One question I am asked a lot is “How on earth did you acquire so many cookbooks?” I say I’m not quite sure – I remember a time when I was proud to boast of having 300 cookbooks, when I started collecting cookbook in 1965, I had no idea where to begin; my penpal Betsy got me on track.

. Now there are thousands and I am starting to lose track of where everything is. I blame that on not having the space I once had to keep all of the cookbooks in sight on shelves and grouped together in categories. It’s frustrating to know you have a book and not be able to lay your hands on it.

But like Topsy would say, my cookbook collection just grewed and grewed. Periodically, I pack up a boxful of cookbooks to send to a niece—but I fear I buy them—or have them given to me—faster than I can give a few away!

(Incidentally, the other question I am asked most often is “Do you actually read all of these books?” The answer is yes, but I am admittedly non-plussed when that question is posed to me. I am tempted, sometimes, to shrug, and say “oh, no, they’re just for looks”).

Most of the time I have things under control. All of the Christmas cookbooks are in a bookcase in the living room right by the front door. I put all the cookie and candy cookbooks with the Christmas ones following a line of logic that they “go together” – at least when Christmas is getting close. I have all the dessert cookbooks together in the same bookcase, other side – plus all the celebrity cookbooks but they are outgrowing their space and I haven’t figured out a solution yet.

My favorite cookbook authors are in bookcases in the spare bedroom (which I still call ‘Savannah’s room’) . All of the “Best of the Best” series by Quail Ridge Press are next to authors. There are also some shelves of just-various cookbooks beneath the Quail Ridge Press ones. Opposite wall holds all of my baking/bread cookbooks.

Ohio cookbooks are group beneath breads. Michigan is under Ohio (maybe Michigan should be above Ohio but I have more Michigan than I do Ohio. All of Ohio fits on one shelf (double rowed). Another bookcase—same room—holds all of my radio/TV personality cookbooks, which I have written about a few times.

MY bedroom walls hold all of my favorite-cookbooks-to-cook-with; those are on one wall and the opposite wall holds all of my California cookbooks which are overflowing their shelves. My Americana cookbooks (any cookbook with “America” in the title) fill two bookcases in two bedrooms. Some of my favorite cookbooks are grouped under this topic.

The room that was Bob’s bedroom (and is still referred to as such) holds two walls of bookcases; one wall holds all of my foreign cookbooks—also overflowing—while another bookcase holds all of my canning/preserving cookbooks, as well as all my appetizer/hors d’oeuvre cookbooks.

The opposite wall is filled with community cookbooks – one bookcase is filled with EAST of the Mississippi cookbooks and the other with WEST of the Mississippi cookbooks. You may find this a strange filing system. It is.  (I remember spending one wet winter sorting hundreds of cookbooks into either East of or West of — the Mississippi)

Bookcases in the garage library hold all of my diet/weight loss cookbooks (predominately Weight Watcher books) but a lot of others – meat cookbooks, chicken cookbooks, fish and seafood cookbooks, all of the Joy cookbooks, Settlement cookbooks, Betty Crocker, Better Homes & Garden cookbooks (why just one? There are different editions and the thing that is so appealing about BH&G cookbooks is that readers were encouraged to add their own recipes, to make the book their “own” and these could also fit in the manuscript cookbook category. Some of them are bulging with handwritten recipes.

All of my bake off cookbooks are on these shelves as well. (The rest of the library, which Bob built in 2010, is our collection of fiction, plus my collection of Presidential biographies and autobiographies plus my First Lady collection). There is also one entire bookcase given over to celebrity biographies and auto biographies). I almost forgot—I have a section filled with children’s fiction, several shelves full of African-American fiction, non-fiction and cookbooks, another shelf of titles by or about Holocaust victims and/or survivors, yet another one or two shelves full of Royal family biographies or autobiographies.

But getting back to cookbooks! There are so many cookbooks that are delightfully unique and individual, recipes well chosen (especially the Junior League cookbooks) with mouth-watering photographs of various recipes or      dazzling photographs of the region they represent. I have often finished reading a cookbook thinking “I’d really like to go THERE!

Well, if you can’t “GO THERE” sometimes reading a cookbook from the region is the next best thing to being there.

I’d like to start a series with you, devoted to some of my favorite “I’d really like to go THERE” cookbooks. And the first one I have selected is the cookbook that gave me this idea.

The title of the cookbook is “DESERT TREASURES” by the Junior League of Phoenix. It was published in 1992 and is a beautiful cookbook. Along with lush food photographs (including a wonderful hammered silver treasure chest opened to display an inviting array of fruits and vegetables on the cover), there are breath-taking photographs of places around Phoenix. (Another plus is the washable cover of the book).

On the back cover, we learn that the Junior League of Phoenix (Arizona) is an organization of women committed to providing volunteerism and to improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable. All profits from the sale of this book will be used to support their present community projects, including Healthy Touch, Christmas in April, Immunization Saturday and YWCA/JLP Women in Transition.

