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Have You Ever Written a Cookbook for Your Family and, Maybe, for Friends?

This is a project that I started a few years ago at the request of my two grown daughters (both have families now) - write a cookbook of family favourites and any other recipes that will be useful to them. A few friends heard about the project, word kind of spread around and now there is an expectation of a fabulous cookbook that many of those who've eaten at my house want. And I am stuck...

I started by developing a format, then creating categories and writing out recipes. All was going well at first but then I do not know where to stop. I constantly "discover" great recipes that I make 2-3 times and then move onto something else. The second problem is how to make a book out of the little pages that I've created? I want it to have a hard cover so that it lasts, spiral bounding so that it opens flat, pages that could be whiped off if things spill and thing will spill if the book is used.

I've heard of two sotwares that could be helpful - Master Cook and Living Cookbook; have you used these or any other ones?

Please share your experience and tips on how to go about completing this project. Maybe the cookbook of this kind could be "evergreen" but I do not want an e-book, I want the real thing!

I am happy to post any elements of my cookbook - just ask for what you are interested in.

Looking forward to hear from many:))))

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  1. I wrote a very short cookbook (more of a cook pamphlet) as a sort-of mock souvenir of a tasting menu I once did to showcase that wines do come from countries other than France. Unlike your project (which sounds fascinating), my pamphlet was fairly easy because I only had to work on the recipes which made up the menu.

    I didn't use cookbook-specific software as the exercise at the time helped familiarize me with Adobe InDesign for layout. I used Photoshop and Illustrator for photos and graphics, and wrote the text in Word before pouring all the elements into InDesign. My pamphlet was output to PDF for distribution, though I do know people have printed it off.

    There are companies which will help you print one-off or short-run paper publications (acid-free paper is always nice as the pages won't yellow). Printing spiral-bound is pretty easy as many copy shops can do this, but laminated stock for easy wiping bumps the price up really quickly. Too bad about the no e-book thing because if your fan base is a bit more technological, you could investigate publishing to the iPad since that allows you to quickly update the cookbook. I think that would be great since you mention that you constantly discover new recipes.

    You could also set up a private blog.

    As for the organizational part of your project, there's plenty of cookbooks which should lend a hand in thinking how you want to present things, including:

    - classic division by food types (vegetables, meat, fish, dairy)
    - classical division by plate types (appetizers, soups, salad, mains)
    - division by complete meals (categorize by season, categorize by holiday)
    - division by technique

    1. KatieNell wrote a family cookbook and reported on it here.


      1. My mother and I put together cookbooks for my brothers when they were in college that included family recipes, some original, some tried and true magazine clippings ie Cooking Light and my mothers techniques for basics such as rice, Thanksgiving turkey etc. My brothers still turn to these when cooking for their families. We printed recipes on the computer, and used self laminate to create "recipe cards." We put the recipe cards in store bought Hallmark blank recipe books. This of course was in the early nineties, and now the technical options available are endless. And while a online published book would look lovely, it is nice to have a recipe book that changes can be made to by adding or subtracting recipes to the cookbook based on the recipients likes.
        In fact I own a number of these 'recipe books', one that I collect all my traditional recipes, and one for all my healthy recipes. I am now working on a third, my gourmet recipes, more adventurous recipes.

        2 Replies
        1. re: lulou23

          lulou, how did you "self laminate"? Did you buy the equipment to do it? Staples or kinko? I really want a bound book but it is half the size of a typical sheet of paper - smal-ish.

          1. re: herby

            I used laminating sheets from an office store where you place recipes between two sheets of sticky plastic and press together and trimmed down to size. This was to make recipe cards stain resistant. It was the cheapest way to go without a machine.

        2. I did one a few years ago. Type the pages on letter size paper,print the number of each you want, put in plastic sleeves, and put in three ring binders. I printed on both sides, but it would be okay to print on one side and put two sheets back to back in each sleeve. This is easy to keep clean and lies flat. Be sure to keep one for yourself.

