Category Archives: 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

MORE BACK TO BASICS RECIPES (REVISITED)

The following was posted in July, 2009—since then I have often received inquiries and questions from like-minded friends and relatives (mostly the nieces) – asking about very basic recipes. I realize that something posted in July of 2009 might not be on the tip of the tongue in 2013—and I really want to get a master list made of all the blog entries to make it easier to find what you want. Meantime, here are some of the basic recipes. I suggest printing them and keeping the information in a notebook

Since posting the first “Back to Basics” I began finding a lot more “basic” recipes in my files. What I mean about basic recipes is those things you can easily make from scratch instead of using a prepackaged mix that generally costs a lot more than making your own – or in some instances, such as one with my younger sister, when she wanted to make something like tacos for dinner and discovered she was out of taco seasoning mix. Now she makes her own taco seasoning mix all the time. (Another bonus to making your own – there’s often no telling how long the seasoning mix was on the store shelves or in a warehouse before you bought it). When you mix your own, you know how old the spices or seasonings in your kitchen are. Anyway, here are some more basic recipes that you can print and keep in your own recipe box.

MOCK SOUR CREAM

You will need:

2 cups low fat or no fat cottage cheese
¼ cup plain yogurt
eggbeaters to equal 1 egg
1 TBSP lemon juice
1 TBSP water
½ tsp dry mustard
¼ tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp hot sauce

Combine all ingredients in a blender container and process until smooth. Use for potato topping or dips.

Sandy’s Cooknote: The beauty of this recipe is that you can use no fat cottage cheese and by using egg beaters, you have a VERY LOW calorie/no fat recipe. The original recipe called for 1 egg–given that you aren’t cooking anything, I have changed it to eggbeaters to equal one egg.
**

BLENDER CARAMEL SAUCE

¾ CUP brown sugar
2 TBSP soft butter or margarine
¼ tsp salt
½ cup hot evaporated milk

Put all ingredients into blender container. Cover and process at mix until sugar is dissolved.
**
SEASONED CRUMBS

You will need:

2 CUPS fine dry bread crumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp garlic salt
¼ cup parsley flakes, crumbled

Combine spices. Mix well. Pack loosely in jar. Use as coating for veal, pork, poultry or fish to be sautéed. Makes about 3 cups.
***

SEASONED PEPPER

You will need:

6 TBSP coarse ground black pepper
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar (optional)
½ tsp dried sweet red pepper
½ tsp dried finely minced onion
1 tsp paprika
1/3 tsp dried sweet green pepper

Combine spices and stir with wooden spoon. Pack tightly in glass jars. Makes about ½ cup.

Sandy’s cooknote: Ok, I do a lot of cooking but have never heard of dried sweet red or green pepper. BUT I think you could easily make your own. I chop up bell peppers when they are on sale and freeze them. I think I could just as easily dry a little of each, red and green in my oven or dehydrator to have it on hand. I’ll give this a try and get back to you on the results.
**

CREOLE RUB

You will need:

1 TBSP salt
1 ½ tsp garlic powder
1 ½ tsp onion powder
1 ½ tsp paprika
1 ¼ tsp dried thyme
1 tsp round red pepper
¾ tsp black pepper
¾ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp ground bay leaves
¼ tsp chili powder

Combine all ingredients. Store in an airtight container. Sprinkle on sea food, chicken or beef before grilling. Yield ¼ cup.
**

JERK RUB

You will need:

1 ½ TBSP sugar
1 TBSP onion powder
1 TBSP dried thyme
2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 tsp ground red pepper
1 tsp salt
¾ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves

Combine all ingredients. Store mixture in an airtight container. Sprinkle on chicken or seafood before grilling. Yield 1/3 cup.
**

HOMEMADE SEAFOOD SPICE

You will need:

2 TBSP garlic powder
1 TBSP onion powder
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp black better
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ tsp sugar

Mix. Store in an airtight container.

Sandy’s cooknote: You will note that all of these recipes advise keeping the spice or seasoning in airtight containers. You don’t have to go out and buy a lot of jars or plastic containers. I save all kinds and sizes of glass jars when they are empty of what ever came with them. Wash them really good and remove the labels. When you put a seasoning into one of them, label it and include the date so you will remember when you made it. When I had babies, those baby food jars really came in handy for things like seasoning mixes.
**

Emeril’s BABY BAM SEASONING

You will need:

3 TBSP paprika
2 TBSP EACH salt, dried parsley, onion powder and garlic powder, oregano, basil and thyme
½ tsp celery salt

Stir well. Store in an airtight container.
**

ZESTY CHICKEN SEASONING BLEND

You will need:

2 TBSP chili powder
1 TBSP garlic salt
1 TBSP paprika
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ cup vegetable oil

In a small mixing bowl, combine all seasonings. Blend in oil, forming a paste. May be refrigerated up to 2 weeks. To use, brush mixture on whole chicken or chicken pieces and let stand 1 hr at room temperature or at least 2 hours in the refrigerator before roasting or grilling, until chicken is cooked through. Makes enough to season 7 to 8 pounds of chicken. Note: Add 2-3 TBSP lime juice to mixture if desired.
**

COPY CAT ONION SOUP MIX

You will need:

1/4 CUP dried minced onion
2 TBSP instant beef bouillon
½ tsp onion powder

Combine all ingredients. This makes the equivalent of one package of soup mix.
**

HERB SEASONING BLEND

You will need:

1 TBSP dried thyme
1 TBSP dried oregano
2 tsp rubbed sage
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp dried basil]
1 tsp dried parsley flakes

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container. Use in omelets and to season fish, vegetables or chicken. Makes ¼ cup.
**

The following are a few good recipes for making your own marinades:

SECRET STEAK MARINADE

You will need:

1 CUP soy sauce
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, halves
¼ cup Kitchen Bouquet*
2 tsp Beau Monde seasoning

Combine soy sauce, onion and garlic in blender ad high speed 1 minute or until mix is smooth. Stir in Kitchen Bouquet and Beau Monde seasoning. Makes 2 ½ cups.
To marinate: arrange steaks in shallow glass baking dish (or use a zip lock bag) and pour ½ cup marinade over each steak or chop. Allow to stand at room temp 2 hours OR cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours, then bring meat to room temperature before cooking.

Sandy’s cooknote: Kitchen Bouquet! It’s a flavor enhancer that makes brown gravies a nice dark rich brown and is wonderful in pot roasts. My mother always had a tiny bottle of Kitchen Bouquet in the kitchen cupboard. Well, it floored me, the cost of those little bottles – we have a warehouse-kind of supermarket that is called Smart & Final, but I would imagine that Sam’s Club and/or Costco might keep the large quart size bottle in stock. I get a QUART bottle for about the same price as those little bitty ones. I swear by Kitchen Bouquet and wouldn’t be without it. Beau Monde is another but that’s another story.
**

HERB WINE MARINADE

You will need:

1 cup red wine*
2 TBSP red wine vinegar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
1 clove garlic. Crushed
1/3 tsp crushed rosemary
½ tsp EACH salt & pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp marjoram

Blend ingredients and let stand overnight. Remove garlic clove. Cover and store until ready to use.

