Category Archives: FAVORITE RECIPES

THE LEGEND OF RED VELVET CAKES

The very first time I heard about red velvet cake was from my friend, Pat Stuart, who became a penpal way back when the internet was just catching on and my sister Becky and I belonged to PRODIGY. I think this had to be in the 1980s because Pat Stuart and her husband Stan lived out by the Los Angeles Fair grounds in Pomona. After a year or two of exchanging correspondence via Prodigy, we agreed to meet when Bob and I were making our annual trips to the fairgrounds where I would enter jellies, jams, chutneys, preserves—anything I could make using a boiling water bath to seal the jars, being gun shy about using a pressure cooker.

The best way I can describe Prodigy as it was back then – it was like a bulletin board where everyone who subscribed to Prodigy could enter comments for other Prodigy subscribers based on your favorite topics. Ours was food, cooking and exchanging recipes. At some point in time, Pat asked if we knew about Red Velvet cake; she had a recipe from a cousin who lived in the South. The story they had heard about Red Velvet cake was that it originated at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the 1930s.

Back in the 1980s, I began entering the Los Angeles County Fair; first you submitted entry forms describing the items you planned to enter into the Home Arts Division, accompanied by the entry fees. Then Bob, my significant other, would make the trip to Pomona to submit my entries—two of each canned food item; one for tasting, one for displaying. Then he would make a second trip to pick up my tasting jars (which otherwise would have been discarded). THEN we planned a weekend at the fair in Pomona and once the new Sheraton Fairplex hotel opened right on the fair grounds, I made reservations for us to spend the weekend there. It was delightful – hotel guests had their own special entrance, bypassing all of the long lines.

We agreed to meet Pat and Stan at the hotel and have dinner at the hotel restaurant. It was friendship at first sight.

Bob would make a fourth trip to Pomona after the fair was over, to pick up my entries, ribbons, if I had won any, and prize money. I was still working at the time so he made the trips to and from Pomona on his own.

(*In 2008, we moved to the high desert, the Antelope Valley, and since it’s so much farther to go to the Los Angeles fairgrounds, that ended our experience entering the Home Arts Division—and, in 2011, Bob passed away from cancer of the esophagus.

Getting back to Red Velvet cake – a few years ago two of the leading cake mix manufacturers came out with their own version of red velvet cake mix. And for the past few years, I have been making red velvet cookies out of red velvet cake mix.

Imagine my surprise, last year (2014) the Food Network Magazine featured a short article about red velvet cake. They noted that red velvet cake is one of America’s most searched for dessert.

According to the Food Network, the origin of red velvet cake remains a mystery and that even food historians can’t agree on the story. That said, the Food Network mentions that in the 1800s, light textured velvet cakes were popular (and I did find a reference to a chocolate velvet cake in one of my food reference books). I checked through half a dozen other food reference books in my collection without finding red velvet cake or any other velvet cake reference.

The Food Network states that the Waldorf Astoria hotel introduced red velvet cake in the 1930s—that would have been during the Depression. The Food Network repeated the oft-repeated claim of a customer requesting the recipe and being billed $100.00 for it.

(In more recent years, this food urban legend has been attributed to a Neiman Marcus restaurant and by now the recipe was for a chocolate chip cookie) Whatever! Neiman Marcus Department Stores denies it ever happened.

And when the red velvet cake recipe first came to my attention, it called for an entire bottle of red food coloring. Never mind that a bottle of food coloring is only about one ounce – in my lifetime there was a red dye #2 scare (the red dye being said to cause cancer). That was probably in the 1970s but I have been leery of red food coloring ever since—never mind pouring an entire one ounce bottle into a cake mix.

And, according to the Food Network magazine article, there is an extract/spice company which dates back to the 1880s and they claim that red velvet became a term when the company added red dye to their classic velvet cake during the depression.

Since General Mills and Duncan Hines food manufacturers came out with their own red velvet cake mix, I haven’t made a red velvet cake from scratch since. And I have been making cookies from cake mixes for about a decade.

In a blog post of mine from May, 2011, about Urban Legends, I wrote:
“…While clipping recipes from a stack of old newspapers (my project every two years while the Olympics were on TV), I happened to come across an article by food writer Jan Malone who wrote, “In what has to be a classic example of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ Neiman Marcus has put a chocolate chip cookie recipe on its website. “For years,” writes Malone, “Neiman Marcus has battled an urban legend that will not die. A ‘friend’ of the initial e-mail writer has lunch at the store’s Neiman Marcus in Dallas, eats a wonderful cookie, asks for the recipe, is told it will cost ‘two-fifty’; she thinks its two dollars and fifty cents but it’s really two hundred and fifty dollars She is so incensed when she gets her credit card bill and the store won’t refund her money, that she gets even by sending the recipe to every e-mail address she knows.

Sometimes this tale of the greedy corporation,” Malone continues, “victimizing the small consumer who gets revenge…has a different villain. In fact, the same story circulated in the 1930s about a red velvet cake from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York”. THAT recipe “cost” $100.00 but hey, times were tough, it was the depression and all.

Malone says she has written about the cookie myth several times and one time encountered a guy who was offering a reward if the ‘friend of the email sender’ could produce a credit card receipt for the $250 purchase but so far there have been no takers. Still, writes Malone, people refuse to believe that the story is a hoax even though Neiman Marcus says it never served cookies in its restaurants until recently and that it always shares its recipes free of charge”.

NOW—as an update—I wrote my original story about urban myths for the newsletter the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in 1998. While going through my notes, I wondered if the cookie story was still making the rounds –so I Googled it. AND the answer is – YES, the cookie myth is still in circulation – but NOW if you type in “chocolate chip cookie myth” on Google – one of the sites that pops up is from – none other than Neiman Marcus with the recipe AND their offer – copy it, print it, pass it along to your friends and relatives.

It’s a terrific recipe – and it’s FREE. So how did this story ever get started? According to Los Angeles Times writer Daniel Puzo, “…a Neiman Marcus spokesperson in Dallas, said that the tall tale has been circulating ever since she went to work for Neiman Marcus in 1986. The first newspaper story she saw on the bogus cookie recipe appeared in 1988…” and now you know the rest of the story.

TO MAKE THE WALDORF ASTORIA RED VELVET CAKE:

• 1/2 cup shortening
• 1 1/2 cups sugar
• 2 eggs
• 2 ounces red food coloring
• 2 tablespoons cocoa (heaping)
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 2 1/4 cups cake flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon vinegar

FROSTING
• 3 tablespoons flour
• 1 cup milk
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 cup butter (must be butter)

Directions:

Prep Time: 15 mins
Total Time: 45 mins

1. Cream shortening, sugar and eggs.
2. Make a paste of food coloring and cocoa.
3. Add to creamed mixture.
4. Add buttermilk alternating with flour and salt.
5. Add vanilla.
6. Add soda to vinegar, and blend into the batter.
7. Pour into 3 or 4 greased and floured 8″ cake pans.
8. Bake at 350°F for 24-30 minutes.
9. Split layers fill and frost with the following frosting.
10. Frosting: Add milk to flour slowly, avoiding lumps.
11. Cook flour and milk until very thick, stirring constantly.
12. Cool completely.
13. Cream sugar, butter and vanilla until fluffy.
14. Add to cooked mixture.
15. Beat, high speed, until very fluffy.
16 Looks and tastes like whipped cream.

