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Sunday, June 12, 2011

My "Appalling Collection"

Here it is—the debut of my food column. For me cooking and writing go together perfectly. I read somewhere recently that working with your hands engages the left brain, so your right brain is free to wander around and capture intuitions. In simple words, you might have plot inspirations while cooking.
            Thanks to Beth Knudson and Weldon Adams for naming the blog. They suggested that potluck might convey the community feeling I want. I do want to hear from you, have your contributions, be they recipes, thoughts on cooking, a guest column, whatever. Leave a comment, and if you want me to get back to you, please leave an email address.
            Let me stress that I’m a hobby cook, not a professional; cooking is my avocation. I once considered naming the cookbook I wrote, The Faux Gourmet, but an editor nixed it. So the cookbook is Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books (available on or call 1-800-826.8911 or ask your local bookstore). But don’t look to me for perfection or ultimate authority, and do feel free to question ingredients and amounts and methods. This is all just fun.
            The other night I spent about two hours making two dips to take to a memorial reception for a friend’s mother the next day. After my offer of food was graciously accepted, I went to my appalling collection. My mom had an appalling collection--a black, three-ring notebook for each category of food—main dishes, cookies, salads, and so on. When we were cleaning out her house, I started to go through those notebooks and gave up. It made me sad, and I figured I already had most of the recipes I wanted. But it also made me sad to throw out all those notebooks she had carefully kept all those years—“Aunt Ruthie’s Frosting” or “Gladys Delavan’s Salad” or “Elizabeth Jackson’s Molasses Cookies,” most of them handwritten though some were pulled from newspapers or magazines and carefully pasted onto notebook pages.
            My own appalling collection isn’t quite that organized or neat. It’s in a series of folders that take up two drawers in Mom’s secretary, which now stands in my bedroom. The recipes are in five folders: Entrees Tried, Entrees Never Tried, Appetizers, Salads and Vegetables, and Desserts. My method has several problems—the file folders are stretched beyond capacity and are probably at least twenty years old, so they are fraying and falling apart and some are Scotch-taped together. And the recipes are in no order, except that the ones I’ve used or looked at most recently tend to be on top. But we are talking thick folders here. So if I want a specific recipe, I sometimes have to thumb through the whole darn file to find it. I know so many of the recipes by sight and feel that sometimes I thumb through too fast and have to go back and start over again.
            Dinner guests? No problem. Depending on my mood and how well I know the guests I may go to the Entrees Tried or Entrees Never Tried folder. The latter is so thick I will never try them all in this lifetime, but it is rich with recipes that sounded good. Sometimes, though, as I go through I think, “I’ll never fix that” and I do a bit of judicious weeding. Today I added Paula Deen’s scallop sliders with cilantro-lime mayonnaise to the Never Tried folder. I’ll fix it for Jordan one night when Christian is busy—she’d love it, and he is a beef-and-potatoes guy.
            I subscribe to three food magazines—Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Southern Living. When a new issue arrives, I spend a delightful hour leafing through it, idly marking recipes I think are interesting. A few days later, I go back for a serious review, tearing out the pages I want and discarding the rest of the magazine. I learned I had to do that once when I had accumulated abou six years worth of Bon Appetit.
            Cookbooks? Oh yes, I have one long, overcrowded shelf of them in the playroom—but I most often go to my appalling collection unless I want something specific from one of the books. So here are the two recipes I took to the reception.
Reuben dip
Includes all the ingredients of a Reuben sandwich. Serve it with cocktail-size pumpernickel.
4 oz. cream cheese (low fat preferably)
½ cup Thousand Island dressing—I made my own of ½ c. mayonnaise, 2 Tbsp. ketchup, 1 Tbsp. each dill pickle relish and grated onion, 1/8 tsp. each salt and celery salt
1/3 lb. corned beef – put it in the blender to shred it
8 oz. Swiss cheese, chopped into small pieces
¾ cup drained sauerkraut – leaving it drain in a colander is not enough; you’d be surprised at how much moisture you get out when you squeeze by hand . . . .and squeeze and squeeze.
Soften cream cheese and mix with Thousand Island dressing. Blend in remaining ingredients and pour into a pie shell. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Serve warm.
Got leftovers? Spread them on a piece of toast (rye is best) and broil—great lunch. I left the remaining dip with the hostess, but today I made a great open-face sandwich of sourdough bread, kraut, corned beef, and Swiss cheese, topped with the sauce.

