Friday, January 31, 2014

January is National Oatmeal Month

So ends one of the coldest months I've experienced in recent years! January is Oatmeal Month, because apparently we buy more oats this month than in any other. Whether you need a hot bowl of oatmeal to warm up after shoveling snow, have resolved to lower your cholesterol, or maybe you just love oatmeal cookies, this is the month for it!

Sometimes the stories you might include in your cookbook don't have to be of a historic nature, but simply anecdotal. For instance, when I was young (middle school) I decided one summer day to make oatmeal cookies. I was using the recipe on the package of butterscotch chips, but discovered we didn't have quite enough oatmeal. I substituted in some envelopes of instant oatmeal to make up the difference and that worked just fine! "Necessity is the mother of invention," after all. Looking back, I'm sure that doing that added more sugar to the dough, but I don't remember them tasting weird.

You can include as much or as little of that sort of thing in your cookbook, but I urge you to gather as many of those stories as you can. Yes, it will take longer. Yes, it will make your book longer (and probably a little more expensive to get printed, however you decide to do it), but in the end, you have something very personal to share with your family. And that's the whole point.

Available at Amazon.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

National Croissant Day - January 30th

Today is National Croissant Day! According to, croissants were invented by the Turks, not the French. Wikipedia says they originated in Vienna, Austria. Who's right? (Who knows!)

My mother-in-law has a recipe she uses to make crescent-shaped rolls. They aren't true croissants, because the dough isn't "laminated," but in my opinion, they're better! (Note how the "recipe comment" below gives a little bit of family history -- these are the things that will make your cookbook special!)

Dinner Rolls

3 pkgs. dry yeast (not quick rising)

1/2 C. warm water
1 C. milk
3/4 C. margarine
3/4 C. sugar
5 eggs
6 3/8 C. flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt

Directions: Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add warm milk, melted margarine and sugar. Then add the beaten eggs, flour and salt. Let rise once until doubled (1 1/2-2 hrs.). Shape as desired or roll out about 1/3 of the dough at a time into a 12” circle; brush the surface with melted butter. Cut in 16 pie-shaped pieces and roll (starting at the wide end). Place in greased cookie sheet. Let rise again until doubled. Bake at 350-375º about until done (watch closely). May be kept in the refrigerator after first rising for a week and used as needed.

Comments: "I started years ago trying to make rolls like Grandma G. made – these were so light. I’ve never duplicated their light texture, but I keep trying."

Available at Amazon.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

National Corn Chip Day - January 29th

Today is National Corn Chip Day! The most common corn chips around here are Fritos®; I did a little digging to learn more, and found a very interesting story about "the birth of the Frito." Fritos are a needed ingredient in a family favorite dish, Taco Pie (which is not the same as Frito Pie). In fact, one year for his birthday, my brother requested "tacopie" for dinner. Naturally, this led to us calling it ta-CO-pee instead of TA-co PI.

Taco Pie (my version, a little different than the one I grew up with)
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 envelope low sodium taco seasoning
1 tube refrigerated crescent rolls
about 4 C. Fritos®, crushed coarsely (you don't want fine crumbs), divided
1 C. prepared salsa
8 oz. sour cream
2 C. shredded Cheddar-Jack cheese

Directions: Preheat oven to 375ºF. Brown the meat and drain any fat. Add the seasoning and follow package instructions. While the meat cooks, spray a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray, and press unrolled crescent roll dough into the plate, covering the bottom and sides, pressing the seams closed. (I have tried this with the uncut sheet of crescent roll dough, and find the rolls work better, even though you have all the seams.) Spread 2 C. of the crushed chips to the bottom of the pie plate, covering evenly. Add the seasoned meat. Spread salsa over the meat, then the sour cream. Add the cheese. Top with the remaining 2 C. of crushed chips. Bake for 30 minutes, until the crust is browned and the cheese is melted.

Variations: This can also be made with ground turkey. I use the "hot" variety of taco seasoning when I do, since the turkey has such a mild flavor.

The recipe my mother give me called for American cheese slices, black olives, and no salsa. I don't ever remember her making it with the black olives (though it was on the recipe card). Include variations like that when you're compiling your family cookbook. Recipes evolve -- share those, too!

