How to organize your cookbook recipes

I know it sounds strange, but I have a very specific process for welcoming a new cookbook into my home. We get a ton of them crossing our desks at Stonesong—either given to us at editor lunches or sent by the publishers—but I only let a few of them come home with me.

(I’ve seen first-hand what a life of book-hoarding looks like, and I don’t want to be surrounded in my old age by a lot of books I only sort of like. And then have to dust them!)

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So on the rare occasion when a cookbook makes the first cut and gets an invite home, we have to have a little period of getting to know each other. We sit on the couch together, and I read every single last word the author has to say to me, starting with the front matter and all the way through the acknowledgments.

As I go through, I dog-ear each and every recipe I want to try, running through a whole list of questions before I’ll give a recipe a fold:

Can I cook this on a weeknight?
Is there something new and exciting about this recipe to me?
Are these ingredients I usually have or can easily get?
Is this a good weekend project to push me out of my comfort zone?

But see, the problem is that a dog-eared page doesn’t really tell me why I wanted to make that recipe. And it doesn’t call out to me that “This is the one!” when I’m in a rush and trying to plan a week’s worth of meals.

When I heard from so many people about how they hate to fold the pages of their favorite books, or how they love to use sticky notes to mark recipes they want to try, I realized this wasn’t just a problem I had. I think it’s generally kind of hard to mark-off cookbook recipes in the categories that actually matter to you!

So I decided to have some fun and work up a solution for myself that would make it much, much easier for me to find that just-right recipe from each of my cookbooks.

Here are the cookbook index tabs I came up with, free for your downloading and printing and cooking pleasure!

Free printable cookbook tabs, perfect for categorizing your recipes

cookbook index tabs

cookbook index tabs

cookbook index tabs

Cookbook index tabs

Aren’t these fun?! Jarrett has already requested that I make him a set for his cocktail books.

You can download the file for these cookbook index tabs for free here, print them on these sturdy Avery tabs, and then have fun indexing your cookbooks for the way you really use them!

Click here to download these printable cookbook index tabs!

 

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What I’m Reading This Week

Which Cookbook Cover Should We Use? Your Vote Counts (Thriving Home): Polly and Rachel continue the fun by letting their readers choose the cover for their upcoming cookbook. I personally love both options–what do you think?

Losing by Winning (Seth Godin): “Culture, it turns out, is built on people losing in the short run on behalf of the long-term win. Connection and trust and reputation are worth more than any single inning. Not to mention that a tantrum not only ruins the relationship, it can ruin your day as well.”

May Sarton on the Artist’s Duty to Contact the Timeless in Tumultuous Times (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings): This is not only timeless, but timely: “Now it has become impossible to guard one’s soul… we are forced to read the papers, and yet… our job is somehow or other to be above the mêlée, or so deeply in it that one comes through to something else, something universal and timeless.”

How to Become More Consistent in Your Daily Journaling (Michael Hyatt): Do you journal? I’ve always wanted to be the journaling type, but no matter how many pretty notebooks I bought, I couldn’t seem to stick to the habit. But I love Michael Hyatt’s idea here of using a template for journal entries, so you’re not reinventing the wheel each morning. And I’m determined to try the Day One app he recommends!


What We’re Eating This Week

On to more urgent matters: what are we going to eat this week?

Monday: We made this ridiculous bro recipe for Super Bowl Sunday (guess who’s idea this was…), and now we have very full bellies and too many leftover cold-cuts in the fridge. The only solution? Muffuletta salad! The definition of healthy-ish.

Tuesday: I’ll be in NYC for a dim sum party to celebrate the launch of Crown’s new online mag, Taste! Jarrett will be eating whatever’s in the back of the fridge.

Wednesday: If I play my cards right, I’ll talk Jarrett into picking up what we affectionately call “The Chicken” from El Pollo Rico before he picks me up at the train station.

Thursday: I’m still on my white chicken chili kick–it’s just the only thing I want to eat lately. Chili in the mornin’, chili in the evenin’, chili at suppertime

Friday: Taco night, and I’m hoping that between now and Friday I dig up a really great shrimp taco recipe from one of my cookbooks. But suggestions are always welcome!

Cheers!