Sandy’s cooknote: A lot of my recipes call for red wine. I keep a LARGE bottle of Burgundy wine in the kitchen pantry – just for these recipes.
**

BASIC MARINADE FOR POULTRY

You will need:

2 TBSP vegetable oil
2 TBSP soy sauce
¼ cup dry (red or white) wine
2 tsp Tarragon or thyme
salt & pepper

Combine all ingredients. Add more salt and pepper if you want. Marinate chicken or turkey overnight or brush on 15-20 minutes before grilling.
**

CITRUS MARINADE

You will need:

2 large garlic cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
3 TBSP packed dark brown sugar
2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1 ½ tsp Dijon mustard
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup fresh orange or lime juice
1 ½ tsp freshly grated lemon zest

Thinly slice garlic and in a small saucepan, cook in oil over moderately low heat just until it begins to turn golden. Remove pan from heat and with a slotted spoon, discard garlic. In oil in pan, add remaining ingredients and salt & pepper to taste. Cool marinade. Makes about 1 cup, enough marinade for 1 ½ to 2 pounds chicken or shrimp.
**

BEER MARINADE

You will need:

¼ cup salad oil
¼ cup lemon juice
1 cup beer
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
¾ tsp pepper
½ tsp dry mustard
½ tsp crushed basil leaves
¼ tsp crushed oregano leaves

Blend all ingredients

To make beef kabobs:

You will need

1 ½ lbs flank steak
beer marinade
1 large green pepper, parboiled
12 cherry tomatoes
12 medium mushroom halves
12 small white onions, parboiled

Cut flank steak crosswise on the diagonal into 1” wide strips. There should be about 12 good strips. Place meat and marinade in a bowl and chill overnight. Cut green pepper into 12 small squares. For each kabob, thread meat alternatively with 1 green pepper square, 1 cherry tomato, 1 mushroom half and 1 onion on skewer. Broil 6-8” from source of heat for about 2-3 minutes on each side or until meat is desired doneness. Brush with marinade before turning.

Sandy’s Cooknote: I know a little something about making shish-kabobs. We made them for YEARS while my sons were growing up. We had an assembly line going for threading the kabobs on skewers. If you are using bamboo skewers, you should know the skewers should be soaked in cold water for several hours before using, so they don’t catch on fire. But metal skewers are inexpensive and you can stock up on them to have a bunch on hand if you are feeding company. Personally, I like to toss the mushrooms into a pot of boiling water for a minute or so – OR cook them a while in melted butter…they will go on the skewers more easily & taste better too. You can use that same melted butter to brush on the kabobs when they are cooking. We also would cut up hot dogs and wrap raw bacon around them to stretch the meat (I was raising four sons). I liked to cut the meat (often something like London Broil) into bite-size chunks and then marinate it for a few hours in something like a red-wine marinade with tenderizer sprinkled on, so that the meat was good and tender. Kabobs is a good company meal. Sometimes we also used chicken breast, cut into chunks – and when my son Steve was being lavish (and doing the cooking) he would get a pound of halibut and cut that into chunks to go onto the skewers. All great eating.
***

CIDER MARINADE FOR CHICKEN OR PORK

You will need:

¼ tsp crushed red chile flakes
1 tsp rubber dry sage
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/3 tsp celery seed
1 TBSP sugar
1 TBSP chopped fresh parsley, optional
1 tsp finely minced lemon zest
½ cup apple cider
4 tsp cider vinegar
2 TBSP Dijon mustard
¼ cup cooking oil

Whisk together red chile flakes, sage, thyme, celery seed, sugar, parsley, lemon zest, apple cider, vinegar, mustard and oil. Use to marinate chicken breasts or pork chops at least for 4 hours or up to 8 hours. Will keep refrigerated up to 1 week.
**
Happy Cooking!

PS if you have a favorite basic recipe that isn’t listed here, feel free to write and tell me about it!
Sandy @ sandychatter

LET THEM EAT SOUP!

This should have been before the last post. And I can’t find the original date I may have posted it – in 2009, I think. I know I have some photographs somewhere of some of my soups/tureens. Have to do a search for those too! –  sls

LET THEM EAT SOUP!

There is nothing like soup. It is by nature eccentric: no two are ever alike, unless of course you get your soup in a can.” Laurie Colwin, ‘Home Cooking’ (1988)

“From time immemorial, soups and broths have been the worldwide medium for utilizing what we call the kitchen byproducts or as the French call them, the ‘dessertes de la table’ (leftovers), or ‘les parties interieures de la bete’, such as head, tail, lights, liver, knuckles and feet.”                            —Louis P. De Gouy, The Soup Book (1949)

AND MY FAVORITE, FROM LEWIS CARROLL:

Beautiful Soup

BEAUTIFUL Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

Beau–ootiful Soo-oop!
Beau–ootiful Soo-oop!
Soo–oop of the e–e–evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
Game, or any other dish?
Who would not give all else for two
Pennyworth only of Beautiful Soup?
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?

Beau–ootiful Soo-oop!
Beau–ootiful Soo-oop!
Soo–oop of the e–e–evening,
Beautiful, beauti–FUL SOUP! 

After writing a poem about soup for my poetry group, I was asked to post something on my Blog about making homemade soups. Soup is probably my forte–what I do best under the best or even the worst of conditions; when the pantry is well stocked or when I am scrounging through the frig for any leftovers suitable for a soup pot. My sister Becky had a name for the latter; she called it “clean-out-the-refrigerator-soup”. But here’s the thing –You can buy dozens of cookbooks devoted to soups/stews/chowders/bisques–a soup by any other name…but you don’t really need any cookbook or recipe to make a good pot of soup. All you need are some ingredients. One of my favorites is a leftover pot roast. The next day I dice up any left over meat, discarding fat, bones, gristle. I put it into the pot with the leftover gravy- and add some water. Then I add whatever leftover vegetables are in the frig. If there AREN’T any, I begin peeling potatoes, onions, and carrots, dicing everything to add to the pot. When it’s a beef soup that is cooking, I love to add a cup of dry barley a few hours into the cooking period. It makes such a great hearty soup. And for a little more heartiness, I like to add about a cup of burgundy wine. But if you don’t have any barley, you can add some rice – leftover or otherwise. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Clam chowder is definitely hard to beat, especially if it’s made in a healthy way. This Hearty Clam Chowder from Eater’s Digest and JohnsHopkinsUniversity’s School of Public Health in Baltimore also contains only 380 milligrams of sodium, not bad for a “soup” dish.

Hearty Clam Chowder

Makes 9-10 servings

5 medium potatoes, pared and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3/4 cup chopped green onions, including tops
1/2 cup diced celery
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1/4 diced red or green bell pepper
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 cups water
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Dash of hot pepper sauce
Two 6-1/2 oz. cans of minced clams
1/2 cup flour
2 cups unsweetened soymilk

Place potatoes, green onion, celery, carrot, bell pepper and garlic in large pan. Mix in water, butter, salt, Worcestershire and hot pepper sauce.

Bring to a boil, cover, and cook 15 minutes over medium heat or until potatoes are tender. Drain clams, reserving liquid and adding water, if necessary, to make 1 cup. Combine clam liquid with flour and stir to make a smooth paste. Pour flour paste into vegetables and cool, stirring, until mixture thickens. Add clams and soymilk. Continue cooking until chowder is hot.

My Clam Chowder:

5-6 potatoes, peeled and diced

1 onion, finely chopped

2-3 carrots, shredded

1 cup sliced celery

1can evaporated milk (12 oz) (you can buy evaporated skim milk if you are counting calories)

1 can undiluted Cream of Mushroom Soup

2-4 cans of minced clams, including broth

Salt & pepper to taste

Fresh parsley, if you have it, otherwise dried parsley flakes

Cover the potatoes, carrots, celery and onion with water in a medium size pot until tender, then add the undiluted cream of mushroom soup and evaporated milk. Add the clams (I like a lot of clams. I see recipes using one 6 ounce can of clams and wonder – where’s the fun in that?) If you can get BIG cans of minced clams, like they have at Costco, all the better. Cook it all and add seasoning to taste.  If it’s not thick enough by dinner time, add instant potato flakes to make it thicker. Another great addition is clam stock which is sold in small round jars, about 6-8 ounce size. It will last a long time and adds infinite flavor to the clam chowder. Leftover mashed potatoes can be added to the pot or even some leftover carrots, if you have them. I also like adding fresh sliced mushrooms to the soup (but feel free to add a couple of cans of bits & pieces mushrooms if you have them around).