Available at Amazon.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

National Blueberry Pancake Day - January 28th

Blueberries... antioxidant-rich bits of deliciousness. Celebrate them on January 28th for National Blueberry Pancake Day.

Including information on freezing tips in your cookbook can be helpful too. For instance, with blueberries, freeze them whole and unwashed on a cookie sheet. When they're frozen, they can be put in a zipper-top bag and kept in the freezer until you want them. (Wash them before you use them.) That way, when you go to pick your own blueberries this summer, you can pick as many as you can carry, freeze them, and enjoy them all year!

Available at Amazon.

Monday, January 27, 2014

National Chocolate Cake Day - January 27th

January 27th is also Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the day the Russians liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau. Not all family history is lighthearted and fun. There are struggles and wars, and those are part of your history, too. If you're asking about sensitive matters, gauge your interviewee carefully, and don't poke into things they are unwilling to talk about.


For Chocolate Cake Day, keep in mind that you may receive the same recipe with different names. Depression Cake*, Wacky Cake, Crazy Cake... those may all be different names for the same recipe (though not always). When you note who contributed the recipe, include everyone who gave it to you, and index the cake under every name so everyone can find it under the name they remember.

Available at Amazon.

* So named because it was a popular Depression-era recipe because it didn't use eggs or butter, and some had no sugar -- ingredients that were scarce or too expensive to buy during the Depression.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

National Peanut Brittle Day - January 26th

We had Peanut Butter Day, this is Peanut Brittle Day. If peanuts are actually legumes and not true nuts, does that make peanut brittle a vegetable* dish? Hmm...

I encourage you to include in your cookbook temperature equivalents (just what is a "hot oven," anyway?†). If you don't happen to have a good candy thermometer, making recipes like peanut brittle are difficult. When you have a handy guide that explains exactly what "hard crack" is§, even less experienced cooks will be able to use the recipe. It's a little thing, certainly not required, but why not have it handy, rather than make someone turn to another cookbook or have to Google the answer?

Available at Amazon.

* Yes, I know legumes aren't vegetables, but close enough.
† Find oven temp info here: Kitchen Dictionary: Oven Temperature
§ Candy temp info here: Candy Temperature Chart

Saturday, January 25, 2014

National Irish Coffee Day - January 25th

January 25th is Irish Coffee Day, and holy cow could I use some! It's COLD out there! We have Irishman Joe Sheridan to thank for the boozy concoction. With that, I've got three tips to share when you're writing your family's cookbook:

1. Don't forget beverages! If someone in your family makes a killer eggnog, or the absolute best sweet tea, share that. And if you don't have a recipe for it, measure things as they make it next time (or ask them if they could please do so).

2. Don't neglect your family history! If a recipe has been passed down, be sure to trace as much of its lineage as possible. Some family meal traditions die out, or the reasons behind them are forgotten. Track everything down that you can; these are the things that bring history to life in your heirloom cookbook.

3. Don't forget the men! It's usual that women are the primary cooks in a family, but that's not always the case. So don't forget to approach your dad, your grandfather, your uncle, your brother, and ask them for anything they like to make. They may also have insights into things their mother (or father) cooked when they were a child. Recipes -- and stories -- come from everyone!

Available at Amazon.

Friday, January 24, 2014

National Peanut Butter Day - January 24th

Today is National Peanut Butter Day! Peanut butter is a staple in our home, and our daughter eats it in creative ways...
  • Breakfast: Eggo® mini pancakes and waffles*, with peanut butter and mini chocolate chips -- waffle-pancake sandwiches!
  • Lunch: Peanut butter and cheese sandwiches. (She prefers these with the cheese melted, which ends up being a mess when the PB melts, too.)
  • Dinner: Cheese tacos... with peanut butter (and mini chips), fish sticks, and turkey breast. (bleh)
I keep a container of the peanut butter and mini chips mixed up all the time now. It saves time in the mornings when I'm fixing her breakfast. And because those are things she came up with, I'll probably add them to the next cookbook, even though they sound not-so-wonderful to me. Especially the tacos.

Personally, I prefer a simple PB&J, or peanut butter cookies (or variations on that theme!). Or peanut butter popcorn. I worked briefly at Karmelkorn when I was in college, and it inspired me later to make my own version. I was messing with the recipe and decided to try it with peanut butter. It's really delicious, but not as crunchy as typical caramel popcorn.

