Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Secret Ingredients Family Cookbook Story, Part Two


As I mentioned yesterday, I was exploring the world of e-commerce and graphic design in tech school when my handmade family cookbooks started taking off. One day I was sitting in school when I realized, “Hey, I can marry my two favorite things in life- the Internet and family cookbooks!”

Family Cookbooks Meet the Internet

I quickly realized that the Internet would give my cookbooks exactly what they were missing- interactivity. Now family members and friends could create heirloom cookbooks online- no postage or long distance fees. This made the process so much easier and more fun for the families… and me! Plus, I could add really cool features like spell check, recipe requests, and our recipe database, The Stock Pot. (I am a computer dork after all!)

Handmade Paper and the Tsunami

For months and months, I worked to perfect the handmade product. The “kitchen- friendly leather” cookbook binders were designed at this point, but I wanted to keep the dividers handmade. So, I ordered most of the handmade paper from Thailand and India, as well as printed papers from Florence. (See yesterday’s post for a visual.) The product was almost ready for the Internet when the Tsunami hit Southeast Asia on December 24, 2004, taking some of the handmade paper artisans. Such a sad event! I had to come up with Plan B…

Plan B: The New Generation of Secret Ingredients Dividers

I was determined to make the Secret Ingredients cookbook dividers as beautiful as possible. Throughout the creation of the cookbooks I kept three factors forefront in my mind: quality, organization, and customization. I have found that these are the most important things to remember when creating an heirloom.

After exploring all the options, the dividers you see on our website (and below) were created, and I am so excited about their design and quality. I wanted the cookbooks to fit every personality, and we were able to focus on this with these divider sets. Check out our Static Sample to flip through each set.

Fabulous Fruit Dividers

Fashionably Late Dividers

Purely Organic Dividers

.. And let's not forget Surf 'N Turf. Click here to see this vibrant set.

If you have any ideas for future divider styles or product designs, please let me know. I would love to hear your ideas! Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Secret Ingredients Family Cookbook Story, Part One

Secret Ingredients has a pretty amazing story, if I don’t say so myself! The ideas behind Secret Ingredients and the creation of the product have led me on an incredible journey…

Why do I want to share the Secret Ingredients story?

It is such an honor to be a part of a meaningful family project. Speaking to people about their family stories and helping them document their history through recipes is a great passion of mine, and I want to share it with you.

In addition, the creation of the product is a very neat story, and I’m hoping it will inspire you to share your memories and create meaningful gifts for your loved ones. The possibilities are endless!

Creative Book Beginnings

The “creative book gift” idea came to me very early. I was always a stubborn child and had no interest in giving my family members what they actually wanted on gift occasions. I believed that every gift had to be meaningful! I remember sneaking photos out of our family album, hoping to copy and replace them before anyone noticed. I made books for birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and Mother’s Day, and through the process learned how to create quality keepsakes.

A Mom’s Banana Bread Recipe

A family friend asked me to help her create a family recipe scrapbook for her children five and a half years ago. Her daughter and son had called her throughout the year asking about family recipes (particularly her delicious Banana Bread Recipe), and she decided that a family cookbook was the perfect Christmas gift. I happily accepted the challenge thinking, “This is right up my alley!”

The first SI Cookbooks were completely handmade!

The First Secret Ingredients Family Cookbooks

The Christ Family Cookbooks, my first creations, turned out beautifully! The recipe pages were organized inside of a 6”x 9” binder that I covered with cotton batting and fabric.
(Tip: If you ever make a fabric binder for the kitchen, remember the Scotchgard™!!)

To divide the recipes by category, I created dividers using file folders and handmade paper:

The Original Purely Organic

The Original Fabulous Fruit

The Original Fashionably Late

Word of the beautiful cookbook spread through the neighborhoods of my home town. Over the next two years I continued to make the handmade books. Each book took 3 months and many, many hours. It was a full-time job! After attending tech school, I decided to use the Internet to make cookbook projects completely interactive and simple, so that families everywhere can make beautiful family cook books easily!