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You look like you could use a cocktail & carbs

I know many people are feeling a lot of emotions after the election. Maybe you’re feeling triumphant and excited, and you’re ready to celebrate with a gargantuan bowl of carbs, a rip-roaring drink, and a shiny new book. Maybe you’re feeling low and anxious and addled and need a dose of mellowing, homey food, a cocktail to take the edge off, and the hideaway of a book.

Viana La Place Recipe

Either way, we got you. Today, we’re pausing our regular programming to bring you all a nice, comforting meal and a stiff drink. Jarrett and I put together for you these two recipes: one of our favorite pasta recipes from a vintage cookbook and a new cocktail recipe inspired by an upcoming book.

Because, of course, both celebration and depression are improved by a good meal and a good drink.

So now that we’ve made it through, let’s all sit down to dinner together again, forget all the whacky stuff that happened this year, and focus on some really simple food, a great fall drink, and some uplifting reads. I know we can’t fix some of the hurt that’s happened this year, but if there’s anything on this planet that will heal us, it’s got to be spaghetti.

Viana La Place’s recipe for spaghetti with tomato and fresh ginger

Viana La Place Recipe

It’s so funny how we sometimes don’t know our own tastes. I was given Viana La Place’s Unplugged Kitchen by an author and didn’t quite know what to make of it at first. It doesn’t have a single photo in it; the jacket is pretty hideous (but it’s gorgeous with the jacket slipped off); and the author is very opinionated. Weirdly, I fell wildly in love with it. It’s so quiet. Quiet can feel good when you spend all day looking at food blogs and overwhelmingly gorgeous cookbook spreads.

That’s the point of the book: to unplug your kitchen and enjoy the hand-work of cooking. Viana tells readers to chuck their food processors (she says they mash rather than slice and that their sound is horrid in a kitchen); she advocates hand-tearing your lettuce and treating it more gently than we usually do with our spinners and knives; and she thinks we’re missing the point if we make simple food quickly, rather than simple food mindfully.

It’s a good distinction, and it’s a great book. It’s sadly out-of-print now (although still available used online), but here’s one of my favorite simple and slow recipes to make out of it. You’ll be done cooking in 20 minutes or so, and you probably have every last thing on hand already. So why not go ahead and slow down a bit with it, enjoying each little knife slice of garlic as it happens?

Viana La Place’s Recipe for Spaghetti with Tomato and Fresh Ginger

Viana La Place Recipe

Serves 4
Ready in 20 minutes

6 garlic cloves
1 large knob of fresh ginger
1 16-oz package of spaghetti
2 tablespoons of sea salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1-28 oz can diced tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
10 fresh basil leaves

Place a large pot of water over high heat. While it comes to a boil, peel and finely dice the 6 garlic cloves, then peel and finely dice the ginger until you have ¼ cup of it.

Your water should be boiling about now, so drop in the package of spaghetti and 2 tablespoons of salt. Set a timer for 2 minutes less than the package indicates.

In a medium sauté pan over low heat, add 1/4 cup of olive oil, all the garlic, and ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes. Stir for 2 to 3 minutes; add the ginger and stir for another minute. Add the entire can of tomatoes and stir, smashing the tomatoes if you like it a little less chunky.  (By the way, you can store any leftover ginger in a sealed baggie in the freezer. It’ll keep at least 6 months, but I’ve kept it longer and lived to tell the tale.)

Cook the sauce for about 10 minutes, until it begins to thicken. Sprinkle with more salt to taste and grind some pepper over it. As the sauce cooks, wash and chop your basil. A chiffonade is nice, but chop it however you darn well please.

Strain the spaghetti, add it to the sauce, toss, and top with basil. Drizzle a bit more olive oil and grind more pepper over each serving at the table. Or, just eat it on the couch, in a big bowl, in your jammies, with a strong drink.

Jarrett has a great one for you:

The We’re-All-Gonna-Be-Okay Cocktail

Pear Brandy Cocktail Recipe

This election year has been something—no matter where you stand, it was a stressful and trying year for us all. But now, at last, November 8th has passed, and we can finally get back to the important things: drinking together.

I’ve got just the thing to wash away any lingering bad tastes on your political palate—this drink is strong, it’s balanced, it’s got integrity, and it’s running for president in 2020. So sit down with it now, share it with a friend, put on some New Orleans parade music, and remind yourself that we’re all gonna be okay.

