Breakfast Tacos?

cover-lg2aThat’s right.  Breakfast tacos.  Also Huevos Rancheros Especial, enchiladas, Banana Dream Cake, and the Best Danged Buttermilk Pie you’ve ever tasted.  Also Chorizo, “THAT” BLT (sort of a BLT on steroids), and the mythical Double Trouble Dog, so dangerous it’s shortened to DTD.

What does this have to do with cookbooks?  These are just a few of the recipes in The Mossback Cafe Cookbook, a companion book to my Traces of Treasure novel series.

I first wrote about “The Mossback Cafe” in my novel, The Fever.  It’s a small cafe in the crossroads ranching town of Van Horn TX.  Van Horn is real.  The Mossback is not.

“Mossback” has a lot of meanings, including an old Elk or Moose, or an old “lunker” fish, or an ancient tortoise or turtle.  But there’s another “old-west” meaning … an old wild (and wily) Texas longhorn.  Hence the longhorn on the cover.  In the novel, owner Smidgeon Toll serves up good food with friendly banter.  It keeps her place popular with both locals and people passing through.  Although it was an invention, I fell in love with the place I created and based most of the sequel, A Curse That Bites Deep, in and around The Mossback.  The third book in the series will be based there too.

The cookbook is crafted to read as though owner Smidgeon Toll has put it together as a promotional piece for the cafe, and I’ve added a little more biographical info on her and her family and the restaurant.  Her homespun humor is a lot of fun and she gives insight into some of the workings of the cafe with the sections divided into practical restaurant divisions.  “Basics” starts off with items such as biscuits and chili and a few other things that are used as components in other recipes.  There are popular and unique “On The Side” dishes, recipes for dishes served up as specials are in “Y’all Wanted Something Special?”, a few of the standards are in “Standard Bearers”, a small helping of wonderful desserts are in “Just Desserts”, and it ends up with a couple of recipes for items she calls “Weekenders.”  Not to be outdone, be sure to read the afterword … there are a couple of more surprises there.

A lot of the recipes serve double duty (some even more) and she even gives some insight into innovations they use.  For instance, she mentions that the sauce for their version of Arroz con Pollo (a Mexican chicken and rice) can, with a few minor alterations, also serve as a base for Chicken Cacciatore.

In short, if The Mossback Cafe actually existed, these are a few of the offerings that might have made it famous. In reality, they are some of my favorite recipes.  So, here you go, your Crazy Cookbook Guy created his own cookbook.  How about that.

What I was going for was the “look” of a small self-produced cookbook of a type that a small-town cafe might make for themselves in the mid-1980s.  I think I hit the nail on the head.  Even better:  IT’S FREE.  Well, it’s a free ebook anyway.  It’s also a lot of fun.

The ebook is available in formats compatible with Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iPad and most other e-readers. There is also a PDF version, in case you just want to browse it at work. I won’t tell.
The link below will take you to Smashwords, the world’s largest distributor of ebooks.  They have help files if you need a hand, but generally, if you can browse there in your reader you should be able to download the ebook right into your reader or tablet.
In short, epub works with Nook-iBooks-Kobo, and mobi works with Kindle.

For your free download >>> — >> click here

I am hoping this little cookbook will get hungry readers interested in the books that inspired it.  So feel free to browse for my books too… they’re on Smashwords as well as on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks.  No paperback of the cookbook yet, but there are paperbacks of the novel.  There are links for everything are on my website, click my name below. Enjoy!

Thomas Fenske, writer and cookbook collector currently lives in central North Carolina.

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Treasure!

This was book sale weekend at my favorite used bookstore.  Sadly, this weekend’s haul cost me about a buck more than in the past due to their huge price increase last month.  Just kidding … thirty-five cents a book on sale weekends is still an incredible deal, it’s just that Quarter Book Sale sounded so good — Thirty-Five-Cent Book Sale doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely.

img_7474But I found treasure, literally.  The GOLDEN TREASURY OF COOKING, a Better Homes and Gardens publication from 1973.  The gleaming golden cover doesn’t photograph well, but, in a bit of irony, bad photography is why I love older BH&G books and this one does not disappoint in that respect.

