The Good Home Cookbook (Collectors Press, Fall 2006) is a landmark cookbook that compiles tried and true American favorite recipes. Key to the book's success is the more than 1,000 people currently participating in the first ever national public recipe testing campaign.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Staff recipe testing is party perfect!

We threw a potluck party at our offices recently, and I asked Collectors Press staffers to test out recipes from the book. So what is recipe testing like? Here are some samples straight from the source. Want to be a recipe tester? Send an e-mail to and we'll get you signed up!

From the editorial department:
(Autumn Fruit Salad)
There's nothing like making a couple fruit salads while watching the finale for The Apprentice. As the Donald did a recap of his firing, firing, firing, I chopped and chopped and chopped fruit. I tested the Autumn Fruit Salad because I thought the grocery store would have all the fruit (apples, pears, bananas, grapes); but they didn’t have grapes so I substituted strawberries. I made a double recipe and found that layering the fruit and then adding lemon juice along the way was best. Mixing was out of the question because I didn’t have a bowl large enough and the strawberries would have colored the entire dish. Also, the recipe calls for sauce poured on each serving, but like The Apprentice, I just poured the sauce and hype ALLLLL over the fruit and called it good.

From the sales department:
(Herbed Cheese Spread and Party Cheese Ball)
The first rule in cooking should be to make sure you have the right tools. This is the problem I ran into when making the herbed cheese spread and party cheese ball. I don't own a food processor. Like many people my age my kitchen is made up of hand me downs and worn appliances. As such I made an attempt to mix all the ingredients using a blender, which didn't work out too well. So I used a little ingenuity and elbow grease and did the old fashioned method, a spoon and a bowl. I think sometimes the ingredients speak louder than the method because they both came out great. The Worcestershire sauce in both recipes gave an extra kick and the tangy zesty flavor of the lemon juice to the herbed cheese spread over the top. I really like both recipes and can't wait to try them again when I finally get a food processor

From the intern-turned employee:
(Double Chocolate Cake and White Cake)
So I tested the double chocolate cake, the white cake, and the vanilla buttercream frosting for our office party. Both cakes came together easily and with little fuss. I doubled the recipe for white cake, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the batter still fit into a single large mixing bowl. I baked two white cakes in 9” pans for 30 minutes, one white cake in an 8” springform for 35 minutes, and spooned the remaining batter into 4” tartlet pans, which baked for about 18 minutes. I baked half the chocolate cake batter as cupcakes, and after 20 minutes their tops sprung back when pressed lightly with a fingertip.

From the Good Home Cookbook tester coordinator!
(Orange, Shrimp, and Spinach Salad)
I was really worried about bringing the dish that no one touches. I was supposed to make a double batch but decided to make up only one (just in case) and brought the rest of the veggies and ingredients in containers, ready to be tossed together in a hurry. One thing that is great about this salad is that you can have everything cut-up and ready for travel and toss it all together right before serving. I even made the dressing in a canning jar so I could shake and pour easily. Much to my delight, my salad was gobbled up and I had to make up the second batch quickly because they were scraping the bottom of the bowl!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

We had friends over this weekend and grilled some veggies and tested the Baked Macaroni and Cheese for the kids. Oh, yes, we ate a bunch too! When I was a kid my mom could barely get the pan in the oven before I ate a several spoonfulls of my favorite meal. The best part is what I call the "crackle" -- that crunchy browned cheese that borders the pan. Here's the classic that we're using in the book. The recipe has maintained its original integrity, but it seemed a bit more dry than mom's after it sat for a few minutes, so I reduce the flour by 2 tablespoons. Let me know what you think!

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 4 to 6
There are basically two types of macaroni and cheese recipes. In this one type, macaroni is baked in a béchamel, or white sauce, to which cheese is added.

1 pound elbow macaroni
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 cups milk
1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 pound Velveeta cheese, cut into cubes
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Lightly butter a large casserole dish.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until al dente. Drain well. Transfer to the casserole dish.
3. To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Stir in the flour and dry mustard to form a smooth paste. Stir in the milk and bring to a boil, stirring to prevent lumps. When the sauce thickens, stir in the cheddar and Velveeta until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Mix the sauce with the macaroni and bake for about 30 minutes, until bubbly and lightly browned.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Spaghetti with White Clam Sauce

Breadcrumbs as a thickener for clam sauce? In retrospect it sounded kind of fishy to me too, but that’s what some of the early recipes for "Spaghetti with White Clam Sauce" called for. After one of our testers reported that the texture wasn’t quite right, I tried it myself, and totally agreed. After doing some research for similar, classic versions I realized that the breadcrumb method wasn’t going to cut it. In fact, the traditional version calls for just olive oil and clam juices with no thickener — easy and delicious! You can use some crusty bread to sop up the sauce, and save the cream sauce for the fettuccini alfredo. Here’s the classic we’ve chosen. Let me know your thoughts!

Spaghetti with White Clam Sauce
Serves 4 to 6
There are plenty of variations for this Italian classic, including a quick version made with canned clams and bottled clam juice (see below). One thing all the recipes have in common is a healthy dose of garlic. Serve with plenty of crusty Italian bread.

1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 pounds small hard-shelled clams, such as Manila, mahogany, or littlenecks
1/4 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 pound spaghetti or linguine
Salt to taste

1. Bring the water and wine to a boil in a large skillet. Add the clams, cover, lower the heat, and simmer until the clams open, about 10 minutes. Remove the clams with a slotted spoon. Strain the liquid through a paper coffee filter. Shuck the clams or leave in the shells.
2. Wipe out the skillet. Add the oil and heat over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, lower the heat, and simmer the garlic until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the clam liquid, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, and the thyme. Simmer over very low heat.
3. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until just done. Drain well.
4. Add the pasta and clams to the sauce and toss carefully. Toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons parsley and serve immediately.

Variation: Spaghetti with Quick White Clam Sauce. Omit the fresh clams cooked in water and wine. Sauté the garlic as above. Add 2 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice plus the liquid from 2 (7-ounce) cans chopped clams (setting the clams themselves aside). Proceed with the recipe above, adding the canned clams to the pasta in step 4 instead of the freshly cooked clams.