Category Archives: books

Choose your filling

minimized-hamantaschenHamantaschen are three-cornered treats stuffed with many favorites—prune, apricot, poppy seed or cream cheese fillings. The traditional pastries of Purim, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the defeat of the villain Haman, taste great any time of year. Make hamantaschen and test a triangle or two before curious neighbors smell the delicious aroma and drop in with an appetite.


Novelist Eileen Charbonneau releases primer for beginners and tempts tasters with Plum Duff recipe

Elements of the Novel
with Eileen Charbonneau
It’s a privilege to welcome historical novelist Eileen Charbonneau to The Cookery. Not only does Eileen move the writing world with her historical fiction, she’s written a new book for beginners to set them on course with novel writing. Eileen is sharing a preview of “Elements of the Novel . . . A Primer for Beginners,” and she may also come clean with the benefits of incorporating culinary aphrodisiacs into the writing process. Eileen, welcome!
Eileen: Thank you, Mary Ann.  I am so happy to be here at The Cookery!
Q: We shy away from mug shots here at The Cookery. As one who develops so many intriguing characters for the page, will you briefly describe yourself, or you as your favorite character?
A:  I am a life omnivore! Love tasting everything from food to intriguing people, places and adventures. Being an American is great for this: the world lives here along with all cultures, creeds, choices . . . and desserts!
Q: You serve up some sound advice about food and drink and how it relates to taking care of yourself in “Elements.” Beginners may not realize where this fits into the big writing picture. Can you share your own recipe for taking care when it comes to eating well?
A:  Writing itself is a sedentary act, there’s no way around that . . . writers need to plant their rears in a chair to DO it. So I think it’s so important when not “in the act” to eat well and not too much, and to avoid all drugs including tobacco and too much alcohol. And of course to move, whether it’s dance, a favorite sport, or exercise routine of choice. Eating well for me has been preferring fresh to prepared, frozen, canned or processed food, and way more vegetables and fruits than meat. And spare the fat (oh fat, that great conductor of flavor!), sugars and salt. And something well known here at The Cookery is important to me . . . trying the great cuisines of world cultural traditions.
Q: Without revealing all your secrets, tell us about the novel writing process and how you view it as simple but not easy.
A:  Writing is cumulative–the more you do it the better you get, but you must DO it, and re-do it . . . that to me is what separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls. Novels are long form writing with many threads to pull together and weave through the whole. So rewriting concentrating on elements:  characterization, setting, plot, transitions, dialogue, point of view, etc. , is for me what it takes to produce a compelling plot with vivid characters, well told. Readers have given us that most precious gift—their attention, and deserve no less.
Q: How do beginners get trapped in the research process when approaching that first historical novel?
A:  Oh, that can happen easily! After all, this is the world a writer is going to inhabit for the months of the writing process, so she wants to get it right, and accurate. But when you’re reading books that dispute whether Thomas Jefferson preferred planting peas or beans in the garden at Monticello, it might be time to start the danged book! Novelists are not historians, and we need to see history through the sensibilities of our fictional characters and plot.
Q: You talk about the importance of drafts in your book. What can beginners learn from your three-draft process?
A: Beginners can learn the essentials of expression (get the story out), communication (get the story out with the reader in mind), to polish (make that story sing!).
Q: Eileen, you have the gift of delivering bad news with a gentle touch. But when it comes to writers who “love draft one,” you offer little comfort to writers in this camp. How can beginners avoid the Draft One camp?
A:  By revision. Draft One is for writers’ eyes only . . . it comes out before the elements have been mastered. I know some novelists rewrite in their heads, so their first written drafts are much better than mine, but mastering the elements means working them through drafts, whatever the method. Novelist J.T. Bushnell explains, “In a first draft, I can’t consider the consequences of every narrative decision because there are simply too many decisions to make.”
Q: About dialogue . . . You’ve mastered the art of creating convincing dialogue with historical and romance writing, and helped many aspiring writers in your writing and editing workshops. What forces can help the writer illuminate a character?
A:  The living breathing heart of a novel lies within its characters. Characters are constructed (physically and psychologically), revealed (through their thoughts, their dialogue and dialogue about them), their setting, and how they interact with the plot and other characters.
Q: The Cookery loves a tempting dessert when it’s worth the calories, but our happy ending is often the meal in itself. You use the dessert analogy with epilogues. What’s a beginner to do with the decision to use or not to use the epilogue?
A:  Epilogues are used for dramatic effect,  to learn more about the “how” of the happy-ever-after (in Romance novels…oh, very dessert like!), or the results in the aftermath of a disaster (when things don’t turn out so well).  They can be crafty ways that novelists pull you into the next of a series of books, like that perfect ending of the meal makes you want to accept another invitation to dine at that friend’s house!
Q: Where can we find your books, Eileen?
A:  I’m happy to report that one of my publishers, Macmillan, has just brought out six of my novels in e-book format, which can be ordered while in your favorite independent bookseller, chain, or from for Nook and Amazon for the Kindle.  ELEMENTS OF THE NOVEL is published by New Street Communications, can be ordered from them, your bookseller or online in trade-sized paperback or as an e-book kindle edition.
Q: Are you offering any summer 2012 workshops?
A:  Yes! We’ll be covering the Elements of Characterization and Setting in this year’s Elements of the Novel Seminar on July 14th from  9AM–4 PM at the Merritt Bookstore in Millbrook, New York.  You can find out more at my website or from  Novelists at every stage of the process are welcome!
Mary  Ann: Eileen, thank you for joining us at The Cookery, and as always, for reaching out to other writers across all genres and platforms.
Eileen: It’s been my great pleasure spending time at The Cookery.  Thank you for your interest!
Read, write, and try Eileen’s recipe for plum duff!
The Randolph Legacy Plum Duff
In the early 19th century, midshipman Ethan Randolph serves 10 years on a British ship as an American prisoner of war, dreaming of how wonderful the Plum Duff on his American ship used to taste! Here’s the recipe.
2 cups flour (1/2 cup of it oatmeal, if you’d like)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup raisins, ground or chopped (kitchen scissors work in a pinch)
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon zest
  1. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Add the melted shortening.
  2. Add raisins, sugar, lemon zest and water to the flour/shortening mixture. Knead into a dough. (If too dry, add a little more water; if too wet, add a little more flour.)  Form into 1-1/2 inch balls.