You see, one common element of most 1950s-1960s-1970s cookbooks is the truly awful food photography.  img_7475I can not in any way, shape, or form imagine a book editor looking at some of these things and say “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m looking for.”  It isn’t just me.  James Lileks has created an industry out of making fun of these sorts of photos.  I just regret that he got there first.  Still, I can not resist picking up a BH&G book from that era. I probably have most of them. It’s like a horrible accident, you don’t want to see it but you can’t help but take a peek.  Then another. I’ll laugh out loud in the used bookstore aisle, even if I already have the book.

img_7486I mean, look at this Beef Wellington.
Just look at it!  Bleh.

Gordon Ramsay, if you’re by some accident reading my blog, I apologize.  It isn’t me … it’s in the book.  I’m just the messenger, please!
If I were served this in Hell’s Kitchen I would rush over to the window and yell out, “Shut it down!”

img_7478Here we have a marvelous example of truly bad food photography. I know what the top picture looks like. What it actually might be, really doesn’t matter, but what the heck?  I mean, remember what I said about photo editors?  Did they see this?  Why didn’t they say, “don’t give me a plate of crap, give me something that looks like food!”

The bottom picture doesn’t fare much better in the imagination.  Well, in my imagination it is a group of people in life jackets trying to survive the Titanic and failing.

img_7479Oh, one thing this book does is arrange itself chronologically.  To that end, as a first in modern (ala’ 1973) cookbooks, is include what amounts to a few centerfolds chronicling the various decades.
CENTERFOLDS!
I don’t know about you but the last thing I want in a cookbook is an extra-long page slipping out all over my countertop.  What were they thinking? Oddly, they are still pretty interesting, like a series of Sgt. Pepper montages. I love the propeller hat in this one … ah, those were the days.

img_7480I guess, for me, the most disturbing thing about their food photography is the abusive use of color.
Well, the fanciful pineapple on the ham is pretty bizarre too, but this entire scene is like some strange nightmare.
They often seemed to want to overuse the same colors “Let’s see … we’ve got reddish and brownish food, by golly I guess we need a reddish and brownish background.”

 

This is so common I’ve included two more examples. ugh.

img_7484img_7483

Then, there are some things that are just bizarre.

img_7481What is this … a mound of something?  … reminds me of the Blancmange from Monty Python, you know, when they came from the Andromeda Galaxy and sought to take over the world by winning at Wimbledon?
img_7482And what on earth are those things sitting in a skillet? Obviously, they are intended to be served in individual skillets.
Do I have to go out and buy four identical skillets now?   Is that a thing?

I guess, just maybe, possibly, that is a lemon cake?

Question: do I really want actual lemons on my cake? Inquiring minds want to know!

img_7477I’m convinced that these  last two food pictures inspired Dr. Suess in Grinch.
This simply HAS to be roast beast … two ways!

Well, the ham is okay, I guess, but I’m not sure what the garnish is.  Raw apple with lemon jello?

On top?  That has to be the foulest piece of fowl I’ve ever seen.  I’m surprised they gave it an honor guard.  Or did they?  I have no idea whatsoever what those little flowery things between the pseudo tomatoes are.

 

img_7485I’ll close with the classic 1970’s kitchen.  They included kitchen shots for each era. I don’t know, maybe we all were on drugs or something.  This sort of image comes up from time to time … listen, I lived in the 1970s and even look back on those years with some nostalgia.  If my kitchen had looked like this, well … hey, maybe it did and I’ve just blocked it out or something.  Although I do kinda like that light fixture …

So, it’s a good sized book, 302 pages with the index.  It is much bigger than the themed books BH&G put out in the era, but it is folio sized like them.  Lots of laughs all around.  Surprisingly, despite the unintended humor of the photography, the recipes in BH&G book aren’t that bad.  Most are simple and down to earth, easily approachable.  So, this is a double-sided treasure I guess.  Well worth the thirty-five cents I paid for it, don’t you think?

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In real life, That Crazy Cookbook Guy is writer Thomas Fenske.  You can find out more about him and his books at http://thefensk.com

 

 

Sad to Report …

I’ve talked a lot about my favorite used book store and their fabulous twenty-five cent sales one weekend a month. We just went to this month’s sale this past weekend only to find out that, sadly, the twenty-five cent sale is no more.  ☹️

The price on sale weekends is now THIRTY-FIVE cents.  Oh, well. I’ll just have to somehow accept the change. 