This soup is really good with hot garlic bread. I remember one time, my brother Bill & I returned from a trip to Oak Glen (California)  to buy apples – and I made a quick pot of clam chowder when we got back home. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day. The apples became applesauce.

GINGERY PUMPKIN SOUP (this is very low in fat)

2 tsp vegetable oil

2 shallots, minced (2 TBSP)

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger*

2 cups pumpkin puree

2 cups reduced-sodium defatted chicken broth

1 cup orange juice

1 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp minced orange zest

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

A pinch of ground cloves

2 TBSP minced fresh parsley (optional) -but if you don’t have fresh, use dried.

1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (also optional)

Heat oil in soup pot over low heat; sauté the shallots, onions, and ginger in the oil until the onions are soft and golden. Be careful not to scorch the ginger. Add the pumpkin, orange juice, broth, salt, zest, pepper and cloves. Simmer for 10 minutes over medium heat. Garnish with parsley and pumpkin seeds, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

(Sandy’s cooknote: *Fresh ginger can be purchased in small jars and comes already finely minced. But if you buy fresh ginger–I have a tip for you. I’ve heard Rachel Ray tell viewers to freeze it. But I peel the ginger and pack it into a small clean jar and then cover it with sherry. It keeps indefinitely in the refrigerator this way and the sherry takes on the flavor of ginger and can also be used in other recipes.)

POTATO SOUP

3 medium potatoes

1 quart milk

1 small onion, sliced

2 TBSP flour

3 TBSP butter or margarine

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp celery salad

few grains cayenne pepper

1 tsp chopped parsley

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Mash until smooth. Scald the milk with the onion, remove the onion and add the milk slowly to the potatoes, stirring constantly. Melt half the butter or margarine, add half the dry ingredients & stir until well mixed and add to the hot soup. Boil for 1 minute, strain and add the remaining butter and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Makes 6-8 servings (You could easily top this off with a bit of bacon and grated cheese!)

FAST & FIT POTATO CHOWDER

1 TBSP butter or margarine

1 cup chopped leeks or onions

1 cup diced red or green bell peppers

2 lbs (6 medium) potatoes, diced 1/2″

3 cups chicken broth

2 tsp dried thyme leaves

2 bay leaves

1 cup low fat milk

1 package (10 oz) frozen corn, thawed & drained

1/4 cup cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

In microwave, melt butter in a 2 to 3 qt casserole dish on high 1 minute. Add leeks and bell peppers; microwave on high 3 minutes. Stir in potatoes, broth, thyme and bay leaves; cover and cook on high 17 to 20 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaves. Remove 4 cups cooked potato with a slotted spoon and put into blender; add milk and puree until smooth. Return mixture to dish. Stir in corn, parsley and cayenne; season with salt and pepper; heat on high for 3 minutes. (If desired, pass bowls of shredded cheddar cheese, crumbled cooked bacon, drained canned clams or cubed cooked chicken or ham to stir into soup). Makes 6-8 servings.

CROCK POT DOUBLE CORN AND POTATO CHOWDER

3 large baking potatoes, peeled and diced

1 onion, diced

1 can cream of corn

1/2 to 3/4 bag frozen corn

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Black pepper

1 1/2 cups diced ham or 10 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled, or 1 1/2 cups roasted red peppers, cut to bite size, plus a pinch of crushed rosemary. Put all ingredients in the slow cooker; stir and cook on low 6 to 8 hours or until potatoes are tender.

MEXICAN POTATO SOUP

3  slices bacon, diced

3 large potatoes peeled and cubed

5 cups water

1 cup tomato sauce

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 Can (7 to 8 ounces) diced green chilies (buy the mild unless you are used to the hot or jalapenos and can handle the heat)

1/2 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded

In a large skillet, brown bacon. Add potatoes and stir to coat. Add water, tomato sauce, onion and salt. Reduce heat to simmering and cook 1 hour. Divide chilies and cheese among bowls. Spoon hot soup over chilies and cheese and serve. Makes 6 servings.

MOM’S POTATO SOUP

(This is an old recipe from my mother’s collection)

2 ½ cups diced peeled potatoes (about 6 large)

2-4 cups water

1 TBSP salt

1-2 stalks celery, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

4 TBSP butter

¼ tsp pepper (white is best but not necessary)

¼ tsp celery salt

¼ tsp garlic salt

4 cups milk

Place potatoes in large heavy pot with 2 cups water. Add salt and cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook potatoes until almost tender. While potatoes cook, sauté the onions and celery in 4 TBSP butter. Add pepper, celery salt & garlic salt. Stir onion mixture into the undrained potatoes. Add milk and more water if needed or desirable. Soup should be only slightly thick. Heat mix to boiling and reduce and simmer gently until flavors blend and mellow. Serve with either chopped chives or parsley afloat the steaming soup. Add a dollop of butter too. Serve with crisp crackers.

 Mexican Tortilla Soup

Weight Watchers style

8 ounces cooked, skinless, diced chicken

1 cup sliced or diced carrots

2 cups sliced thin celery

2 cups shredded or chopped cabbage

1 cup chopped onion

½ cup mild chilies

1 cup green beans

1 can whole kernel corn

½ cup diced bell peppers

1 qt tomato juice

1 qt V8 juice (or 2 quarts tomato juice)

1 qt tomatoes

2-3 chicken bouillon cubes

Water, if necessary, to make 6 quarts

Cook until all the vegetables are done. Add salt & pepper and any other seasonings

you like. I added chili powder to give it a little kick. You could also add tomato sauce or tomato paste. As listed, total is 16 points. One cup equals 1 ½ points

To make tortilla strips, cut 1 or 2 flour tortillas (I like to dry them out on a cookie sheet in the oven – but my old stove has a pilot light that is always “on” so there is just enough heat generated to dry out herbs or tortilla strips).

(Sandy’s cooknote:  Until a few years ago, we had never heard of Mexican Tortilla soup -I think it’s a relative newcomer to the culinary landscape – like cilantro. Twenty years ago you couldn’t find cilantro anywhere; nowadays, most supermarkets carry fresh cilantro and if you can’t find that you can buy freeze-dried cilantro. I have to admit cilantro is an acquired taste. As for Mexican tortilla soup, now you can find dozens of recipes. I began experimenting with making this soup, after the first time I tasted it in a Mexican restaurant. Living in California, we have a lot of exposure to good Mexican cuisine.

This next recipe is El Torito’s Tortilla Soup recipe from the LA Times SOS column 1990-91 and it may have changed since then. The point I am trying to make is that you can make Mexican tortilla soup a lot of different ways and if you leave out the shredded cheese, it’s a fairly low-calorie, low-fat recipe.