ANOTHER RED VELVET CAKE (this one is made with canned red beets and only a teaspoonful of red food coloring:
Ingredients

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds canned beets, drained and pureed
1 teaspoon red food coloring

Cream Cheese/Mascarpone Frosting

2 cups heavy cream
12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
12 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Pre-heat oven to 350 F

Butter three 9″ round cake pans and line them with parchment paper or waxed paper. (I’ve used square pans and Pam for Baking as well and they worked fine.) To prepare cake:

Melt Chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of boiling water or in the top of a double boiler (or melt in microwave for 20 – 25 seconds). Meanwhile. place the sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed for two minutes. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and continue to mix on low speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula so everything is well incorporated.

Add the melted chocolate to this mixture and continue to mix on low speed. Add the pureed beets and food coloring. Continue to mix on low speed until everything is thoroughly combined. Evenly divide the batter between the three prepared pans and bake in the middle of the oven for 20 – 25 minutes or until center of cake springs back when touched, or when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Remove the pans from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Let cool for ten minutes in the pans, then turn the layers out onto the rack and let cool completely.

To prepare Cream Cheese/Mascarpone Icing:

Pour cream into a small bowl and whip to soft peaks. Set aside in the refrigerator. Place the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until it is soft and smooth. Add the mascarpone and continue to mix on low speed until the cheeses are well combined. Add the vanilla and powdered sugar and mix until everything is just combined. Turn off the mixer and fold in the whipped cream by hand with a spatula. Keep refrigerated until ready to assemble.

To assemble:

Using a serrated knife, trim the top of each layer of each layer of cake so that it is flat. Place the first layer on a cake plate or serving platter and top with some of the icing. Repeat until all of the layers are covered with icing, then ice the top and sides of the cake. Store cake in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Chef’s note:
Sliced canned beets are easier to work with in this recipe than whole beets.

Note – This cake works well as a wedding cake but use a cream cheese/buttercream as the icing noted here will not harden.

(*after typing the above this morning, I went to the kitchen and made a batch of the lemon/rice krispie cookies with a box of lemon flavored reduced content cake mix using one egg instead of two and adding juice and zest from one lemon.(instead of any evaporated milk) The cookies turned out just fine!

First, let me share with you A BASIC CAKE MIX COOKIE RECIPE—
1 box, (18.25 oz) any flavor cake mix (I prefer the Betty Crocker cake mixes but any kind will work)
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter or solid stick margarine (such as Imperial), melted and cooled
2 TBSP milk (I like using evaporated milk for this but if you are making lemon cookies, I prefer using a little lemon juice and the zest from one lemon
2 eggs (or if the box of cake mix has been reduced to 15 or 16 ounces, use just one egg)

Mix together all ingredients. Divide the dough into several balls and pack it into zip lock bags. Chill overnight or as long as you need—the dough will keep for at least a month. Now you are ready to roll the dough out for cutout cookies, or shape into balls. You can roll the balls into finely chopped nuts or glaze them after they’ve baked.

Next, is Chocolate Fudge Cookies – you can use any kind of chocolate cake mix with this recipe and you can change it around a bit by using white chocolate chips instead of semi sweet chocolate chips.

To make Chocolate Fudge Cookies you will need:
1 PACKAGE (18.25 OZ) chocolate cake mix or devil’s food cake mix
2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil or melted and cooled butter (1 stick = ½ cup)
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips.
In a medium size bowl, stir together the cake mix, eggs, and oil until well blended. Then mix in the chocolate chips. Shape the dough into walnut-size balls; place the cookie dough 2” apart on the cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven. Let the cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
To make the cookies look more Christmassy, make up a thin glaze out of powdered sugar and a little water – drizzle over the cookies on the wire racks.

KEARA’S FAVORITE CRISP LITTLE LEMON COOKIES
To make Keara’s Favorite Crisp Little Lemon cookies you will need:
1 package lemon cake mix (18.25 oz)
1 cup dry rice krispies cereal
½ cup margarine or butter, melted and cooled (1 stick)
1 egg slightly beaten
1 tsp lemon extract or lemon juice
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl; mix well. Shape into 1” balls and place 2” apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake in preheated oven 350 degrees 9-12 minutes. Cool 1 minute then transfer to wire racks to cool.

If you make up a lemon glaze with powdered sugar and lemon juice, and drizzle it over the cookies, you will have a more festive cookie. I like to add a little lemon zest to the cookie batter, too. Finally, here is my red velvet cookie recipe:

RED VELVET CHRISTMAS COOKIES
1 box (18.25) Red Velvet cake mix
½ cup cooking oil
2 TBSP evaporated milk
2 eggs
1 12-oz bag white chocolate chips

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Drop by tablespoonful on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. A white glaze is nice with these. or dust them with sifted powdered sugar.

It may take a while to figure out how to make these recipes work with most (not all!) of the cake manufacturers reducing the size of the box and the amount of cake mix inside. I was most curious about angel food cake mix—the box is smaller but you still add the same amount of water and bake the cake in a tube pan. Angel food cake is my youngest son’s favorite cake so he doesn’t mind being my guinea pig figuring out how to deal with the changes in cake mixes.

After posting the above last night, I found a lengthy article about red velvet cakes in the Daily News, titled The Color of Rubies–by Florence Fabricant–I will write more about it in another post. Meantime, I also found the recipe for red velvet cookies that I made last Christmas, which were a big hit.

RED VELVET COOKIES
2 RED VELVET CAKE MIXES, 3 EGGS, 1 stick Imperial margarine, softened, 1/4 cup drained well chopped maraschino cherries, 1/2 cup chocolate chips, Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven 350 degrees.  mix all ingredients except powdered sugar. drop by teaspoonful onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Allow room for spreading. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until done. cool on wire racks and then dust with powered sugar sifted gently over the cookies. let cool completely.
*CATCHING FAIR FEVER, 2011 BLOG POST

–Sandra Lee Smith

CANNING SEASON – MAKING YOUR OWN SAUER KRAUT

There is, I confess, a kind of insanity that takes hold of me whenever I come into possession of any large quantity of fruit or vegetables—or, say, the owner of my favorite little grocery store in Burbank would offer me a couple of flats of ripe tomatoes for next to nothing. My freezer would still overflowing with frozen bags of pureed raspberries, from the last such windfall. It’s apparent, nothing else is going to fit into the freezer until I finish making up batches of jam. One wonderful holiday recipe is a chocolate-raspberry spread that I like to give away during the Christmas season.

Maybe I was a squirrel in a former life. What else can account for stocking up, canning, dehydrating, and freezing far more food than we can possibly consume?

Or, if not a squirrel in a former life, I would like to believe that this is something I inherited from my German/Hungarian paternal grandparents—who would butcher a hog once a year and make up lots of sausages. My grandfather converted one of their garages into a “smoke house” where he had the hams hanging from the rafters. (This isn’t something I remember – but my sister Becky did, and told the story often enough).    

Years ago, we acquired a very large stoneware crock. I believe it originally belonged to my younger sister Susie’s mother-in-law, Vera. It could hold something like over 30 quarts when it was filled. In March, to honor St. Patrick’s day, cabbage can often be bought locally for 10 cents a pound. (I lost this big crock when Bob backed the car into it turning my car around in the driveway).

Our first attempt to make our own sauerkraut turned out ok, although the finished product turned a little dark—undoubtedly from using regular salt instead of canning salt. The following year, some friends who moved to Texas but with whom I shared a love of canning and exchanged recipes, happened to find a close-out sale of canning salt, pickling ingredients and I don’t know what all, at their local Walmart store and bought everything they had. They sent me a big box of these things, and I believe I must have a lifetime supply of canning salt on hand, now.

