Caramel Knowledge

Yeah, that’s the title, Caramel Knowledge.   Published in 1988, it’s a little newer (28 years ago?) a book than I like to collect but as we all know, I’m a sucker for a catchy title.  Author Al Sicherman was a long time Food Writer/Food Editor for the Minneapolis Star & Tribune and this book pulls from his work on the newspaper.

I’ve got a collection of old food section cutouts, mostly saved from my dad, and I can tell you from experience that the recipes in this book are from the heyday of food sections.  You see, children, in them olden daze we didn’t have no new-fangled corn-pewters, or the world-wide-webernet to read about food or recipes or cooking.  We had the food section of the newspaper.  It WAS our internet.

Today the food section is a tiny vestigial part of the already diminished entity we know as a newspaper, but in the 60s/70s/80s, it was a big deal.  You looked forward to the food section, especially as holidays like Thanksgiving approached.  It was a selling point of subscriptions, it was informative, entertaining, and, as we see from Sicherman’s work here, a lot of fun.  This is not just a cookbook, it is a collection of the accompanying articles and it is a fun read.

He’s got standards, like Impossible Pumpkin Pie and Sauerkraut Fudge Cake, but he’s also got a lot of fun and interesting recipes highlighted in this book, like Choclava, Bostess Bupcakes, Herring in a Cloud, Chuck & Chick, Orange You Glad We Have Turkey?, and Mockaguole.  I often take pictures of recipes I mention but the format, embedded as part of the various articles, makes that impractical.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.

I wish I could have experienced the world of Al in his heyday but I found him on Facebook, I think I might drop him a message.  Fun, fun stuff.

A Cake Walk


This book was almost an afterthought.  It’s big.  I don’t go in much for large format books.  They take up a lot of shelf space and shelf space is one thing lacking in my house.  But I thumbed through it and … well, I immediately told myself the same thing I’m going to tell you right now:  “You gotta get this book!”

The Victorian Book of Cakes is a reprint of a book from over a hundred years ago, and it was probably THE guidebook for exquisite cake baking around the latter part of the Victorian era.  There are recipes and guides, lovely color plates, illustrations, and a treasure-trove of ads for ancient baking equipment.

Here are just a couple of pictures from within.  I could go on and on about what I like about this book but once again, if you collect cookbooks, this is probably one you want to get for yourself.

img_6130I’ll leave you with two pictures, one a multi-tiered cake … I want a piece right now.   The other is one of the ads inside the book … for a piece of industrial strength cake mixing equipment.  Wasn’t this the same mixer Charly learned to use in the movie “Charly,” the film remake of “Flowers for Algernon?”img_6132

No matter.

If you are interested in baking, cakes, frosting, pastries -or- if you just like to collect cool cookbooks, find a copy.  Buy this book!




Thomas Fenske is a novelist living in North Carolina.  He also collects cookbooks.  For more information:


Cereal Killing

The bookstore where I browse now has five aisles with a jumbled up mess of cookbooks.  There is no rhyme or reason to the book placement, but sometimes when I am scanning the shelves I get the hint of a theme for the day’s search.  This past weekend I hit on such a theme when I found three breakfast cereal-themed cookbooks!


The first was “Cooking With Snap, Crackle, Pop & _____”

It’s a small book, kid-oriented.  Let’s face it, Rice Krispie Treats are one of the first things a kid learns to cook, or at least used to be before they started marketing them commercially.  Now?  Why bother, I guess.  Still, this 1998 publication tries to keep the tradition alive.  The “recipes” are basically variations on their own theme.

Still, it is an ingenious little book … starting from the cover which allows young cooks to personalize their book with their name and their picture if they want to … see the cutout?

img_6110I chose only one of the variations … little baskets.  Basically, you use a muffin tin to form your treats into little basket shapes.  My wife made these one Easter … made them into little Easter baskets with jelly beans as eggs and even added a pipe cleaner for a handle.  They were pretty cool.  All of the recipes follow this same theme … making things with Rice Krispie treats … Well, ya gotta start somewhere, right?

Well-made, with nice production values and high-quality stock which is a good plan when you are expecting little kids to be cooking.  It also has a nice intro to what one will need, and some basic cooking tools and stresses safety very strongly on the first page.  Kid’s book,  yes, but it’s a nice book.

img_6107Moving on to another flashy, eye-catching commercial book, trying to capitalize on the supposed novelty of using breakfast cereal as anything but … well, breakfast cereal.  The Breakfast Cereal Gourmet hardly lives up to its name.  It has one redeeming feature, it has a lot of images of classic box covers, and intersperses the text with “interesting” facts like, like the information that former president George H. W. Bush likes to crumble chocolate candy bars on his cereal.

