Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Company Cookbook Project

Of all the cookbooks on my shelves, those put together by churches, clubs, civic groups and other organizations are often my favorites. There is something comforting about the old casserole recipes, the easy to make cakes and desserts, and the funny names of those old recipes. Why have plain old sliced carrots when you can serve your family "Copper Pennies?" When is the last time you had "Wacky Cake?" If you're like me, probably not since you were in elementary school. I can always count on these assembled cookbooks to bring back the memories.

Often there is a salad section and it's usually packed with sparkly jello creations. Some of them are savory with cabbage and veggies and others are so sweet they should be a dessert. It's also common to find a few pickled veg type recipes too- like cucumbers and onions, or a tomato salad. My mom always made cucumbers and tomatoes with chopped onions in a vinegar and oil dressing. Pasta salads and potato salad are usually favorites. You might find a couple different family versions of bean salad, and don't forget the entree salads- like egg salad, chicken salad, and taco salad.

Just a few of my many club cookbooks
The entree section is usually where the real comfort foods are hiding. Casseroles of just about every kind lurk in there, with family secret spaghetti sauces, Dad's famous barbeque sauce, Gramma's bean soup and inventive ways to make tuna into something delicious. Up here in the Midwest, and especially Minnesota it's very common to see something called "Hot Dish" in those cookbooks. Hot Dish is a curious thing. It means something different to every cook. For some people it's tator tot casserole. For others it's something made with creamy soup. For my family it was some browned hamburger with chopped onion, a can of drained mushrooms, a couple handfuls of peas, cooked elbow macaroni and cream of something soup, stirred together in a big saucepan until everything is heated through. Completely NOT gourmet and not always delicious but it fills bellies and my mom made this on a fairly regular basis. Not a childhood favorite of mine but still a fun memory and it's interesting to talk with others from around here and learn about their family's hot dish recipe.

A few weeks ago my company sent around an email inviting associates to submit a recipe for a company cookbook that was being assembled. My employer places a great deal of emphasis on community involvement, inclusion and volunteerism. In an effort to raise money to support local food banks the company launched the cookbook project. Of course I had to get in on this deal. Picking a recipe wasn't all that tough, I knew I wanted to go with something relatively easy to prepare, with readily available ingredients and family friendly. I typed up my recipe for Philly Cheesesteak Lasagna, attached a picture and sent it off to the committee. 

Weeks go by, my recipe is proofed and sent back to me for a final look over. I can't wait for the day I can actually buy a copy of the company cookbook. One day I am busy working away on an account and I get a message- "Monica!!!!"  What's up, I reply, wanting to know what's so exciting. "Did you see the email?" Nope, I was busy with a client, haven't checked email in a bit. I finish up what I'm working on, check my email, and holy moly, there is an email from the company announcing not only the purchase days for the company cookbook but the cafeteria in our building selected five recipes from all the recipes submitted, to be prepared and featured as a lunch special for everyone to try and mine is one of them!! To some people this might not be too big of an accomplishment. After all, I know a lot of very successful chefs, competitive cooks, cookbook authors and recipe developers whose accolades far exceed mine, but in my small world and my little hobby food blog, this is big. 

Philly Cheesesteak Lasagna Day arrives in the cafeteria. I can hardly wait to see how my recipe is prepared by someone else. The clock ticks ever so slowly all morning while I wonder how it's going to turn out. I get an email from a member of the cookbook committee telling me to be sure and stop down at the table to introduce myself and when I finally make my way down to the company cafeteria I am met with hugs and smiles and lots of introductions to the kitchen staff. Lucy, the executive chef/kitchen manager came over to talk about how much she loved the recipe, and how well it's been selling as the lunch special. 

Squeeeeee! That's my dish on the line!
To be honest, it made me feel a little bit like a celebrity for a few minutes! My coworkers in my department raved about the dish, and I have to say, the kitchen did a fantastic job replicating my recipe. They put considerable effort into making it just like I would have- caramelizing the onions, browning the mushrooms until they are golden brown, and NOT skimping on the cheese. It was delicious. I ate every bit, including the garlic toast.

I can't wait to get the actual cookbook in my hands. My copy has been ordered and soon will occupy a place of honor on my cookbook shelves. I know I will enjoy preparing all the recipes submitted by employees from all over the country and will always cherish the memory of this special opportunity.

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