To Make EL TORITOS TORTILLA SOUP

4 CORN TORTILLAS

oil

2 ½ cups fish stock

¼ cup tomato sauce

2 TBSP diced celery

2 TBSP diced onion

2 TBSP diced green pepper

2 TBSP diced tomato

1 tsp white pepper

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp ground oregano

1 bay leaf

salt

¾ cup shredded Jack cheese

¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese

Cut tortillas into strips. Deep fry in hot oil until crisp*. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Combine fish stock, tomato sauce, celery, onion, green pepper, tomato, white pepper, garlic powder, oregano, and bay leaf in saucepan. Season to taste with salt. Bring to boil and simmer 20-30 minutes.  To serve, place tortilla strips in bowl.  Cover with shredded cheeses and add broth. Makes 4 servings.

(*Sandy’s cooknote: I would not, personally, deep fry tortilla strips – I always cut them into strips and dry them in my oven. I also prefer flour tortillas over corn. If you can’t oven dry them without heat, I would suggest – cut the tortillas into thin strips and spread them out on a cookie sheet covered with foil. Dry them on the lowest oven temperature until crisp. We also prefer to put the tortilla strips on TOP of the bowl of soup, not under it – and then top it off with a little grated cheese – and, if you have it, a slice of avocado makes a nice presentation. Tastes good, too. Also, if you don’t have fish stock and don’t know how to make it – use a vegetable stock or even chicken broth made with bouillon cubes. It all works. One of these days I will write something about making your own basic stocks – which can be frozen until you are ready to use them).

Here’s one more recipe for Tortilla Soup and it’s pretty simple and straightforward:

TORTILLA SOUP

10 CUPS strong chicken broth

2 cups diced onion

¼ cup oil

6 cloves garlic

2 cups cooked chicken

2 tsp ground cumin

1 can Rotel tomatoes with green chilies

1 15-oz can stewed tomatoes

1 ½ tsp salt

½ cup chopped cilantro (optional)

¼ cup grated cheese per bowl

tortilla chips or corn chips

In a large pot, sauté onion and garlic until soft. Add broth and other ingredients except cheese; bring to a boil and simmer at least 30 minutes. Before filling bowls, put a few tortilla chips or corn chips in the bottom of the bowl. Add soup and top it off with a bit of grated cheese.

T.G.I. Friday’s French Onion Soup

3-4 medium to large onions

3 cans of beef broth

water

Worcestershire sauce

butter

Sargento cheese (Italian blend) 8 oz. bag (recommended)

French baguette

2 bay leaves

Dash of garlic powder

Dash of both salt and pepper

Slice the onions into rings and sauté in butter in a skillet until tender. Turn crock pot on to low and put in the cans of beef broth, bay leaves, dash of garlic powder and salt and pepper, 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, and 3/4 cup of water. When the onions and butter mixture is tender then also add them to the crock pot. Cover and cook for at least 3-5 hours on low. At this point you may want to taste the soup and see if you would like it a little weaker–if so add a little water or chicken broth. Also, at this time remove the bay leaves and discard them.  When about ready to serve, slice bread into thin slices and toast in oven on 350 or in toaster oven until just crusty. Put toasted slices (1-3) in bowl and cover with the cheese (adjust cheese to your liking). Then cover bread and cheese with hot soup. The cheese will melt and the bread will rise to the top. Source: The Secret Recipe Forum:

(Sandy’s cooknote: Personally I like to add about a cup of burgundy wine to my French onion soup. But then I like Burgundy wine in a lot of my soups and stews. I have a big jug of Burgundy wine in the pantry that is used exclusively to cook with).

Here is my favorite recipe for Cream of Broccoli Soup.  When you buy a head of broccoli, peel the stems and cut them up and cook them along with the florets.  After dinner, put the cut stems and the leftover florets into a blender and puree. You need about 2 cups of puree to make the soup. (Save a couple cooked florets to add to the soup bowls)
Then, next day, melt 3 TBSP butter in a large, heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Blend in 3 TBSP flour; add 2 cups milk, and 2 cups broth (chicken, beef or vegetable). Heat, stirring until mixture boils; turn heat to low.  Blend in the broccoli puree, and add 1 tsp salt and a dash of white pepper.

Optional: pinch each of cardamom* and mace or ¼ cup grated mild Cheddar or Gruyére.
Using the same proportions of butter, flour, liquid and puree – you can also use this same recipe for cauliflower, onions or leeks, or cabbage. For carrot or green pea soup, use only 2 TBSP Butter and 2 TBSP flour – adding 1 tsp grated orange rind, or 1 tsp of nutmeg for flavoring.  This soup lends itself to most any vegetable, or combination of vegetables, that can be pureed and can be enhanced with your favorite seasoning.

(*Sandy’s cooknote: Cardamom! If you don’t have this spice in your kitchen cupboard or the spice rack – you are missing out. Cardamom–per Spice Islands–enriches diverse cuisines from Indian to Scandinavia. Its exotic flavor complements sweet cookies, breads and pastries as well as savory meat stews and curries. One of my favorite ice-box cookie recipes is a cardamom cookie. And from Google: “Once considered one of the world’s most precious spices—reserved for holidays, weddings and other special occasions—cardamom is captivating a new generation of admirers. With a hint of clove, the spiciness of ginger, and overtones of vanilla and citron, cardamom can add layers of complex, subtle flavor to any dish…”)

I thought I’d close this with MY poem about soup.

A BOWL OF SOUP

What is as fine as a bowl of soup

In a tureen, carried hot to the table,

Or a beef stew simmered with veggies and meat,

As wondrous as an old Aesop fable;

I love noodle soup or a tomato bisque,

My chili falls into this category,

French onion soup with melted cheese,

Russian Borscht served in all its beet glory.

Mushroom soup! PepperPot!

Or a Consomme!

Won Ton Soup! Morel Soup!

Cream of Pea and crackers on a tray!

Black Bean Soup! Cabbage Soup!

Or a pot of New England Chowder!

(Not for me Manhattan style–

For that I’d have to take a powder!)

Perhaps some Mulligatawny Soup,

Or some Minestrone!

I’d even eat some Bouillabaisse,

As long as it’s not boney!

Bring me a bowl of Orleans gumbo, 

Or any soup that’s bold,

Or let us have gazpacho that’s

Always served up cold.

Serve me cream of celery soup!

Carrot soup with Curry!

Bring me soups that cook all day

But dish up in a hurry;

Serve me spicy peanut soup

Or turkey soup with rice–

I’d gladly eat green lentil soup

But meatball soup is also nice.

Soup for breakfast! Soup for lunch!

Soup for a late night supper;

Let me have a cup of soup,

For a pick-me-upper.

Let me have War Won-Ton Soup,

Or Tortilla soup that’s spicy,

Let me have a cockle soup

Or lobster bisque that’s pricey!

Serve me cock-a-leekie soup

Or Egg Drop soup from China,

Serve it fancy, serve it plain,

I’m never going to mind-a,

Soups can be hearty or else light –

Feed one or feed a troop –

I’ll never tire or get enough

Of delicious homemade soup.

–Sandra Lee Smith

Happy Cooking! Sandy

 

 

LET THEM EAT (MORE) SOUP

LET THEM EAT MORE (VEGETABLE) SOUP

(originally posted on my blog in 2009)

It started innocently with my sister requesting a recipe. I thought she said “pea soup” But I learned the next day, I misunderstood. She was making a vegetable soup.  I can’t imagine how I heard “pea” when she said “vegetable”.

While waiting for her to arrive at my place, I looked up, and copied a slew of pea soup recipes. She didn’t want pea, she wanted vegetable. Oh, well, I said. Who really needs a recipe for making vegetable soup?  You just toss whatever you have on hand into a pot, add water or some cans of vegetable broth – and voila! You have vegetable soup. Then, of course, I began searching through my soup files for vegetable soup recipes and, admittedly – there are a lot of varieties.

