really prepare them.  In many cases, these fast foods are naturally low in fat, carbohydrates and calories (as compared to the processed fast food joint alternatives), which fit perfectly into your new year’s resolutions (you know, the ones where you promise to eat better or maybe lose weight).Continue reading

Family Cookbook Recipe Titles Can Elevate Family Recipes for the Greater Good

When making your family recipe cookbook, it is always a challenge to make the family cookbook recipe titles a bit more fun and exciting. This is because we get so used to saying “Grandma’s popovers” for the family recipe instead of something more exotic, such as “Miss Lucy’s Genuine Buttery Popovers.”

Likewise, “Grandma Harriet’s Blazingly Bold Riblets” is much more intriguing to family members perusing the family recipe cookbook than plain old “Spicy Spareribs.”

Basically, the family cookbook recipe titles should have three things in common:Continue reading

Add Creepy Crawly Halloween Donut Spiders to Your Family Cookbook

Halloween donut spiders

Halloween donut spiders

This time of year, thoughts are turning toward what amusing ghoulies, ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties will show up on our doorsteps on Halloween night.  Yes, it is almost time for trick-or-treaters to make their way to our front doors!

My favorite Halloween payout to these little extortionists is usually a non-frozen ice pop or two. I like ice pops because they are extremely inexpensive (a box of 100 for under $5); parents like ice pops because they are safe (if punctured by mean spirits, they leak); and the kids love ’em because, well, they are kids and think I give them ice cream!Continue reading

Create Fundraiser Cookbooks at Home for Fun & Non-Profits

Creating a fundraiser cookbook for a local charity, church, school, or community organization has long been a respected way for groups to earn money to finance many worthwhile projects.

I have at least 45 fundraiser cookbooks from all over the country on my bookshelf. Some of them are my favorites, and I use them constantly for potluck dish ideas and volume cooking. (Yes, eventually I will pick out the recipes I like and add them to my own recipe collection in my own family cookbook. But for now, let’s focus on your fundraising goals.)

In general, the collective effort of producing a fundraiser cookbook is not only rewarding for those involved in creating it, the fundraiser cookbook as an end product is often the most lucrative means for raising money for a specific cause. Until recently, fundraiser cookbooks were typically made using a traditional cookbook publisher, but they can now be made at home using the latest cookbook-making recipe software.

Here are some thoughts your group may want to consider before creating a fundraiser cookbook:

Group Commitment

The group must be committed to completing a fundraiser cookbook that is marketable, so it is vital that only dedicated members be on the cookbook-making team. This is true whether the fundraiser cookbook is for a community organization or a business using the cookbook for promotional purposes. Members of this team must be willing to shoulder the responsibility of collecting, editing, typing and proofreading the fundraiser cookbook. And, they must be willing to meet deadlines!

Financial Goal

The group must determine the financial goal of the fundraiser cookbook, such as how much money it is expected to raise, after expenses. Get a consensus about what price supporters will pay for it in your area, and whether to include advertising to offset the costs. (When creating the fundraiser cookbook at home using cookbook-making recipe software, costs are considerably lower than cookbook publishers charge, and the results are professional quality, too.

Cookbook Software

The group should utilize an easy-to-use cookbook-making recipe software to keep costs low. The beauty of making a fundraiser cookbook with recipe software on your own computer is there is no excess inventory of unsold books collecting dust in boxes in someone’s garage. With cookbook-making recipe software, you don’t have to print a minimum order (like the cookbook publishers require). You can print a few, a dozen, or a hundred at a time, depending upon the group’s fundraising needs.  Some cookbook-making recipe software (like ours) allows you to add stories, photos and anecdotes about the recipes and contributors throughout the fundraiser cookbook.

For more information about our cookbook software products, please see our features page for Matilda’s Fantastic Cookbook Software. For worthy fundraisers, we’ll actually donate a copy of the software to you for free. For more information, email me at Please include some information about your group, your goals, and a link if available to your site.

Happy Fundraiser Cookbooking!


Translating Fancy Food Menu Speak into Common English

Last Saturday evening I had the pleasure of spending several hours with dear friends at a very (very) nice fancy food restaurant that specializes in wild game.  It had been awhile since I’d visited the fancy food “lodge,” with its stone fireplace ablaze, rustic beamed ceiling and bits of outdoorsy memorabilia (such as old firearms and fishing gear) adorning various dining areas. Let’s not forget the beady eyes of several animals staring down accusingly from their bodiless perches on the rough-timbered walls.

Everyone was well dressed (enforced with a polite sign at the door), and on their best behavior.  Pleasantries completed, we proceeded to peruse the fancy food menu, trying to decide our gastronomic fate for the evening from a choice of 9 fancy food appetizers, 11 fancy food entrees, and 8 fancy food desserts. (I always like to see the dessert menu first to decide if I need to accommodate some extra special sweet, or not.)