Tomorrow the story continues… Stay tuned to hear how the Tsunami changed the way our cookbooks look today! Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Family Cookbook Tip: Add Stock Pot Recipes to Your Cookbook

We just added a new feature to your cookbook project, Secret Ingredients cookbookers! Today we announce the arrival of another great interactive feature of our website... (drum roll please):

The Stock Pot "Add This Recipe" Feature!

Are you short on recipes and need to borrow some from our Stock Pot? Would you like to add Anne's delicious Apple Cake recipe (see yesterday's post) to your Secret Ingredients cookbook? Now you can! We even let you edit the recipes to your liking!

Here are simple directions:
  1. Log into your Secret Ingredients account or set-up a Free Trial account.

  2. Browse through the Stock Pot and find delicious recipes from family cooks everywhere!

  3. Click on a recipe title that catches your attention.

  4. At the bottom of the recipe you will see a "Add This Recipe" button. Click it!

  5. Now edit the recipe to your liking!
How cool is this! Remember each Secret Ingredients cookbook holds 250 recipes, so be sure to fill up any extra space with other's proven family recipes.

Why was this feature added?

I've been making family cookbooks for five and a half years now, and I've learned a lot about family recipe collections! Each Secret Ingredients family cookbook is very unique because of the family history, recipe origins, and stories; however, I have noticed that most family recipe collections have several things in common. Usually cookbookers have a pretty extensive Desserts section, but some people need help with sections like Beverages and Sauces. This should fix the problem!

Do you have suggestions that would help us improve the website? Please email your suggestions to me!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Another Family Favorite Recipe: THE Apple Cake

Who says that dessert has to be unhealthy and terribly fatting? Not so, my friends…

Anne Fawley of Baton Rouge, Louisiana decided to share a delicious dessert recipe with us that won’t make you feel terribly guilty and heavy- THE Apple Cake. As Anne says, “This recipe is almost healthy and entirely good!” The large quantity of apples adds fiber and reduces calories, and the canola oil is a healthy replacement for butter.

This recipe is low in calories, sugar and fat but will bring you rave reviews! Anne told us that she made this recipe for a dinner party several weeks ago. Her guests were all “foodies” and she felt very accomplished when every single female at the table asked her for the recipe!

I made this recipe last weekend to test it. All I can say is YUMM-O!

THE Apple Cake


4 cups chopped apples, skinned if you like
2 cups sugar
2 beaten eggs
1 cup canola oil
2 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ cup lemon juice
1 cup powdered sugar


In a bowl, combine the apples and sugar and let stand for a few minutes. Add all the other cake ingredients, and stir. The dough will be very stiff, more like cookie dough than cake batter. Press the batter into a well-oiled bundt pan. Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a knife inserted in the cake comes out clean. Prepare the glaze by mixing the lemon and powdered sugar. I leave it lumpy, as it makes for a festive cake. Poke holes in the top of the hot cake with a knife, and slowly pour the glaze over the cake. Serve and enjoy!!!

Anne’s “foodie” social group joined together in a Secret Ingredients group cookbook project last month. If you are interested in creating an heirloom cookbook with your friends, check out Secret Ingredients. Our interactive website makes the project fun and easy. The best part is that you get an incredible collection of recipes that are proven within your circle!

Anne: Thanks for sharing your wonderful recipe!
 Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 25, 2006

Learn from Linde: Adding Fun to Your Family Recipes!

To complete our Recipe 101 series, I thought we should give you an example of fun, clear recipe writing. We see a lot of great family recipes at Secret Ingredients, and our team laughed and smiled their way through family recipes from Linde of Reno, Nevada.

We asked the fabulous, brilliant Linde for permission to share some of her recipes on her blog... and thankfully she agreed- yay!

Linde's Mother-In-Law Green Bean Casserole

1 pound fresh green beans (if you’re in Iowa, feel free to use canned or frozen)
2 cans cream of mushroom soup (if you’re in Arizona, use the reduced fat kind, due to more
opportunities for bathing suit wearing)
½ cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste French fried onions (the ones in the can, baby!)

Steam green beans until soft (if you don’t steam them long enough, your green bean casserole purists will spit them out). Combine soup, milk, salt, and pepper. Put beans into a baking dish, and cover with soup mixture. Bake at 375˚ for 20 minutes. Cover with onions, and return to oven to brown.