Perfectly Peanut Buttery Popcorn
1 bag microwave popcorn

1/2 stick butter or margarine
1 C. sugar
1 C. peanut butter
1/4 C. light corn syrup

Directions: Pop the popcorn and remove any unpopped kernels. Place in large bowl, much bigger than you think you'll need – I use a 5-qt. metal bowl. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter and add the sugar, syrup and peanut butter. Boil gently. Continue cooking until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat. Pour over popcorn, and toss to coat. (Watch your fingers!) Keep any leftovers in an airtight container.
This popcorn won’t be as crunchy as the caramel popcorn, and doesn’t store as well.

Available at Amazon.

* Yes, she prefers store-bought to homemade to my complete confusion and dismay.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

National Pie Day - January 23rd

January 23rd is National Pie Day, and I would like to encourage you to seek out and share stories and memories in your cookbook. Why? Because it's fun, it adds another layer of personalization to your cookbook, it can make people who are no longer with us live on in stories and laughter, and it gives people a chance to learn things about the family they might not otherwise have known. (There are more tips for getting stories in my book, Creating an Heirloom: Writing Your Family's Cookbook.)
In honor of Pie Day, I'll share with you some of the stories from our cookbook, pie-related "disasters"...
  • My uncle loves lemon pie, and my grandmother made one for him for his birthday. Unfortunately, she left out a very important ingredient: sugar. She was "mortified," according to Mom.
  • My mother baked a cherry pie for a neighbor; it was his favorite. Unfortunately she inadvertently bought cherries that hadn't been pitted. The neighbor told her it was the best pie he'd ever had (while spitting out pits).
  • One Thanksgiving I made a sweet potato pie. I'd never made one before, and the recipe I found called for bourbon. I had an little airplane bottle of whiskey, and substituted that. It baked forever before I finally just assumed that was what it was supposed to look like. No -- it was awful, and the alcohol never cooked out of it.
With three generations of pie mishaps, I have to wonder if it runs in the family... (I still don't like to bake pies.)

Available at Amazon.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

National Blonde Brownie Day - January 22nd

January 22nd is Blonde Brownie (or "Blondie") Day! These sweet, dense bars are made with brown sugar instead of cocoa, and that gives them their lighter color. Because of the brown sugar, I think these taste like the pan cookie version of toffee. Others describe the flavor as butterscotch. Either way, these are wonderful treats... that I don't seem to have a recipe for... At least not in my personal collection. I don't think. (It's gotten unwieldy.)

Coming very soon, I plan to share with you how to organize a single heirloom collection. Who knows, I might even uncover that Blondie recipe I've been dying for!

Available at Amazon.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

National Granola Bar Day - January 21st

January 21st is Granola Bar Day, and/or New England Clam Chowder Day -- pick your poison!

There are so many varieties of clam chowder that it seems foolish to lump all of New England together, when so many areas there have their specialty. And they take it pretty seriously: Maine made it illegal to add tomatoes to it in 1939!

If your family has hotly-contested variations in their chowders, be sure to include all of them in your cookbook. Neglecting to do so could cause hurt feelings or even anger.

Granola bars have their variations, too, both in the ingredients and in the texture, chewy or crunchy. The whole-grain mixture has been around for well over a century, but granola became popular in the 1960s as a health food with the hippie movement. The granola bar is basically granola cereal that has been pressed into a bar shape. Chewy varieties are not baked, or have had the baking time significantly reduced.

Available at Amazon.

Monday, January 20, 2014

National Buttercrunch Day - January 20th

January 20th is Buttercrunch Day. What is buttercrunch, anyway? Well according to The Nibble, American-style toffee is buttercrunch. "Sorry folks, but if it's covered with chocolate and nuts, it's buttercrunch." So I guess Grandma's "Easy Heath Bar" candy is just wrong... at least according to that article. But honestly, do we really care? Butter and sugar and chocolate; whether you're calling it English Toffee (and wrong) or Buttercrunch (and pedantic), it's all delicious.

Well, shoot... I made a felt Buttercrunch ornament for my kitchen Christmas tree, but apparently neglected to take a photo of it. Ah well, I'll get a photo up in 10 months. 