Makes one drink (but tripling encouraged!)

2 oz. pear brandy (We love Catoctin’s Pear Brandy, but you can also create your own!)
3 tablespoons pear preserve
1/2 oz. lemon juice
Splash of club soda

Combine the brandy, pear preserve, and lemon juice in a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Strain into a coupe glass. (It’s really important you double-strain this particular drink as the preserve creates a lot of undesirable clumps.) Top with a splash of cold club soda.

Recipe inspired by Maggie Hoffman’s upcoming cocktail book, Just One Bottle, represented by Alison Fargis at Stonesong and to be published by Ten Speed Press. Follow Maggie on Twitter here!

What to Read This Week:

15 Authors Running Fantastic Book Promotions on Instagram (Diana Urban for BookBub): I’m a big believer that authors shouldn’t try to reinvent the wheel for their marketing campaigns. Instead, just find a few people in your genre who are doing it well (like these 5 authors who are killing it with authentic marketing), then observe, analyze, lather, rinse, and repeat.

What Barnes & Noble Doesn’t Get About Bookstores (David Sax for The New Yorker): “The key question for Riggio now is figuring out what purpose Barnes & Noble serves today. Amazon dominates the industry with low prices and a vast selection, and is even flirting with brick-and-mortar bookstores, having opened two in the past year. Independent bookstores—once assumed to be on their way to extinction—own the romantic notion of a bookstore as a place, like a church or a social club, where communities are nurtured. Barnes & Noble is stuck in the middle, a giant saddled with hundreds of huge stores, and an image of corporate sameness in a market that has increasingly come to treasure defiantly independent bookstores.”

17 Literary Home Accessories Every Book-Lover Should Own (Sadie Trombetta for Bustle): Christmas is coming! If you love a book lover, I highly recommend the library-scented candle and the books-shaped plates. Also, that Kate Spade collection with the watercolor books? Be still my leaping heart.

The Making of the Sqirl Cover, an Illustrated Story (Ali Slagle for Food52): Ever wondered how many iterations of a book cover happen behind-the-scenes before it’s released? This is a great illustrated look at how covers evolve and how competing opinions can be carefully managed. (P.S. This cover is so eye-catching!)

Plenty of Room on the Island (Seth Godin): “…it turns out that the real competition is inaction. Few markets have expanded to include everyone, and most of those markets (like books and music) have offerings where people buy more than one. This means that if there’s more good stuff, more people enter the market, the culture gets better, more good work is produced and enjoyed, more people enter the market, and on and on. So encouraging and promoting the work of your fellow artists, writers, tweeters, designers, singers, painters, speakers, instigators and leaders isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s smart as well.”

Cheers!

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7 Tips for Getting More Use Out of Your Cookbooks

Here it is, one month later, and I’ve been itching with excitement to get back to you all! Like I talked about here, if you’re feeling creatively burned out (or, you know, just worn out from life) then taking a mini-sabbatical may be just what you need.

Even Penguin Random House, the largest U.S. publisher, gets that creative minds need to recharge a little now and then. Their sabbatical program is legendary for offering paid time off to pursue personal interests, and I know the editors there, especially, love hitting that 10 year mark and taking a month off to travel, volunteer, or even just staycation in blissful peace.

And just because writers, bloggers, and other creative kinds work for themselves doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give themselves the same benefits an employer would offer. As Ayn Rand would say:

 

ayn rand quote art print

 

Meanwhile, the wonderful folks over at The Kitchn were kind enough to have me on their site this month, sharing some of my ideas for getting more use out of cookbooks. And the conversations that sparked from that article were incredible! I was so touched to see dozens of readers leaving memories and tips about their favorite cookbooks and how they like to use them. There are so many touching personal reflections in that comment thread, and it honestly made me a little teary to think about how important and heartening our cookbooks can be to us.

As one commenter wrote:

“My mother passed away in April and I can’t seem to move on from her passing. Opening her cookbooks and seeing her notes, especially her hilarious reviews of recipes that weren’t so successful, brings her back to me. Cooking these recipes helps me keep her close to me even though she is gone. So, write in your cookbooks! Your daughters will thank you one day.”

