Monthly Archives: March 2014

THE ROUTE 66 COOKBOOK

THE ROUTE 66 COOKBOOK by Marian Clark and Michael Wallis;

The first time my then-husband and one year old son drove across country, from Cincinnati, Ohio to Los Angeles, California, most of the trip was via Route 66. If I remember correctly, we picked up route 66 in St. Louis.
We made the trip in a little over three days, driving long and hard hours. It was October, 1961, and we listened to the World Series as we drove along. Our belongings were piled into the back seat and trunk , and we had a baby bed and ironing board tied to the roof of the car (shades of Grapes of Wrath).

The baby’s mattress had been laid across the piles of clothing in the back, so he could crawl around on the mattress (mind you, this was long before car seats became mandatory much less SAFE enclosures in which children could ride). Michael’s car seat was a little cloth contraption supported by some kind of aluminum tube on which a plastic steering where was attached.

The reason for this autumn trip across country was that Jim’s best friend had moved to Los Angeles and would call on weekends to tell us about the land of milk and honey and the streets that were paved with gold. Maybe not quite – but Jim had been laid off at the factory where he worked and I quit my job downtown. It was never intended to be permanent—and it wasn’t.

I know we visited some interesting restaurants along the way, but confess to having little memory of them, except for one place where we were served huge steaks. I vaguely recall warnings about speed traps in New Mexico, climbing into the mountains of Arizona, traveling through Oatmeal, Arizona, stopping in Needles, before we began the trek across the Mojave Desert into the southern California and in particular, our astonishment as we descended from the high desert into the southern California basin, over the thick white and noxious smelling haze that lay across the land.

“This must be the smog everyone talks about,” my husband joked. Unfortunately, it really WAS.

I feel as though I missed a great deal along route 65—considering we were moving across country, and not on a vacation trip…so it was with a great deal of pleasure that I discovered The Route 66 Cookbook by Marian Clark, published by Council Oak Books in 1993. This soft cover cookbook, replete with photos, originally sold for $17.95.
Ms. Clark is a native of Hereford, Texas, in Deaf Smith County. As a child, she traveled many times on The Mother Road”.

“From Chicago to L.A.,” state the publishers, “these are the stories of Route 66’s best loved eateries, along with favorite recipes. Here is the food that brought fame to hometown diners, hotel dining rooms, cafes and upscale restaurants, all along the Mother Road. Through memorabilia, anecdotes and recipes, these eating establishments come to life page after page…”

In the Preface, Ms. Clark explains, “A book like this did not fall into places from front to back, but was fitted together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Some of the pieces were easy to find, others requires a careful search. A few are still missing…”

The author says that in her search, she found regional specialties, ethnic foods and down-home Americana. She says she also found a story at every stop, a living chronology of people who made their American Dream come true. She writes that the purpose of her cookbook was not to find every pieces of the puzzle, but to capture some memories, to whet the appetite, and to save some history that might otherwise be forgotten.

Interestingly, Ms. Clark states that for travelers, food is a course of comfort, a revelation of new experiences and a mirror of the lifestyle in each succeeding community. A simple bowl of chili, she says, takes on entirely different characteristics along the 2400 mile span of the highway.

This cookbook was a mammoth undertaking, for in order to write it, the author, with husband and traveling companion/photographer Donna Lea, actually made the trip. They were encouraged and supported not only by people they met in diners, cafes and restaurants and hotels along Route 66 but also by librarians, museum employees and Chamber of Commerce members in communities all along Route 66.

The Route 66 cookbook begins, then, with recipes from eateries in Chicago…and takes you through seven states, counting Illinois at the one end and California at the other.

It ends with Belle Vue French Restaurant in Santa Monica, which closed down in 1991, but is worthy of mentioning for as the author writes, “The closing of the Belle Vue is reminiscent of the passing of an epoch in the life of America’s great lost highway. Changes occur but memories remain. Historic Route 66 can never be captured and held to one time. it remains a symbol of movement, adventure and exhilaration, an icon of a more innocent time when a shining coast-to-coast highway first beckoned to intrepid travelers…it remains a living, breathing monument to the people who live along its many miles and to everyone who ever sat behind the wheel—or in the back seat—and watched the wonderful signs roll by long the Mother Road.

This is a cookbook packed with recipes and memories, a kind of time capsule of an era in danger of being forgotten. It’s a great “read” and the recipes are worthy.
There are a number of different editions available on Amazon.com. You can buy a pre-owned copy for as little as one cent ($3.99 shipping)—one of the more interesting copies I found on Amazon is the 75th Anniversary edition, published 10/1/2000 – you can buy this one for $ 3.74 (pre owned).

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith

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MAKING REALLY GREAT COOKIES – EVERY TIME! (Part 2)

MAKING REALLY GREAT COOKIES – EVERY TIME!

I originally wrote the following blog post in 2012 about making good (or even really great) cookies every time you get the urge to make some homemade cookies.

My new issue of a magazine came in today’s mail & the cover advertised hints for making great cookies – but the teaser turned out to be just a very small block on a page with only a few suggestions for making really great cookies, every time.  I thought to myself “huh! I can come up with a lot more ideas than this!” – and so here I am.