Available at Amazon.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

National Popcorn Day - January 19th

January 19th is Popcorn Day! This high-fiber, low-cal snack (until you put on the butter and salt!) is a healthy treat. There are lots of ways to enjoy popcorn, from sweet to savory. If you're lucky, you'll find fresh popcorn on the cob at a farmers market.

To prepare it, spray the corn cob with cooking spray, or smear a little butter on it. Place it in a clean paper bag (I use brown paper lunch bags), fold over the top (tightly) a couple of times, and microwave for about 2 1/2 minutes, just like with store-bought microwave popcorn. And just as with the store-bought stuff, if the popping slows down before the 2 1/2 minutes are up, remove the bag from the microwave. It's a fun way to make popcorn for kids, because it shows them more closely where it comes from.

Locally grown popcorn on the cob.
It's hard to believe that such an apparently small amount of popcorn will fill that paper bag, but it does. In fact, it fills it tightly enough that it might be easier to tear open the bag, than to dump the contents! (It will be hot, so be careful.)

Available at Amazon.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

National Peking Duck Day - January 18th

January 18th is Peking Duck Day, which originates from Beijing, China. The preparation for this dish is fairly involved, and not something that most home cooks are likely to make. Many US restaurants require 24 hours' notice if you plan to order the the duck.

Something to consider: the ducks are force-fed a few days before slaughter to fatten them up. If you try to eat consciously, read more about how this is prepared and make an informed decision. (It's not that different from veal, but not all places treat calves that way anymore, and perhaps there are places that don't force-feed the ducks.)

Available at Amazon.

Friday, January 17, 2014

National Hot Buttered Rum Day - January 17th

January 17th is Hot Buttered Rum Day! Another drink for this cold weather, rum was first created by sugar plantation slaves in the Caribbean in the 1600s. American colonists began distilling it, and demand for rum fueled the slave trade. (If you've seen the musical 1776, the song "Molasses to Rum" is about that "triangle trade.")

Hot buttered rum has plenty of variants, as most cocktails do, but basically it's butter and rum and spices. The recipe from Emeril Lagasse is pretty classic.

Available at Amazon.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

International Hot & Spicy Food Day - January 16th

January 16th is Hot and Spicy Food Day! Spicy foods can be very good for you. Not only will they warm you up from the inside out and clear your sinuses, but many of the things that add kick to your dish are also antimicrobial. However, not everyone can tolerate the burn. My mom can't take it hot at all, but my dad loves it (or did, he's lost some of his tolerance for it).

When you're including recipes of dishes that are quite spicy, it might be wise to note This is spicy as a warning for people who've never made it before. Even better, suggest ways to cook it to make it less spicy, like indicating where reductions can be made in the ingredients or even eliminated, or substituted (like jalapeños for habaneros).

Available at Amazon.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

National Strawberry Ice Cream Day - January 15th

Nothing like brain freeze* in the middle of winter... celebrate Strawberry Ice Cream Day on January 15th! Strawberry ice cream is #3 in popularity after vanilla and chocolate.

We've had tons of snow here this season, and I really feel like I should try making snow ice cream with it. Seems simple enough: FRESH snow, sugar, vanilla, milk... stir and serve. I even have frozen strawberries from what we picked last summer! (I'll let you know if I do make some.)

* In case you're curious, "brain freeze," or more commonly known as an ice cream headache, is caused by something cold on the upper palate, making nerves respond by rapidly constricting blood vessels. The dilation of those vessels as they warm up again stimulates pain receptors. Fortunately, this kind of headache is pretty fleeting.

Available at Amazon.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cookbooks, Collecting and Displaying

I love cookbooks. I probably have 200 or more (I'm honestly not sure). The older the better, but I also love to buy cookbooks of local cuisine on vacation. I bought a Turkish cooking magazine (in Turkish!) when I visited Istanbul several years ago; I still haven't translated it. It's tough to keep everything organized, to know where everything is and keep track of which one has that awesome recipe for _____.

Some of my older cookbooks are displayed in the dining room, with a small collection of vintage anodized aluminum pieces. The majority of the rest are on a baker's rack that's starting to show some signs of strain under all the weight.

This is an older photo; I've added to them.

A couple of years ago, I bought a battered piece of furniture for $25 -- a sturdy oak (?) bookcase with a couple of small doors. It had been used to house electronics at some point, and had doors that are gone now, but I saw it's potential. It's been sitting on the sunporch waiting for me to finish stripping off the old paint, sand it, and repaint. I love the design of my grandmother's recipe box, I want to use it as the inspiration for this bookcase.