Then, today, I wanted to use up a lot of leftovers in the vegetable crisper so I decided to make chicken/vegetable/tortilla soup, I had some leftover chicken breasts, about half a head of cabbage, plenty of carrots and celery–I also had some slightly old flour tortillas that would work nicely in thin strips dried in the oven–and a package of taco seasoning mix for flavor. (My reasoning being: I am going on vacation in a week, and anything in the refrigerator that doesn’t get cooked, thrown out, or frozen – will be a soggy decayed mess when I get back).  My chicken/vegetable/tortilla soup has turned out very nicely.

What you do is, fill a bowl with soup; sprinkle on some dried tortilla strips, and top it off with a sprinkling of grated cheese. A slice of avocado is also nice if you happen to have some on hand. It was a nice variation of my sister Becky’s clean-out-the-refrigerator-soup.

But getting back to vegetable soup – vegetable beef, vegetable chicken, plain vegetable soup – there are a lot of recipes from which to choose  (My sister pointed out – I didn’t have a recipe for vegetable soup on my BLOG. MY BAD. Mea Culpa.  So, brace yourself because I am about to rectify that omission.

This first one from my card file is very old, written in real ink and the card has yellowed. (I collect old, filled recipe boxes so sometimes there’s no telling where some of my recipes came from. No directions are provided.  (Do you really need directions to make soup?)

To make this vegetable soup, you will need:

VEGETABLE SOUP

2 quarts quartered tomatoes

2 dozen medium carrots, sliced

2 quarts cut green beans

2 cups chopped celery

½ cup chopped parsley

1 small head cabbage, chopped

4 small onions, chopped

½ cup rice or barley

2 quarts hot water

meat

Sandy’s Cooknote: I suspect this recipe was for canning vegetable soup.  But in today’s world? Make it up and freeze it in batches suitable for your household. I absolutely love the Gladlock 2-quart rectangular plastic containers. Once you freeze the soup, pop it out of the plastic container and put it into a Ziplock bag, then label it with a black marker. At my house we call these “bricks”. (I trade my bricks to girlfriend MJ, in exchange for doing all my sewing and mending. I-do-not-sew.  It’s a satisfactory barter system. She doesn’t like to cook).

And when a recipe for vegetable soup just provides you with the innocuous direction of “meat” – you can use a pound or two of stewing meat, almost any kind of beef cut – but my favorite meat to add to any vegetable soup is a 7-bone or chuck roast, already cooked and presented in one meal – then the leftovers cut up and turned into soup. Leftover gravy from the roast and any leftover vegetables can also be added.

Here is another old recipe called SKINNY SOUP for the simple reason that it’s made up mostly of vegetables, some high fiber, with a little leftover turkey meat, chopped up – if you have it on hand. If not, leave it out. It will be fewer calories.

SKINNY SOUP

To make SKINNY SOUP, you will need:

3 stalks celery, diced

3 large carrots, diced

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1 sweet onion, diced

½ head cabbage, sliced

½ pound fresh or frozen cauliflower cut up

2 medium potatoes, diced

1 cup frozen peas

3 cups water

2 cups leftover turkey meat, chopped (optional)

1 46-oz can tomato juice, preferably low sodium

2 TBSP fresh dill or 1 tsp dried

2 TBSP fresh basil or 1 tsp dried

1 tsp garlic powder

½ tsp ground pepper

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for topping (optional)

Prepare all vegetables. Use a large soup pot. Add all vegetables, turkey (if using), water, tomato juice and spices. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered 45 minutes to an hour or until vegetables reach your desired tenderness. Top with  Parmesan cheese when presenting in a soup bowl.  Makes 10 servings.

LISA’S THREE INGREDIENT VEGETABLE SOUP

This recipe was sent to me by Lisa, a penpal who lives in Ithaca, New York. To make Lisa’s Three Ingredient Vegetable soup, all you will need is:

1 16-OZ pkg Bird’s eye frozen mixed vegetables*

1 46-oz can tomato juice

1 3-oz pkg ramen oriental noodles with beef flavoring

Mix vegetables and tomato juice in a 5 quart pot. Heat to boiling. Add noodles and    flavor packet. Simmer 15 minutes; stirring occasionally.  8 servings.  What could be easier?

*Sandy’s cooknote: Canned or frozen mixed vegetables are my culinary best friend; I like to keep a lot of them on hand; they’re great in all kinds of soups and stews.

ALL NEW BASIC SOUP

To make ALL NEW BASIC SOUP, you will need:

5 medium carrots cut into 1” slices

3 medium celery stalks, sliced

3 large onions, chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced

2 cans (28 oz) tomatoes in juice

1 small head cabbage, sliced thin

2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1” slices*

2 pkgs (5 oz each) baby spinach leaves (or use 1 10-oz pkg chopped spinach

½ cup fresh parsley or ¼ cup dried parsley

2 chicken flavored bouillon cubes

1 tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

12 cups water

Coat an 8-qt pot with Pam. Over medium-high heat, add carrots, celery, onions and garlic. Cook 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and their liquid, breaking up the tomatoes with a fork or side of a spoon. Add the cabbage, parsnips, bouillon  cubes, salt & pepper and water. Heat to boiling over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until all vegetables are tender. Add more salt & pepper if desired. Makes about 25 cups.

*Sandy’s cooknote: I am not fond of parsnips. Ditto turnips. I would use a couple of medium size potatoes instead.

This next one is titled Mexican Vegetable Soup and appears to be a promotional recipe card from French’s since it called for an envelope of French’s Chili-O Mix.  Use a package of what ever chili seasoning mix you prefer.

To make MEXICAN VEGETABLE SOUP, you will need:

2 pounds beef soup meat plus soup bone (if you can find a soup bone nowadays! – back in the day, my childhood, you could get a soup bone from the butcher free)

2 TBSP salad oil

1 envelope chili seasoning mix

6 cups water

1 1-lb can tomatoes

1 can beef broth

1 1-lb can cream style corn

1 small summer squash, peeled and sliced

Cut meat in 1” cubes. Brown in oil in soup kettle or Dutch oven type pan. Add chili seasoning mix, water, tomatoes and broth; cover and simmer 1 ½ hours or until meat is tender. Add corn, carrots and squash; cover again and simmer 30 minutes. Remove soup bone. 6-8 servings.

Sandy’s cooknote: If you can’t lay your hands on a soup bone, don’t worry about it. Just leave it out. And if you don’t have any canned beef broth – dissolve 1 or 2 beef bouillon cubes in hot water and use that instead (TIP: Always keep chicken and beef bouillon cubes on hand!)

The following is a simple vegetable beef soup that is made with ¾ of a pound of extra lean ground beef. Three quarters of a pound? Why such an odd amount? I would use a pound of ground beef.  This recipe would be easy enough to throw together for a quick dinner – ready in an hour; serve with crackers or garlic bread.

VEGETABLE BEEF SOUP

To make VEGETABLE BEEF SOUP, you will need:

3 medium carrots, chopped

2 large potatoes, cut into small cubes

1 medium onion, chopped

3 ribs celery, with tops, chopped

½ tsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

About 3 cups shredded green cabbage (1/2 head)

¾ (or 1 lb) extra lean ground beef

1 quart tomato juice (low sodium if you are watching your salt)
dashes of Tabasco sauce (optional)

Combine carrots, potatoes, onion, celery, cabbage, ground beef (uncooked), salt and pepper in a large soup pot. Add enough water just to cover the vegetables and ground beef. Add tomato juice last and bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer at least 1 hour. Meat should be cooked and vegetables tender. Stir soup occasionally to break up the ground beef. Add a few squirts of Tabasco sauce if you want to give it a little zing.