 There is very little to making your own sauerkraut—what it does take a lot of is elbow grease. You have to shred the cabbage very fine and then for about every 5 pounds of shredded cabbage, mix in about 3 tablespoons of canning salt. Then it gets packed into the sterilized crock. You weigh it down—Bob made a round piece of wood with a handle that just fits inside the crock—but we wrapped the wood up in layers of plastic. On top of that we’d prop 4 or 5 filled 2-liter bottles of soda pop, stick it in a corner of the pantry and let it ferment for six weeks. At the end of six weeks, voila—you have sauerkraut.

 In colder climates, the crock of sauerkraut can be kept in a fruit cellar and eaten as is. But, here in Southern California, the summers get very hot (and we don’t have cellars) so that at this point, the sauerkraut needs to be canned. This means heating the sauerkraut in a big pot, while boiling quart jars in another large pot.

When the sauerkraut is simmering, (185 to 210 degrees), it can be packed into the hot sterilized quart jars, sealed, and then submerged in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.

We entered our sauerkraut in the Los Angeles county fair in 1990 and won a blue ribbon for it.

People either love sauerkraut or they hate it—there doesn’t seem to be any middle of the road.

All the years I was growing up, my mother made sauerkraut and pork, with mashed potatoes and peas for New Years eve supper, which was served late, probably around midnight. According to William Woys Weaver, the author of SAUERKRAUT YANKEE”, sauerkraut with pork was eaten on New Year’s Day by the Pennsylvania Dutch people, for good luck. I remember one New Year’s Eve, when I was about 15—I was babysitting for neighbors a block away from home. Around midnight, there was a knock on the door; there stood one of my brothers, with a plateful of sauerkraut and pork, mashed potatoes and gravy, sent over by my mother. I cried in the sauerkraut as I ate my good luck supper.

Weaver says that sauerkraut was something one learned to make as a child, that for the Pennsylvania Dutch people, the art of sauerkraut was practically second nature.

He says that Philadelphia writer Eliza Leslie was one of the first to publicize Pennsylvania-German sauerkaut in her cookbook, but that the earliest recipes appeared in newspapers and agriculture journals. Ms. Leslie was a famous cookbook author of the 1800s, including “Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry Cakes and Sweetmeats” by “A Lady of Philadelphia”, which is now available in facsimile edition from Applewood Books.

According to Weaver, “…sauerkraut is so intermeshed with Pennsylvania-German ethnic identity, that it always makes it appearance anytime Pennsylvania German foods are specifically called for…” During the Civil War, it gave birth to the name “Sauerkraut Yankees”.

Weaver tells this following story: “There is a twist of irony in this because history turned the joke around on the South. When Confederate troops captured Chambersburg in the summer of 1863, one of the first things the famished rebels demanded from the inhabitants were barrels of sauerkraut. The Dutch could only smile and shrug their shoulders. No one in his right mind made sauerkraut in the summer…”

 I was enchanted by the discovery of a little recipe booklet called “ONE NATION UNDER SAUERKRAUT”, published by the people of Waynesville, Ohio for their annual Ohio sauerkraut festival. I’ve been to Waynesville—one of my brothers used to live near there, and my sisters and I spent one wonderful summer day visiting the many antique stores in Waynesville.

Ah, but I didn’t know about their sauerkraut festival! The author of “One Nation Under Sauerkraut”, Dennis Dalton, provided some fascinating facts about sauerkraut—that cabbage has been an important food crop to mankind for more than 5,000 years—that at one time it was so highly revered in Egypt that it was worshipped during certain religious rites—that the formula for sauerkraut (an Austrian word meaning sour cabbage) was invented by China’s Emperor Shih Huang-Ti. It was developed as a result of an economic need to stretch the rice diets of coolies constructing China’s Great Wall over 2,200 years ago. That third century sauerkraut little resembled the Teutonic variety of present times. Chinese cooks achieved fermentation by pickling whole cabbage leaves in wine.

 It was sometime during the latter part of the 16th century that someone stumbled onto fermenting cabbage with ordinary salt.

Sauerkraut reached American tables and became a part of the nation’s menu after the Dutch colonized New York.

However, it was the Pennsylvania Dutch who immortalized it in table fare, story and song, a people who have an old saying “He is as Dutch as sauerkraut”.

 We “put up” (canned) 30 quarts of sauerkraut in 2009. I swore this was it; that I was never going to make sauerkraut again. Bob always shrugged and smiled and said “you always say that”. I will say this, neither he nor I have ever had scurvy. **

Bob (who really was my sous chef) passed away in September of 2011. I think I opened the last of the jars of sauerkraut when my penpal Bev & her husband came to visit the winter of 2012—maybe, just maybe I will attempt making sauerkraut again next spring—if I can find someone to help shred the cabbage! A few years ago – maybe in 2010 – we bought a huge crock that has a specially designed lid that keeps the contents “sealed” while it is fermenting.

 This summer has found me canning tomatoes and tomato juice, with the bounty of tomatoes from my son Kelly’s garden. LAST year when we were tired of picking tomatoes, he and I picked all the green cherry tomatoes we could find before he pulled out all the vines to go into the trash. I looked up and found a recipe for pickling cherry tomatoes –

Ok, you can’t be too rich or too thin (or to paraphrase Wallace Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor back in the 1930s) …have too many pint or quart jars waiting to be filled.

 

– Sandra Lee Smith

 

 

READING COOKBOOKS LIKE NOVELS

If you have been collecting cookbooks for any length of time, or gravitate towards any articles or references to cookbooks that you find on the Internet, in the newspaper –or anywhere else—you may have seen the oft-repeated comment from collectors, “I read cookbooks like novels” in a sort of perplexed way, like who does anything like this? The answer is WE ALL DO and our number is legion. I might have made a comment like this myself back in 1965 when I first started collecting cookbooks and really didn’t know where to go about getting started.
There was a magazine for penpals called Women’s Circle (not to be confused with Woman’s Day or Family Circle) – I wrote a letter to Women’s Circle trying to find a little Hungarian cookbook for a friend and as an afterthought, wrote that I wanted to start collecting cookbooks and would buy or trade for them.

I received over 200 responses when my letter was published; I found the Hungarian cookbook published by Culinary Press (ck) and bought one for my friend and one for myself. Then I began buying anything anyone offered me and it was the nucleus of my collection. I also began finding cookbooks in used book stores—I hadn’t been living in California long enough to be familiar with used book stores such as one in West Hollywood that was a treasure trove of cookbooks, many for only $1.00 each. It was there that I acquired a handwritten cookbook that the owner of the book store offered to me for $11.00. Now that is a cookbook I have read from cover to cover many times. I have also written about it on this blog (see Helen’s Cookbook first posted June 16, 2009, along with Helen’s Cookbook the Update and Helen’s Cookbook the Sequel) – now this was a revelation. I have been collecting recipe boxes for years and had discovered filled recipe boxes—recipes collected by someone else, like a kitchen diary) – and I began wondering if there might be more self-written cookbooks like Helen’s. Aside from the very famous hand-written cookbooks such as one created by Martha Washington or Thomas Jefferson and other notables, over the years other handwritten cookbooks have come my way, thanks to friends who know about my addiction to cookbooks such as these.

Each discovery is like traveling down an amazing road and every time you come to a crossroad—it leads to more incredible and fascinating discoveries, all due to starting a collection of cookbooks.