In other news. 

Merry Christmas to you and yours. I hope you get some nice cookbooks this year! 

That Crazy CookBook Guy also lurks as author Thomas Fenske.  To find out what he is up to:  http://thefensk.com

Chance Encounters

A while back, I was wandering through a gourmet food store in Chapel Hill, NC.  My lovely bride and I were on a quest for candy … and Southern Season has an awesome candy department.  We had decided to spend a small fortune on candy for a “candy bar” at our daughter’s upcoming wedding.  Ah, that’s a different story.  On our way to the candy, we passed by a book signing table.  Let me rephrase … a COOKBOOK signing table.

Now from past posts, we all know your Crazy Cookbook Guy can’t resist a signed book … no matter who signed it or when.  On the used cookbook circuit that could be anybody at any time, usually a nobody from years ago.  I am not a big fan of “celebrity” cookbooks but thumb through them looking for signed copies.

img_7223That “I am not a fan” thing might change.  This signing table was populated by an engaging young woman named Fanny Slater.  The cookbook?  ORANGE, LAVENDER & FIGS.  A couple of years ago, Fanny was the winner of Rachel Ray’s Great American Cookbook Competition.

Book signings can be a lonely thing.  Well, I was there close to the end, but she and her dad were just sitting there looking bored when the half-blind Crazy Cookbook Guy walked up.  We had quite an enjoyable conversation, me hawking my book and her hawking her book.  I guess she won.  I think she was teaching a cooking class just after that. 

Fanny is quite the entrepreneur, catering, book signings, cooking shows, appearances, cooking classes … just reading the schedule on her website tired me out.

The cookbook is very dynamic, full of personal stories and interesting recipes.  I know I usually copy recipes into my reviews but given the cookbook’s status (i.e. currently published … we all know I usually pull recipes from vintage cookbooks) I’ll do nothing more than mention a few that caught my eye.  The personal stories are what drew me in.  I love a cookbook with personal stories.

The recipes are modern but she has a unique take on modernizing  old favorites.  For instance, Spicy Pulled Chicken And Roasted Garlic Soup is a take-off on a classic tortilla soup.  And there are a few eye-catching newbies, like what she calls FAN Sauce.  I guess “FAN” refers to her … I couldn’t quite figure it out but I won’t be surprised to see FAN SAUCE on the shelf one of these days.   I don’t care, it looks delicious.   I can’t wait to try it.

Her Herby Buttermilk Dill Dressing is a healthier reboot of a ranch dressing.  That’s another one I’m going to have to try.  Her Creamy Pulled Chicken Salad and Bacon Wraps is another one … well, I could go on and on.  If I lived next door to her I know I’d weigh 1000 pounds!

img_7224I bought this cookbook several months ago, but I had a problem with cataracts at the time … I kept putting off reading the cookbook simply because I couldn’t read.  For a collector of vintage cookbooks, buying a new one is always an interesting opportunity.  Okay, she was funny and cute and we talked about a lot more than just cooking … like book marketing.  All authors struggle with that.  And it was an opportunity to get a really nice cookbook signed … to ME!  That is actually a unique addition to my collection.  Looks good, right?

Now it is even more special  … Fanny has just announced a new endeavor.  Food Network TV Star.  In January she’ll be part of a new show … The Kitchen Sink!  And to think, I met her when she was just … well, she’s been on TV a lot already, guest shots on Rachel Ray and other shows and she has her own segments on local TV in Wilmington NC … so in my book,  she’s already a star.  More info on Fanny Slater can be found at her website … http://fannyslater.com/

I give this cookbook two thumbs up … if you are looking for a last minute gift idea this year, this might be a good option for you.

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That Crazy Cookbook Guy’s alter ego is Author Thomas Fenske … his latest novel, A CURSE THAT BITES DEEP, is currently available too … another fine gift idea.  More info at http://thefensk.com

 

 

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.

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uddl-KOO2-s

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

http://www.thefensk.com

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?

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.