This is a bona-fide recipe from the heartland, straight from the mother-in-law’s kitchen. My mother-in-law is a champion in the casserole department (girlfriend can turn any 5 ingredients into a one-dish meal), and this is my husband's favorite. If you’re looking for a traditional holiday side that will stick to your ribs and get you through a long winter, this one will definitely serve the purpose.

Linde's Feel Good Truffles

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons rum extract
½ cup powdered sugar
⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa

In a heavy saucepan on low heat, melt chocolate chips in the whipping cream. Add rum extract and whisk until blended. Pour this mixture into a pie pan and refrigerate for about an hour until the consistency is like soft fudge. Sift the powdered sugar and cocoa together into a shallow bowl. Shape the fudge into balls using 1 tablespoon of mixture per ball. Roll the truffles in the cocoa and sugar mixture, and keep chilled until ready to serve.

This recipe is all about mood. Studies have shown that chocolate affects brain chemistry to invoke good feelings. Bonus. If you or a loved one are feeling a little down, whip out a batch of these babies, and you will have cooked up your very own, home-grown antidepressants. After eating a few of these truffles, you’ll find yourself wandering around your neighborhood, a beatific smile on your face, complimenting everyone you see. Side effects of taking truffles are limited, but can include a larger-than-usual rear end, pimples, and chocolate stains on your favorite top.

Isn't she a hoot?! Isn't it amazing how much of your personality can shine through your family recipes? We hope that Linde has inspired you to have fun and enjoy your Secret Ingredients online cookbook project.

Want to see more of Linde's recipes? Be sure to check out The Stock Pot, our recipe database. Linde has kindly added her recipes to our collection. If you are not a member of Secret Ingredients, be sure to sign up for your Free Trial Account.

A Special Thanks to Linde... Thank you for sharing your wonderful recipes and delightful personality with the Secret Ingredients community! Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Substituting Ingredients in Old Family Recipes

Several years ago, I jumped on the healthy living bandwagon, and now there's no turning back! I have found several resources on the Internet to help me substitute unhealthy ingredients in my favorite family recipes, and I want to share them with you.

There are several occasions when you may need to substitute ingredients in family recipes:

  • To make an old recipe healthier

  • If your recipe was written before 1896 when standardized measurements were put into place. (Wow, that's an old one!)

  • If you are missing items for a recipe and you have no time to run to the store
These websites have some of the best Recipe Substitution information:

As you know, some recipe substitutions can be very simple- like using olive oil instead of butter when sautéing or pan frying. However, other substitutions can be very tricky, especially when it comes to baking...

Finding the best substitutions is a trial and error process because the taste, texture, consistency, and aroma of your recipe may change. So, do not try a new modification before a big party!

Here is an awesome article by Valerie Phillips of the Deseret Morning News:
"Pinch hitting: Substituting ingredients can be tricky-- and rewarding".

When baking my favorite cakes from my Secret Ingredients cookbook,
I make few modifications.
I am a health nut, but when I cheat... I cheat!

If you need a resource for converting measurements in historic recipes, click here. Or if you need information on converting international measurements, click here.

There is a book that is a wonderful reference for recipe substitutions. You would be surprised how many times it comes in handy!

No matter how old, new, fattening, or healthy your family recipes are... don't forget to document them for future generations by creating a family cookbook! Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

How to Write Clear Family Recipes

My grandmother Lois cooked huge, delicious meals for my extended family every Sunday. When my sister Whitney started cooking on her own, she asked for these recipes, but most of them were ingrained in Lois’ memory- not written on paper. So, Whitney would call Lois for particular recipes, and she would dictate directions over the phone.

I am so thankful that Whitney recorded these recipes. Now they are included in my family’s Secret Ingredients cookbook and will be there for future Walling generations.

My mother and I cook one of our favorite family recipes- Cheese Soufflé. Yummy!

Today we want to share tips that will help you write clear family recipes…

A family recipe generally consists of 4 parts:

  1. Caption -
    Include any notes that cooks should be aware of BEFORE they cook your recipe. Examples: Certain recipes shouldn’t be made on rainy or humid days. Other recipes may require a great deal of patience or you may want to include information on hard-to-find ingredients.