Makes 10 servings.

This next recipe contains uncooked broken spaghetti, which is a twist – but reminded me that my sister Becky, whenever she made her clean-out-the-refrigerator-soup, would chop up any leftover spaghetti and add it to the pot near the end of cooking time.

To make MULTI-VEGETABLE SOUP you will need:

2 TBSP butter or margarine

2 TBSP cooking oil

1 cup thinly sliced carrots

1 cup thinly sliced zucchini

1 cup thinly sliced celery

1 cup finely shredded cabbage

1 large onion, chopped

2 beef bouillon cubes

2 tsp salt

8 cups boiling water

1 tsp Accent (optional)

1 can (16 oz) stewed tomatoes

¼ cup uncooked broken spaghetti

½ tsp thyme

Heat the butter or margarine and oil in a pot.  Add carrots, zucchini, celery, cabbage and onion; cook uncovered abut 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the bouillon cubes, water, salt and Accent (if you are using it) to the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered, about 30 minutes.  Stir in the stewed tomatoes, spaghetti and thyme.  Cook 20 minutes.  Serve hot from a tureen. You can serve with a bowl of shredded parmesan cheese- personally, I like to have some hot garlic bread as an accompaniment.   Makes about 2 quarts soup.

This next recipe sounds like something someone created when the vegetable garden was overflowing.  You could make the soup with or without meat – if without, add a few beef bouillon cubes for flavoring.

To make GRANDMA’S HARVEST SOUP, you will need:

1 ½ pounds beef stew meat, trimmed and cubed

1 tbsp vegetable oil

10 medium fresh tomatoes, peeled and cut up

2 cups tomato juice

2 medium size onions, chopped

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

½ tsp pepper

2 tsp salt (optional)

6 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

5 carrots, cleaned and sliced

2 cups frozen or fresh corn

2 cups frozen or fresh green beans

2 cups frozen peas

3 ribs celery, sliced

1 cup sliced butternut squash

¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley (or 1/8 cup of dried)

1 tsp sugar

In a Dutch oven, brown meat in oil over medium high heat. Add tomatoes, tomato juice, onions, garlic, pepper and salt. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer 1 hour.

Now add potatoes, carrots, corn, green beans, peas, and celery. Cover and simmer an additional 30 minutes. Add squash and simmer 10-15 minutes more or until meat and vegetables are tender. Stir in parsley and sugar.  Makes 8-12 servings.

Sandy’s cooknote: Well, I think that’s enough of vegetable soup–it should give you something to work with. Don’t be afraid to use what you have on hand. And when you are chopping up celery or carrots (I like to have the Food Network on while I am puttering around in the kitchen), chop extra and freeze it in 1 cup portions in plastic ziplock sandwich bags–then when you are ready to make some soup, you already have some of the ingredients on hand and can just toss them into the pot. My sister Becky used to dump small amounts of leftover vegetables into a large plastic container and kept it in the freezer for making pots of soup.

appy Cooking!

READ ANY GOOD COOKBOOKS LATELY?

AMERICA’S HOMETOWN RECIPE BOOK/712 FAVORITE RECIPES FROM MAIN STREET U.S.A

My bad! I posted an article for you about lists and cookbooks and then neglected to write something else for ten days. My excuse is just that I have been taking down Christmas decorations, et al, which took about a week, and then a few days ago, two of my grandchildren and I went to the mountains to visit friends for a few days. Kids were elated – it began to snow on Thursday and came down steadily for some hours—they were hoping we’d get snowed in. Grammy was hoping – not. I wanted to get home to my two dogs and one cat on
Friday and get back into some kind of routine.

Well, I’ve had a stack of cookbooks at my elbow for a couple of weeks with the intention of sharing these with you. Cookbook reviews always make a good topic to write about, don’t you agree? I have so many cookbooks I’ve wanted to share with other cookbook aficionados that stacks of these books have been piling up throughout the house. So, let’s start with one of these – first on my list is ]

AMERICA’S HOMETOWN RECIPE BOOK/712 FAVORITE RECIPES FROM MAIN STREET U.S.A. edited by Barbara Greeman. This big thick cookbook with plastic spiral binding is designed to lay flat on a counter surface anywhere in the book. The recipes are from church suppers, church socials, state and county fairs, family & friends. I think it  caught my eye when I was searching through my “Americana” collection a few months ago. AMERICA’S HOMETOWN RECIPE BOOK was published by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers and distributed by Workman Publishing Company.

In the introduction, Barbara Greenman confesses, “I wish I could say this idea was mine! All the credit and thanks go to my publisher, my editor and their team. Yes, I  provide them the raw material, but from it they have spun gold. Here it is, AMERICA’S HOMETOWN RECIPE BOOK, highlighting 712 recipes from the more than 2, 000 sent to us by America’s churches and state and county fairs. It is the perfect cookbook for our times…”

Truer words were never spoken. Barbara says that “Excellence was the criteria for inclusion in this new collection. Instead of five chicken salad recipes and seven meatloaf recipes, we offer the best of each category and a wide variety of              food…”  And anyone who has collected club-and-church cookbooks for any length of time (in my case over forty years) knows that duplicate or very similar recipes often fill many of the pages of a community cookbook. The persons collecting the recipes don’t want to leave anyone out, so every one of the recipes is included even at the risk of being repetitive.

I checked the back of the cookbook to see if a list of contributing cookbooks was offered – while they weren’t, a list of the contributing churches (54 of them) was provided.  The following page provides a long list of state and county fairs whose recipes were provided on the pages of AMERICA’S HOMETOWN RECIPE BOOK—sixty-five of them, including my favorite Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona, California—the greatest difficulty with a cookbook such as this one is trying to decide what to check out first – the recipes? The contributors? Looking for a favorite recipe? To see if your hometown is represented?  Well, with over seven hundred recipes that will keep you occupied for a while. And at the risk of being even more repetitive, cookbook people read cookbooks the way other people read novels. No lie. I have a stack of cookbooks and a stack of novels on and next to and inside my nightstand at any given moment. A good way to read a cookbook is keeping a pad of those little square post-its on the nightstand next to your bottle or glass of water, a pen, any medication you take at night and the telephone. (I am often in bed and getting warm when I realize I am missing one of the above items (usually my bottle of water) and have to get back up and go to the kitchen to get it. Brody, my Jack Russell-Chihuahua new addition to the family always feels obligated to get up and follow me to the kitchen no matter how comfy he has gotten too. I am not sure whether he does this to protect me, or in the hopes that I may drop something, like a piece of bacon.

