Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Aunts Cookbook...

Imagine my surprise when I received a cookbook this Christmas season that was written by my great-great aunts for my great grandmother and great aunt. We are not talking the usual family, plastic bound Kinko's version cookbook--this thing of beauty was hard bound and looked like a "real" cookbook. In fact, when it was first handed to me as part of a stack of other cookbooks there was nothing to indicate that it was any different than the any of the other old volumes. It was not until I opened it to see the publishing date that I realized that this was different, this was a gem!

I was so excited that I flipped through the pages immediately, reading the most peculiar recipes aloud and keeping the most delicious sounding to myself. There were a glorious 151 pages worth of my family recipes.

It was incredible.

When I had finally finished my lavish journey through the volume, I returned to the beginning to again study the note from my great-great aunts that read in part:

"This slight evidence of materteral affection has no inherent right to be called a cook-book. It contains, as will be seen, no general rules for cooking. It is conspicuously lacking in directions how to bake, boil or brew, and is eloquently silent on the frugal themes of the trying-out of fat, the making of soap, etc. It makes no claim to being either through, economical, scientific or systematic. It is merely a collection of family recipes."

I love this passage so much that I am considering including it in my own cookbook and giving them credit.

I guess what thrilled me so deeply about the discovery of this piece of family history is just how deep my love of cooking is embedded in my genes. I always knew that my paternal grandmother's family loved to cook, and that my maternal grandmother was a good cook, but this is evidence of relatives spanning several generations cooking and enjoying feeding people. In fact, the last section of the cookbook is recipes from my Great-great-great-great Grandmother...that is a lot of greats.

If you love to cook go out and find those family recipes--sure some of them may call for crazy ingredients and refer to cooking over a fire instead of on a stove--but they will bring you joy.

I leave you with one of my favorite recipes in the book (mind you I have never made it so I am literally referring to the recipe) from my Great-great-great-great Grandmother...

To Make Cowslip Wine

To 2 gallons of water add 2 1/2 pounds of powdered sugar, boil them 1/2 hour, and take off the scum as it rises, the pour it into a tub to cool, with the rinds of 2 lemons. When it is cold add 4 quarts of cowslip flowers to the liquor, with the juice of 2 lemons; let it stand in the tub two days, stirring every 2 to 3 hours, and then put it in a barrel and let it stand 3 weeks or a month. Then bottle it and put a lump of sugar in every bottle. This is a good wine against the consumptions or any inward complaints.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Not A Recipe To Share...

Sharing recipes is an act that has taken place for as long as people have been making food. It is a simple figure out how to make something really well, you write it down, and you pass it along to your friends. There are variations of find a great recipe in a magazine, you copy it, you pass it along to your friends is a popular one. So here is something that might surprise you...

I hate to share my recipes.

I know, this goes against everything that I have said about loving to feed people and really makes no sense since I am writing a cookbook, but hopefully by the time you finish reading this post you will understand.

Whenever someone takes a look at my electronic recipe file the first question always seems to be, "Why do all of the recipes say 'NOT A RECIPE TO SHARE' in bold accross the top?" No one notices my maticulous organziation, my attention to detail, or my consistency in termonologoy. No, it is always the fact that I, being someone who otherwise is a giver and a sharer, have plainly written across 95 percent of my recipes a statement of selfishness.

Please understand...

My dislike of sharing recipes revolves around three distinct issues...

1. I worry that people will change my recipe or make it incorrectly and then the people that they are feeding will think that I am a horrible cook.

2. Sometimes, people will pass my creations off as their own.

3. Genetics. (Confusing, but you will on).

Issue One: It has happened to me more than once that I have passed along a tried and true recipe to a friend or family member and have had one of two things happen: 1. They tell me that it was great, they made eight substitutions and told everyone that it was my recipe (better yet, it was horrible, they made eight substitutions, and cannot understand why I thought it was good in the first place); 2. They make it for me, I taste it, and it tastes nothing like when I make it...being that I am a perfectionist I spend the rest of the night wondering if it is their cooking or my recipe that caused the problem and likely do not sleep for at least a few days.

Issues Two: It really drives me crazy when people do not give credit where credit is due. Here is a great example..."Wow, Suzy, this cake is amazing!" (I gave Suzy the recipe for the cake). "Thanks, Janet, it is just something that I whipped up from an idea I had this afternoon." Really? For those of you that know me you know that this is followed by me shoving a glass of water in my mouth and taking a long, slow sip to keep me from saying what I am thinking. Note to self: No more recipes for Suzy.

Issue Three: My grandmother's housekeeper, let's call her Kelly to avoid revealing her true identity, had worked for my grandmother for over a decade when she mistakenly gave my mother the infamous Veggie Casserole recipe without first consulting my grandmother. When I say World War III in describing what went down when my grandmother discovered this, it is not an exaggeration. Kelly nearly lost her job that day, I nearly lost my mother, and no one EVER gave away a recipe of my grandmother's again without consulting her first or at least making sure that all involved could be trusted to keep thier mouths shut.