          1. My goodness, you have described my project. I have been writing a cookbook for primarily my children, but like you, friends are enthusiastic and looking forward to the finished product. I have been using Master Cook for years to develop and edit my recipes. I was going to switch to another software but found that Master Cook was more than adequate. I invested in a book 'The Recipe Writer's Handbook' and have been revising my recipes so they follow the same format. It is a long process. I have not got to the stage of how I am going to self publish it. That's where I will need some advice.

            This is a labour of love....but one that is much appreciated by my daughter and son. Hopefully, they will (or their children will) carry on the tradition of "fall pickling" or making our family Christmas Cake. The recipe was developed by a great aunt and is over 75 years old.

            Good luck!

            2 Replies
            1. re: Deborah

              Deborah, we should talk more about the details. I designed a layout that I am very happy with. One recipe per page divided into a short para under the title to say a few words about the recipe - ingredients - instructions. Made me very mindful of a need to have short precise instructions. How did you divide your recipes? I have a lot of sections - appertizers, breads, breakfast, chicken, soups, condiments, etc. - too many really, need to simplify. How many recipes do you have? How many pages? I probably have close to a hundred.

              1. re: herby

                Hi Herby: I am thinking of dividing my recipes up according to seasons.....Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. I have well over 300 recipes so I am going to format them all and then decide which ones are the most important to include in the book. I know it is going to be difficult as I too have so many different categories.

            2. Check out www.tastebook.com

              I just made a cookbook called Family Favorites for my siblings and my parents and it turned out great! They provide the format and you just fill in the specifics for your recipes. It even allows you to add your own photos. The finished product is beautiful and my family was touched by the collection of recipes, photos, and anecdotes.

              3 Replies
              1. re: arp29

                Thank you for the link, arp29! Looks like a great site and it sure wants to sign you up:) I wonder were you able to use your format if you prefer? Did they printed and mailed the book to you? It says $30 for 100 recipes - I wonder if I want 12 or so of the same thing, do I pay $360? Do you know?

                1. re: herby

                  Hi Herby,
                  Yes, they are a bit intense in trying to get you sign up:-) I *believe* that you have to use their format. They mail the books to you printed, but not assembled. Everything is grouped together and in the appropriate order, but you have to put it in the spiral binding. They offer quantity discounts and run specials every so often (ie: 10% off if you order by a certain date, free shipping, etc.) As wineos mentioned it is affiliated with Epicurious (and a whole slew of other sites with recipes) so you can incorporate recipes from those sites easily.

                2. re: arp29

                  I agree!!! and it was a wonderful experience!

                  I like that it is a binder format, and you can order additional pages to add to the book as your list of favorite recipes grows. There are many ways to customize the book and recipe pages, and it is connected to epicurious (or used to be?) so the recipes can be pulled right from that site to add to your book. The con is that the binder has already begun to peel.

                3. Several years ago, my mom (she's 93 now!) and I put together a book of her tried and true recipes for her to give as a Christmas gift to her kids, grand kids, and select other family members. At that time I used Mastercook to do it. It was great. I printed it out and had it spiral bound at Kinko's. It was a huge hit.

                  Since then, I no longer use Mastercook but have successfully transferred what everyone calls "the book" over to Living Cookbook. If you have any questions about Living Cookbook, I can try to answer them for you though there are probably those here who have more experience with it than I do.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Leepa

                    Leepa, I would love to hear your thoughts about the Living Cookbook. I am trying to decide which to buy LC or Mastercook. Also wonder if other software packages are out there.

                    1. re: herby

                      herby, I really do like Living Cookbook. I'd used Mastercook for years but found that after it was sold off to another software company that the customer service was not so great and it had a lot of glitches. I was really glad to find LC and was able to import all of my cookbooks over from Mastercook. I haven't played with it much more than importing recipes here and there. That's really really easy, by the way.

                      Please let me know if you have any specific questions.

                    2. re: Leepa

                      Leepa, I am also interested to hear about Living Cookbook. I joined for a 30 day trial but had a hard time finding my way around the site. I understand from past reading that people do prefer this over Mastercook.