  2. Ingredients-

    • Order
      You want to list ingredients in the order in which they will be used in the recipe. Each ingredient should be on a separate line. You may consider dividing the ingredients into parts. For example, the ingredients for my favorite sticky cake are divided: ingredients for the cake then ingredients for the icing.

    • Measurements
      Give detailed measurements of each ingredient. Remember to give the exact measurement or weight of any packaged items because grocery stores usually offer a variety of sizes. Also include how the ingredient should be prepared- chopped, diced, drained, seeded, etc.

    • Step-by-Step Directions-

      • Equipment
        If any special equipment is needed to complete the recipe, you may want to mention it before giving step by step directions. It will much easier for your reader to get the mixer out before they begin adding ingredients to the mixing bowl! You may also want to alert readers to prepare equipment. For example, they may need to preheat the oven, position oven racks, or grease/flour a pan before starting.

      • Visualize and Describe the Process
        Think about every step you take when preparing your recipe. Write down every little thing you do highlighting specific tasks like mixing, sifting, beating or folding. Be sure to write your recipe to use time effectively. For example, you can make the icing for the cake while the cake is in the oven.

        Also include notes about how the food should look at various cooking stages. Describe your favorite methods. You may even include recipe variations or presentation tips at the end.

      • Your Notes
        Yesterday we discussed using recipe notes to tell your family stories and memories.
        Click here to read more.
      Now tap into your inner- Julia Child and start recording your original recipes!

      If you are creating a Secret Ingredients family cook book, our recipe form will make this process very simple! Posted by Picasa

      Tuesday, August 22, 2006

      Use Recipe Notes to Document Your Memories

      Creating an heirloom cookbook is one of the most valuable gifts you will give to your family. Not only will your recipes be documented and cherished, but you will have the opportunity to pass on cooking tips and family stories as well.

      We've made a list of things you can document on your recipes for future cooks. These tidbits will also make your family cookbook so precious!

      • Dates and Methods:
        It can be very helpful to write down any recipe modifications on the back of your recipes. This way you will be able to remember your process if you would like to pass down or share your recipe. Remember to record the date!

        Most of us have special food memories from our birthdays.

      • Occasions:
        Do certain foods remind you of childhood meals or special occasions? Add notes to your recipes to describe the occasion and any memories associated with the event.

        Example: My favorite cake growing up was my grandmother Lois’ Chocolate Cake with Sticky Icing, and I would request it for every birthday. On the back of her recipe is a note: “Kate’s favorite cake.”

      • Watermelon was a childhood comfort food for many of us!

      • Stories & Anecdotes: Do you have any picky eaters in your family? How about eating habits? Write these precious bits down! Your family will love reading about it later.

        Example: In my own family’s Secret Ingredients cookbook, my mother wrote a note about my great-grandfather who always combined unusual ice cream flavors with his pie. He would eat mint ice-cream with peach cobbler- weird!

      Here are some other questions that may spark your food memories:
      • Where did your recipe come from?

      • Is/was this a "regular" on your family's menu?

      • Do you have suggestions for preparation or presentation?

      Remember that the Secret Ingredients website makes adding your Recipe Notes very simple. Be sure to sign up for your Free Trial Account today!

      Posted by Picasa

      Monday, August 21, 2006

      Protect Your Favorite Recipes

      This week on the Secret Ingredients blog...

      RECIPE 101: How to Organize, Protect and Write Your Recipes!

      Today we have several tricks to help you protect your recipes from kitchen spills and splatters.

      1. Recipe Cards:
      Guess what? Recipe cards fit perfectly into photo albums! You can arrange your cards according to category (desserts, salads, etc.), or you may want the recipes you cook most often in the front of the album.

      This prevents your cards from looking like this-

      My grandmother Lois' recipe above has been in my mother's collection for years.
      Can you tell we got some mileage out of this card

      2. Recipe Cut-Outs:
      Do you clip recipes out of your favorite magazines and publications? If you are a clipper, the best way to protect your recipes is to laminate them. You can purchase lamination paper at any office supply store. This is a cheap (about $12 for a 50-sheet pack) and easy solution!