I know I am not alone in marking pages with post-it notes because I have acquired a lot of cookbooks at sales that are festooned with dozens of post it notes. I then remove their post-it notes to add my own post-it notes.  But, I digress (as you may have noticed, I have a tendency of doing this) – let me tell you about the categories of recipes you will find in AMERICA’S HOMETOWN RECIPE BOOK. Along with the Introduction and a Table of Equivalents (so handy to have), you will find recipes for

BREAKFAST AND BRUNCH

APPETIZERS

SOUPS AND SANDWICHES

SALADS, DRESSINGS, AND SAUCES

POULTRY AND GAME

MEAT

FISH

PASTA AND CASSEROLES

VEGETABLES

BREADS, ROLLS, AND BISCUITS

PUDDINGS AND CANDY

BEVERAGES

and a list of contributors.  I must confess, the layout for this cookbook is unlike any I have seen before. I do approve of Breakfast and Brunch coming first, though. The cookbook starts out with a generous collection of muffin recipes that is sure to please any cook and anyone waiting for muffins for breakfast or brunch. I love muffins – muffins were the very first thing I learned how to bake around the age of ten. Choose from blueberry muffins, blueberry-peach muffins, blackberry corn muffins, hearty oatmeal raisin muffins or cranberry muffins, just to name a few. When in doubt, just check through the array of muffins to find something corresponding with what you have in the frig or pantry (which is how I learned to cook from Ida Bailey Allen’s Service Cookbook).     Muffins are followed by Scones and French Toast recipes, including an Apple Cinnamon French Toast that I can’t wait to try. Then there are recipes for pancakes, which includes an Apple Cider Pancakes with Apple Cider Syrup—a good one to share with my penpal in Oregon, who has an orchard of half a dozen or so apple trees.  Next are recipes for coffee cakes; a post-it note has been attached to the Overnight Coffee Cake recipe. This is just a slight sampling of Breakfast and Brunch Recipes – there are fritters and buns, doughnuts and hushpuppies, bagels and omelets, frittatas and breakfast casseroles—in all, thirty three pages of Breakfast and Brunch recipes, enough to fill up one of those little recipe booklets – but this is in AMERICA’S HOMETOWN RECIPE BOOK/712 FAVORITE RECIPES FROM MAIN STREET U.S.A and can be at your fingertips any day, any time.

Chapter 2 is APPETIZERS.  Let me share something with you about appetizers, or as the French say, “hors d’oeuvres.”  I have a couple of shelves full of appetizer/hors d’oeuvres cookbooks.  I also have several recipe boxes full of appetizer/hors d’oeuvres recipes. The reason I have acquired so many of these perfect-for-party recipes is that we used to have some pretty big parties several times a year. By “we” I mean Bob and myself and my sons and their wives. After some years of throwing parties for which I would take off work and spend three days cooking in the kitchen, I made a startling (startling to me, at least) discovery – appetizers. Hors d’oeuvres. You can make a lot of them up in advance. You can buy a lot of different kinds of appetizers in the freezer cases at stores like Costco or Sam’s Club. When someone asks what they can bring to a party you can reply “your favorite appetizer—or a bottle of wine” I discovered that these tidbits, hot or cold, are perfect party food – a guest can pile different ones onto a plate and walk around chatting with other guests, go back to more if they want to and try some of the other appetizer/hors d’oeuvres. Well! in AMERICA’S HOMETOWN RECIPE BOOK/712 FAVORITE RECIPES FROM MAIN STREET U.S.A, Barbara Greeman has filled twenty three pages with appetizer/hors d’oeuvre recipes, ranging from a Horseradish Cheese Ball with Crackers to Mexican Chicken Bites, from Spinach Cheese Squares to Green Chili Pie, from Cocktail Meatballs to various dips.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. This is one fantastic cookbook, published in 2011. I was unable to find it listed under Alibris.com but Amazon.com has the book for $7.98 new, from Amazon, or $3.16 for a pre-owned copy from a private vendor.   A lot of cookbooks come and go, but this is one, I predict, that you will keep within reach.

Happy cooking and happier cookbook collecting!

Sandy

MULTITASKING – BAKING OATMEAL COOKIES AND MAKING POMEGRANATE JELLY

It started with mixing up a batch of oatmeal cookie dough last night. I got that mixed and decided I had enough for the day/night so I covered the dough with a kitchen towel and a plate.  First thing this morning, I thought – I need to get these cookies baked (I didn’t want to refrigerate the cookie dough—I find it affects the spreading of the cookies too much (that is, they don’t always spread enough) and then I thought oh, I need to get my pomegranate jelly made. (Reason I was in such a hurry this morning is because I am having a tree-trimming party tomorrow and serving Cincinnati chili to my guests – mostly young adults—but wanted to have something for each of them to take home—like a jar of jelly!).

I had four big jars of pomegranate juice made up from the fifty-something pomegranates Kelly & I picked from the tree belonging to a friend of his. A word about pomegranates: this is not the easiest fruit to work with.  Bob used to ream them with an electric juicer which was very messy and also very wasteful. I did some Google searching a few years ago and decided that instructions for “shelling” the fruit under water sounded best to me. So, I have been doing it this way for a few years. You cut an X in one end of the fruit and then hold it under cold water and break the pieces apart, removing the tough skin and membranes, leaving just the ruby red fruit. Strain and bag into ziplock bags – you are ready to eat the pomegranate or do something else with it. I have found  that mashing it with my hands, while it’s in the ziplock bag, works pretty well. You can use a rolling pin or you can just press down hard on the bag with the palm of your hand, until the juices begin to run. Then you strain it and you have pomegranate juice (You can also buy pomegranate juice in the supermarket nowadays but it’s kind of expensive) – besides which, I live in California where pomegranates grow. In our Arleta house, we had 3 pomegranate trees but it was a battle between us and the squirrels, to see who got the most fruit.  It’s helpful to have a friend with a pomegranate tree!  (Since moving to the high desert in 2008, we have planted 2 pomegranate trees (which the nursery insists on calling bushes).

Well, it took me about 2 weeks to “do” most of the pomegranates. I gave a few of the fruit to my sister for my nephew to eat, and I saved four of them to give to my Oregon penpal when she comes to visit. (Kelly and I weighed the basket of fruit – I had 51 pounds of pomegranates).

One of my blog readers was interested in making pomegranate jelly and I winged a response, not having made it for a few years and – to tell the truth, I’m not sure I even have directions for making pomegranate jelly written down anywhere.  So, Sharon, this one’s for you.

First, I buy the Ball low sugar/no sugar powdered pectin at Walmart. I think Sure-Jel also makes a low sugar/no sugar product but it’s kind of expensive for my pocket book. (It shocks me how much the price of pectin has gone up over the past few years). But Ball makes a product that Walmart sells (probably other places do as well) – and 3 tablespoons of this powder is equal to one of the old boxes of powdered low sugar/no sugar pectin.

When you are ready to make the jelly, let the juice come to room temperature (otherwise the powdered pectin will clump). Measure 4 cups of juice into a large pot (I use my 5 qt stainless pressure cooker pot – leave the lid off – and give the juice just a squirt of lemon juice. Add three tablespoons of powdered pectin and give it a whisk or two to dissolve. Add half a teaspoon of butter to the juice (this reduces the foam or scum or whatever you want to call it, from forming. I had NO foam or scum to skim off the juice when it had become jelly). Now you are ready to start heating the juice over a medium to high flame on the stove—have ready 2 cups of sugar and 4 8-oz jelly jars that have been washed in soapy water and then scalded in boiling water.  (OR – if you don’t plan on sealing the jars of jelly but just want to keep it in the frig to eat, use any small jars you may have saved – wash them well and have them ready to pour the jelly into – OR if you don’t want to seal the jars but don’t want to eat it immediately – you can do the old fashioned way of melting some paraffin wax to pour on top of the jelly once it has been poured into a jar.  Too much information? A fourth option is to freeze your jelly in some plastic containers but plan to eat it within a few months.