I am going to paint it warm white, and in the insets on the sides and on the drawers, use designs that look like this:
This is actually not Mamaw's box,
the condition of hers isn't this good.
Since my kitchen is yellow with accents of red and blue, that will be perfect!

Once it's all finished, I'll have another place for cookbooks and magazines, and can organize them better. That is high on my project list for 2014. Then I can start organizing all the loose recipes I have stashed all over the place, and start the process for another family cookbook. It's been 13 years since the last one; I think it's time.

Available at Amazon.

National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day - January 14th

I confess, I have never eaten pastrami. I probably won't have any today, either, even though it's Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day. Pastrami is preserved meat, originally created before modern refrigeration was available. This is another import to thank Jewish immigrants for; Romanian Jews brought this with them to the US.

Sandwiches are kind of an odd thing to have a recipe for, in a way. Everyone has their own spin on them; even Elvis had his Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich (sometimes with bacon, other times not). In 1936, comics saw the giant sandwiches made my Dagwood Bumstead that came to be known as Dagwood Sandwiches. Just as with named dishes like Peach Melba, be sure to include sandwiches peculiar to your family! This can be a fun way to include the kids, since they often have inventive combinations between two slices of bread, even if they're too small to cook yet. My daughter still eats peanut butter and cheese sandwiches on occasion. I used to push Doritos into the gooey cheese in my grilled cheese sandwiches.

Available at Amazon.

Monday, January 13, 2014

National Peach Melba Day - January 13th

January 13th is Peach Melba Day! French chef Auguste Escoffier created Pêche Melba to honor the opera singer Nellie Melba. The dish of peaches and vanilla ice cream with raspberry sauce was served in a sculpted ice swan.

There are lots of dishes that were named after their creator, or to honor someone as Peach Melba was. If your family has specialties like this, consider including a little of the history so that future generations or newcomers to the family will know and appreciate the reference. The next edition of my family's cookbook will have instructions for Fish Tacos à la Diana. (But I assure you, you don't want that recipe.)

Available at Amazon.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

National Marzipan Day - January 12th

January 12th is Marzipan Day! Sweet almond paste, marzipan can be eaten like candy (it's often molded into fruit shapes or pigs, and used in recipes. It's also known as marchpane. It's sometimes also used for frosting cakes when rolled into thin sheets. Fondant seems to be more common in the US for that purpose (even though it tastes awful, in my opinion).

When I was a kid, I found a recipe for Marzipan Cookies in my mother's Betty Crocker Cookbook. They were flavored with almond extract, and had a very thick (Play-Doh-like) dough. The instructions called for tinting the dough various colors, and molding balls to look like fruit before baking. Some of the fruits used whole cloves to have the look of the flower end of apples and pears, with pieces of toothpicks for the stems. They were immensely fun to make, but less fun to eat, particularly if you forgot to remove either the toothpick piece or the clove. (Bleh.)

Memories like that will make your cookbook a lot more personal, if you add them. Do you have to? Of course not, but you, and everyone who uses your cookbook, will learn a lot about the family if you do.

Available at Amazon.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

National Hot Toddy Day - January 11th

The polar vortex here in the US has certainly made things like Hot Toddies necessary! (Holy cow, has it been cold!) It's a favorite of folks trying to warm up, and with the hot water and lemon, actually pretty soothing for those with the sniffles. Need to make a larger batch for a party? Alton Brown has a recipe for slow cooker Hot Toddies!

I had one at the Irish Harp Pub in Niagara-on-the-Lake (simply called a Hot Whiskey), Ontario. They will kick you in the heinie if you're unaccustomed to them! And if you can, live Irish music improves the flavor.

Available at Amazon.

Friday, January 10, 2014

National Bittersweet Chocolate Day - January 10th

Celebrate bittersweet chocolate on January 10th! Since bittersweet (sweetened dark chocolate, containing no milk solids) contains antioxidants, having some daily is pretty good for you. To better understand the differences between the various kinds of chocolate, Enjoy Dark Chocolate does a great job explaining it. Semi-sweet and bittersweet are somewhat interchangeably used; both must contain 35% cocoa solids, but since there are no regulations on how much sugar semi-sweet must contain, "the distinction is somewhat arbitrary."