      3. Cookbooks:
      Are most of your favorite recipes in cookbooks? Protect your open cookbooks when you are cooking by using a cookbook stand with a clear shield.

      Here’s one of our favorites:

      Cookbook Users- We also suggest making a simple index of your favorite recipes and cookbooks. Simply write down or type the cookbook title, recipe title, and page number. This will make menu planning so much easier!

      By the way, if you are creating a Secret Ingredients heirloom cookbook, don't worry! Each custom cookbook comes with 2 Splash Guards so that you can protect your recipe pages from "kitchen incidents"! Posted by Picasa

      Virtual Recipe Sharing is!

      For the grand finale of our Virtual Recipe Exchange series we have a delicious idea...

      Do you find most of your recipes online? If so, this idea will surely inspire you, and you'll find the website address quite fitting!

      Track Your Favorite Recipes Online with & Share Them with Your Friends!

      What is
      This is the superhero version of a Favorites list. It keeps track of all of your favorite links and allows you to share them with your favorite people. Get this- you can access your Favorites from ANY computer! Definitely check this site out:

      How does work?
      All you have to do is register and download the application. The application will install a button in your browser. Then, when you are on a site that you want to record or share, simply click the "Save this" button on your tab in your browser.

      What does this have to do with recipe sharing?
      If you and your friends want to see each another's favorite online recipes, here's what you do:

      1. Everyone will need to sign up for a account.
      2. Save all of your favorite online recipe website links to your list.
      3. Log into your account and click on "Your Network".
      4. Add your friends to your network.

      Voila! This is so simple and fun! Try it out and tell me what you think...

      TIP: If you like looking for recipes online, then you should definitely sign up for a Free Account at Secret Ingredients so that you can have access to The Stock Pot, our recipe database. The recipes in The Stock Pot are contributed by members of the Secret Ingredients community who love to cook- just like you. The database is pretty new, but it is growing every day!

      Don't forget! You can always use the Secret Ingredients website to do a group recipe exchange. Simply choose a group leader (a.k.a "Head Chef") to set-up your group's account. Each member of your group will be able to add his/her own favorite recipes by logging into our interactive website. Then, if you decide that you want a beautiful heirloom cookbook, Secret Ingredients will organize and print your cookbook for you!

      I hope you have enjoyed our Virtual Recipe Exchange series. Please email us if you have any ideas that we should know about! Posted by Picasa

      Friday, August 18, 2006

      Virtual Recipe Exchange: Create Your Own Flickr or Google Group

      I'm back on the Virtual Recipe Exchange train today with two VERY cool ideas....

      Wouldn't you be more interested in a cheesecake recipe if this
      photograph accompanied the recipe?

      I would! This next option may be the one for you....

      Create your own Flickr Recipe Group:
      What is Flickr? Flickr is a FREE photo sharing website. You can store, search and organize your photos on this site, and if that's not enough... you can even share them with friends and family. Definitely check it out: It is very easy to use and really comes in handy when Aunt Marge wants to see the pictures from the family reunion!

      How can Flickr be used for a Recipe Exchange? After you sign up for an account, you will be able to set-up your own group. Simply click "Groups" and then "Create Your Own Group." Flickr will walk you through the process. It is very easy!

      ** Your Flickr group may be public or private.**

      Once your group is created click "Invite" to send out your invitations. Ask each member to share their recipes and photographs of the final presentation. How cool is this!

      If you would like to see a current Flickr recipe group click here: You can view this page without creating an account.

      If you like the idea of a creating a web-based Recipe Exchange group but you're not really feeling the photo-thing, try Google Groups....

      Creating a Recipe Exchange Google Group:
      This is very similar to creating a Flickr group. Go to the Google Groups site: Click on "Create a new group" at the bottom of the left-hand column. Like Flickr you may choose the level of privacy.

      Speaking of family pictures, did I mention that each Secret Ingredients custom cookbook includes 15 of your favorite photographs? Black & white or color- the choice is yours. The photographs are placed on gorgeous dividers in a vinyl pouch. The pouch protects the photographs, makes them look very shiny and beautiful, and allows you (or future generations) to change them up later!
      Posted by Picasa

      Thursday, August 17, 2006

      Virtual Recipe Exchange: Email Option II

      Here is one reason why a Virtual recipe exchange is so nice!