In 1965, I was barely starting a collection. It was a stellar year. I learned how to drive that year, and also acquired an Australian penpal, Eileen, and a Michigan penpal, Betsy, who are still both a part of my life. That was also the year I met Connie, who initially babysat for me—but became a lifelong friend who was also the godmother to my youngest son, Kelly. Her children were as much a part of my life as my own sons. Connie began collecting cookbooks too.
It was right about this time that I became interested in former Presidents and the White House, and Connie and I bought a “lot” of White House, American presidents, sight unseen, from someone for $100.00. We scraped together the money and when the books arrived, divided them between us. (My discovery that cookbooks and the White House/American presidents were connected – came much later and now those books take up several shelves in my bookcases).

So, it wasn’t very long before I was collecting not only cookbooks—but books about the White House kitchens and chefs, books about American Presidents and their families, and books about First Ladies (these take up an entire bookcase).

I’m not sure when I first became aware of an antiquarian bookseller in San Gabriel…she compiled an annual booklet, “200 Years of Cookery” and I bought some books from her—this was another revelation; the booklets were reasonably priced and became my wish books. I remember visiting her once at her home in San Gabriel; I don’t remember the year—or who drove me there. I can’t imagine Jim taking me there—and Bob was familiar with San Gabriel. I still have a 1974 copy of “200 years of Cookery” and only thought, last night, to look up Marian Gore on Google. I learned that she passed away in 2009 at the age of 95. It’s quite possible that I met her, at her home in San Gabriel, with Bob accompanying me. I met him in 1986 and around that time had begun to focus on cookbooks compiled by women’s clubs and churches.

However, I discovered that I was as interested in reading cookbook catalogues as I was in reading the cookbooks themselves. Edward R. Hamilton publishes catalogues of books –including those devoted solely to cookbooks.

I would begin collecting L.A. County Fair cookbooks in the 1980s when Bob and I began entering my jellies, jams, pickled cherries and cantaloupe in the annual fair competition. If your recipes won a first, second, or third prize ribbon, you were invited to submit your recipe for the next fair competition the following year. My curiosity was piqued and I began searching for the L.A. County fair cookbooks published before I began entering it – and I did find them….but I stopped collecting the books when I was no longer able to enter the fair or get to the fair when it was being held at the Pomona Fairgrounds.

But I was still curious – what about cookbooks published by other county fairs? And what about STATE FAIR ANNUAL COOKBOOKS? (To the best of my knowledge, Texas publishes the best State Fair cookbooks…at least they did when I was broadening my search for anything fair related). The glory of fair cookbooks is that they are always reasonably priced. And this, my friends, was one of those crossroads I mentioned earlier.

As for Helen’s cookbook, also mentioned previously—it was through a penpal living in England that I learned who Helen was and something about her life; she and her husband never had any children of their own, which probably explains how her exquisite handwritten cookbook ended up in a bookstore. What charmed me most were the detailed descriptions of her dinner parties, who was invited, how everyone was given a task to perform, and what she served to them—including the recipes.

And it was because of Helen’s cookbook that I began compiling 3-ring binders of recipes…some clipped from magazines, others from other sources—until there are now over 50 of these 3-ring binders stuffed full of recipes. There are twelve binders full of cookie recipes alone. But back in the 1970s I began keeping descriptions of MY own dinner parties, who was invited, what I served and how I prepared the various dishes. I think I kept these dinner party descriptions up until the 1980s when I came to another crossroad.

For years I collected gingerbread house recipes from magazines (all of which ended up in one of my 3-ring binders) until one year Bob and I decided to build our own gingerbread house; the first house we created wasn’t too great but the next one we built was a beauty. When a visiting four-year old great-niece broke off pieces of the chicklet fence, we decided not to re-build and fed it to the birds. Bob was a genius at working on graph paper to copy designs in the magazines to a bigger size. He would make and cut out all the pieces to the gingerbread house. Together we would create gingerbread dough and roll it out to lay the pieces down on the gingerbread dough, cut the pieces out and bake them. It was an enormous undertaking! I’m sorry now that we didn’t attempt to enter THAT into the L.A. County Fair. Well, that’s how I started collecting cookbooks devoted to the topic of gingerbread houses. There were a multitude of other gingerbread creations you could make, not just gingerbread houses. One year we attempted a gingerbread dollhouse that was featured in one of the houses. That was an unusually wet winter and the house sort of collapsed from the dampness. Since then, I buy kits for my grandchildren and me to put together and decorate. And I still like to read the gingerbread house cookbooks!

Do I read cookbooks like a novel? Absolutely. Doesn’t everybody?

–Sandra Lee Smith

BREAD AND CAKES FROM HOMEGROWN VEGETABLES

About ten or fifteen years ago, when Bob & I were still living in the house in Arleta, he had a few bumper crops of vegetables—in particular was the crop of zucchinis; they seemed to go from a nice supermarket-style length to the size of a newborn baby over night. (In fact, I once took a big zucchini to work wrapped in a baby blanket to give to a co-worker as a joke. But those giant zucchinis are no joking matter!

Last year, Kelly’s yellow summer squash took over in Kelly’s garden—it was impossible to keep up with them. Last June, I went to a surprise birthday party for my girlfriend Mary Jaynne that was held in a restaurant so I put a squash in each of twenty paper lunch bags, with “door prize” written on the bags with a Sharpee pen. I gave away all twenty squashes and could have given away twenty more! Home grown vegetables are greatly appreciated by those who don’t have a vegetable garden. I suggested to my son that he plant zucchini seeds this year and so he did. So far I have baked two zucchini cakes and six zucchini breads. I have a ton of zucchini recipes (in fact, including a cookbook titled “500 Zucchini Recipes”—not to mention a recipe box filled to overflowing with zucchini recipes I have collected for many years.

I have a lot more recipes to experiment with; a penpal wrote that her mother always used some zucchini as filler in canning recipes—like mushrooms, zucchini takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with. I am about to try a zucchini jam and a zucchini marmalade recipe—meantime, let me share some of my favorite “vegetable” bread and cake recipes with you.

Everyone knows how good carrot cake is—I don’t have to tell you that. I will tell you that a homemade carrot cake is ten times (or more) better than any carrot cake mix (unless you doctor it, which I HAVE done when I was trying to get a carrot cake baked in a hurry).

My best carrot cake recipe was given to me by someone at Beachy Avenue School back in the day when my two youngest sons were in the primary grades at Beachy School (in Arleta). It was featured in the Beachy Avenue School cookbook, “Recipe Roundup” which the PTA published in 1971.

When my girlfriend Rosalia’s daughter, Adena, was getting married, I was asked to make two cakes—one “the 14 carat” carrot cake Let me tell you, getting a carrot cake—with a cup and a half of cooking oil in the cake mix—frosted is no easy matter. I put about three or four layers of frosting on the cake to get it covered.

So, in memory of the Beachy Avenue PTA’s cookbook, “Recipe Roundup”, here is Barbara Augustus’ “14” Carat Cake—still a great recipe if you are not intimidated by the amount of cooking oil that was in many of our recipes back in the day—when we didn’t know anything about fat grams:

“14” Carat Cake

2 cups carrots, (finely grated)
2 cups flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 ½ cups cooking oil (nowadays I use Canola oil)
4 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
¾ cup crushed pineapple (drained)
½ cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans, your choice) – optional

Mix all ingredients together and pour into a greased and floured 8×13 or 9×13 inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees 40-50 minutes.

