Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Cooking is more than a necessity, it’s an art, and a ritual. It should not be a chore, but a joy, embracing all the senses and more, sometimes the warm and fulfilling feeling you get is emotional as well as physical.

How so? Is a recipe always just a recipe? Or sometimes so much more….

Kat, my wonderful wife, and I travel quite a bit and have a lot of time to talk in the car as we trade off driving. Usually it’s a hundred miles each, and when the passenger is not involved in reading a book, or when the driver might be getting a little tired and need the distraction, we’re discussing our current book in progress, the TV show I was working on, her AGAINST series, family and friends, or the topical news of the day.

Just after Christmas on our way to California for a respite from Montana’s winter—a

stressful drive with the first 900 miles ice and snow—we were talking about a cookbook I was, at the time, writing, Cooking Wild & Wonderful, and she made an interesting observation and one that certainly deserves mention. We got on the subject of recipes, and where all the hundreds—maybe thousands—of recipes we’ve collected originated.

She made a poignant and touching point, and that was when she refers to an old recipe in her well worn, patina stained, now nearly antique 3 ring binder Betty Crocker Cookbook laced with many personal inserts,…it almost always brings back a flood of warm and pleasant memories and reminiscences. Many of those jottings are in her mothers and grandmothers’ handwriting, all of whom are gone now. Some are in the handwriting of her college roommates—she graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara—one of whom was a Latina who jotted down many scrumptious, sometimes fiery, concoctions that originated with her grandmother who was born in Mexico. Many are from friends who are now out of Kat’s life because she or they moved away and lost touch. And interestingly enough, a good many are from fans who have read and appreciated her work, or mine. Among the more than a hundred cooking tomes, I have a half dozen or more cookbooks on my shelves that have come from folks we’ve met while doing booksignings all over the country. And many of those small very personal books are “one of a kind” made originally only for family as they are mimeographed or Xeroxed, although a couple are family recipe collections actually printed and bound by professional printers. And I value them all and enjoy not only the tasty tidbits that tease the pallet, but maybe more so the memories they conjure.

We have been blessed and privileged to eat in many of the world’s great restaurants, and blessed more-so to have enjoyed many out-of-the-way inns and private kitchens, and I’ve capitalized upon it as I also have a growing collection of awe inspiring menus. They were easily obtained with a smile and word of appreciation, particularly since many are “menus of the day” printed via computer by the restaurateur. At times I’ve been able to talk a chef or cook out of his or her recipe, and if not, I’ve done my best to replicate the flavors and presentation of a dish I admired. Most often, the menu has notes of the spices and herbs I detected in the dish I enjoyed, or pried out of a friendly waiter. Now that I have a wonderful pocket digital camera, I’m not beyond whipping it out and photographing a particularly striking presentation…hard to do when you’re dying to dig mess up an exquisite plate. And those recipes and menus also are déjà vu for many happy times and fascinating places, most of which I enjoyed with the woman I love, which made them even better.

So let’s celebrate the history of our families, of recipes handed down, and of what we have at hand, while bringing together some of the great styles and techniques of the rest of the world to compliment and enhance what’s fresh and in season.

And let’s, above all, have some fun doing it. For if we’re not having fun we’re doing the wrong thing.

Here's a recipe for some canapés that everyone loves, and like most of what I do in the kitchen, it's a cinch.

Crunchy Parmesan Onion Squares

• 4 slices 7 grain bread, dark wheat, or dark rye, but a hardy seven grain with lots of nut and grain solids really makes this dish.
• 1 cup grated or packaged finely-shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
• ½ cup mayonnaise
• tblsp minced scallion or white or yellow onion
• 1 tsp sage
• Paprika to sprinkle
• 1/8 tsp (generous 1/8 teaspoon) cayenne pepper

Trim crusts and cut bread slices into six or eight 1.5 inch squares per slice (or if you want to be fancy, cut to your favorite shape with a cookie cutter). Arrange on a baking sheet and place on the upper rack of a 400 degree preheated oven, cook 3 to 4 minutes until golden (or if you’re lazy like me, pop them in the toaster before trimming, and don’t brother with further browning of the toast until topped with the mixture). Remove to top with mixture. Leave oven on.

Mix together cheese, minced onion, cayenne, sage, and mayonnaise.

Top each square with a rounded amount (about 1 scant tablespoon) of mix and return to baking sheet. Place back in oven for six minutes or until cheese is browning, remove, cool slightly, dust with paprika, and serve. If you want to get real fancy, top each one with a few bay shrimp, but don’t brown too much if you use the tender shrimp.

See you soon for more from The Kitchen at Wolfpack Ranch and Cooking Wild & Wonderful.

Here's a video showing the making of these little jewels, as well as other great onion recipes.
The regal onion video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13y_sfAM80I


  1. L.J., I am all for doing "fast" things in the kitchen! These look like they'd be wonderful, and you can bet I'll give them a try. I would give anything to have my mother's Betty Crocker cookbook--I have one of my own, but it's not "personalized" as Kat's is.

  2. This post brought back so many wonderful childhood memories. I learn to make homemade egg noodles and fried catfish from people who were dear to me. It was one of those a pinch of this and an half of that. What wonderful legacy you both have. Now I get recipes from places like the Broadmoor Hotel & Resort and a great 'white chocolate salad dressing' from the Cheyenne Mountain Resort. They are lucious, but don't have the patina of love the egg noodle recipe does.

  3. Yum. Sound good--except for the sage.
    By the way, my first sale was an essay Adams Media included in one of their Cup of Comfort cookbooks. I wrote an essay about my grandmother's cookbook, handwritten receipts from the early 1900s, some of which where handed down from her mother and grandmother. It remains one of my most precious possessions. Grandma was a wonderful cook.

  4. I'll have to try these. Thanks!

    I have a recipe book that a bunch of neighbors made for my wedding. Each of the ladies hand-wrote their favorite. Most of the recipes aren't that great, although a few are really good, but the handwriting makes it so personal and brings back a lot of fond memories. Nearly all of them have passed on now.

  5. Indeed - "family" is what it's all about and shared recipes are a true legacy. Thanks for sharing a simple hors d'oevres! Sounds yum!

  6. http://www.amazon.com/Cooking-Wild-Wonderful-gourmets-ebook/dp/B004UICW36/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1360857783&sr=1-1&keywords=cooking+wild+and+wonderful

    Here you go, Mike--if this won't work, go to www.amazon.com and type in "Cooking Wild and Wonderful" to get there.

  7. By the way, I have lots of cooking videos on youtube, search wolfpackranch or ljmartinwolfpack. Here's one The Regal Onion, with the puff recipe:

  8. By the way there's a small section in the cookbook on camp cooking, some great recipes from my friend and great camp cook Trapper. Hard to beat fresh rolls right out of the Dutch oven!