This post came to mind because I was just making some amazing pretzel treats that my friend Nicole recently passed along the recipe for. I had been asking her for the recipe for over a year. Some people might have been annoyed that it took so long to get it to me, but I completely understood. I worked the angle that others have worked with me, slow and steady until I broke her. She finally gave me the recipe for Christmas on the condition that I do not share it, and I was probably one of the few people that COMPLETELY understood where she was coming from. I love her for not wanting to share...

So, please know that I write this cookbook with strong reservations...sometimes the thought of sharing all of these recipes nearly puts me over the edge. However, in the end I feel that it is worth it and I can just hope that people follow directions, give me credit if I deserve it, and that I can buck the genetic part of it along the way.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ho Humbug...

One of my friends coined the term Ho Humbug today and I thought that it was a brilliant way to describe a lot of attitudes that I encounter this time of year. People are sick of shopping, sick of crowds, sick of Christmas carols that started in October, and sick of pine needles shedding on their rugs. Yet you can feel them WANTING to enjoy the season, but these other annoying things keep tugging at their patience.

With all of this frustration in the air, the one thing that I almost never hear people complain about during the holiday season is baking. Some people bake with their sister's every year, some with their children, some by themselves, some with friends. Whatever the tradition, it is something that people look forward to as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes are cleared.

What is it about cookies, breads, cakes and tarts that can turn the biggest Scrooge into a smiling Santa?

There is a joy that comes with holiday baking that is inexplicable. If you asked Sally to make the same 3 dozen cookies that she makes with a twinkle in her eye in December in June, she might grumble under her breath and consider an abrupt, "no" response. Is it because it is cold in December? Is it the fact that holiday baking is often laced in tradition? Is it the joy of feeding others?

I personally love everything about the holiday that I celebrate, Christmas. I even go so far as to make sure that all my Christmas shopping is done by Thanksgiving, so that I do not have to deal with the crowds that make me crabby and instead can enjoy the traditions that I love so much. I am looking forward to making my Christmas cookies this weekend, my great-grandmother Zelma's caramels the following weekend, and maybe even trying a new recipe or two. Something about washing dishes while listening to carols makes the whole process a little more tolerable, and watching my guests indulge in my sweets puts a smile on my face.

Whether your tradition is one that I described above, or heading down to your favorite bakery and buying your treats, enjoy every bite! Cookies always taste better during the holidays!

Happy baking!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Just because it is not broken...

You all know the saying..."If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Well, I have decided that in some instances I plainly disagree. Case in point, my gougers.
I have made gougers the same way for years, and they are absolutely delish!

...but I added dill this time, and they are even better!

Why would I do this to a perfectly good recipe, except out of boredom? Because I am a forgetful, busy woman.

For Thanksgiving I had made my favorite roasted carrots (an Ina recipe) and I was so busy that I completely forgot to add the dill in the end. So, there I am with A LOT of dill and nothing to do with it. Several days later, I ran into some friends that had just cured their own salmon, which takes a lot of dill, but I was too late. What was I going to do with all that dill?

Being that I hate waste, I decided to risk ruining my famous gougers by adding dill.

I am not that daring though, I only added the dill to half the batter.

I anxiously waited while they were cooking, but kept wondering how it could go wrong. The flavors should make sense...

...and they did!

I was planning on putting the regular version of this recipe in the cookbook, but I took a risk, it paid off, and now you all will see the dill version of the recipe instead. So, I challenge you today to take one of your favorite recipes and do something new to it. What is the worst that can happen? It does not turn out...order a pizza.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How to cook a turkey...

Here is how I make my Thanksgiving Turkey...

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Begin by washing your bird, thoroughly, inside and out.

Pat the bird dry with a paper towel and salt the inside cavity (about 1-2 tablespoons of salt, depending on the size of your bird).

Rub olive oil all over the outside of the turkey and then salt and pepper (about 1-2 tablespoons of salt and 1/2 that amount of pepper).

If you are stuffing the turkey (which I recommend), do so now. Once the stuffing is complete, cover the cavity opening with aluminum foil.

Cut onions, carrots and celery in half (enough to cover the bottom of your roasting pan) and place into your pan. Pour 1-2 cups of water into the pan and place the bird on top of the vegetables, tucking the wings and legs up close to the body and sticking the onions from the bottom of the pan around them. Place the pan in the oven and roast for the designated amount of time (see note below), basting every 30 minutes. While basting, check on the browning of the bird, if it starts to get too brown, loosely cover with aluminum foil for the remainder of the cooking time.

When the cooking time is complete, the interior temperature of the turkey should be 168 to 170 degrees. Remove the turkey from the oven, and let it sit for 30 minutes before carving.

If you are more ambitious than I am, and plan to make your own gravy, you can do so while the turkey rests. I, personally, order it from a gourmet chef in town and just heat and serve.

Cooking time note: The rule that I have always used for cooking time of a turkey is 15 minutes per pound, plus an extra half hour if the turkey is stuffed. Using that method, a stuffed 20 pound turkey, for example, would need 5 1/2 hours of cooking time. ALWAYS use a thermometer to test whether or not the bird is fully done and extend or decrease the cooking time as necessary.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving is coming...