Tip #1 – buy yourself some good cookie sheets. Blackened cookie sheets, even if you cover them with aluminum foil, will not bake as well as nice shiny new cookie sheets. Girlfriends, cookie sheets don’t need to be expensive (I’ve priced them–they CAN be expensive but they don’t need to be. And if you don’t spend a lot on them, you can afford to replace them every few years). And while you are at it, buy some cooling racks. Not expensive! And if you buy parchment paper to line your cookie sheets – and don’t use them for anything else – they will stay nice. You want to invest in about 6 cookie sheets (to be able to have 2 in the oven at one time, one set cooling, one set being covered with cookie dough while the first batch is in the oven). Another thing I treasure is about 6 restaurant-size Bake-lite trays that Kelly’s godfather bought for me many years ago at a restaurant supply house. I put the cooling racks on these trays and it eliminates mess from crumbs. When the kids are doing their cookie-and-craft projects, they each have one of these trays to work on – when sprinkles spill (and they usually do), it’s an easy clean up if you have all the mess contained on a plastic tray.  Roger bought these trays for me back in the day (1970s!) when we made shishkabobs almost every weekend—the prepared shishkabobs would be piled up on one of these restaurant size trays, ready to go to the grill. Probably one of my all-time-all-favorite kitchen utensils.

So tip #2 is, don’t ever put cookie dough on hot (or even warm) cookie sheets. Let them cool down completely. If you are in a big hurry and only have two cookie sheets – run cold water over the ones you want to cool down fast. And I have made a curious discovery–Some cookie dough (like chocolate chip and oatmeal raisins) works BEST at room temperature. Lots of times I like making up cookie dough in the evening & then refrigerating it to start baking the next day. Sometimes you need to let it come back up to room temperature. And when there were just two of us in the house, I often made up the dough and baked them maybe a dozen at a time. Most cookie dough will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. Label it something like “turnip puree” so the kids don’t get into it and eat raw cookie dough.

Tip #3 is – buy a TIMER and USE it for every single batch. I have been notorious for burning the last batch of cookies over the years – because I would get distracted, start cleaning up the kitchen, answer the telephone & whoops, when I could smell them I knew they would be burnt. Now I use a timer. Actually I have three timers. I could use one of those I could wear around my neck.

Tip #4 Most cookies can be removed from the oven before they are really brown. Most sugar cookies only need to be a little brown around the edges. I once asked a friend at work why her chocolate chip cookies were so soft and chewy, just perfect – she said she always took them out of the oven in less time than recommended by the cookie recipe. So I began doing that too. You can let them cool a bit on the cookie sheets–they’ll still be just right–and they’ll be easier to remove from the cookie sheets if you let them stand for a minute or two. Meantime you can be putting the next batch into the oven and setting the timer.

Tip #5 – this is my most important tip, in my opinion. When the cookies are half way through baking – if you are using two racks – switch the cookie sheets, top to bottom, bottom to top – AND turn them around the other way. If your oven (like mine) is a little off this will make the cookies all bake evenly at the same time. Wear long mitts so you don’t burn your arms (I burn myself a lot. Ok. I need new mitts). And while I am thinking of it – get yourself a couple of those handy-dandy cookie scoops. This way you can be sure to have all the cookies exactly the same size so they will bake evenly.

Tip #6 If you are making roll out sugar cookies – you want to keep the dough chilled. Take some out of the frig only what you need to roll out some of the dough, keep the rest in the frig in a plastic bag. If the dough gets too soft/warm – put it back into the refrigerator to chill some more. (or stick it into the freezer to cool down faster).

Tip #7 – also about rolled out cookies – it will be so much easier to roll out the dough and handle it – if you sprinkle wax paper with flour and then roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper. Less messy, too. Roll out the dough and remove the top sheet of wax paper, then cut out as many cookies as you can (cut them close together–have you ever seen those magazine illustrations showing cut out cookies being made with one or two cut out way apart from one another? What are they thinking?) – you want to handle the dough as little as possible, so cut OUT as many as you can each time you roll out the dough — tossing the bits of dough back into the bowl to mash back together and re-roll (re-chilling if necessary). If I am baking something like all hearts (Valentine’s Day) – I will cut out as many heart-shaped cookies with one size cutter, and then use a smaller heart-shaped cookie cutter on some of the remaining dough-space…but use different cookie sheets for the different sized hearts. (You want to bake same-size cookies together, too. Don’t put small cutout cookies with large ones – the little ones will be burnt before the large ones are finished baking.

Tip #8 BUTTER. If you are going to all the work of making butter/sugar cookies – girlfriends, don’t waste your time with margarine. Buy butter when it’s on sale and keep it in the freezer. You can keep it for a year in the freezer (OK, I have been known to keep it longer than that but I doubt the butter manufacturers recommend it). And you should also consider buying unsalted butter when you find it on sale. Most cookie recipes have salt as an ingredient anyway. Since I first wrote this article, I have switched almost entirely to unsalted butter.