My favorite way to enjoy semi-sweet chocolate is in chocolate chip cookies. Or maybe any number of dark chocolate truffles, like Wicked Chocolate's Dark Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt, or their Strawberry Cheesecake.

To make ordinary chocolate chip cookies more holiday festive, add food coloring to the dough before you add the flour. To make these for my daughter this past Christmas, I divided the dough and added green to half, and red to the other, and used my cookie scoop (a small version of an ice cream scoop) to dip into both bowls of dough, then baking as usual. I used liquid food color, but gel would probably work better to get bright colors.

Available at Amazon.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

National Apricot Day - January 9th

January 9th is Apricot Day! Apricots may have originated in Armenia, but there is evidence to suggest that both China and India as the first place it was cultivated.

Something else I did not know until now: Amaretto liqueur, known for an almond flavor, is not necessarily made with almonds, but from the edible apricot seeds from cultivars grown around the Mediterranean.

Available at Amazon.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

National English Toffee Day - January 8th

English Toffee Day is January 8th. A buttery, sugary candy topped with nuts, this is dangerous stuff to have around (especially if your husband doesn't like it, forcing you to eat it all). Not sure what English toffee tastes like? If you've eaten a Heath candy bar, it tastes like that.

My husband's paternal grandmother shared this recipe with me:

Easy Heath Bars

1 1/4 C. butter or margarine
1 1/2 C. brown sugar
1/2 C chopped pecans (optional)
Soda crackers [saltines]
1 12 oz pkg. milk chocolate chips

Line jelly roll pan and butter it. Line pan completely with soda crackers. Boil butter and brown sugar for 1 minute. Pour over crackers. Bake at 400 degrees for 5 minutes. Immediately cover with chocolate chips and spread smooth. Cool; cut or break into squares.
“When I put in nuts, I sprinkle them over the crackers before pouring on the syrup. Good and Easy.”

Available at Amazon.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

National Tempura Day - January 7th

January 7th is Tempura Day! Tempura is usually known as a Japanese dish of deep fried vegetables in a crispy batter. However, it was brought to Japan by Portuguese missionaries, who ate this on Catholic holy days and during Lent when they ate fish or vegetables.

My first taste of tempura was in a Japanese restaurant in Chicago, when we were still newlyweds. For a small-town girl like me, it felt pretty exotic. (Somehow Chinese food never felt as exotic to me, perhaps because I was familiar with it, having eaten in Chinese restaurants as a teenager growing up.)

Available at Amazon.

Monday, January 6, 2014

National Shortbread Day - January 6th

Shortbread day is January 6th, and it's one of the very simplest cookies you could ever make. Scottish in origin, it's often made for celebrations. Traditionally, it's baked in a large circle that's been pre-cut into wedges (like really narrow pizza slices). Food historians think this is from old Pagan traditions, and evolved from sun cakes.

My personal favorite way to make shortbread still includes some of the sunny symbolism.

Jam-Filled Shortbread

2/3 C. unsalted butter, softened
1/4 C. powdered sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 C. flour
apricot jam or preserves

Directions: Preheat oven to 300ºF. Cream together the sugar, butter and salt. Sift flour over this mixture and lightly knead until well blended and smooth. (Don't overwork the flour or the cookies will be tough.) If too crumbly, add a few drops of water. Firmly press dough, about a walnut-sized ball) into the bottoms of a mini muffin tin, and make a shallow indent in the middle. Spoon about a tsp. of jam into the depression, and bake as usual: 45-50 minutes, or until lightly golden. Allow to cool to just warm before removing from pan.
Variation: Other jams can be used, raspberry and orange marmalade are both delicious.
Available at Amazon.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

National Whipped Cream Day - January 5th

January 5th is Whipped Cream Day! When you whisk air into cream (containing 30% fat), you get a "soft solid" froth that can be used to top a variety of desserts or drinks. However, if you over mix the cream, you will end up with homemade butter, which is not nearly as tasty on hot chocolate... or a coffee concoction better than anything you'll find at that ubiquitous shop with the mermaid logo.

Café du Mocha: Chicory coffee with cream and
instant hot cocoa, topped with whipped cream
and chocolate syrup.