If you love to cook, how could you not love Thanksgiving???

I am excited about the upcoming holiday and cannot wait to smell the delish aroma of a turkey in the oven, a pie cooling on the counter, and cool Fall air.

I am planning to post a Thanksgiving recipe on Monday, but in the meantime, I thought that I would pass along one of my favorite table decorating ideas for this feasting holiday.

Take large hurricanes, mason jars, or glass bowls--whatever fits the style of your home--and fill them with clementines. The orange color is perfect for this time of year, and you can snack on the fruit when you have finished your meal. If you want a little extra pop of color you can add cranberries to the containers as well. Refreshing and edible, you cannot beat that!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Kitchen Block...

I have not blogged in over a week because I have total and complete kitchen block. Not the wood cutting board in the middle of your kitchen, more like a form of writer's block that makes it seemingly impossible for me to want to cook anything more than the bare minimum. About once a season I get this general kitchen malaise, I do not know why or how it comes on, and it usually leaves as quickly as it sets in, often with a baking spree that goes on for several days.

I am sure some of you reading this are thinking...

This sounds like every day of my life...

For some people, cooking is never fun, but for someone like me who puts anything cooking related right after friends and family, this is certainly the exception to the rule.

Perhaps it is a kind of hibernation in preparation for the holidays, perhaps it has something to do with Daylight Savings (that is a good excuse for everything else, why not this?), or perhaps I just don't feel like it. Whatever the case, I am sure that this kitchen block will end, just as it always has in the past...

...Just in time for Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I have always said that nuts don't belong in food.

I do not understand why people mess up perfectly delish baked goods by adding nuts to them? From brownies to cookies, from breads to bars, the number of dishes that have been ruined by nuts are countless.

So, will you see dishes with nuts in my cookbook?

What do you think?

(In case you are a little slow on the uptake the answer is, no).

It is not that I hate nuts. I actually rather enjoy a handful of cashews, peanuts, or almonds, just don't add them to my food!

My strong opinions about this particular subject have lead me to realize that when testing my recipes with friends and family, there are some things that some people just do not like and never will. It is why there are four page menus at a lot of restaurants...everyone has their food quirks and we have to respect that.

In addition to nuts in food my dislikes include coconut (it is the sole food that turns me into the rude guest that will not eat what is served to me), cottage cheese, runny eggs, and almond extract. I will not eat veal, even though I eat lamb. I do not particularly like pulled pork or really fishy fish. I know what I like and I know what I don't, and so do the people that read and test my recipes.

My testers represent the general public and how they will feel about my recipes...some will love everything, some will hate it all, and most will fall somewhere in between.

What does this mean to me?

It means that I have to learn not to take it personally when someone does not like one of my recipes. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, even if their comments are something as ridiculous as, "Nuts don't belong in food."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How recipes happen...

A lot of people have been asking me how I come up with the recipes for my cookbook.

They come from a lot of different avenues, but the most common path is the one that I am about to describe for the new cookies that I am planning to develop and test over the coming months.

Yesterday, I made amazing maple glazed cinnamon rolls from the Pioneer Woman cookbook. While they were incredibly tasty, all I could think about was tweaking that glaze into a frosting for a yellow cake consistency cookie.

So...what happens next?

Well, while the frosting was good for a cinnamon roll, it was right neither in consistency or strength of flavor for my cookie. Therefore, I will significantly and unrecognizably tweak the frosting to the flavor that I am looking for, but it will contain both the maple and coffee flavors that she included in the original recipe that made my mouth water. From there, I will work on the formula for the perfect yellow cake cookie. This is something that I have been toying with for the last two years...adding more flour, less sugar, more baking powder, less flour, more sugar...on so on and so forth. I am close to the perfect consistency but not quite there. I will mess with that recipe until it is just right, noting the changes I make each time, so as not to loose the correct measurements for each ingredient in the depths of my mind.

In the meantime, my husband has suggested that maybe the frosting would be better on a thin and crispy cookie. I have a few great recipes that I have found, manipulated, combined and changed over the last few years that I will use to create this version of a cookie for the frosting, and we will see if he is right.

There are only so many ingredients that one can use to bake a cookie, so my greatest fear is always that my cookie will be the same recipe as someone else's. So...the last step (and many would argue that it should be the first) is to use google to search different names that my new cookie could be called and make sure that I am not duplicating someone else's efforts. This is not to say that I would not publish a recipe for maple glazed cookies if there is another recipe for them out there, it is just that the recipe cannot be the same as mine. You would think that this never happens, but it does! I made apple turnovers from the top of my head the other day, and found a recipe with almost the exact same ingredients and measurements two days later.

So why do this step last instead of first then?

If I did it first I might not get the joy of developing MY perfect cookie, by myself...

When I come up with recipes for cooking instead of baking it tends to be a little more haphazard...picture me in the kitchen tossing a little of this and a pinch of that in the pot, pan or bowl...but all in all it is a similar process...