                      1. re: Deborah

                        Did you find it hard to make the software work, Deborah, or their website? I find the software really easy to use once I got used to it. Importing recipes is super easy using a cut and paste method. You then highlight portions of the recipe (such as the title, or ingredients, or procedure) and then just click on the appropriate label (title, ingredients, procedure, etc.) and when you are done, click on finish and it will automatically put it in recipe format, do the nutritional info if you want it, and so forth. Easy peasy.

                        1. re: Leepa

                          Leepa: I had a hard time to make their software work. I wasn't looking to import recipes but to use the site for writing and editing my personal recipes. I wondered whether it was because I signed up for a 30 day trial. Was the format of their recipes similar to Mastercook? With Mastercook the "notes" go on the side of the recipe where I would prefer the notes to go under the title and before the ingredients. Other than that, I find my version of Mastercook works quite well. What are the improvements with Living Cookbook?

                          1. re: Deborah

                            Deborah, I'd say if Mastercook is working for you then keep it. But to answer your question, if you type your notes in Comments (in Edit Recipe and at the bottom of the Recipe tab) then they will show up between the recipe title and the ingredients.

                    3. I had the privilege of working as part of the team on a series of 'real' published cookbooks once upon a time and had the satisfaction of seeing some of 'my' recipes published.

                      But the sheer hard slogging of reproducing recipes in a test kitchen over and over with variations ( .5 % milk, 1%, 2%, whole milk....) took a great deal of the the joy of creation out of it. And then food photography! all varnish and mashed potatoes tinted to look like ice cream-yuck!

                      Recently however I prepped a cookbook for our only child, my recently married daughter. My latest project was low-tech, all original sources--hand-written or magazine clippings, but had the joy of being totally hand-made and personal.

                      I did the 3-ring binder thing and organized all my recipes that weren't in cookbooks and printed out a few that were that had special family meaning. On the left hand side of each page was the recipe and on the right, the story. I had some hand-written notes from my great-grandmother, grandmother and mother, my mother-in-law, aunts, precious family friends and other characters in my own life and that of my daughter.

                      There were gems in there: a newspaper clipping from my grandmother-Menu for a Wedding Tea, saved from a day when her daughters were only 5 and 7 (my own mother)! Some dreams cross generations...

                      There were recipes that my mother-in-law gave me when I married her youngest son, with notes about his favourite foods (!)

                      There were some howlers like a recipe for a garlic dip served with cocktail weiners that (literally) sickened all the cocktail party attendees one wild weekend long before my daughters birth.

                      For this purpose, it was far more important that there appear a hand-written note next to the recipe for Chicken Della Robbia ( this is the first dish I ever cooked for your Daddy -November 1973) than that the recipe format or photgraphic approach be consistent.

                      Having said that, there can only ever be one of these precious books, but it I wanted to produce a dozen for all my someday grandchildren and for friends, I did enjoy the simplicity of www.tastebook.com

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: LJS

                        LJS....I have been thinking about a way to compile all of the recipes I use all the time, as well as some that have been handed down from both sides of our family. Your book sounds wonderful. I also have an only daughter (who mostly doesn't cook, but who is a librarian, so loves books!) and two grandchildren, both of whom do love to be in the kitchen with me! I also have one cousin, who manages a Farmer's Market and does a food blog, and with whom I would love to share family recipes. I will check out tastebook, thanks for the idea!

                      2. Very nice to read about other's experience. I have been planning to write a book for over 3 years now. Before I could publish printed book, I wanted to try the eBook. I published an eBook with 15 recipes. But somehow I always love the real book that you can hold in your hand.

                        Even I had the same feeling that I wanted to continue adding more recipes to the collection I had. Finally stopped at abt 75 of best recipes. I had to put the project on hold. Hopefully I will get this project out soon.

                        Meanwhile thanks for sharing about publication houses that I can look into.

                        Maybe your idea of printing just for family will be a great idea too..

