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...