Dried tomato dip
1 garlic bulb
1 tsp olive oil
11 oz. goat cheese
8 oz. low fat cream cheese
2 Tbsp. chopped chives—except in the dead of winter I always have a pot on the porch
½ c. sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil; drain, rinse, and chop in the blender
A pinch of salt
A pinch of finely ground black pepper—you can use fresh coarse ground, but personally I don’t like to bite down on a big piece of pepper.
Cut the pointed end off the garlic, put it in foil, drizzle with olive oil, and bake at 425 for 45 minutes. Let cool, then squeeze garlic out into mixing bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
Serve with crudities and crackers; I used broccoli, snap peas, carrots, and some tomato-basil Wheat Thins.
I hope you’ll leave a comment. If you are a foodie, this blog is for you and is yours as much as mine.


  1. That sounds yummy Judy. One of my "go to" appetizers is to make my own pimento cheese without the pimentos. I used extra sharp cheddar (very important in my mind to start with a block and grate it by hand), mayo and a little bit of jalapeno juice. I spread it on a cracker ( I like club because of the shape) and top it with a roasted red bell pepper, the kind marinated in a jar. Very yummy!

  2. OH, now I'm so hungry! And I'm so impressed--yes, I get those cooking magazines, too, but then they stack up, unread. SO hurray. Now I'll just come here for the best of the mags!

    Congratulations on your new adventure..see you again soon!

  3. Great post, Judy! I used to get Southern Living mag grandmother got me hooked on it. Why I let the darn thing expire I'll never know. Maybe I need to subscribe again....*thinking*
    Thanks for reminding me about it, Judy. And all the best to you with your new blog!

  4. Good luck with the new blog. My grandmother is constantly trying to pass her cookbooks off to me but I feel like the important recipes she's shared are memorized. I think cooking is from the heart.

    Good luck and I'll be sure to pass on your blog!

  5. Thanks all. I'm glad you like my experiment. Yes, Hank, I'll give tips on the magazines--I do that for my daughter. Polly, you should try my pimiento cheese--with pimientos! Renee, I really recommend Southern Living--good, reliable easy recipes. And, Jen, I think cooking is from definitely from the heart--and the soul.

  6. My recipes are a mess! A bunch are shoved into large manila envelopes from the last time we moved, 6 years ago! Others are shoved inside cookbooks, some in index card files. You're saying I should straighten them up before my children have to deal with them. I know, I know.

    I love your new blog!

  7. HI Judy,
    Very nice. It's always good to have new recipes.

  8. Kaye, yes, in your spare (?) time you should organize your recipes--that's one of those project I tell myself is oiut there for when I'm too doddering to write or cook! Jennifer, I'll try to keep giving you new recipes. Thanks both for responding.

  9. Hi Judy from another Judy. Loved your blog. I too have a collection of my mom's recipes. She had an entire zucchini recipe box. My folks grew it). My recipes are in small binders, large binders, and envelopes. Sometimes, there's a long hunt. Interesting what you said about left brain and right brain. I never knew that about working with your hands. Today I'm making orange-yogurt bread and tomorrow lemon-lime ice milk. All in prep. for company. I'll be following your blog. Check mine out at:

    Judy Copek

  10. Yum. I'm going to have to try that Dried Tomato Dip. :)I'm a new follower. Great blog.

  11. Judy--a whole cookbook for zucchini? I love it, but can't get some of the family to eat it. Love zucchini bread.
    Ciara, the sun-dried tomato dip is easy and good, but my fussy son-in-law looked at it one day and said, "That doesn't have anything weird like salmon in it, does it?"