The book itself is beautifully designed in turquoise and white and begins with Appetizers with mouth-watering recipes ranging from Goat Cheese Torte and Coyote Caviar (made with black beans) and another Caviar pie that is made with hardboiled eggs. There is a Pecan Apricot Canapé, Parmesan and Artichoke rounds, Guacamole Chili Chips (sure to be a crowd pleaser), Pot Stickers and Phyllo Blossoms (might take a while to make but are sure to be a hit) as well as some easier recipes such as Hot Crabmeat Spread, or Shrimp Butter Spread as well as some yummy do-ahead recipes like Paloma Plantation Pecans, Green Indian Relish, or Salsa Fresca. (There is also a recipe for making Green Pepper Jelly—and that, like any canned recipe, requires a little time and effort but will surely get rave reviews.

Under the chapter titled “SOUPS” you will find Southwestern Soup (which I am looking forward to trying—I love making soup!) as well as Squash Bisque, Green Chili Soup, Tortilla Soup, Mexican Corn Chowder, Pumpkin shallot Soup, Zucchini Soup, Harvest Soup—as well as many others, all reflecting strongly of their southwestern heritage. (I look forward to trying their recipe for Chunky Chili—to see how it compares with my own!)

The following chapter of SALADS provides a rich array of recipes, ranging from Hearts of Palm with Tangy Lemon Dressing, Chilled Herbed Tomatoes, Marinated Mushroom and Cauliflower Salad, Stoplight Salad (which I think could be made in advance), Southwest Black Bean Salad, to an Apple Walnut Salad with Feta Cheese, Spinach Chutney salad, Spicy Oriental Chicken Salad—as well as others that I leave you to discover for yourself.

Under BREADS look for Herb Bread , Dilly Bread, Fresh Herb Butter, as well as Irresistible Cheese Bread, Green Chile Cornbread—and a Guilt-Free Carrot Bread that is low in sugar and fat grams (this one really sounds like a winner) but you will also want to try the Cranberry Coffee Cake, Mini Orange Muffins, Spicy Buttermilk Coffeecake and Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins—which also contains buttermilk (I almost always have buttermilk in the frig—I love to cook and bake with it and also use it to make my “from scratch” ranch dressing.)

I love the chapter titled BRUNCHES as I love brunch recipes and enjoy having brunches during the holiday season. There is a recipe for Fiesta Corn Tamale Torte that may be a little time consuming—but it can be made, covered and refrigerated up to 2 days or frozen, and then defrosted at room temperature and reheated, covered, for 30 minutes—it would make a dazzling presentation at your next brunch and it serves 6-8 people. Also look for recipes such as Triple Cheese Bake, Spinach/Mushroom Brunch Bake (I love anything with spinach in it), Sausage Enchiladas—a twist on your average enchiladas—as well as Spinach Quiche with Mushroom Sauce—which doesn’t sound difficult at all and can be made with an 8” pie shell. You might want to double this recipe and keep one on hand, in the freezer, for another meal.

After BRUNCHES comes POULTRY with tantalizing recipes such as Chicken Acapulco (made with chicken breasts, serves 8), or Chicken Balsamic, Cumberland Chicken which has a sauce I can’t wait to try, Dijon chicken Wraps or, if you prefer, Grilled Margarita Chicken (made with lime juice, tequila and triple sec—sure to become a family favorite) – but also try Parmesan Chicken, Imperial Chicken, Santa Fe Kiev—Artichoke Chicken Casserole (made with a jar o f marinated artichokes, or Chicken Chimichangas,   or Red Chicken Enchilada Casserole. Each and every recipe sounds like a winner…you may want to start with the first one and work your way through the pages.

Then, following POULTRY is a section titled Phoenix Treasures—not recipes—but an inviting invitation to visit Phoenix and see for yourself why it is known throughout the world as a vacation destination. “Glimpse a few of our treasures,” the Junior League of Phoenix coaxes, “they speak of a lifestyle in harmony with nature and with a diverse cultural heritage…”       What follows is a visual invitation to downtown Phoenix, the resorts, golf courses, tennis facilities – all accompanied by sample recipes from the cookbook –Spinach Mushroom Brunch Bake on gorgeous china Phyllo Blossoms against a background of architectural tools—which offers, in part “…the Frank Lloyd Wright influence is present in many public buildings, such as the Biltmore Hotel, and the Grammage Center for the Performing Arts (I would GO to Phoenix just to see those!).

There is a page dedicated to the desert, accompanied by Picante Corn Casserole in a lush southwestern background, as well as Native Americans featuring Hearts of Palm Salad with Tangy Lemon dressing. The League notes that “…All of Arizona and especially the Gila and Salt River Valleys near Phoenix have been home to Native American tribes since ancient times…Today, festivals, ceremonials, and dances carefully preserve Native American culture. World-renown museums, such as the Heard, beautifully exhibit the intricately designed pottery, basketry and textiles that help tell the story of the Indian heritage.”