If you also want to turn your cookbooks into well-used, well-loved family heirlooms, here’s the rest of the article!

7 Insider Tips For Getting More Out of Your Cookbooks

how to use cookbooks more to cook

Confession time: I make cookbooks for a living, but I don’t treat them nicely.

I treat my authors nicely — I love being their literary agent; it’s an honor — and I love the cookbooks we’ve made together (I hold them tight and sing them to sleep and feel all sorts of joy-sparks when I look at them). But let’s not be precious about it:

Cookbooks exist to help us cook.

They work for us, not the other way around. Cookbooks want more than anything to help you cook, and to cook damn amazing food — and sometimes better food than you could cook if left to your own panic-fueled decision-making. Cookbooks want to lure you away from that moment when you’re staring blankly into the fridge, fathoming the meaninglessness of dinner, and wondering why on earth you didn’t just plan something, like you swore you would.

Cookbooks will find you in that moment, wipe away your tears, and gently whisper, “It’s okay … I have an idea.”

So if you’re drowning in cookbooks but still parched for practical ways to get dinner done, you might need to reassess your relationship. Here are seven ways to make your cookbooks work for you like they mean it. They helped reform me from a hapless daydreamer to that stubborn soul that cooks a brand new recipe even though it’s 8 p.m. on a Wednesday, the fridge is empty, and the dog is on fire.

Click here to keep reading this article on The Kitchn!


And because I wasn’t lying when I said I’d been giddily squirreling treats away for you all, here’s a free download of that pretty watercolor kitchen pattern you see in my main graphic!

watercolor kitchen pattern utensils

Go ahead and use it wherever you’d like—on your blog, on Instagram, as a desktop background, or just print it out, fold it in half, and scribble a grocery list on it. I hope it’ll make some little corner of your life a bit cuter!

Click here to download this watercolor kitchen pattern.


What I’ve Been Reading

Big Magic (Elizabeth Gilbert): My goodness am I glad that I gave in to the hype and read this. I was worried it wouldn’t live up to expectations after all I’ve heard about it, but it really was much different than I expected and the perfect read for anyone taking a creative sabbatical (or feeling like they need to). The main gist of the book? Lighten up and play with your work. Never forget that you do this because you love it, and it’s okay to delight yourself, rather than torture yourself, with your creative work.

This Time Lapse Of 52,000 Books Being Shelved Is A Bibliophile’s Dream (Maddie Crum for The Huffington Post): This video hit me right in my weak spot. I could watch it for days and sigh happily at all the beautiful books and the beautiful home for books that the New York Public Library is. Sigh. (See?)

John Green on Failure (John Green via GalleyCat): In this video, John Green talks candidly about struggling with writing after The Fault in Our Stars became a massive success. This is a great tie-in to Big Magic, where Elizabeth Gilbert also reveals what’s on the other side of mega bestsellerdom. (Hint: It doesn’t get easier, but you can choose whether you’ll let the weight of expectations crush you or not.)

The Economics of Dining as a Couple (Megan McArdle for Bloomberg View): We’re big fans of McArdle’s book The Upside of Down, and this hilarious piece is worth reading with your other half before you head out on your next dinner date. As McArdle says, “A communist economy is a terrible idea. A communist dinner table, on the other hand, truly is a bounteous paradise.” (Hail to the fork and sickle!)

Publishing a Cookbook: How Do You Develop Recipes? (aka: How Destroyed Is Your Kitchen?) (Thriving Home): My lovely authors, Polly and Rachel, continue their behind-the-scenes series as they work on their first cookbook. We’re planning their recipe and lifestyle shoots for this fall, and the design inspiration they’ve been collecting is gorgeous. I can’t wait to share this book with you all!

7 Must-Haves to Make Your Home Cozy for Fall Reading (A.J. O’Connell for Book Riot): Blankets! Socks! Stretchy pants! I hope you’re as excited as I am to get extremely cozy with a book this fall.

Why Do Books Publish on Tuesdays? (Laurie Hertzel for Star Tribune): In case you’ve been wondering. 🙂

What have you been reading to kick off the fall? I’m in search of my next book, so I’d love to hear what you’ve been enjoying!