(*Sandy’s cooknote – carrot cake is excellent with a cream cheese frosting which wasn’t featured with Barbara’s cake – but elsewhere in the cookbook is the following Cream Cheese frosting contributed by another Beachy PTA mother):

1 box powdered sugar (4 cups)
8 ounce package cream cheese (at room temp)
½ pound butter (2 sticks butter at room temp)
1 tsp vanilla extract
A little milk or evaporated milk to thin out as needed
Cream butter and cream cheese. Add vanilla. Beat in powdered sugar and add a little milk to thin for frosting texture.
**
My updated carrot cake version came from a Weight Watcher cookbook:

The really good WW carrot cake with frosting is yummy!

3 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 TBSP pumpkin pie spice
2 TSP baking powder
1 TSP baking soda
½ tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 cup plain fat free yogurt
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup packed light brown sugar (or ½ cup packed Splenda brown sugar)
½ cup canola oil
2 TBSP grated orange zest
1 TBSP vanilla extract
2 cups shredded carrot (about 3 medium)
1 cup golden raisins
1 (8 oz) pkg fat free cream cheese
3 oz light cream cheese
1 ½ cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven 375 Degrees. Spray a large rectangular baking dish with non fat spray and dust with flour. Combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder and baking soda, and salt in a medium size bowl.
With an electric mixer on high speed, beat eggs, yogurt, applesauce, brown sugar, oil, 1 tbsp of the orange zest, and vanilla in a large bowl until blended. With mixer on low speed add flour mix just until blended (2-3 mins). Stir in carrots and raisins. Pour into prepared pan. Bake until toothpick comes out clean (about 35 mins). Cool completely on a wire rack.

To make frosting, mix the cream cheeses and powdered sugar on high speed until blended. Add remaining 1 tbsp orange zest…spread over cake when the cake is completely cool.

To make zucchini cake, substitute shredded zucchini for the carrots.

From MY Turnaround Program Cookbook by Weight Watcher
5 points per serving.
**
The best chocolate zucchini cake recipe I have found is something of a mystery so I may rename it “Mystery Chocolate Zucchini Cake” because after I found it – and printed a copy for my files—I was unable to find it online again. This recipe originally appeared in Bon Appetit Magazine in 1995. This is the yummiest recipe – and you can play around with the added ingredients if you want—I usually substitute chopped pecans for the chopped walnuts because there are people in my life who can’t eat walnuts.

To make Mystery Chocolate Zucchini Cake you will need:

2 ¼ cups sifted all purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 ¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs (at room temperature)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup cooking oil (such as Canola)
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk
2 cups grated unpeeled zucchini (2 ½ medium*)
1 (6 oz) package (about 1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips)
¾ cup chopped nuts
Preheat oven 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 13x9x2” baking dish. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into medium size bowl. Beat sugar, butter and cooking oil in a large bowl until well blended. Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract. Mix in dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk in 3 additions each. Mix in grated zucchini. Pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips and nuts over the top. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool cake completely in pan.

(Sandra’s cooknote* the Zucchini you buy in the supermarket is a lot smaller than what will crop up in a home grown garden. I’ve found that half of one large zucchini will yield about two cups shredded zucchini. The zucchini pop up in the garden faster than anyone can use them in a recipe.
I really like a dark chocolate frosting on top of this cake—I have to confess, I have a plastic container of homemade chocolate frosting in the frig – ready to use whenever I need some of it. It’s still a good cake without frosting (some whipped cream on top makes a good dessert)
**
Zucchini Brownies

• 1/2 cup vegetable oil
• 1 1/2 cups white sugar
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 cups shredded zucchini
• 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
• 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1/4 cup margarine
• 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
• 1/4 cup milk
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9×13 inch baking pan.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla until well blended. Combine the flour, 1/2 cup cocoa, baking soda and salt; stir into the sugar mixture. Fold in the zucchini and walnuts. Spread evenly into the prepared pan. Bake until done. **

In my file box is a recipe for Broadway Zucchini Bread. The Broadway was an upscale department store for many years and one of the features at the downtown Los Angeles store was a tea room where the upscale ladies, after finishing their shopping (which they probably had delivered), could have lunch—or tea. It was where the Broadway Zucchini Bread was featured. This is a fairly simple recipe.

To make Broadway Zucchini Bread, you will need:

½ cup cooking oil (I use Canola)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup grated unpeeled zucchini
1½ cups flour
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder

Blend oil and sugar together. Beat eggs into mixture one at a time. Place grated zucchini in a separate bowl. Fold egg mixture into zucchini. Sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda and baking powder. Gradually add flour mixture to zucchini mixture. Mix well. Pour batter into 2 greased 8×4” loaf pans. Bake at 325 degrees 1 hour. Makes 2.

CLIFF HOUSE ZUCCHINI BREAD

2 cups sugar
1 cup cooking oil
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups zucchini, peeled and grated and drained
1 8-oz cans crushed pineapple, drained
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts

Beat together sugar and oil until blended. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Beat in vanilla. Stir in zucchini and pineapple. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir into zucchini mixture just until blended. Stir in nuts. Turn mixture into two greased 8×4” loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees about one hour or until cake tester or toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool slightly. Loosen sides of loaves from pan; remove and cool completely on wire racks before slicing. Makes 2 loaves.

(*Sandra’s Cooknote: Cliff House is a seaside hotel up the California coast, near Ventura. There are several Cliff Houses featured in Google; I think the one in Ventura is the recipe that appeared in the S.O.S. L.A. Times column in August of 1981 and is the recipe in my files. This is one of the few zucchini recipes in which the zucchini is peeled first.

I made a double batch of this recipe a few days ago—I had no idea that a double batch would produce so much zucchini bread! I’m giving loaves to friends!)

Zucchini Chocolate Cake

Here is another zucchini chocolate cake recipe from my files. I like this one due to the grated orange peel and a little nutmeg. Much as I like cinnamon, nutmeg imparts another delicate flavor to whatever you are baking. To make this zucchini chocolate cake you will need:

2 cups flour
1 tsp EACH baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon,
½ tsp each nutmeg and salt
1/4 cup cocoa
3 eggs
1 tsp each vanilla extract and grated orange peel
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups shredded unpeeled zucchini (3 or 4 small or half of a large one)
1 cup walnuts or pecans

Use shredded raw or pureed cooked zucchini (gives a finer texture) Preheat oven 350.
Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and cocoa and set aside.
In large bowl beat eggs very light. Gradually add sugar and beat until fluffy and pale ivory in color. Slowly beat in oil.

Stir in flour mixture alternately with buttermilk and zucchini. Blend well. Add nuts (if using). Put into sheet cake pan or 2 9″ layer cake pans. Bake 350 40-45 minutes for layers, 1 hr for sheet. Layers: fill and frost with icing. Sheet cake: while warm drizzle with orange glaze.
GLAZE: Stir in bowl, 1 cup powdered sugar, 5 tsp orange juice, 1 tsp shredded orange peel and 1 TBSP hot melted butter. **

You may be tired of reading zucchini recipes, especially if you don’t have a bumper crop growing in your garden—but I want to share one more recipe for zucchini muffins.
To make Zucchini Muffins you will need:

3 cups grated zucchini
1 ½ cups cooking oil
3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
4 eggs
½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
½ tsp nutmeg
1 cup chopped nuts

Combine ingredients in a large bowl in order given. Mix until just blended. Turn into 30 well greased or paper lined muffin cups. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes* or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

(Sandy’s cooknote* The recipe says bake for 45 minutes. I would check on them after 30 minutes and if you can, switch the muffin pans- top to bottom and bottom to top, so they bake evenly). **

Red Beet Chocolate Cake Recipe

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups cooked and pureed fresh beets
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sifted powdered sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch cake pan and set aside.
Mix together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside. Combine the sugar, eggs, and oil in a large bowl. Stir vigorously (those who use electric mixers can use one here on medium speed for 2 minutes). Beat in the beets, melted chocolate, and vanilla.