Now, here’s where the sailors of the 19th century would drop the balls into boiling water, cover, turn heat to low, and simmer for four hours.

But what you’re going to do is:
3.  Pop them on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
Serve warm with hot jam, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, or whipped cream.
Yield:  8-10 dumplings

Bento Box filled with healthy fun for one

Yum-Yum Bento Box

How long does it take to fix a school lunch? For the experienced parent, good at keeping chips or the equivalent, fruit and veggies, a sandwich and a treat, maybe two minutes. That’s unless the peanut butter has separated or the jelly cowers at the unreachable bottom of the jar. It’s a daily task, done with a kind of slapdash love. But other folk have other ideas. The Yum-Yum Bento Box, a delectable little cookbook is a case in point. Crystal Watanabe and Maki Ogawa introduce the art of designing lunch in a bento, a box-for-one popularly known in Japan.

The colorful pages display elegant or humorous lunch ideas that are sure to be the envy of everyone else in the cafeteria.

Full-color photographs show folktale and fairytale characters, holiday symbols and creatures created almost wholly with snippets of fresh vegetables, molded rice, and nori (dried seaweed). The ingredients are mostly at your regular supermarket though it might be tricky to find quail eggs if you are dedicated to copying the bumblebee creation!

Yum-Yum Bento Box: Fresh Recipes for Adorable Lunches, By Crystal Watanabe, Maki Ogawa, Quirk Books, 2010

© 2010 Jane Manaster. All Rights Reserved.

While you’re gathering ideas for young palates, consider Silly Snacks by Favorite Brand Name. Silly is the key ingredient in this snack helper filled with clever creations. I received a copy of this cookbook several years ago from the queen of kid pleasers, our “90-something” great-grandma to my kids. She sent copies around to many of her loved ones and we keep ours at the ready when meal time calls for fun. We love the Tic-Tac-Toe Tuna Pizza.

Second-chance lasagna

I’ve been making excuses forever not to give lasagna a chance. 

The noodle dish was on the menu at the restaurant where I worked for several years, and I can’t recall anyone ever ordering it twice or remarking on how good it was. This particular lasagna just wasn’t anything to get excited over or to justify adding to the calorie count and I developed a lofty attitude about the cheesy mix. After all my years of snubbing lasagna, I’ve given it a chance, thanks to a nudge from a lasagna lover. My end result may be high on the calorie count, but it’s lifted lasagna up on the ratings scale. I tested the dish with all types of meat, low-fat cheese and minimal sauce, but I’m sticking with a slightly modified variation of my red sauce and David Rosengarten’s classic American lasagna recipe from his 2003 cookbook “It’s All American Food,” an excellent cookbook I found on the bargain table at the Craig Claiborne Bookstore.