It’s a “hype” book that doesn’t live up to its hype.  It includes a lot of blank space, which is irritating.  It is almost like a kid book, but unlike the previous book, which IS a kid book and is delightful, this one is way overdone and, really, although I guess a kid could enjoy some of the useless factoids, even they would get tired of flipping pages to see more of nothing.

img_6111A cursory examination of the recipes left me similarly disappointed.  They get lost in the overly-glitzy presentation … it seems the authors almost included them as an afterthought like “Oh, yeah, this is supposed to be a cookbook.”

Take this one … and I just picked one at random.  Mocha-cocoa Towers made with Cocoa Puffs.  You might notice that the entire recipe is not featured.  That’s because, in the interest of wasting space, most of the recipes span multiple pages.  I call this poor cookbook production.  There might be a reason to cut a recipe in two but they so waste space stretching this book out they did it like it was a bodily function.  If you really want this horrendous recipe, I’ll include it in the comments.  If you really want it.  Trust me, you don’t.

img_6105Now we get to what is, surprisingly, a real cereal cookbook.  The Kellogg’s Cookbook, from the Kellogg Kitchens edited by Judith Choate, is a 2006 publication that is a real cookbook with real recipes.

Sure, there are traditional uses for a lot of cereals, like bran muffins and coating for fried chicken.  They’re in the book … but they are not flashy “let’s see what else we can do” things to catch your eye.  They are “I’ve got this on the shelf and I’ll get some added value from this ingredient” sort of recipes, the kind Kellogg would include on the box!  In fact, that’s probably where most of these came from.


img_6113What I chose to include, and it was difficult to make a choice, was Corn Flake Banana Bread.  Something reasonable, using an unusual ingredient but it is mainstream enough that I thought … well, hey, I’d like to try it.  As you can see it looks like a cookbook recipe, all on one page, clearly defined …  it tells the reader you want to make this recipe.

We make a green bean casserole for holidays, a family favorite, that includes Corn Flakes as part of the topping (Not THE green bean casserole everybody makes, this one is much better) and I always have about 3/4 of a box of corn flakes left.  Now I know what I’m going to use them for.

So, maybe I didn’t make a cereal killing this weekend, but I’m out, what, seventy-five cents?  The Krispies cookbook is unique and I love the Kellog’s cookbook, so I’ll keep the other one around as part of a set.  Who knows, maybe I’ll find more and can build another mini-collections on the same theme

Lowcarb Cake and Donuts

Okay, let me admit up front, the headline is a total lie, but I thought it was a good intro for today’s cookbook. I picked up Dorothy Horn’s Christmas Treats Cook Book from Guam U.S.A. during this weekend’s monthly quarter sale.  Okay, I guess the title isn’t technically being deceptive. It was indeed penned by Dorothy Horn. It does contain dozens of recipes for Christmas treats. Oh, and, Dorothy is famous as a Guam based food writer. In fact, I’ve been told by a friend from Guam, that Dorothy’s SPAM cookbook is a must (sigh, something else to look for).

But make no mistake, this is not a Guamanian Christmas treat cookbook. It is not a bad Christmas treat cookbook, but it was not what I was expecting. Okay, the bad news is out of the way … there are no low carb cakes & donuts here and there are preciously few Guamanian recipes.

Ah, but it IS a pretty fair little Christmas cookbook.

I Picked four recipes to share.

 These Stained Window Cookies are a version of a cookie we make almost every year in our house, but we call them Cathedral Windows. The “stained glass” effect is due to the multi-colored marshmallows that comprise the bulk of the cookie. They are pretty and delicious but alas, around here brightly colored marshmallows seem to have been forever replaced with pastel. Still nice, but not like they used to be.
This page was a two-fer, mostly because they are at such widely divergent sides of the spectrum of reality.
ITALIAN RUM CAKE … okay, I can see that as a holiday treat. But on the same page with SCRAPPLE? I picked these just because of the complex association of these two recipes in close proximity. Must be a Guam thing.
This last recipe was chosen just for the name … who could resist something with a name like AUNT BEAT’S BORSHCH?  Get it? Beat’s? Borshch was her spelling, not mine. Who knows, it might be Aunt Beat’s spelling.