Next is a tribute to “OLD WEST” (accompanied by a display of Caviar Pie on exquisite china), in which the cookbook authors write, “From staged Old West shootouts and Pony Express rides retracing the mail route to colorful rodeos and costumed riders on horses in festival parades, cowboy lore lives on in Scottsdale and Phoenix.

Famed for his rugged individualism in Western films, the cowboy and his horse seem at one with nature, riding off into a spectacular Arizona sunset.

His touch is evident today, not only on the real working range, but also in the southwestern influence mirrored in food, art, fashion and interior design.” Below is a beautiful photograph of three cowboys riding off into the sunset.

The next chapter is dedicated to ENTREES and offers a wide range of delicious recipes beginning with Tenderloin Beef with Tarragon Sauce, Beef Grand Marnier, Sonoran Shredded Beef but including Veal Strips with Artichokes, Grilled Leg of Lamb and Indian Lamb Kabobs, plus pork recipes such as Pork Loin Roast with Orange BBQ Sauce—these and other recipes will whet your appetite and offer interesting variations whether you are cooking for family or for company.

A Section on SEAFOOD offers Halibut with Tomato and Leek Sauce, Red Snapper Vera Cruz, Ahi with Sesame-Cilantro Marinade, along with recipes for Orange Roughy, salmon, shrimp and crab. Crab Spinach Fettuccini is high on my list of recipes to try!

ACCOMPANIMENTS provides a variety of new ways to prepare vegetables, from Sum Kissed Carrots to Orange Walnut Broccoli, Onion Quiche or Eggplant Ramekins—your choice of five new ways to cook potatoes or Rice Pecan Casserole, Mushroom Barley casserole—or Cranberry Walnut Relish. Any one of these recipes would be a delightful way to dress up a meal.

There is a substantial section on DESSERTS—some easy, some a little more difficult—but all certainly well chosen, such as Bread Pudding with Drunken Sauce, three different cheesecake recipes (I have my sights set on the Chocolate Cheesecake) or you may want to try Macaroon Ice Cream Cake—or Chocolate Surprise Cake which has an unexpected ingredient – another one I can’t wait to try and present to my family. No, I won’t tell you what the secret ingredient is! There are also recipes for pies, cookies, and a Chocolate Raspberry Trifle that will knock your socks off!

Next is a section titled FIESTA FAVORITES and this took me by surprise. It features some of the all-time favorite recipes taken from FIESTA UNDER THE SUN, an earlier Junior League of Phoenix cookbook published in 1982. (The Junior League of Phoenix also published SOMETHING NEW UNDER THE SUN back in 1972; it went through a number of printings—mine was from the fourth printing in 1979). Featured in DESERT TREASURES, 1992, are such all time favorites as Fiesta Dip (which I remember “discovering” when we lived in Florida around 1980), Taco Soup, Nachos Grandes, Sedona Salad, Chicken Chutney Salad, Satin Caramel Flan (another fav!) and Black Russian Cake—these and other all-time favorites will bring back memories and perhaps start a new trend with a younger generation.

Last, but not least, is a section titled VALLEY’S FINEST CHEFS—signature recipes from chefs serving up masterpieces at restaurants and resorts in the greater Phoenix area. You may want to try making Black and White Bean Soup from Executive Chef Anton Brunbauer at the Hyatt Regency’s Golden Swan in Scottsdale (bearing in mind that Desert Treasures was published 20 years ago), or Pumpkin Soup from Chef John Bartiloma at the 8700 Restaurant, or Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette from the Registry Resort in Scottsdale—or for a totally different twist, how about Blueberry Tamale with Mexican Crema from Chef Tozer of the La Hacienda at the Scottsdale Princess Resort? These and other Desert Dessert treasures will surely whet your appetite!

DESERT TREASURES*  is still available. I found it listed at $42.89, new, but  Amazon lists 59 new and pre-owned copies starting at $1.76 and up.   (remember that copies purchased from private vendors, via Amazon, will cost you $3.99 for shipping. Still, you can own a copy for under $2.00 (or $6.00 with shipping)  I didn’t find any listings on Alibris.com.

SOMETHING NEW UNDER THE SUN, the 1972 cookbook by the Junior League of Phoenix is still available through Amazon.com— they have a plastic comb binding priced at $3.74 & up or $3.74 and up for new and preowned with a softcover copy listed at $6.98.

While searching through many of my southern and southwestern cookbooks, I noticed quite a few cookbooks with “sun” in their titles—it made me think perhaps this would be a good topic to explore with you another time. I’ll gather the books from the shelves and see what I can put together for you.

–Happy Cooking – and may all your cookbook purchases be wonderful!



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