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Hiding in the Margins: 25 Useful Tidbits from Some of Our Favorite Cookbooks

Do you enjoy reading cookbooks like Alison and I do? Those published by Junior Leagues, churches and schools not only feature favorite recipes from the collective of contributors but also contain a treasure trove of their helpful tips, trivia and tradition. However, because the information is printed in the margins 

pile of cookbooks © The Gracious Posse

and not always indexed like the recipes, they often remain hidden and forgotten. While many margin tips are recipe-specific, others are delectable tidbits that can be applied to your life-long culinary and entertaining journey. We’ve compiled this list of ones that captured our cooking imagination and might prove useful or interesting on your own kitchen adventures. If you want to save them, just Pin the photo at the bottom of this post to one of your Pinterest boards, or you can always find it on our PInterest board, Household Tips.

Very Virginia: Culinary Traditions with a Twist

Very Virginia Culinary Traditions With a Twist by the Junior League of Hampton Roads

The Junior League of Hampton Roads (1995; 20th Anniversary edition, 2014)


1.  An effortless way to make burger patties: shape meat into a roll or log and freeze for several hours until firm. Slice into patties of desired thickness and grill! (p.180)


2.  Shrimp are easily peeled under cold running water. When deveining is necessary, carefully insert a toothpick 2 to 2 “sections” from head-end and left up and pull out the vein. (p. 38)


3.  An easy to remember herb conversion: 1 teaspoon dried = 1 tablespoon fresh (p. 42)


Cooking with Grace

Cooking with Grace by Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church (2005)


4.  If soup seasoning it too hot (spicy), add sugar to take the heat out.  (p. 46)

5.  Lasagna news flash

It is not necessary to precook the lasagna noodles. In fact, your lasagna will be much less soupy if the dried, uncooked noodles can absorb most of the liquid from the tomato sauce.


For finer, more delicate lasagnas with less traditional fillings, use uncooked egg roll wrappers, found in the produce section of the grocery store. (p. 196)


The Fearrington House Cookbook: A Celebration of Food, Flowers and Herbs

Fearrington House Cookbook

by Jenny Fitch (1988)


6.  Poaching the Salmon

A good rule of thumb to use in poaching the salmon is to cook the fish 5 minutes per inch of thickness. For example, a 3” thick salmon would need to be poached for 15 minutes. (p.6)


True Grits: Tall Tales and Recipes from the New South

True Grits: Tall Tales and Recipes from the New South by the Junior League of Atlanta

The Junior League of Atlanta (1997)


7.  Most muffin recipes may be baked in miniature muffin cups. Count on three miniature muffins for every two-inch muffin. Reduce baking time 5 minutes. (p. 274)


8.  If muffins or cake layers stick to the bottoms of the pans, place the hot pans on a cold damp towel for about thirty seconds before removing. (p.200)


9.  Store leftover mushrooms in a non-recycled brown paper bag in the refrigerator to prevent the mushrooms from turning brown. (p.48)


10.  Store lemons in a tightly sealed jar of water in the refrigerator. They will yield more juice than when first purchased. (p.71)


11.  Warmth rather than sunlight ripens tomatoes, so place them near the stove or dishwasher to receive heat. (p.98)


12.  Cover the outside of a springform pan with aluminum foil before baking in a boiling water bath. (p.20)


13.  When buying spinach, remember that one pound fresh spinach yields about one and one-half cups cooked spinach. (p.67)


14.  If you are unable to cook fresh chicken or ground meat right away, salt them immediately to prevent spoilage. This allows you to store in the refrigerator for a day or two longer. (p.159)


15.  The Nitty Gritty of Grits

It is correct to say that “grits are.” It is also correct to say that “grits is a favorite food of Southerners.” In other words, grits has its own grammar and can be used with either a plural or singular verb. One source we consulted with at Martha White Foods (a Nashville company in the grits business for a long time) says the term is believed to have originated from the Old English “grytt,” which means bran and has been used since at least the end of the 18th century. (p.127)


Beyond the Hedges: From Tailgating to Tea Parties

Beyond the Hedges by the Junior League of Athens GA

The Junior League of Athens, GA (2007)

16.  Try an all green crudité platter with this dip: cucumber and celery sticks, raw trimmed asparagus, snow peas, string beans and florets of broccoli can be attractively grouped in small white or silver dishes to great effects. (p.33)


17.  Jacob’s Pharmacy, on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, was where Dr. John S. Pemberton sold the first Coca-Cola. The drink was marketed as being medicinal until 1905. It contained the extracts of cocoa leaves from South America and kola nuts from Africa, hence the name Coca-Cola. (p.205)


Stop and Smell the Rosemary: Recipes and Traditions to Remember
Stop and Smell the Rosemary by the Junior League of Houston

The Junior League of Houston (1996)

18.  Mastering Muffins

  • Grease muffin pans with shortening or non-stick cooking spray, not butter.
  • Vigorous stirring creates tough muffins with pointed tops. Stir only until dry ingredients are moistened. Lumps will disappear during baking.
  • Never grease muffin cups that won’t be used. Place an ice cube or several tablespoons of water in unused cuts to prevent warping of the pan.
  • Muffins are done when tops are domed and dry to the touch or when an inserted wooden pick comes out clean. (p. 214)


19.  Handling Phyllo

Phyllo is a tissue-thin pastry dough. Originally used in Greece and various Middle Eastern countries, it has become quite popular in the United States. The dough is bought frozen and should be thawed in the refrigerator overnight. Phyllo can be refrigerated up to 1 month or frozen up to 1 year. Once opened, use within 2 to 3 days. Do not unwrap the dough until ready to use as it become brittle very quickly. While working with the phyllo sheets, cover those set aside with a damp cloth to keep them from drying out. It is best to brush edges with butter first, then move to the middle, as this prevents the edges from tearing. (p. 55)