So, in short, if you want a Guamanian cookbook, get another one.  Sure, I’d still like to get my hands on that SPAM cookbook but for a quarter I guess this one will do.

Huevos Rancheros Especial

 I came up with the idea for this dish in my novel, The Fever.  It was a gooey, cheesy, combination of enchiladas and eggs.

My friend, Hilah, over at the Hilah Cooking YouTube channel, decided to do me one better by not only making it, but improving it.

Check out her video:

Then … go buy my book to find out what it’s all about.

There are nineteen good reviews over at amazon, and, hey, I’ve only got three sisters and almost no, friends so somebody’s got to like it, right?

Fickle Finger of Fame

Originally posted on my other blog,

I’ve always secretly wished someone would name a sandwich after me. That has long been my theoretical high-water mark of fame. I’ve just about given up on that one, but I’ve always subscribed to the notion that if the wind is just right, sometimes a wisp of fame might blow across one’s brow. I feel […]

Sesqui … huh?

Organizations create cookbooks for all sorts of reasons.  Anniversaries are a biggie.  I already have a pretty good collection of Bicentennial cookbooks, but I was looking through some of my recent acquisitions and found yet a new niche sub-collection possibilities:  Texas Sesquicentennial cookbooks.  I’m sure I have others, but these two just happened to jump out at me from a recent buy-a-thon.

The Texas Sesquicentennial was in 1986, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Texas declaration of independence.  Non-Texans (and people who failed history) might say, wait, Texas is a STATE in the grand old USA, which happens to have it’s OWN Declaration of Independence, in 1776.  Well, that is true (and they celebrate that one too), but in 1836, the province of Texas declared their own independence with their own document and their own war and was its own country for nine years.  There are people there who still wish it was so.  Anyway, 1986 was the 150th anniversary and … well, any excuse to make a cookbook, right?  Today, I’ve got two!

imageimageI’ve mentioned my “must buy” categories before.  Texas is one.  Signed is another.  I guess I don’t need to add sesquicentennial to the list since that would be Texas but there are others .. I think I reviewed a Canadian one a while back.  Hmmmm.  Anyway, picked up The Texas Celebrity Cookbook and … yay, it is signed by one of the compilers, Chris Farkas.  The other compiler was Russell Gardner.  As is common with anything “celebrity” they asked around and got quite a number of Texas celebrities to send in recipes, whether they still live there or not.  Lady Bird Johnson was always a good choice.  Football players and famous coaches, mayors and senators, representatives and newsworthy people.  The list is way too long to give but I’ll share a few that struck my fancy.

imageLike — Dave Ward.  If you haven’t lived in Houston for like the past 50 years the name means nothing but Dave has been a news anchor on Houston’s channel 13 for almost 50 years.  He still is, although his health has suffered a bit in recent years he’s still trying.  I don’t know if his Green Grape Delight has added to his longevity but here it is for you to check out.


What early fan of Monday Night Football can forget Dandy Don Meredith?  Did you know he made his own Pimento Cheese?  Now, I lived in his hometown of Mount Vernon Texas for the better part of a year in the late 1970’s … it was likely they needed to make their own pimento cheese back then.  I worked in a store and my boss played HS football with him.  Sure, I have a secondary connection here so I included the recipe.


Everybody knows Dale Evans was from Texas, right?  Well, if not, yes, she was.  Here’s her “Chili Tex” concoction … she doesn’t say if Roy liked it but it looks like Gabby Hayes might have.


imageFamed heart surgeon Denton Cooley included a Crab Curry sort of dish … you know, it looks pretty heart healthy too.  Why would I include this?  Easy, I went to school with his daughter.  I also mentioned him in my other blog recently over at  I was talking about heart transplants.

These were just a few of the celebrities … the book is huge.  I’m lucky I got a good copy … the thirty-year-old plastic binding is still in good shape!

imageCelebrate San Antonio, A Cookbook was published for the  Sesquicentennial by the San Antonio Junior Forum, whatever that is.   It is an impressively done hard cover book … very nicely done.  If you are interested in the history of San Antonio it has it all, from the early Canary Islander immigrants through the republic and statehood.  Yes, Canary Islanders.  Not many people realize that many of the flavor combinations common in TexMex came from these very settlers.  Don’t take it from me, read the book.



I included so many recipes from the other one, I decided to just include two .. both on the same page, both involving Texas-style Brisket.   I think I am hungry for Barbeque.  Actually, I make brisket in the oven quite often … just set it low and cook it long.  I will have to try this.