Available at Amazon.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

National Spaghetti Day - January 4th

January 4th is Spaghetti Day. One of the first meals I remember cooking for my family when I was young was spaghetti. For my family, this meant cooking a big pot of spaghetti noodles, browning some hamburger, adding a jar of spaghetti sauce, and mixing it all together. I honestly don't even remember the first time I had spaghetti served to me with the sauce ladled over the top, but it was almost certainly at a restaurant.

Making marinara (red sauce) is so easy, I'm convinced the only reason people don't do it more often is because of the time involved. Even though I work from home, and have since my daughter was little, I've only made it a few times. The very best way to make this is with produce fresh from your own garden or from the farmer's market in the summertime. 

Garden Fresh Marinara  
1/4 C olive oil
8 large fresh tomatoes
1 small green pepper
1 small yellow pepper
1 small onion
1 C. sliced mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp Italian seasoning, or to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Directions: In a large pot, pour the olive oil, and turn the heat on the lowest setting. Core the tomatoes, remove seeds, and finely chop 4 of them; purée the other four. Add the tomatoes to the pot. Chop the peppers and the onion fine, slice the mushrooms, and mince the garlic, and add to the tomato mixture. Stir in the sugar and seasonings. Simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. Serve over pasta. Freeze what you don’t use, and you’ll have fresh marinara for another night.
Variation: Like it spicy? Add crushed red pepper flakes, or a fresh chopped banana pepper, to taste.

Available at Amazon.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Chocolate Covered Cherry Day - January 3rd

January 3rd is Chocolate Covered Cherry Day! I do love them... and they're fairly easy to make. Older chocolate candy recipes often contain paraffin to help in hardening chocolate and keep them glossy. You can use food grade paraffin in these old recipes (but be sure the it is food grade), OR you can use properly tempered chocolate. If you'd like to update the old family recipe, you can include instructions for tempering the chocolate in the recipe notes.

You can eat it, but do you want to?

Another delicious way to enjoy chocolate covered cherries is with my mom's recipe for chocolate covered cherry cookies.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies
1 1/2 C. flour
1/2 C. cocoa
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 C. margarine
1 C. sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
10 oz. jar maraschino cherries
1 C. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 C. sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp. maraschino cherry juice

Directions: Sift together the first six ingredients. Cream margarine and sugar; add egg and vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture; beat until well blended. Shape into 1" balls, place on cookie sheet, and press center with thumb. Drain the cherries, reserving juice. Put a cherry in the depression. Heat chocolate chips and milk until chocolate melts; stir in juice. Spoon a tsp. of this over the cherry, covering it. Bake at 350ºF for 10 minutes.

Available at Amazon.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

National Cream Puff Day - January 2nd

January 2nd is Cream Puff Day, or (apparently) Wreck-your-new-diet Day. Cream puffs are made with a kind of French dough called pâte à choux, which doesn't use a leavening agent, but the steam as it cooks makes the dough rise. Beignets, profiteroles and éclairs all use this sort of dough.

Some of the recipes you gather for your cookbook may have fairly involved directions. As you're reading through the recipes you receive, if things don't quite make sense to you, contact the sender and ask for clarification. Remember, they've probably made that dish a hundred times, and everything makes sense to them. It also helps to have another set of eyes for this part. You can ask someone who doesn't cook often to read instructions, and things that trip them up should be expanded upon. That way, any one of your family members will be able to make anything in your cookbook, no matter what their cooking experience.

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

National Bloody Mary Day - January 1st

Every day has a reason to celebrate, right? I'm going to try and share the relevant ones here, with tips or recipes from our family cookbook, and odd facts I've picked up along the way.

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January 1st is Bloody Mary Day, which seems like an odd way to start the new year to me, but it's a popular "hair of the dog" hangover cure. (The only real cure for a hangover is plenty of water. Most of the discomfort after overindulging is from dehydration.)

Bloody Marys are fairly complicated cocktails with a ton of variations, but have a fairly simple foundation: vodka, tomato juice, and lemon juice. Its history is disputed, with several claimants to its invention. The International Bartenders Association has an official recipe.

You can include in your family's cookbook a section for beverages, and add whatever cocktail variants everyone likes to celebrate with. (I have a deadly Mai Tai recipe from my brother, very butt-kickingly delicious.)

Sunset: Oceanside, CA, with the creator of the deadly Mai Tais

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