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the beet mixture, beating well after each addition. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool in the pan. Cover and let stand overnight to improve the flavor. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Let the cake cool completely and store in a sealed container or cake safe. This cake will stay fresh for 3 to 4 days. Serves 8 to 12

This recipe turned up in a Grit magazine, which I have been subscribing to even though many of the articles are about things like raising chickens which I haven’t figured out will go with two dogs and a cat. Years ago we raised chickens at the Arleta house & it was wonderful until dogs managed to get into the chicken coop and killed all of my laying hens.

I am about to try a recipe for making a mock apple pie using the zucchini slices as a substitute for the apples. I’ll let you know how this one turns out!

—Sandra Lee Smith

**

EXPIRATION DATES AND OTHER FOIBLES OF THE CANNED FOOD INDUSTRY

What, exactly, is it about expiration dates on the packages of cookies or crackers, or expiration dates on canned food prod products? Actually, for what it’s worth, dozens of different kinds of expiration dated-foods can frequently be found on marked down grocery items and I veer directly towards them. I have found some fantastic sale items this way. In the fresh product section, I often find lettuce, yogurt, cottage cheese and other dairy items marked down as much as half price. One of my best finds a year ago were large bottles of Karo light corn syrup for 75c—more than half off. Then I began thinking about all the uses for light corn syrup during the holidays –but when I went back to the store, all of those bottles of karo syrup had been bought. Now I try to pay closer attention. A similar situation took place when my daughter in law bought 2-lb bags of brown sugar. I bought 4 or 5 bags and when I went back to the store, intending to buy whatever remained –and they had all been sold. And the reason those items were marked way down was that the manufacturer was introducing a new plastic bag. And if you worry about having too many bags of raisins or brown sugar, you can re-bag the products into glass jars. The major complaint that I hear from friends or family member is that “the product inside won’t be any good” This is probably the food industry’s number one “the joke’s is on you”

The reason I wanted to share these letters with you was due to comments that appeared in Cook’s Illustrated Magazine March/April in -2012. I have been contending for years that canned food with long-ago expiration dates, no dents or flaws in the container—are still safe to eat. Two of my grandchildren check the dates on everything edible (consequently, if I am preparing a food with a canned food content, I put the canned food into a baking dish and bury the cans at the bottom of the trash can).

What did Cooks Illustrated have to say about this issue?
A subscriber wrote to say she recently used a can of chicken broth and later discovered it had a “best buy” date of several years past–but the product tasted fine and no one got sick.

Says Cooks Illustrated “The best buy” printed on some labels is not a hard and fast rule; it refers strictly to the manufacturers recommendation for peak quality, not safety concerns. In theory, as long as cans are in good condition and have been stored under the right conditions (in a dry place between 40 and 70 degrees, their contents should remain safe to use indefinitely.

That said, natural chemicals in foods continually react with the metal in cans and over time canned food’s taste, texture and nutritional value will gradually deteriorate.

The question is when. Manufacturers have an incentive to cite “a best buy” date that is a conservative estimate of when the food may lose quality. But it’s possible that some canned foods will last for decades without any dip in taste or nutrition.

In a shelf life study conducted by the National Food Processors Association and cited in FDA Consumer, even 100 year old canned food was found to be remarkably well preserved with a drop in some nutrients but not others….”
I’m sure there have been or will be studies to detract from the above study – my point is just this: I have grandchildren who read all the labels and if any of the cereal or other breakfast food has an expiration date of even one week, they won’t eat it. They have been so indoctrinated that no one can tell them any different. (So I transfer food, including cereal, to jars whenever possible. No expiration dates. No problem). But I am also a believer in moving canned foods around so that the oldest in the shelves is up front and will be used next.
This also brings me up to date on another kind of canned food product – those you make yourself, using up fresh fruit when you have an abundance of a crop—or when a friend has more apples, pears, peaches, tomatoes—or any other food they can’t use. Actually, it’s not a matter of having too many apples, tomatoes or whatever—but rather, it’s being gifted with the neighbor or friend’s overflow. I just love being presented with whatever overflow a friend or neighbor can offer to us; Last summer, I dehydrated chili peppers and green bell peppers—other bell peppers were converted into stuffed bell peppers that were cooked, then frozen. We froze an enormous amount of bell peppers and cooked fresh corn on the cob to have for dinners. We picked little red tomatoes and I converted almost all of these into tomato sauce. There is a huge amount of work but an equal amount of satisfaction for having converted vegetables into tomato sauce, canned tomato sauce with hot sauce added to it, working on tomatoes until I had done something with all of it.

We have been giving serious consideration to “what will be next”. Mind you, my garden was a fraction of the size of my son’s in 2013. A survey of all the jars of tomatoes and sauces is very satisfying. (And doesn’t even take into consideration the canning of fruit juices in preparation for jelly and jam making. But that’s another story!

Sandra Lee Smith

STILL JANUARY AND COLD EVERYWHERE

MAKING CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
(When it’s cold, bake cookies)

According to the weather reports, the only warm place in the USA is Florida, so if you are in Florida and not feeling the cold, you may skip this blog post if you don’t want to have your oven on-—then again, this is a good cookie recipe!

Some time ago, I found an article in the Food Network magazine featuring several different chocolate chip cookie recipes. I hedged, at first –how do you improve on perfection? And isn’t the Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe on the bags of Nestle’s morsels the perfect recipe. Well, yessss, maybe – and you can even tweak that recipe if you are so inclined. I learned a baking secret from a girl at work years ago – she made the Nestle’s Toll House cookies but under baked them. This takes some time to get it exactly right – too underdone and the cookies will be doughy. But get them just right and bet you can’t eat just one.

Well, I was reading the chocolate chip cookie article some time later and decided to try the different recipes—do my own taste testing. The first one I tried is a crispy chocolate chip cookie recipe (and it really helps to have the color photographs of the cookies to look at).

To make the crispy chocolate chip cookies you will need

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 stick unsalted butter, softened (it will soften faster if you cut the stick of butter into small pieces)
¼ cup vegetable oil (I use Canola)
1 cup superfine sugar*
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract and 1 tsp water (a shot glass with these two items placed into it is a good way to measure the ingredients without spilling anything, if you tend to spill things the way I do—and this particular shot glass belonged to Chef Louis Szathmary, so I use it for good luck!)
2 large eggs at room temperature (they will warm up faster in warm water)
1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. I use parchment paper and line several baking sheets with it.

Whisk the flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium size bowl.

Beat the butter, vegetable oil, superfine sugar and brown sugar in a mixing bowl at medium speed until creamy, about 5 minutes. (Set the timer for 5 minutes and go do something else). The mixture will look a bit separated at this point. Beat in 1 teaspoon water and the 1 tsp vanilla extract until smooth. Reduce the mixer speed and beat in the eggs one at a time until just incorporated (do not overbeat). Beat in the flour mixture until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.