Inspiration, creating, testing, searching, publishing.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Release...

While many are anxiously awaiting the DVD release of Toy Story 3 next Tuesday, this Tuesday's release is the one that I am excited about.

I feel it only appropriate to devote this blog post to my favorite cookbook author, whose 7th cookbook is being released today...Ina Garten (a.k.a. The Barefoot Contessa).

When I got married several years ago I got four copies of The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I set aside all four copies (none of them had a receipt, of course) and decided that I would add them to the mountain of other cookbooks that I had received at my showers. At that point in my life I enjoyed cooking, but I did not pour over cookbooks the way that I do now, instead, they were something that I would, "get around to".

When I did finally pull my head out of the sand and got to one of the many copies of The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook I quickly began to feel like I had wasted time in not having made these recipes.

The first recipe I tried was for onion dip. It involved caramelizing onions and adding them to other, equally simple ingredients. I was making the dip for a New Year's Eve party and in all honestly I was just looking for something easy. The result was incredible! Everyone that tasted the dip at the party wanted the recipe, and I found myself noting which of my good friends liked it so that I could re-gift my extra three copies of the cookbook.

What my wedding guests had discovered that I had not yet was that this cookbook was a cooking revolution...

I proceeded to cook my way through Ina's first cookbook Julie & Julia style and enjoyed every recipe.

I had to have more.

That year for Christmas my husband's Aunt gave me Barefoot Contessa Family Style (the fact that I did not yet have children made me wonder why she picked that particular cookbook, but I am glad that she did). That cookbook only wet my appetite, literally, for more. Over the next several years I collected the other four cookbooks that she has out: Barefoot In Paris, Back to Basics, Parties, and At Home and was equally as impressed each time.

I started to watch her show and soon realized that I found her both charming and annoying all at the same time. I loved her desire to use the best ingredients and loved the charm of her Long Island Life, but I found her little Long Island Lock Jaw and relationship with Jeffery a little over the top. All in all though, I find her to be my favorite Food Network Personality even with the annoying traits...we all have them. (If you think that you don't you should no longer read this blog).

One of her slightly annoying catch phrases, "How easy was that?" is actually the title for her new book. I love the concept and the title, even if I do find it irritating in the spoken form.

Do not misread the irritation in this...

This is a love letter to the Barefoot Contessa.

Her food is my inspiration and her fabulous approach to entertaining has inspired many of my best parties.

I pre-ordered my copy of How Easy Was That? and it will arrive at my door via Amazon (prime) any moment now...I cannot wait to report back at some point on the fantastic creations that my favorite cookbook author has come up with now...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Simple Food...

I ate lunch at one of my favorite places today and it reminded me of something...

Simple food is the best food.

The restaurant has a very diverse menu but all of it is simple yet intoxicating to the taste buds.

Sure, I love something with amazingly complex flavors and enjoy cooking a time and labor intensive recipe once in a while, but I always come back to my favorite, simple, comfort foods.

People have asked me what kind of cookbook I am writing and I find it difficult to put a label on it. I keep telling people that it is not a cookbook that focuses on anything in particular. It was not until I was biting into an outstanding BLT at the restaurant that I was able to put my finger on cookbook is a cookbook about cooking simple food in a better way. Maybe it is not the sexiest tagline, but it is the simplest explanation for my food and for my cooking style. Meatloaf, waffles, roasted vegetables, caramels, macaroni and cheese, scrambled eggs...these are the recipes in my cookbook.



Monday, October 18, 2010


Where I live I am totally spoiled when it comes to ingredient availability. We have beautiful produce, amazing Farmer's Markets, grocery stores that carry everything that you could ever need, and specialty food stores that stock the rest. You do not have to drive too far from here though to end up in a food dessert where produce is scarce, couscous is unheard of, and the butcher looks at you funny if you ask for ground lamb. The differences in food availability are vast and incredible.

The more I try to make recipes when I am on vacation, the more I realize that I have to offer alternatives to harder to find ingredients whenever possible. My meatloaf, for example, contains ground lamb, but if ground lamb is not available where you live, ground beef works just fine. My quiche calls for Gruyere cheese, but it is still pretty delish dish with regular Swiss. Sure, I think that these things taste better if you can find all of the ingredients, but...

It is important to me that the recipes that I offer are things that everyone can have the pleasure of making and eating, regardless of where they live and what is available to them.

I do have a few recipes with harder to find ingredients that have no alternatives, but wherever possible I will offer substitutions and tips so that the cookbook is as useful and usable as possible.

Sure, I may be spoiled, but that does not mean that I am going to act like a brat...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

This is the Savory Waffle that will be in the cookbook. It is loaded with bacon, cheese, mustard (Mustard Girl of course!), and scallions. Delish!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Say cheese...

Food presentation is not my strong point.

I can make a mean apple pie, but I have never cared much about being able to cut the perfect piece. I know the importance of enticing as many senses as possible with your culinary creations, I just have never seen the point in adding a garnish that does not enhance taste or using molds to create perfect round circles of rice. Up until recently this has not been a problem...