Tip #9 – GOOD UNSWEETENED CHOCOLATE – that’s another item I stock up on when I find it on sale. I keep it in a tight fitting plastic container (like Tupperware). And when making chocolate chip cookies – well, I guess there could be a debate over which chocolate chips are the best buy, but for my money, nothing beats Nestle’s semi sweet morsels. I watch for it to be on sale and then USE COUPONS. A few months ago, Baker’s Unsweetened chocolate was on sale at my 99c store—for 99 cents!  I bought several boxes every time I was  in the 99c store and  have it all packed in tight fitting plastic tubs.

Tip #10 – OTHER INGREDIENTS – if you are going to all the work of making homemade cookies, with all the little rug rats underfoot trying to help and people invading your kitchen eating them up as fast as you can bake them – invest in good ingredients. If you buy walnuts or pecans, store them in the freezer in plastic bags. They will last for months (ok, possibly years) in the freezer. They won’t get rancid. Buy large or extra large eggs just to use for baking. Keep flour in a tight fitting plastic container – and oh yes, if you don’t know about BAY LEAVES – let me be the first to tell you.

You can put some BAY LEAVES in any kind of flour or cornmeal or Bisquick or Pancake mix – and you will NOT get any pantry bugs. Put the flour or cornmeal into plastic containers as soon as you bring it home from the supermarket and then stick a couple of bay leaves in with it. (Remember to remove the bay leaves when you scoop out cups of flour-ok, I have found bay leaves in my cookie dough a few times). It always amazes me the number of times I have seen inquiries in magazines – what to do about pantry bugs – and no one tells them BAY LEAVES. I learned this trick from my mother years ago. It works. Bay leaves are cheap (or do as my brother Jim does and grow your own). I have taught my bay leaf trick to two of my daughters in law who have expressed surprise that it WORKS. Also under other ingredients – buy real vanilla extract. It’s worth it.

Ok, those were my ten tips.  Happy Cooking!

Well, while sifting through my fat files of clippings, I found an article by cookie cookbook author Rose Levy Beranbaum and thought I could share some of her tips with you.   She writes, “One of the nicest things about cookies is that even if they aren’t perfect, they’re still appreciated. At a book signing a few weeks ago, a pastry chef prepared my spritz cookies to give out as sample. She called me the night before, puzzling and upset that they weren’t coming out like mine and the dough seemed very soft.

The next day,” Rose continues, “I realized what the problem had been. Instead of sliced almonds she had used whole almonds. When processed without grating them first, they become very oily, softening the dough. They were still delicious but not the same.”  Rose says if you want your cookies to look like the ones in her cookbook, you may need to pay closer attention to the instructions.

Rose then provided a list of tips, starting with:

  • Use the ingredients called for in the recipe.  Substitutions may present problems.    
  • Measure or weigh carefully. If you add too much flour the cookies will be dry and crumbly. Too little and they will spread and be thin.
  • Bleached all-purpose flour contains eight to 14 grams of protein per four ounces of flour. This is listed on the side of the bag. Lower protein flour will result in more fragile, paler, higher cookies. Unbleached or higher protein flour will result in tougher, browner, flatter cookies (I didn’t know this!)
  • For best flavor, use unsalted butter and unsalted nuts (I only buy unsalted butter to bake with nowadays. I keep Imperial margarine on hand for my youngest son who is unable to digest butter—but when it comes to baking, I stock up on unsalted butter whenever I find it on sale!)
  • Make cookies in the same batch, the same size, shape and thickness arranged in even intervals on the baking sheet for even baking. (I do this – most of the time I have only six cookies to a cookie sheet).
  • Preheat the oven for at least 15 minutes before baking the cookies.
  • Rotate the baking sheets in the oven for even baking (if you have two cookie sheets in the oven, switch the sheets and turn them front to back).
  • Use flat baking sheets with very low sheets so that the air can circulate over the cookies and make them crisp. If you only have a jellyroll pan, simply invert it and place the cookies on the back.
  • Only grease the pans if specified in the recipe. Many cookie doughs have enough butter to keep the cookies from sticking. If the pans are greased, it will cause the cookies to spread too much (*I take exception to this suggestion—I use only parchment paper on all my cookie sheets-sls).
  • Allow baking sheets to cool completely before placing the next batch of dough on them. The cookies will spread too much if placed on hot or warm sheets before being set by the oven’s heat.(*My suggestion to you is to have six or eight cookie sheets on hand. That way you will always have a couple of cool cookie sheets to work with—watch for sales  on household items after Christmas.
  • Don’t overbake cokies. Remove them from the baking sheets as soon as they are rigid enough to transfer and cool them on racks so they remain crisp and do not continue cooking from the heat of the sheets.
  • Cool cookies completely before storing them airtight to maintain the best possible  texture.
  • Store soft cookies together—not with crisp ones. To preserve each cookie’s special flavor, it is best to store each variety in its own container. ** I have bought, over time, about twenty or more Rubbermaid Take-Along containers (available at Walmart). These are the perfect size to layer the baked cookies with sheets of wax paper. When I am baking Christmas cookies, each type of cookie has its own container!
  • Separate layers of cookies with wax paper to keep cookies crisp and to separate those that are sticky.

(How to bake a better cookie from  a newspaper article by Rose Levy Beranbaum)