Drop tablespoons of dough onto the prepared baking sheets (I use cookie scoops and didn’t use the biggest one but the one next to that, and scraped the dough to remove any excess—this way all the cookies were the same size). Bake until golden brown, rotating the baking sheets halfway through. The original recipe says to bake 20 minutes. I discovered the hard way that 20 minutes burns mine**. I have it down to 12 minutes, rotating 2 baking sheets at 6 minutes and also turning them front to back. Cool the baked cookies completely on the baking sheets before removing.

• I didn’t have superfine sugar on hand, so I poured 2 cups of granulated sugar in the blender and blended it for a short time.

• Oven temperatures can vary; my youngest son works for an appliance store and tells me that new stoves and have a variance of 50 degrees plus or minus and still be considered acceptable–and I discovered the hard way that being 3,000 ft above sea level can also affect baking time. I still haven’t figured out a way to make candy without having it burn. Vest solution is an oven thermometer and for making candy, a candy thermometer is a must.

Inasmuch as I am a glutton for punishment, I doubled the recipe last night so that I could make half “without ingredients” (in my family, ingredients are anything extra—like pecans, white chips or peanut butter chips.) The second half were baked with pecans and peanut butter chips added to the dough. These won’t spread as much as the batch “without ingredients” but were still very tasty.
I’m still conducting taste tests on the cookies. Either one is very good with a glass of cold milk! —Sandra Lee Smith

PS – some Smith family history; when son Steve was about 6 years old, he was reading the label on a can of soup and exclaimed, “Mom! Do you know, this soup has INGREDIENTS in it?”

“WHAT’S CHRISTMAS WITHOUT COOKIES?” ASKS THE COOKIE LADY

What’s Christmas without cookies ? Christmas cookies to share with family, friends, and coworkers—perhaps some cookies for the mailman (or the mail lady). I also give cookies to my manicurist. Each of my sons receives a tin of his very own cookies—chocolate chip, no “ingredients” (ingredients are nuts, raisins, coconut or any of those other yucky things that I love so much. When my sons were children, they took containers of cookies to their teachers.

A few years ago, I bought Disney-theme cookie jars and filled them with different kinds of cookies. Along with my sons and their families, one of the cookie jars went to my younger sister and her family, who also live in California. Other cookies are wrapped in baskets or tins—or whatever suitable containers I find (I search for cookie containers throughout the year. Some of our best bargains have been containers bought at Target, after the holidays, for 90% off).

When I got married in 1958, I had one Betty Crocker cookbook and a boxful of recipe pamphlets. That Christmas, General Mills published a small booklet called “Betty Crocker’s Holiday Almanac” – I kept it, and began saving the Christmas recipe sections in my December magazines; Woman’s Day always published a tear-out cookie/candy recipe section—the earliest I have was published in1962. These are in 3-ring binders that have somehow grown to 8 thick binders, just with cookie recipes.

What I had, in 1958, was a start – enough recipes to bake some cookies and a few batches of fudge. When we moved to California in 1961 we had little more than a car-trunk full of clothing and the baby’s bed—but I somehow managed to do some holiday baking.

In 1963 – after moving back to Ohio in March, returning to California in December-
We didn’t even have furniture (much less a tree)…but I baked cookies; we invited friends over and everyone sat on the floor drinking coffee and eating Christmas cookies.

From these austere beginnings, my holiday cookie baking grew until it began to reach mammoth proportions. In the mid 60s, a girlfriend and I began making cookie dough in September, and freezing the batches. When we thought we had a goodly amount of cookie dough (I think about ten or twelve batches each) we’d embark on a cookie-baking-marathon. We did our baking late at night at her house, around the corner from me, because her husband worked nights and it was the only time I could get out of the house—when all four of my children were asleep. When we finished, we had filled all of our Tupperware containers and anything else we could find to use for storage. We’d divvy up the cookies, giving burnt ones to our husbands and children to eat and were ready to pack our own cookies into smaller containers for gift-giving.

We were purists, in those days—everything was made from scratch, with real butter and only the best of all ingredients—no imitation vanilla for us! I think there was one frightful year (1975?) when sugar was $5.00 for a 5-lb bag and we had to search for cookie recipes using honey or molasses.

In the 80s, along came cookie exchanges—frankly, these don’t always work out the way you’d like; someone always shows up with store-bought cookies (“I didn’t have time to bake”) or cookies with burned bottoms that no one wants. In theory or in the women’s magazines, cookie exchanges are always fantastic. Take it from me; it doesn’t always happen. You can tell people repeatedly that it’s a Christmas cookie exchange and you want them to make Christmas cookies and you can bet that over half of the contributions will be ordinary (non-Christmas) cookies. In my women’s magazines, cookie exchanges are always so extraordinary – maybe the secret would be to tell everyone that a magazine journalist and photographer will be at the exchange, in order to assure everyone bringing Christmas cookies.

In the 90s, along came grandchildren and my niece and two nephews, children of my younger sister who herself is young enough to be one of my children (I was 21 when she was born). The arrival of these children opened new vistas for cookie baking. We have baked cookies (children love to make cut-out cookies) which are wildly decorated with sprinkles (children believe that more is better). We also began a new family tradition of having a cookie-and-craft day sometime before Christmas, but also for Valentine’s Day and Easter. I make large (holiday appropriate) cookies for them to decorate and we do some kind of craft project that “goes with” the cookie—for instance, when they decorated big tree-shaped cookies, they also decorated small artificial Christmas trees to take home). This has turned into a big event not only for my grandchildren and my sister’s children, but also for my godson, and some of my friends’ children. (The big cookie idea actually has its roots back when my two younger sons were in first and second grades, and I would make enough large cookies—and plenty of frosting—for all the children in their classes to decorate a cookie to take home).

Nowadays, I admit—I’ve learned a lot of short-cuts, such as making cookies from cake mixes. There are entire cookbooks dedicated to teaching you how to bake wonderful tasty cookies from a cake mix! And in recent years (I am confessing this publicly) I have been stocking up on refrigerated sugar cookie dough and using it for our cut-out cookies.

What you have to do, though, is let the cookie dough come to room temperature, mix in as much flour as possible (usually about half a cup or more to one package of refrigerated cookie dough) – mix in it until it’s blended, then shape into several balls and re-refrigerate the dough until its very firm. I usually work with 2-3 packages of refrigerated cookie dough at a time, Adding flour and sometimes something like a little nutmeg, then reshaping it into balls and putting it back into the refrigerator to firm up. Normally, those refrigerated cookie dough cookies spread too much and lose their shape–the added flour will prevent that from happening. Last year my grandson’s school was selling Masterpiece cookie dough for a fundraiser – my goodness! That sugar cookie dough of theirs was excellent.

There was a time I would have turned my nose up at pre-made cookie dough but if you work with it enough, you can still make really good cut out cookies.

And here’s a tip: You can take sugar cookie dough and turn out dozens of different cookies with it–all you need is some imagination and a lot of sprinkles, jimmies, chopped walnuts or pecans and melted chocolate.

I still search all year long for sales on tins and other containers, for sprinkles and jimmies when they are on sale after a holiday, or for cookie cutters on sale half price after Christmas.

And even though I have retired, former coworkers know they can expect to receive a tin of cookies from me. I also take large containers of cookies to the Claims Department, where I worked. My friend Tina used to say that whenever she took some cookies home, her husband asked, “Are these from the cookie lady?” It’s a good title. I think I’ll keep it.