Until I started having to take pictures of my food for my cookbook.

I am a decent photographer, no where near as good as my father who's work is amazing, but good enough to take pictures of food that make you want to eat the page. I am a great cook. I am a perfectionist. So why is it that I have zero desire to put this all together to create perfect photos for my cookbook?

I think that the answer lies in the fact that I have never wanted to make fussy food. I guess that is a somewhat weak excuse, but I feel like food that looks perfect on the plate just is not my style. I like my pie to have apples pouring out the sides. I like my lasagna to be oozing cheese. I like my burgers without lettuce, toothpicks, or wax paper. I know that professional food photographers can overcome all of these issues, while still managing to make the food look delish, but this cookbook is for the home cook and the photos should be as well.

Does this mean that my photos will stink? NO. This means that I will take photos that truly focus on the food and what it looks like in my home instead of some out of touch glossy pic that depicts a meal that you probably will never visually duplicate. Furthermore, there is some food that just calls for color and beauty, like my apple tart or my tortellini salad, and those photos will be similar to what you see in the glossys...

BUT they will also look that way when you make them in your very own kitchen...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Making the same recipe over and over and over...

So it turns out that there is a downside to writing a cookbook...making the same recipes over and over and over.

As I have mentioned before, I have wonderful testers (a.k.a. friends and family) who are testing all of the recipes that I plan to include in the cookbook to make sure that they are easy for others to understand and make, but I also need to be testing each recipe several times to make sure that it comes out the same way every time you make it. Or sometimes, it is a recipe that has not gone to the testers yet because I am still making tweaks to perfect it. This means eating the same thing over and over.


The recipes that I am talking about are all my favorites, and things that I have made many times, but they are things that I like to make and eat once a month, not twice a week. For example, I made chocolate truffles twice last week--I LOVE chocolate, but I am not excited to make them two more times this week. It turns out that you CAN have too much of a good thing.

The upside: by the time this cookbook is published I will have no doubt that the recipes in it are as flawless as humanly possible.

The downside (with an upside): It may be a long time before I make some of these recipes again, but I guess that will give me a chance to come up with a whole new set of recipes for the next cookbook...

Monday, October 4, 2010

The smell of chicken stock...

There are few other smells that I find as inviting as chicken stock simmering away on the stove. My husband often accuses me of making more chicken stock than I can use (and he is probably right), but if we are going to be home for the day I love to have a stock pot going filling the house with the smell of hot soup and cold weather all day long.

I know that my plan is not to share recipes on this blog, but I thought that I would share this one since it is one of my favorites...

1 3.5-4 pound chicken
2 stalks celery, cut in half
3 carrots, cut in half
1 onion, quartered (skin on)
1 head of garlic, sliced in half horizontally, skin on
2 Tbsp. whole peppercorns
2 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 handful parsley

Place the chicken into a large stockpot and cover with water. Add the celery, carrots, onion, garlic, peppercorns, salt, and parsley. Bring to a simmer. When the water begins bubbling, skim the foam and discard. Turn the heat to low and simmer, uncovered for 4 hours. DO NOT let the stock boil...if you boil it, you spoil it. When 4 hours have passed, remove the pot from the stove and strain the contents through a large colander discarding everything but the liquid. Then strain the liquid into a clean bowl through a fine sieve. Let cool and skim the fat, divide into containers for use within 3 days or freeze in 1-4 cup portions for up to 6 months.

Tip: To skim the fat more easily, divide into containers first and place in the refrigerator for several hours until a white layer forms at the top of the container. Remove the white top layer (fat) from each container and discard. At this point, you can either use the stock within 3 days or place it in the freezer.

I sincerely hope that you become a stock addict too...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Well Equipped Kitchen...

There is nothing that drives me more crazy (I feel like I use that phrase a lot) than expensive specialized equipment. I am of the Alton Brown philosophy that uni-tools, as he calls them, are a huge waste of money and should be avoided at all costs with very few exceptions.

So, I make my pledge here and now that my cookbook will not be filled with specialized tools that you will never use again!

Why mention this today? The $25 sorbet scoop is why.

As those of you who follow me on Facebook know, I have been testing some variations to my truffle recipe. I make truffles the old school way, a little rough around the edges, avoiding the perfect ball. They taste amazing, but when you look at them, they look like true truffles, and not the kind that you find in the store. Upon this realization yesterday I thought that it was time to invest in a sorbet scoop to make my truffles perfectly round (up until now I have been using a melon baller and semi-round has been the standard).

Some will stop reading right here, thinking that I am a total idiot solely based on store choice, but I decided to venture out to Williams-Sonoma to look for said scoop. As I entered the store and enjoyed the heavenly scent of the pumpkin butter cake (it always comes back to pumpkin) that they were baking, I let my eyes take in the beautiful sights of stainless steel, brightly colored stoneware, perfectly textured dish towels, and shelves upon shelves of tempting cookbooks.