Upon reading the menu, it occurred to me that I really did not know what to expect of the fancy food at all. Clearly I’ve been out of touch with sophisticated cuisine and should have taken a dictionary with me (or at least my pink IPod nano loaded with the movie Ratatouille).  For example, “Wild Fijian albacore sashimi with pea tendril salad, toasted hazelnuts, garlic chips, scallions and melon cilantro vinaigrette” roughly translated into “raw fish rolls with pea pod shavings in a flavorful dressing.” About the only fancy food starter I easily recognized was “Caesar Salad with shaved Parmesano Reggiano and garlic croutons.” I’m sure it was delicious.

My sampling entree consisted of “Seared New Zealand Elk Tenderloin with Parsnip Mousselin”(Elk steak with whipped parsnips) and “Grilled Texas Nilgai Antelope with Caramelized Apricots, Apricot Agri-doux, Glazed Couscous, Ginger Infused Apricot Puree, Asparagus Tips and Red Wine Jus” (Antelope steak with apricot couscous, apricot sauce, and asparagus tips).

I realize that such fancy food menu descriptions are written to elevate the dining experience (or perhaps to justify the elevated price tag). Granted, these were works of culinary art and exceptionally delicious, but the fancy food descriptions were confusing and some of their magic was lost to me in translation.

So now you really want to know what I ordered for my dessert? (I had plenty of room left.)

It was “Coffee & Beignets: Praline Chicory Coffee Souffle, Coffee Anglaise, and Warm Beignets” (Coffee-flavored souffle with coffee flavored sauce and tiny puffy fried doughnut squares with powdered sugar).

(All of this gave me an idea for my next family cookbook. It’s so easy to just go in and play with the titles using my recipe software–I think I’ll blow everybody’s mind by including Russet Potato Mousselin Infused with Organic Rhode Island Red Egg, Shaved Celery and Ground Mustard. Sounds so much nicer than Matilda’s Potato Salad.)

By the way, the hot coffee was extra. Fancy that.

Happy cookbooking,


Free Grocery Shopping List – Printable template

Ever wanted a free shopping list that was organized by grocery store sections? I put together a free, printable grocery shopping list that you can fill out online using Acrobat, or just print out and fill in by hand.

Definitely put a copy of this in your family cookbook as you build one with our cookbook software. That way all your family members can save time while making a grocery list too!

Here’s the version you can use to check boxes right from your computer (using Acrobat).

If you want to just print it out and fill it in by hand, click here.

I hope you enjoy it! If you like it, you might also enjoy some of our great kitchen gifts!


Death of a Chocolate Banana Split Cake

Two of my favorite flavors are chocolate and banana. I don’t usually eat them together, but one day last week I had a desire for a nice slice of chocolate cake. There were two bananas on the counter (sorry, banana trees are for monkeys), so I thought why not make that Chocolate Banana Split Cake my cousin, Jean Brown Craft Batts, raved about a few years ago.

It just so happened that the local ladies club was having a dessert social that day and had invited members to bring a favorite sweet to share. Thank goodness! I really didn’t want to have to eat the whole Chocolate Banana Split Cake by myself.Continue reading

Think Like the Colonel to Make Great Fried Chicken

Did you hear that Colonel Harlan Sanders’ handwritten secret recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken got temporarily moved out of corporate headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky with much fanfare? Makes me wonder if that publicity stunt not only triggered KFC sales, but also increased curiosity about the original formula he developed in 1939-40.

It was enough to get me thinking about his secret recipe, so I expect others have the same interest, too. And, I wonder what ingredients were actually available during that time period.Continue reading

5 Question Quiz: What Type of Cook Are You?

What type of cook are you? Are you a great cook? Average? A studied gourmet?

I’ve always been fascinated by my fellow cooks, and their different cooking personalities and cooking likes and dislikes. Why does one prefer using packaged convenience foods, and another is compelled to use unprocessed foods in their most natural condition?

The answer lies in a study done some years back by the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University.  The lab was profiling “nutritional gatekeepers” in American homes–those people who have a powerful influence on the tastes and eating habits of their families. (You know, the ones who buy fruit instead of cookies, or suggest eating salad instead of fries.) These nutritional gatekeepers could be Dads, Grandmothers, older children, or caregivers, but mostly they are Mothers, who continue to do the food shopping and preparation in 80% of the surveyed homes, according to Lab research.

Headed by Dr. Brian Wansink, a pioneer in food psychology, the study also revealed that most great domestic cooks can be grouped in one of five cooking personality types.Continue reading