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The Making of a Cookbook Part #2

 

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When writing a cookbook, there are lots and lots of moving parts.  Especially when writing one with a lot of narrative.  When I write a book it’s not just about recipes for me.  I write about everything. My books are part memoir, part autobiography, part diary – entirely about my life.

My tin o' tools. I just quickly wash the usual suspects after using and throw in this tin so I can quickly grab what I need.

The recipes have to be great, no doubt.  But the special part, the part that people really respond to, is all the other writing.  So I am really taking the time to include a lot of it right alongside tons of amazing recipes.  I want it to be equally great in both respects.  I want someone to be able to curl up on their couch and read this story.  The “writing” part is the fun part for me, the easier part, it just flows.  Middle of the night and middle of the day – while brushing my teeth or brushing my kids teeth if I think of a good line, a good story or something happens I just quickly shorthand it into my iPhone.  But when it comes to cooking it’s another story entirely.  It goes a little something like this.

Wooden spoons and mixing bowls, can never have enough

I painstakingly create an outline of the recipes broken up by chapter.  Based on what I’ve been wanting to develop and the feedback I’ve received here and in person.  Then I look at it all and try to achieve a balance within the recipes.  When I am writing this outline I usually have an idea about the flavor profiles and/or twist I am going to give a recipe to make it my own.  I also call all the people, friends, family, neighbors, whoever inspired me toward a particular idea or recipe because I tasted it or they spoke about it – and I jot down their notes.

First page of my big momma binder - the style sheet. Every publishing house has one. This time around it's totally different than how I've been writing my recipes until now. More on editing next week.

After I have this master outline – inevitably it’s 50% too long.  Books have a page count so they can be priced within a normal range.  As much as I’d like to include all my recipes that would inevitably end up in a 500 page book which would cost around $50, not good for anyone.

Top secret batter, mid mix. Can you guess what this is for?

So once I whittle down my list I get into the kitchen.  That’s when the disaster begins.  No, really it’s not all bad but it’s just so intense. Based on my deadlines I am developing the recipes in a crazy short 10-12 week period.  Which means on average I am doing about 20 recipes per week and when recipes turn out great the first time around and I am checking things off my list, flying and flitting from this dish to that I think to myself “this is a cinch, I’ll be done in no time”.  When a recipe is overdone or under-seasoned or my funky flavor profile doesn’t at all work, or it’s just plain uninteresting I want to cry, and sometimes I actually do.  Case in point l I am now on my 4th top of the rib trying to make one single amazing roast recipe.  For the love of G-d this next one has got to turn out right or I will need a day to recover, and I can’t afford a day.

When my hands are chapped from washing I use the tower of tins. Not good for the environment but help my hands from looking 90.

Each week I make a crazy long shopping list and organize it according to the layout of the store: Produce, Grocery, Meat, Freezer, Fridge/Dairy and then other.  Others are things not found in the store like wine, or a piece of equipment.  Today it’s a tube pan and spring form pan, I have a bundt pan not a tube pan — and you can make this recipe in a bundt but I really want to test it in a tube and can you believe it — I have worked my entire cooking career around not needing a spring form pan, until now.

I write my recipes first including measurements that I think will work.  Print them out and place them into my folder of in-progress recipes.  I have a big momma 3 ring binder for recipes that have been completed.  Meaning recipes that are covered in food, my chicken scratch testing notes and have been approved by my family and neighbors.  A recipe doesn’t get a 3 hole punch or go into the binder until it’s been entered into my master files on my computer.  Then I keep a copy in the binder for reference so I can see all my cross outs and notes in case I have a question about the evolution of a particular dish.  It’s like handwritten track changes.

Here's the big momma binder I was telling you about. This is just recipes. No writing!!!

This week I am playing catchup.  Before I reward myself and move onto desserts, my last(!!!) chapter, I have to go back and retest some 13, 14 recipes that just didn’t make the cut.  Some were obviously a bust and some were just eh eh but I want every recipe in this book to be amazing.  I need to be obsessed with the recipe in order for it to appear in the pages of this book.   So wish me luck as I work on a glaze for my turkey, an Asian inspired salmon, a complete protein vegetarian main, a crockpot dinner and tons more.  The piece de resistance, the bane of my existence – my grandparents’ chicken soup — I must get it right this week because I simply must, and because I am racing against the clock running toward Pesach trying to meet a deadline. I am a good 25 pounds of chicken into trying to figure this out – so pray for me.

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About Jamie Geller

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Jamie Geller is the only best-selling cookbook author who wants to get you out of the kitchen – not because she doesn’t love food – but because she has tons to do. As “The Bride Who Knew Nothing” Jamie found her niche specializing in fast, fresh, family recipes. Now the "Queen of Kosher" (CBS) and the "Jewish Rachael Ray" (New York Times), she's the creative force behind JoyofKosher.com and "Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller" magazine . Jamie and her hubby live in Israel with their five busy kids who give her plenty of reasons to get out of the kitchen - quickly. Check out her new book, "Joy of Kosher: Fast, Fresh Family Recipes."

 

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2 Responses to The Making of a Cookbook Part #2

  1. I feel overwhelmed just reading this article, shkoyach to you for your hard work in making INCREDIBLE cookbooks! your passion certainly shines through!

    • Thank you so much! This isn’t even the half of it. The recipe editing process is so lengthy and draining and a lot less exciting than being in the kitchen creating good food. But if you don’t go through the rigors of editing no one will be able to recreate your recipes. More on editing to come in my next post.

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