By Marialisa Calta
If your personal economy is still in recovery, you may be looking for ways to dial back the holiday budget. This do-more-with-less routine may be wearing a little thin these days, but it actually has some emotional resonance at holiday time. Well, before the most recent economic downtown/recession/depression, you may have entertained the thought that the winter holidays have gotten out of hand. “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store,” Dr. Seuss’ Grinch famously intoned. “Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more.” And we know what happened to him: heart growing three sizes, carving the roast beast, toast of Who-ville, etc.
If you are a good home cook, one of the most thoughtful gifts you can give is a collection of your favorite recipes. This can take many forms: It can be assembled in a three-ring binder; it can be self-published on a computer; it can be presented as recipe cards in a recipe box. You could even forgo printing and publish recipes on the Web (using a format like Google Docs) and invite your family to share,
Time is short, and getting shorter — so whatever you do, keep it simple. Spend your time creating quality content — great recipes that you have tested, written in a readable style — rather than on the “design elements.” Avoid the urge to be encyclopedic; 25 recipes makes a substantial cookbook. A “top-10 favorites” is fine, too.
The charm of a personal cookbook is in the stories. If your cousin discovered that he was allergic to shellfish by eating your aunt’s famous bouillabaisse, that’s a story. If your parents fell in love over a plate of spaghetti carbonara, that’s a story. If your book group read Julie Powell’s “Julie & Julia” for four consecutive months just so you would keep bringing your Boeuf Bourguignon, that is certainly a story.
One more note: Make it a matter of personal pride to credit the source of the recipe, whether it is your grandmother, the back of a cereal box, a magazine, Web site or cookbook. If you have adapted it, say so.
The following recipe is a family favorite, which I included in my own “real” cookbook, “Barbarians at the Plate” (Perigee Books, 2005). I got the recipe from my neighbor, Elaine Fitch, and I call these “Elaine’s Famous Dinner Rolls.” I have written the recipe here as I would in a family cookbook. It is a little chattier, and has more detail than I was able to include in “Barbarians.” Once you try them, you may want to include them in your cookbook. Just remember to credit Elaine.
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1-1/4 cup regular or reduced-fat milk
1/4 cup lukewarm water (run the tap until the water feels just slightly warm)
2 (1/4-ounce) packages regular (not rapid-rise) yeast (about 1-1/2 tablespoons)
4 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour (I use King Arthur brand)
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
Place the butter and the milk in a pot set over medium-high heat, and cook just until the butter is melted and bubbles appear around the edges of the milk. (This is called “scalding” the milk.) Set aside to cool while the yeast proofs. (If it’s cold outside, I put it on the porch.)
Put the lukewarm water in a large bowl, and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let it sit (“proof”) for five to 10 minutes; the yeast should begin to bubble. (If it doesn’t, the yeast is too old to use, and you have to start over with fresher yeast.)
After the yeast has bubbled, add the flour, milk-and-butter mixture, salt and sugar, and mix well. Turn onto a floured work surface, and knead for a couple of minutes. Cover with a clean dish towel, set it in a warm place, and let it rise for 15 minutes.
Line a cookie sheet with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Divide the dough in half, then divide each half in half again, so you have four equal portions. Divide each portion into three equal parts, rolling each piece with your hand to make a ball. You will have 12 rolls. (If you want to make hamburger buns, divide the dough into six equal pieces and form each into a slightly flattened round. Add a few minutes to the baking time.) Place on the prepared cookie sheet, and set aside in a warm place for 15 minutes.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until golden. Serve warm. These rolls can be frozen for up to two months. Reheat gently (not in a microwave — they will get tough) before serving.
Yield: 12 dinner rolls or 6 hamburger buns
Marialisa Calta is the author of “Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family” (Perigee, 2005). For more information, go to www.marialisacalta.com.