My red sauce recipe follows. For my second-chance lasagna, I combined the Italian sausage with 1 pound lean ground beef. The lasagna decision’s not necessarily in the noodle. In my case, it’s in the sauce.

Red sauce

4 cloves garlic, diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 lb. mild Italian sausage

2 cups diced tomatoes

¼ cup tomato paste

3 cups tomato sauce

½  cup fresh chopped basil

2 teaspoons ground oregano

2 tablespoons sugar

1 bay leaf

In large sauce pan, sauté diced garlic in olive oil. Add crumbled sausage and cook 10-15 minutes on medium heat. Drain if necessary. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, basil, oregano, sugar, and bay leaf. Simmer one hour.

I Hate to Cook . . . the book

The Cookery welcomes Jane Manaster who shares this guest post with all of us. Many thanks, Jane!

The I Hate to Cook Book, New York, Grand Central, 2010.

Fiftieth anniversary edition.

Even those of us who enjoy cooking run out of ideas sometimes. When Peg Bracken published her I Hate to Cook Book, it wasn’t only those who shunned the kitchen who perked up and enjoyed the humor as well as the recipes. Now, fifty years later, the book has been tweaked by her daughter, Jo Bracken, and its reappearance is every bit as welcome as it was the first time round. Hilary Knight (famous for illustrating the Eloise books) added the drawings.

The book begins with thirty family dinner recipes, all with inexpensive ingredients and easy to follow. You’ll find ideas for kids’ parties, special occasions, desserts, and entertaining entertainment suggestions to meet all social occasions. The increased number of women working, more packaged and frozen dinners, and take-out meals doesn’t detract from the practical common sense the Brackens offer.

For me, the highlight is the cookie section, the recipes that take minutes to fix, except the overnight macaroons which involve a brief late evening prep, and then a stir before popping them in the oven. Peg Bracken treated us all like grown-ups who can figure out for ourselves what we should or shouldn’t be eating.   Jo, in keeping with our diet-conscious ways, adds some of the low-fat substitutions that weren’t available fifty years ago.

— JM

Jane Manaster is the author of Pecans: The Story in a Nutshell, available at Amazon and locally at BookPeople in Austin.

© 2010 Jane Manaster. All Rights Reserved.

Gramma’s Recipes

My mother-in-law has never been fond of cooking. Nobody starved as she raised four healthy sons, and one of her resources remains the frozen food aisle along with that old stand-by, deli sandwiches. She hails from a multi-generational line of semi-cooks. Her mother, still the life of the party at 95, can entertain like few others – pampering loved ones with platters that overflow, and offering to-go plates of leftovers for everyone. But here’s the little family secret: Many of Gramma’s recipes all sound alike:

Get in the car and drive to the deli. Thank catering department for lovely platters.  

When the time arrives to provide a feast, Publix often comes to the rescue. 

But despite family tradition, my mother-in-law knows the gift of sharing cooking inspiration, and among my collection of cookbooks, I maintain several recipe collections that she has given me as gifts. She knows I love these resources.

If you discover one or two recipes that work for you, cookbooks earn their keep. If the numbers rise to three or four, you’re approaching a nice return. There’s a time and place for Gramma’s recipes, but I’ll continue to challenge those cookbooks to maintain their keep on the kitchen counter.

Praline recipe passes test of Austin pecan expert

Once I stood in line in the grocery store behind a woman whose cart had a pretty ho-hum selection – except for the fourteen boxes of butterscotch pudding. I couldn’t resist asking why she was buying so many and she told me that she lived in Marble Falls and couldn’t buy them there.

What an unsatisfactory answer! Further questioning revealed that they were for a praline recipe so I scribbled it down on the back of my receipt.  I make them every year.

Pecans are plentiful only in alternate years.  The 2009 crop is expensive though not too costly for a holiday treat.


1 small box butterscotch pudding and pie mix (not the instant kind).

1 c. white sugar

½ c. brown sugar

½ c. evaporated milk (not the sweetened condensed kind)

1 stick butter

1 ½ c. pecan pieces

Boil the whole lot, stirring often, until it forms a ball when tested in a little cold water. This takes about 20 minutes.

Drop tablespoons, one at a time, onto wax paper.

Thank you, dear lady from Marble Falls!


Jane Manaster is the author of Pecans: The story in a Nutshell, available at Amazon online or locally at BookPeople in Austin.

© 2009 Jane Manaster.  All Rights Reserved.