You can mix and freeze most batches of cookie dough so it’s never too early to get a head start, but before I begin mixing, I always have to go through my cookie files and decide what I’ll make this year. Some recipes are a given; two of my sons want only chocolate chip cookies, no nuts, no other “weird” ingredients (their description, not mine. “Weird” would be something like chocolate-covered raisins). Close friends put in their favorite requests, such as Crispy Little Lemon Wafers or Mexican Wedding Cakes. Bob liked Springerle; it reminded him of his childhood. A few years ago, I found a beautiful large Springerle board at store in Santa Barbara—and it was on sale! A lot of people don’t like Springerle, which has Anise seeds and extract in it. The finished product is a hard dry cookie, good for dunking. I, on the other hand, am very partial to those paper-thin Monrovian spice cookies that I can never get thin enough with my rolling pin.

I make a lot of sugar cut-out cookies and this is a good project to do with grandchildren. One year in the 1960s, I left butter cutout cookies, all freshly decorated, drying on every available surface in the kitchen and dining room. When we got up the next morning, we found our 5 year old son had eaten the icing off every single cookie. (He didn’t like to be reminded of this).

I have to make a batch of diamond-shaped butter cookies encrusted with finely chopped walnuts and sugar; my paternal grandmother always made these and the cookie cutter I use to make them was hers.

We make lots of cookies throughout the year and you can generally find the cookie jar in the kitchen filled to the top, but Christmas is the time to make special cookies, the ones you don’t make any old time…like Spritz, and chocolate pinwheels, candy canes and gingerbread boys.

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. In the 1940s and 50s, when I was growing up, there was very little money. We recycled gift wrap and ribbon, ironing out the wrinkles. We made our own gift tags with stickers that didn’t stick on anything else. Once a year, I took my two younger brothers shopping in downtown Cincinnati. We rode the bus there, and visited all the department store Santas to get free candy canes, then did all of our shopping at the 5&10 cent stores. Somehow we managed to buy presents for everyone in the family with our meager savings.

My mother didn’t shop for a tree until Christmas Eve day, when she could get it half-price. We never saw the tree until it was decorated, with presents piled all around. We were generally kept out of the house, visiting my grandmother, until my father came to pick us up. Somehow we always got there just after Santa Claus left – “Hurry, if you look out in the back you might catch a glimpse!”

Christmas was celebrated Christmas Eve and we have carried on the tradition. I tell the grandkids when they arrive, “You just missed Santa! If you look out the back door, maybe you can catch a glimpse of him!”

For those of you who want to start creating your own holiday traditions, cookies are a good way to start. You don’t have to buy a lot of cookbooks (although I do have a lot of cookie cookbooks) – nor do you have to go and buy all the November/December women’s magazines featuring cookie recipes (although these are inspiring and great to collect in a 3-ring binder) – you can find all the recipes anyone could possibly ever dream about right on the internet. One of my favorite websites is http://www.allrecipes.com but I promise you, there are many others.

But if you can’t stand the thought of using refrigerated cookie dough, here is an old tried-and-true favorite cookie dough that I have been making for decades (before the refrigerated stuff came along):

WHITE CHRISTMAS COOKIES

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, well beaten
4 cups all purpose flour-sifted
1/8 tsp each nutmeg & cinnamon

Cream butter, gradually add sugar; beat with electric mixer until light and
Fluffy. Beat in eggs. Sift together dry ingredients and stir into creamed
Mixture. Store overnight in covered container. Roll dough very thin (I
Roll it out between 2 sheets of wax paper that have been dusted with flour). Cut into shapes. Bake at 350 Degrees 1-13 minutes. Makes 16 dozen small cookies.

*I always use parchment paper on the baking sheets; this eliminates ever
needing to butter the cookie sheets. Always cool cookies on wire racks.
When completely cool, they can be stacked in plastic storage containers.

EASY TOFFEE CRACKER BARS

Easy bars with graham crackers, pecans, and other ingredients. Technically speaking, I wouldn’t call this a cookie – it’s more of a confection. But these are wildly popular with everyone.
Ingredients:
• 20 graham crackers (individual squares), regular or chocolate
• 1 1/2 sticks butter (6 ounces)
• 3/4 cup brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1/2 cup chopped pecans
Preparation:
Line a jelly roll pan (10×15-inch) with foil; arrange graham crackers in the pan in a single layer. Combine butter and sugar in a heavy medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Boil for 2 minutes; stir in vanilla and chopped pecans. Pour the hot mixture over crackers and spread evenly. Bake 10 minutes at 350°. Remove at once from pan to flat surface to cool. When cool, break into smaller pieces.

CLUB CRACKER BARS

1 box club crackers
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup cream or condensed milk
1 cup crushed graham crackers
1 cup coconut
1/2 cup nuts, chopped
1/4 tsp salt

Line a 13×9 inch pan with whole club crackers. Mix remaining ingredients together. Bring to a boil stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, until thick. Pour over club crackers. Top with more whole crackers.

Icing:
5 tbsp butter
1/2 cup milk or cream
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
cocoa (optional)

Mix ingredients together. Beat well. Frost the crackers. Cut into squares.

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ORANGE SLICE SQUARES

4 eggs
¼ cup milk
1 pound light brown sugar
2 cups flour
1 ½ cups candied orange slices, chopped
1 cup chopped pecans

Beat eggs, add milk and brown sugar and beat well. Sift flour and add to mixture reserving enough flour to mix with chopped orange slices and pecans. Fold into mixture. Pour batter onto a 15x10x1” well greased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool. Spread icing evening on top. Cut into squares.

Icing

1 tbsp butter, softened
3 tbsp evaporated milk
1 tbsp orange rind
2 cups powdered sugar

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

LEMON BISCOTTI

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
3 TBSP water
2 TBSP canola oil
4 tsp lemon zest
½ tsp lemon extract
½ cup confectioners sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
yellow sugar (optional)

Preheat oven 375 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray. Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a bowl. With an electric mixer on high speed, beat the granulated sugar, egg, water, oil, lemon zest and lemon extract until blended. On low speed, add the flour mixture, beating just until combined.

Place dough in 2 (12”) logs, 3” apart on the sheet. Bake until golden, 20 minutes. Cool the logs on the sheet for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board. Cut each log crosswise into ½” slices. Arrange slices in a single layer on the sheet and bake until lightly browned, 15-18 minutes. Cool on a rack.

For the icing, whisk confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Drizzle on the biscotti; sprinkle at once with yellow sugar (if using). Let stand until icing hardens, about 2 hours.

This last recipe is for the Christmas tree cookies I baked and Savannah decorated for my sister’s cookie exchange one year:

Savannah’s Christmas Tree Cookies

4 1-lb packages of refrigerated sugar cookie dough
1 to 1 ½ cups of flour
Butter cream frosting
Various sprinkles

Let refrigerated cookie dough come to room temperature in a large bowl. When soft enough to handle, mix in flour to make a stiff dough. Shape into four balls of dough and re-refrigerate until firm. Roll out and cut with tree shaped cutters. Bake at 350 8 to 10 minutes (until just brown around the edges). Cool on racks. Spread with butter cream frosting that has been tinted green with food coloring. Decorate as desired. Makes about 6 dozen (more if you have a smaller tree cutter than what we were using).
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One final suggestion about baking and decorating cookies–if you have children or grandchildren or even neighborhood children – to decorate cookies with, by all means do. These are precious memories they will always cherish. And so will you!

Happy Cookie baking!

Sandy (The Cookie Lady)