I am telling you all of this because maybe you don’t want to get that involved in jelly making. I have been making jellies and jams since my kids were toddlers (a very long time ago) and back then, I poured the jelly or jam into washed, scalded baby food jars – with a little melted paraffin on top, the lid replaced over that – it worked reasonably well. (I didn’t poison anyone). Eventually I graduated to really canning and it became a hobby (in fact, Bob & I entered canned foods into the Los Angeles county fair for about a decade and were proud of our blue ribbons!) – a case of canning jars will cost you about $9.00. the 8-ounce size jars are what you want.  (However, when I am canning jams or jellies JUST for family, I often put it into pint-size jars—especially when I am making strawberry jam and even when strawberries are in season, you are still paying for the berries, the sugar, the pectin, et al). When my sons were young boys, I would can grape jelly in QUART jars. I kid you not. It was the only kind of jelly they all liked.  (You know what they say about a prophet in his own town—it’s the same thing with a mother who likes making unique and unusual jellies and jams—your friends will love you for it, but your children won’t taste it for love or money. The first thing they always say to me is “What’s IN this?” (They still do).

If you are using canning jars, put the flat lids in a small pot, add water, and bring them to a boil. Let them cook for about 5 minutes and then just keep the water hot. This softens the seal on the lids so that when you put them onto the jelly jars and screw on the rings, you will get a firm seal.  I just wash the rings in soapy water and have them ready and waiting.

And while my sons like the pomegranate jelly, grape is probably still their universal favorite. But I can tell you unequivocally that my friends’ children LOVE my pomegranate jelly and if I give each one of them just one 8 ounce jar of jelly, you would think they’d gotten the queen’s jewels.

Well, I digress. Where were we?  You were heating up the 4 cups of pomegranate juice that you have doused with a squirt of lemon juice and the three tablespoons of powdered pectin and tossed in half a teaspoon of butter – and brought it to a boil. When it comes to a hard boil (a boil that can’t be stirred down), then dump in 2 cups of sugar all at one time. Now, the amount of sugar you add is entirely up to you. If you want a sweeter jelly, add 3 cups of sugar. If you want it to be tarter, reduce it to 1 or 1 ½ cups of sugar. But I find that 2 cups of sugar is perfect – it’s a little tart but the flavor of the pomegranate is there. The beauty of using a low sugar/no sugar pectin is that you control the amount of sugar that goes into it.

Stir the contents of the pot to dissolve the sugar, and bring it back to a boil.  Boil it for a minute or two – when you dip in a spoon and lift it out of the pot, the jelly should “sheet” off instead of just dripping off. However, that being said, the jelly I was making this morning, didn’t “sheet” off and I probably over-boiled the first batch—what I discovered is that the juice thickens into jelly as it cools. I was really uncertain that it was going to work right until it cooled – and every jar had thickened into a nice jelly. I hope this isn’t too much information!

Once I got into the rhythm of the jelly making, I was off and running – I poured the jelly from the pot into a quart size glass measuring cup to pour into the jelly jars that are hot and waiting—it’s much easier to pour this way and it avoids drips. You should wipe the rims of the jars off with a clean wet cloth to make sure nothing has spilled, place the lids on the jars, then the rings and tighten the rings (another new discovery – a pair of inexpensive rubber gloves are SO great for doing all of this without burning your fingers).  Now, most instruction booklets tell you to put the filled jars into a boiling water bath for 5 minutes but I have been skipping this step – the jars have been boiled, the lids have been boiled, the jelly has been boiled – I figure if the jars SEAL they are ok. You will know they have sealed if you hear a “ping” as each jar cools and forms a vacuum. The lid should be flat – if there is something like a bubble on the lid, it hasn’t sealed properly – just put it into the frig and use it in a reasonable amount of time.

Well, another way of learning how to do all of this is to buy the Ball blue book of canning and preserving – also sold at Walmart where the canning supplies are.  I began collecting canning/preserving/jelly and jam making cookbooks about twenty years ago and love some of the very old Ball and Kerr canning booklets from years ago.

So, Sharon, I hope this works for you.  And here is my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe, the one I was making this morning while making pomegranate jelly at the same time.

To make my favorite oatmeal cookies you will need

2 cups sifted flour

1 ½ tsp baking soda

2 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

Dash ground cloves

2 2/3 cups firmly packed brown sugar (or a combination of white sugar and brown sugar to make two and two thirds cups)

4 eggs

1 ½ cups butter flavored Crisco shortening

2 tsp vanilla extract

4 cups uncooked oats (can be a combination of old fashioned or quick – I like old fashioned)

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup raisins

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Stir together flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Now add shortening, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in oats, raisins and nuts. Drop by heaping teaspoon onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven about 12 minutes (I start checking at 10 minutes). Makes about 6 dozen depending on size.  Avoid overbaking!

Happy Holiday Baking and Jelly making!

Sandy

THE KITCHEN DIARIES – COLLECTING RECIPE BOXES

I began collecting cookbooks (primarily church-and-club type) over 45 years ago. Soon after, I discovered a “manuscript” cookbook – or more accurately, it discovered me. I was rummaging around in a used book store in Hollywood when the owner said “I have something interesting in a cookbook – let me show it to you”. It was a small 3-ring binder with an old leather cover and it was filled with hand written recipes as well as hundreds of clipped-and-pasted on recipes. Its owner had kept her notebook cookbook for decades – and I bought it for about $10.00 (which doesn’t sound like much, now, but at the time I was raising my family and it was a lot) – but I had to have it. Over the years, I’ve found a few more manuscript-type cookbooks but they’re really scarce. My theory is that this type of cookbook remains in the family. I don’t believe that the owner of that first manuscript cookbook, whose name, I discovered, was Helen, had any children. Surely, one’s children would never allow something so precious to end up in a used book store.

Then I became interested in recipe boxes when I found an old, green, wooden recipe box in Ventura, California, at an antique store. It was packed with the former owner’s collection of recipes. I was so intrigued by this type of collection – what I think of as a kitchen diary – that I began a diligent search for filled recipe boxes. These are just about as scarce and hard to find as handwritten cookbooks. Often, you can find recipe boxes – in thrift stores or antique shops –but they are usually empty. I think the storekeepers don’t imagine anyone would be interested in the contents, which are often scrappy little pieces of paper, recipes clipped from the back of a bag of macaroni or flour, recipes written on a piece of envelope, – but over the past 15 or 20 years, I’ve managed to find quite a few of these filled recipe boxes. One time my niece, who lives in Palm Springs, found three of them for me at a yard sale; it helps that so many people know about my fascination with old, filled recipe boxes.

Another time, a girlfriend of mine was telling me about helping a friend of hers clear out her mother’s apartment, after her mother had passed away. “Oh,” I said “Ask your friend if her mother had any recipe boxes”. She did – and I got it. She also had, and gave to me, several cookbook autographed by cookbook author Mike Roy, with whom her mother had been acquainted. On yet another occasion, I was given half a dozen filled recipe boxes that had belonged to the aunt of a woman I worked with.

Now, I collect all types of recipe boxes but the ones I cherish the most are those filled with someone else’s recipe collection. One of these boxes is so old that the contents are extremely fragile and bits of paper disintegrate whenever you handle them.

Yard sales where I live rarely yield such treasures although once we were at an estate sale and I happened to find a cardboard box – shaped like a file drawer – filled with handwritten recipe cards on oversize cards, about a 4×6” size. I was able to buy it for $2.00. Part of the charm, or intrigue, of owning these boxes is going through them piece by piece, and trying to learn something about the person who compiled the box. I leave all of these boxes exactly “as is” because I feel to change them would change the integrity of the collection.

What makes these recipe boxes so enticing? I think old recipe boxes, filled with someone’s collection of recipes, are a window into our culinary past. Eventually, no doubt, someone else will discover these treasures, too, but in the meantime, I like to think that what I have is a fairly unique collection.

— Sandra Lee Smith