      Reading someone else's handwriting is hard enough without the spills and splatters!
      Electronic recipes cut out the mess.

      Today we have another option for your Virtual Recipe Exchange, so that you can expand your recipe collection from the comfort of your own home...

      Email Option II: Include only those you know- friends, family, and good cooks!

      If you are uncomfortable with the "chainletter-ish-ness" of our Email Option I: The More the Merrier from yesterday's post, then Option II may be more your speed.

      Here's how it works: Send an email invitation to everyone you want to include in your exchange by adding each person's email address in the "To" line of your email message. Remember to include your yummiest recipe to seal the deal!

      Each participant will send everyone in the group their favorite recipe by clicking the "Reply to All" button in your original invite message. Depending on the size of your group and the number of recipes you would like to receive, you may ask the group to send more recipes.

      Here are some text directions to include in your email:

      You've been invited to be part of a recipe exchange!
      Please share one of your favorite recipes with our group by clicking the "Reply to All" button in this message. Not only will you be sharing your recipe, but you will receive recipes from everyone in the group! What a fantastic way to spice up your recipe collection!

      Now your friends and family will rave about your new dishes and treats!

      If your own recipe cards look like the pictures above, you should consider creating your own cookbook. If you are interested, I'm your woman! Simply send an email to or check out We will help you organize your recipe cards into a masterpiece!

      Wednesday, August 16, 2006

      Virtual Recipe Exchange: Email Option I

      Is your recipe collection getting a little stale? We have the perfect idea to bring new flavors to your dinner table... A Virtual Recipe Exchange!

      Here's the concept: Share your recipes with friends and family members and get a new collection in return... all from the comfort of your own home!

      One of the most wonderful things about the Internet is that it connects us to friends and family and makes it so much easier (and cheaper!) to communicate. We have the perfect solutions to help you organize a recipe exchange with friends and family all over the world!

      Today we will begin the Virtual Recipe Exchange series of posts with...

      Email Recipe Exchange I: The More the Merrier
      This option is slightly chainletter-ish but may allow for more variety in the exchange. Here are the directions: You will send the first email to ten friends inviting them to be part of your recipe exchange. (Include your yummiest recipe to seal the deal!)

      Your friends will need to copy your invite and instructions (see bottom of post) into a new email and add this information to the very top of the message:

      1. [Your email address]
      2. [His/her email address]

      Your friend will then send the message to 10 of his/her friends! Each person will send one of their favorite recipes to the email address listed in the #1 position and send the invite to 10 friends. And the chain continues....

      What a great way to spice up your recipe folder! Here are some text directions to include in your email:

      You've been invited to be part of a recipe exchange!
      Please send one of your favorite recipes to the person who's name is listed as #1 at the top of this email. You may not know this person, but I do and the more recipes the better!
      Next copy this letter into a new email and make my email address #1 and your email address #2. Only your email address and mine should appear at the top of your message. Send this email to 10 friends!

      Once you have tested your new recipes, you may want to organize your collection by creating your own cookbook. That's where Secret Ingredients comes in handy!

      Thank you to our
      Secret Ingredients member, Edward of Johnson City, Tennessee, for sending us this recipe exchange idea!

      Tuesday, August 15, 2006

      Secret Ingredients Family Cookbook Party in Tucson!

      We love celebrations at Secret Ingredients, and we were so excited to hear about this birthday celebration in Tucson last weekend...

      Seventeen members of the Sobel and Pirtle families gathered their favorite family recipes and memories and created Secret Ingredients cookbooks to celebrate the birthdays of the family matriarchs, Fair and Klaire. A special party was planned to celebrate the two women, and each person prepared their favorite recipe. How neat is that!

      Thank you to the Sobel/Pirtle clan for sharing these pictures with us! We are so glad that we were able to help you celebrate these two special women! Posted by Picasa

      If you are interested in looking at some of this Tucson clan's recipes, check out Secret Ingredients' recipe database, The Stock Pot! You do not have to be a paying member to look at our database. Simply fill out the Get Started form and you will have free access to our recipes!