So we’ve learned a little about Texas History, a little about me, and a lot about food.  That’s about it for today.

Be sure to check out my improved web page: … that’s me the writer, not me the cookbook crazy, but I’ll be integrating this blog into the web page very soon.




A Cuppa … What?

imageI’m not sure I’m so crazy this time. I just went shopping because I needed a new coffeemaker. Have you shopped for one lately? The market seems to be about half and half right now between drip and Keurig style. And about half the drip makers are higher end.  In fact, the coffee aisle seems to share that same division.

Okay, here’s a secret about me … I used to sell high end coffee. I really did. I was a barista too. It taught me that coffee can be an expensive pursuit but in the long run it doesn’t matter much. A good clean pot with some decent mainstream coffee can do just fine. Believe me. It can. Don’t get me wrong, I like really good coffee but I do just fine with standard coffee most of the time. Those expensive drinks? That is what they are, expensive drinks. Most are also calorie bombs. Splurge, if you want, but let’s get down to brass tacks … when y ou want coffee, what you really NEED  is some caffeine.  That’s why I like to go regular and if you are interested in saving money, all the better. What we all seem to need in the long run is convenience and CAFFEINE.

Okay, to clarify, I was shopping for a new drip-style. We still have a Keurig we got a couple of years ago. It makes great coffee. I also have one of those little single cup jobs to fill with my own coffee … it makes good coffee although I don’t think it is better than a good pot of drip.  But most people love the pods.  They are convenient, and the coffeemaker is fast. It should be, since a low end Keurig  costs as much as a high end drip coffeemaker.

But the coffee is gonna cost you.    Okay, I bought a big container of loose coffee that “says” 240 cups. Those are five ounce cups (another measurement that should go out the window IMHO). So figure 120 real cups of coffee (your mileage may vary). Divide that by 18 – most boxes contain 18 pods (but some boxes in the grocery stores carry 12 or even 10 – best to check what you buy, it will increase the resulting calculation). That gives us 6.667 boxes of Keurig style coffee. The “240 cup” container cost me $6.99 on sale. Boxes of 18 cup pods usually cost $9 to $13 so for theoretical purposes, let’s say $10.  Use some simple math:  for the same number of cups you are spending $66.67!

I shop around for pods and the absolute best price for them I’ve found is about 34 cents each, and that is if you are lucky … most standard brands hover around the 50-60 cent per cup mark. That same coffee I make with the drip maker comes out to 17 cents a cup. I figure using that same coffee in the little reusable pod is just a little more … using maybe one or two cents added, so that does save some money. But some of those are a pain to clean so right away, to save a little money, and you lose the convenience factor.

People used to do a major freak out if coffee went up at the store. That’s why you almost can’t buy a pound anymore … In the seventies manufacturers started skimping the size to reduce the sticker shock. They started by going down to 14 oz. Then the wholesale price of coffee went up again and they dropped it to 13oz. Now, that “formerly known as a pound of coffee” container is 11.5 oz. Sometimes 10.5!  I’m pretty sure that in the 1970s that 240 cup container was a  THREE pound container!  Now it is about a pound and a half.
So I would love to ask the manufacturers, why keep reducing the sizes if people are willing to shell out almost seventy bucks for seven bucks worth of coffee?  I propose the following promotion:  NEW, we now sell coffee in one pound cans?  Hey, we could make Coffee Can bread and cakes again.
I know, some people will say they prefer the pods because they want a choice, they want variety. Having sold gourmet coffee I say BEANS to that.  In my experience, ultimately most people tend to find something they like and stick with it.

One last word about convenience … it is all in your perception. Yeah, rinsing the pot and making a fresh pot takes a little effort. Usually one or two minutes. After that, the next several cups are MORE CONVENIENT than any Keurig. Just point and pour.

I did see one lonely percolator on the shelf when I was shopping. When I was a kid, THAT was pretty much your home option. You know what? Don’t let anybody fool you … they still make good coffee.  My mother still uses one and when I went to stay with them when my dad was still alive … gotta admit that first morning, the coffee was pretty awful. I took a look in the pot and it was disgusting … well, I’m not blaming them, they both are legally blind. I cleaned the heck out of that pot. Next batch: good coffee. Scratch that. Great coffee.
That’s the key, get that old crappy coffee residue out of anything, including drip baskets, drip pots, or even the Keurig funnel. The worst thing people can do is just rinse out the drip pot and use that to refill the reservoir.  All that yucky burned oil residue gets recycled into the innards of the machine.  Blech.  Use something else to pour your water.