It was beautiful.

I should mention, that although I love our local kitchen store and shopping at chef supply stores (the prices are much better!) I really enjoy a trip to Williams-Sonoma now and again. It is just so visually and gastronomically appealing that it makes me want to cry. My husband and I often joke that when the catalog for said store arrives at our house it is like a young boy receiving a girly magazine...I retreat to the couch and stare at each page until I have soaked up its entire contents, then move to the next completely unwilling to be disturbed until I have reached the back cover, at which point I exhale and begin to dream about the next special delivery from the postman.

Back to the scoop...

As I made my way to the special tool section I spotted the sorbet scoop. It was exactly the size that I had been looking for and seemed both sturdy and capable of the task at hand. Then I casually turned over the tool to look at the price...$25...seriously...$25. Am I an idiot? No. I put the scoop down and walked away. (I spent another 30 minutes and ?$'s, but I did not buy the scoop!).

I am appalled on a regular basis by what a rip off certain items for my kitchen are. I have a very well equipped kitchen and very rarely take a pass on tools that I think would have two or more uses, but this is where I had to draw the line. Upon returning home, I looked the item up on and the prices were not that much different.

Bottom Line: I am not buying a sorbet scoop and my truffles will most likely not be perfectly round...but they will still be perfectly delicious...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pumpkin Obsessed...

For the last month I have been completely obsessed with finding canned pumpkin for fall cooking. For those who are not pumpkin freaks, there has been a year long nationwide shortage that has caused grocery stores to not have any pumpkin on their shelves...

I had only four cans left over from last year in my pantry...

...until today!

For weeks I have talked to store managers, people who stock the shelves, and read comments on the Internet all in the hope that I would be able to swoop in and buy up my share of pumpkin the minute that it reached the shelves. I felt like Elaine in the sponge episode of Seinfeld, planning to stockpile the product, evaluating my recipes and trying to decide which were pumpkin worthy and discarding some of the best out of fear that I would be unable to find more pumpkin to use in others.

Alas, I bought 14 cans of pumpkin today (my guilt over possibly leaving none for others stopped me from just arm sweeping all the cans from the shelf into my cart), and plan to buy even more when the next shipment comes in. Turns out that the stuff has a shelf life of three years, so I may even hit Costco in three weeks when their shipment is due in (I accosted the stock boy there two weeks ago and demanded a date of arrival on the orange gold).

Rest assured that there will be a recipe or two in the cookbook that contains pumpkin; I truly feel that it is one of the most versatile and easy to work with fall flavors and that it truly gives you the essence of the season in every bite. Put it in pancakes, breads, pasta dishes, casseroles...

Pumpkin: It's not just for pies anymore.

An amusing side note...I do not like pumpkin pie.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Publisher...

As I continue to work on the content for my cookbook, I realize that one of my biggest questions still lies self publish, or not to self publish?

Originally, when I started this project I thought that I would self publish a small run and then see if I could get picked up by a publisher and go from there. Lately though I have been thinking more and more about some of the horrible cookbooks that I own.

I collect cookbooks and often buy them from Amazon without having looked through the pages for stupid reasons like a pretty cover or a cute title. Sometimes it is something as simple as an appearance on a morning talk show that can get me to buy a cookbook that I later regret purchasing. Every cookbook I buy teaches me something that I did not already know, so I keep them all, even if what the lesson is in that particular volume is how NOT to write a cookbook. It baffles me though to realize that most of the cookbooks on my shelf were done be a publishing house. We are not talking Eddie's Publishers: We publish everything no matter how bad. We are talking REAL, BIG New York City Publishers.

If they are publishing this rubbish, I can surely get them to publish my book.

So, I have decided to scrap my original plan for the time being and try to find a publisher for The Kitchen Tart Cookbook. This is not to say that I will not end up back on the self publishing route when all is said and done, but I will at least know that I have fully explored my other options.

Now I just need to learn how to navigate the world of publishing...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Little Piece of Me...

I sent out two recipes out for testing this week. I find recipe testing to be the single hardest part of writing this cookbook. I think that it is really important to send my recipes out to friends and family for them to try without any further instruction from me, but I find myself on edge waiting for the evaluations to come in two to three weeks later. Since I have started this process, I have only pulled one recipe from the lineup due to poor testing, all in all an outcome that I should be proud of, but it does not change the fact...

I find it hard to offer a little piece of something that I have worked so hard on, to people (my friends) and waiting to see what they think of it.

I should note that I am incredibly lucky that I have so many people who were willing to test for me and who promised me that they would be honest no matter what. There is no use in testing recipes if people are not going to tell you the truth, and there is no point in publishing a cookbook that contains recipes that no one else has ever tried to make sure that they work the way that I think that they do.

It is also probably important to mention that I have experienced this feeling many times before. Every time that I am having people over to eat I stress about what they will think of my food. What if they do not like it? What if I made something that they do not eat? What if my pie crust was too wet? My chicken to dry? My beef overcooked?

I worry about every detail.

It all stems from the same place...