                        1. I think using a service like shutterfly, that does the hard-bound photo books (not sure if they'll do print, but I'm sure there's a similar service for books) would be really cool - like your own published recipe book! That way you could include snaps of how the dishes look in an artful way that would make a really beautiful gift. Through shutterfly you could actually scan in the recipe cards as photo files and arrange them that way - i've done that to insert poems, etc. into mine.

                          When I was in second grade, I wrote a cookbook for my mother. I interviewed family and friends for a dessert recipe each. It is in tatters now and was very poor quality binding - it was typed on probably the first computer my family owned, and with one staple - but it still has the best chocolate chip recipe! However it is bound, I'm sure it will be treasured.

                          1. I've used MasterCook for at least ten years to build a database of my favorites and some family recipes. It started as a project to lessen the number of cookbooks I have. I realized I had many cookbooks that had just one or two recipes I used regularly, so I entered these first. Then I added recipes that caught my eye in magazines and cooking shows. There are more than 1,600 recipes now. I have printed out my "frequent flyers" and have them in sleeves in a three-ring binder. I take it with me (as well as my laptop) to my daughter's when we visit. Now that I am retired, I am thinking of editing the collection and doing something more creative for the family. And, did I get rid of those cookbooks with just one or two useful recipes? Noooooo.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: magnolia

                              I wrote a family cookbook of my grandmother's recipe as a way to remember her. I had to figure out a lot of the recipes because she didn't have a lot of them written down. I spent about 6 months working on it and making a lot of the recipes to make sure they worked. I ended up using www.blurb.com; which lets you do a lot of the formatting yourself. I also ended up scanning in a lot of old family photos and putting them in the book as well. You can preview the book at the following site:
                              I also spent a lot of time searching thru other previews of cookbooks for ideas on how I wanted to do layouts.

                              1. re: JulesLP

                                Jules, this is truly amazing!!! Definitely the way to go if one wants a special book that does not feel/look homemade. Thank you for sharing - I'll absolutely look into it. Wish I could retire soon as the work really gets in the way of getting other things done:)

                            2. I did a book for all 4 of my daughters for Christmas last year. I had many recipes,lots of pictures and stories. I used blurb.com and love how it turned out. Each book cost me $35.95. It's a hardcover book with a colorful dust jacket and 80 pages. My girls cried when they opened their presents. I am working on another one for them as I did this one in just a month and have much more to write for them.

                              1. I am making a cookbook for a friend right now! It will have WAY fewer recipes than the OP and some others here -- it's only recipes for a cast iron skillet (which I am buying her as a wedding gift). I considered so many options of how to format, originally thinking I would have Kinko's make it into a bound book for me, but wound up deciding to do a simple homemade 3 ring binder with full plastic sheets for recipes and 4X6 sheets to put in pictures, because although I sortof wanted it it to look like a real cookbook, I ultimately decided that this would be the easiest to use, so she can add things in or move things around or whatever she wants. But then I also made it into a blog (www.kelliskillet.wordpress.com), so that if she wanted to share the recipes with anyone it wouldn't mean having to type them out again, and to allow for more pictures, and because it was free and fun. And this way I can continue adding to it. But this tastebook thing looks great for someone who wants to do this more regularly -- if I make this a habit, I might go with that in the future.

                                1. Herby, I hope you've come to a solution that you're pleased with. For what it's worth, I've made many cookbooks; I used to print them out as word files, add in any special pages of photos or whatever, and take them to copy shop to get them printed, cut to size & spiral bound. The day at the copy shop was always crazy. Now I use MacGourmet to corral my recipes, and MacGourmet has a plug-in called cookbook builder that gives you lots of options for formatting. But after it is formatted, I send the PDF to a site called lulu to get it printed & bound. Lulu is fast & inexpensive enough for me to periodically send all the recipes in my "to-try" file off to them, without worrying to much about order / etc, and a couple of days later I get my own "to-try" cookbook in the mail. MacGourmet isn't useful unless you have a mac, but lulu might be. You could send them any PDF file.