I don't really understand how people "invent" recipes. Recipes are something you get from cooks, books, or grandmas. When I want to cook something, I go online until I've found a recipe that doesn't look too complicated or too expensive to throw together. Mostly a good Google search will do the job or I'll visit that bastion of the liberal elite, The New York Times. Sometimes, though, I am looking for something more specific or simpler or I'm bored at work (like, um....), and that's when I turn to my secret weapon. My job (as a journalizer) gives me access to almost every newspaper in the country, and by running a simple code into my computer, I get every recipe in every newspaper in the country. If I let the code run in the background, it amounts to something like a new recipe every 4ish minutes. It's a lot.
Curious about the best place in San Jose to get "ducketta?" Wondering when the Hammonton blueberry festival begins? Let me tell you, via my virtual rolodex of recipes.
The other nice thing about this is it helps me discover things I otherwise would be charmingly oblivious to. Take, for example, my newest obsession, The Amish Cook.
The Amish Cook (note no "Chef" for this humble scribe) is aka Lovina Eicher, a simple wife and mom of (at least) 8 kids who lives in an Old Order Amish community in Michigan. She writes (by hand, natch) about what's going on with her family and adds little recipes relevant to what they're doing. Someone types them up and sends them off to newspapers, where they are read by any number of devoted followers, including me.
What first caught my eye about the column, aside from the thought of how an Amish person could manage a blog, were the image-provoking, homey titles: like "Horse-Drawn Sledding a Christmas Delight" and "Children Happy with Gifts." On days when I am cursing myself that I didn't defrost my chicken, leaving me to eat partially-microwaved, partially-frozen chunks of death, it's nice to know that somewhere in Michigan there's a family that wakes up together at 5a.m. to cook pancakes from scratch.
The Amish Cook has become something of a minor celebrity, as celebrity-like as the Amish get. Her column gets published in over 200 newspapers and the best recipes have been collected in a book, known as (no kidding!) The Amish Cook.
Here's one of my favorite recipes from the Amish Cook:
SOUR CREAM CUT-OUT CHRISTMAS COOKIES
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
3 ½ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
½ cup milk
Food coloring (optional)
Colored sprinkles, for decorating (optional)
Chocolate chips, for decorating (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly grease a baking sheet.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl.
Stir in the eggs, sour cream and vanilla.
Combine the flour, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk to blend.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until a soft, firm dough is formed.
Roll the dough out to a ½-inch thickness on a floured surface.
Use your favorite shaped cookie cutters to cut out the dough.
Place the shapes on the prepared pan.
Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
To make the frosting:
Cream the shortening with the vanilla and 1 cup of the powdered sugar.
Gradually add the milk and the rest of the powdered sugar, beating constantly.
More powdered sugar can be added to give you your desired thickness.
Food coloring can also be added if you like.
Spread the frosting on the cookies and decorate with colored sprinkles or chocolate chips.
Let the frosting set before storing.