I find joy in feeding people, and I want them to enjoy my food.

This simple statement is why I want to write a cookbook. When I feed people and they like my food it is a euphoric feeling. The only thing that I can think of that would make that better, is sharing the recipes that I have for so long kept to myself and letting other people experience the joy of feeding their friends and family with my recipes. Pure Joy.

Another recipe goes out to my loyal testers on Monday...french is a picture of the end product in my kitchen...I hope that they like it as much as I do...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I Do Not Always Feel Like Cooking...

This weekend I ran into a friend at Costco. She has something in her hands that looked good, so I asked her what it was. Her response was that it was a $5 pumpkin pie, and she had to buy it because she does not cook like me. I smiled and told her it looked really good, then promptly considered putting one in my cart, and quite honestly would have if I thought the family would eat it.

It always amuses me that people think that it is all gourmet all the time in the Kitchen Tart House.

Last night I was tired and boiled water for store bought tortellini. Tonight, we are eating pre-made eggplant Parmesan from Costco. I love to cook, but I am only human. I have a busy life with two very active children and a demanding (not in a bad way) husband. I love to cook, but I have the same limitations of many other young mothers, not enough time or energy to do it up every single night.

I am guilty of running down to a local pie place and picking up an apple pie for a special occasion, because although I love making apple pie, sometimes I am just not in the mood.

What does this have to do with my cookbook? Moments like my encounter with my friend in Costco remind me that I want to include two very important things in my cookbook:

1. A forward that includes the fact that I do not cook like this all the time, and that it is human to make Mac and Cheese or buy Pumpkin Pie.

2. Shortcuts on some recipes, like using store bought pesto for my goat cheese shells if you just do not feel like making your own pesto that night.

I am a purist and really do prefer a lot of recipes to be from scratch, but I have used the shortcuts and the end product is often not all that different.

I truly want to make this a cookbook that people can enjoy. This does not mean that the recipes will all be easy, some will and some will not, it just means that there will be something for everyone from beginner to expert.

Everyone needs to just buy a pie every once in a while...

Monday, September 20, 2010


Nothing inspires me to cook and write recipes more then eating amazing food. Tonight, I will have the opportunity to eat a meal prepared by one of my favorite chefs. I do not know how he does it, but he mixes flavors and textures that I would never dream of and the end product is amazing.

So, tonight we feast and tomorrow I hit the kitchen to create new flavor combinations, hopefully I sleep in between...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

When the Recipe You've Made a Million Times Goes Wrong...

Okay, so we all know that a million is probably a stretch, but I have made this recipe a lot. It is the old standby I use for all sorts of different reasons...a gift for a friend, a side for lobster, a breakfast has probably gone from my bowls to my ovens more than most other things that I make. It is my go to, my fail safe.

And on Tuesday, I messed it up.

Messing up an old standard is something that happens to everyone at some point, but my mistake highlighted a problem that find in a lot of cookbooks, therefore making it a really useful mistake at this point in my life.

The recipe is for Hot Blueberry Bread and is out of one of my favorite cookbooks that is long since out of print, Blueberry Hill. Like many recipes, it says to grease the bread tins before pouring in the batter. Usually when the directions say to grease I use butter and make sure that I rub every nook and cranny of that pan, but on Tuesday morning I was in a rush and decided to spray it with Pam instead. I have used Pam to grease a pan in a pinch before and have never been burned...the time had come for that streak to end.

As I tried to remove my very stuck hot blueberry bread from the first pan (the recipe makes two) the entire bottom separated from the loaf and my blood began to boil. I was mostly mad at myself, but I was also irritated at the lack of specific directions that I find in cookbooks. It is impossible to make everything crystal clear, but what would the harm be in telling someone to grease with butter or Crisco? It was not necessarily that I blamed this specific cookbook, once I calmed down I remembered that it was written a long time ago (in the late 1950's) and at that time it might have been standard to use butter or Crisco since non-stick cooking spray was not invented (or at least not patented) until 1957, the issue was more that this is something that I run into a lot.

By the way, the second loaf of bread after much careful coaxing also separated it's top from it's bottom. Fortunately, I was at least able to save it enough to send it to my child's school for snack.

What does this have to do with my cookbook? Well, I would assume that most readers would realize by now, but in case you have not, it was a strong reminder to me to make sure that I write my recipes with as much detail and explanation as possible. There is no harm in reminding people of techniques or of including color palates for rouxs, temperatures for deep frying, or which grease works best for which recipes.

Some cooks might decide to make changes or ignore my instructions, but at least I will have given them the proper tools to do it the right way...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bring On The Eggs...

Today, I decided to test an old cookie recipe of my Grandmother's and see if it should be included in the cookbook. (All of the recipes in the cookbook are original, and almost all of them are mine--there are however a few exceptions: there will be a couple of my Grandmother's original recipes and my Mom's Key Lime Pie that I mentioned in my first post). Old family recipes are wonderful and should be shared with the world. However, sometimes it is helpful to remember the issues of the old days.