Hey, I haven’t even touched on the issue of waste but I will say this: the next time you hear someone complaining about rising costs or the dangers of environmental disasters … ask to see a picture of their coffeemaker.  That will tell you something about the value of their viewpoints.

(A note on the picture … it just one I happened to have in my gallery.  You want gourmet coffee in 1880’s Houston?  I think that was your place.  Likely it was, uh, er, just coffee, but you can bet it was freshly roasted.  That was from an ad in a vintage Houston cookbook I reviewed a while back)



All Scrambled Up

Ever wonder about the origin of scrambled eggs?   Me either. 

  But here’s the deal. I like to make what I call camp style scrambled eggs.  Camp style means you don’t dirty another dish … you break the eggs into a gob of melted butter in the hot pan and … well … you scramble them up. 

So that’s not how they teach it in culinary school?   Too bad.  Saw a chef on Worst Cooks complain about the eggs not being mixed well enough. When I make them the yolk/white incorporate quite nicely, thank you very much. 

If I’m making a lot, I still dutifully whip them in a bowl, but if I’m just scrambling eggs just for me, heck, I just SCRAMBLE them. 

Old School — Again?

imageLast weekend was yet another twenty-five cent book sale.  I missed the month before because we had an ice storm that weekend.  But I was tempted!

Anyway, the pickings were slim this time but I was happy to find this one.

Jane Brody’s Good Food Book.  Good old Jane, the long-time health and nutrition columnist for the New York Times.  She sort of rode the bandwagon as a big deal in the 80s as the stalwart champion of high carbohydrate living.  A lot of people hold her in less esteem these days for that very stance.

But I like this book for a number of reasons.  For one, it is full of good general information about food.  All kinds of food.  Fats, proteins, vegetables, grains, herbs.  If you want to know about food, this is an excellent reference book.  And it has good recipes too.  Sensible recipes.  Tasty recipes.  I’ve heard a number of people talk down about her and this book because she trumpets high carb lifestyle.  Okay, fine.

Here’s the deal.  She advocates moderation and exercise and advises people to stay away from processed foods and too many sugary sweets and instead make food from scratch using whole grains and natural ingredients.  We live in a world of fad diets.  I have always struggled with weight and for me, the only way I seem to be able to lose and keep it off is Atkins.  Low Carb.  Sure.   I can do it.  It gets boring but I like meat, I like salads and veggies.  Not as much as I like biscuits and cake but I can get by, for a while.  You hear about Paleo.  Frankly, I figure Atkins basically IS paleo.  I have a book somewhere called Neanderthin … same deal.  But the thing to remember when you want to tend away from grains and such is this: people who truly LIVED  paleo, didn’t really live that long.  Sure

But the thing to remember when you want to tend away from grains and such is this: people who truly LIVED  paleo, didn’t really live that long.  Sure Saber-tooth cats jumped out of trees but that only indicated that they ate simply because life was hard.  Civilization didn’t come around until, guess what, they started growing grains.  All this grain stuff didn’t just pop up in the last few dozen years, this grain lifestyle has been a predominant part of human existence for THOUSANDS of years.  We didn’t start advancing as a civilization until we started growing and harvesting and sustaining ourselves with grains.

This isn’t  bad stuff, really,  but we’ve degraded.  Sugars and genetic engineering and oddball fats and trans fats and … the worst of all … corn syrup derivatives (goes back to sugars, I know but they are much worse).  I cringe every time I see somebody pick up a jar of “reduced fat” peanut butter at the store … because I know it has been processed with a hefty dose of corn syrup.  Geeze, I want to tell them, pure peanut butter isn’t that bad.  Check for evidence of trans fats but you don’t want that corn syrup.  It is used to augment so many products, especially products being marketed in some way to make them appear healthier — when in fact, they are much worse.  People are trickle fed corn syrup in alarming quantities — and then they wonder why diabetes seems to be on the rise.

Hmmmm, maybe growing grains isn’t good for civilization after all, maybe the faddists are right.

imageWith Jane, you get none of that stuff.  Back to basics.  Portion control.  A little of this, a little of that.   Take a walk.  Why do people vilify her?  Because she’s an outspoken woman?  I dunno.

I already had this book, BTW.  I just picked it up because it was signed.  As we all know, a signed copy is a “must buy” for that crazy cookbook guy.