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!