The recipe that I tested today was for Ginger Puff Cookies. They sounded delish and included my husband's favorite cookie ingredient, molasses, so I thought that I would give them a try and see if they were Kitchen Tart Cookbook worthy. As I read and reread the recipe before making the dough I felt that something was missing...eggs. I am a firm believer though in making a recipe just the way that it is written the first time around, and then making changes later if you wish.

So, I proceeded without the eggs.

When I was finished mixing the dough I noticed that it had the consistency of a graham cracker crust before you put it into the pan...dry and crumbly, but just sticky enough to come together. I rolled the cookies into "walnut sized balls" as the recipe called for and put them in the oven. When they came out they were puffed and gingery, and actually quite good, but the modern girl in me really missed the egg.

What I had not really thought about before I made this recipe, is that it was likely written during World War II when eggs were rationed and in kitchens across America recipes that did without were popping up to replace pre-rationing standards. It probably, and this is just a guess because I can never be sure, was not that my Grandmother wanted to make cookies without eggs, it was more likely what she needed to do. I wonder now if she missed the eggs the first time that she tried them too?

Because the cookie was tasty, I have decided to test it again later this week or next, and with no disrespect meant to my grandmother, one of the best home cooks I have ever known, I plan to add an egg or two. I will let you know how it goes...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


It totally lived up to the fantasy! It will definitely (as long as it tests well) be included in the cookbook!

Hee yaw! The bread landed butter side up in our house tonight. Now, time for some sleep...

The recipe that keeps me up at night...

So, of course, a large part of writing my cookbook has been writing recipes and every time I think that I have just the mix of recipes that I want to test and then use, something new pops into my head. Well, today I am testing the recipe that has been keeping me up for the past three nights.

It all started when Jim and I were eating dinner on of my favorites and a standard that I make in huge batches and store in my freezer...why not include that in my cookbook you ask? It is not my recipe. It started me thinking could I change this recipe to make it mine? The answer came to me in the middle of the night on Sunday...make it shells, and instead of filling it with traditional filling, use roasted red peppers and goat cheese and somehow incorporate pesto! Seriously, how could it go wrong? (I will update you after Jim and I try it tonight--and although that appears to be a rhetorical question, it is actually a dangerous thought because as anyone who cooks knows, a good idea does not necessarily make a good meal).

At this point most non-neurotic, non-type A personalities would write down the idea and go back to bed, but unfortunately, I am crazy. So for three nights I laid in bed and thought about this recipe. I tried to imagine how it would taste, I thought about how many eggs I should include and what ricotta to goat cheese ratio would produce the perfect creamy texture.

I completely obsessed.

Finally today the day came where I had the time to both go to the store and test the recipe. While the kids were in bed this afternoon I put the filling together (decided on two eggs for other neurotic types who would wonder why I would leave that question out there and loose three nights of sleep themselves wondering about it), cooked the shells, filled them, covered them in a delish sauce, and put them in the refridge to cook in just a few hours. I cannot wait!

As I mentioned before I will post an update later tonight about how the meal went, in the meantime, I have thought about this so much I can honestly taste it and it is amazing! I hope it lives up to the fantasy...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Who Am I?

I am the kitchen tart...

I thought it would be fun to track the successes and failures on my journey to write and publish a cookbook.

I, like many other bloggers, love to cook. As I look at other blogs though, I see a lot of "my mother always made this recipe" or "I loved the smells of my mother's kitchen." While I can promise you that my children might be able to say that, I can equally assure you that I cannot say that about my own mother. To be clear, my mother is a wonderful woman with lots of great qualities, but the most common smell to come out of her kitchen is something burning. It is not that my mother cannot cook, anyone who puts their mind to it can, it is that she hates to cook. It is no coincidence that my sisters and I all cook a lot now, and one even married a trained gourmet chef. In all fairness to my mother there were two meals that she cooked well, albeit too often--Spaghetti and Lemon Chicken. I will also be including one recipe of hers in the cookbook, Key Lime Pie, and it is AMAZING. That is about where her culinary interest ends. So, if you are looking for a blog that reminisces about the smells of my childhood, this is not the blog for you. On the flip side, my paternal grandmother was an excellent cook, so the smells of my vacations might come up sometimes...those smells were delish and mostly responsible for my passion of cooking.

I am brutally honest, which while often a detriment, will likely work in my favor during the cookbook writing process...I am as honest with myself as I am with others and cannot convince myself into thinking that something that tastes terrible "might work". Fortunately, my husband is very honest (and picky) as well, so I am sure that the reader will find him both humorous and at times harsh. It is okay, he loves me very much and knows how lucky he is to have a wife that cooks as well as I do.

I have two beautiful and amazing children who my world revolves around (happily), but as they say in the beginning of Everybody Loves Raymond, this blog, "It's not really about the kids," so while they might come up from time to time, for the most part their mealtime consists of sitting in the kitchen eating cooked peas, peanut butter and jelly, and drinking milk...not the stuff of culinary genius, but perfect for small children.

So, here it goes...I hope that you enjoy it!