20.  Cake Flour

Cake flour contains less gluten than regular flour which is why it produces lighter cakes. If a recipe calls for cake flour and you don’t have any, substitute 1 cup stirred all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons for 1 cup cake flour. (p. 229)


Heart & Soul: Stirring Recipes from Memphis

Heart & Soul by the Junior League of Memphis

The Junior League of Memphis (1992)


21.  Wait to clean the mushrooms until you are ready to use them. Though cleaning mushrooms is very important, too much water can make them soggy. Most cultivated button mushrooms are clean enough that a tender wiping with a moist paper towel is all they need. (p. 41)


22.  When serving cold soups, don’t forget that pewter Jefferson cups, cocktail glasses, and demitasse cups are ideal for individual portions and make it easy to serve a casual first course to guest who are still enjoying “happy hour.” (p. 64)


23.  Shallots are delicate small onions with a faint taste of garlic. If they are unavailable, substitute the white part of a green onion or minced yellow onion, soaked in boiling water for one minute, then rinsed and drained. (p. 122)


24.  Marinating Musts

  • Always marinate meat in the refrigerator, never at room temperature.
  • Allow ¼ to ½ cup of marinade for each 1 to 2 pounds of meat.
  • For tenderization to occur, meat must be marinated for six hours, or as long as overnight. To tenderized, a marinade must contain an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice, wine, vinegar, or yogurt.
  • For flavor, marinate 15 minutes to two hours.
  • With the exception of game, which is more muscular, marinating meat longer than 24 hours causes fiber break-down, resulting in a mushy texture.
  • Always discard leftover marinades that have been in contact with raw meat. (p. 186)


25.  The secret to making a moist pound cake that is not too heavy is letting the eggs come to room temperature before adding them to the batter. This results in a greater volume of batter and thus, a higher, lighter cake. (p. 257)


How grateful we are for the many women who have taken the time to share all this food for thought, discoverable if we simply take the time to sit down with these marvelous cookbooks. Talk about hidden inspiration. We’ll be adopting many of these tasty morsels in our own kitchens.

January 17, 2017

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Downton Abbey Fans Rejoice – Here Comes Victoria!

January’s arrival finds many of us feeling blue because Downton Abbey won’t be the star of winter Sunday nights as it has been for the past six years.
Downton Abbey

The creator of the period drama, Julian Fellowes, portrayed the upper crust and the servants with such humanity and brought the problems of the day in Edwardian and interbellum England to such life that the show became Sunday night must-see-tv. When PBS’s biggest series ever ended last spring, I nurtured my blues reading Fellow’s novels, the unfortunately named Snobs

Julian Fellowes’s Snobs

and the fascinating Belgravia.

Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia

Rumor has it a Downton Abbey movie is in the works. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

In the meantime, MASTERPIECE begins its series Victoria this Sunday at 9 p.m. on PBS.

Masterpiece’s Victoria

It’s based on the novel of the same name by Daisy Goodwin, which I serendipitously listened to through my Audible app over the holidays. I was so captivated by it that instead of Christmas carols I kept playing this fast-paced story on my iPhone and Echo over hours of decorating, wrapping and baking. The book vividly describes Queen Victoria’s life from the time the petite (4”11”) 18-year-old became queen when her ailing uncle finally died until she became engage to her cousin Albert.

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Like Downton, the book portrays the seemingly contemporary humanity of the young woman who was raised to be queen and lays the groundwork for understanding the success of her reign. I can’t wait to see how Goodwin’s fascinating story is translated into this series. Victoria has been coproduced by the same group that brought us Downton Abbey and the first season was, like its predecessor, broadcast in the fall in the U.K. before the January premiere in the U.S. British audiences loved it enough that season 2 has been ordered.

Our local PBS station had planned a premiere of the first episode this past weekend at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

It sold out before we caught wind of it, but we were grateful to Katherine Mitchell, Director of Community Engagement at Community Idea Stations, who scored tickets for us. Unfortunately Snowmaggedon 2017 cancelled the plans.

Not to be deterred, I took to binge-watching The Queen.

The Queen on Netflix

TEdF and I made it through 7 of the 10 episodes of season 1, and we are officially hooked. Watching Elizabeth Windsor transform to Elizabeth R is fascinating, especially with Claire Foy as the Queen and John Lithgow as Churchill. With flashbacks used to explain her ascension to the throne, TEdF and I are constantly Googling while we watch to find out more about the history of Elizabeth’s early reign. Having read Victoria helps in understanding some of the traditions of the monarchy and makes me want to learn/recall more (especially the Kings and Queens of England that I had to memorize in 9th grade).

For the last six years, January was all about anticipating the return of British nobility. I am delighted to see that trend continuing with Victoria’s regal twist. If you get as hooked as I am, you’ve got more reading and watching to help scratch that British itch. Let us know if you enjoy.

January 12, 2017

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Feeling Green in 2017

Despite the winter wonderland currently residing outside my doors, I am feeling green and have been ever since awakening on New Year’s Day (no, not from wild partying the night before). Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Pantone named Greenery the 2017 Color of the Year.

Greenery - Pantone 2017 Color of the Year

The Pantone Color Institute provides a laundry list of reasons this color took top honors. From individuals looking for a natural escape from modern realities to the belief that

[t]hrough its reassuring yet assertive vibrancy, Greenery offers us self-assurance and boldness to live life on our own terms, during a time when we are redefining what makes us successful and happy,

the Institute’s sagacious justifications can’t be denied, but my feelings are more prosaic.

They likely started with my new Dodie Thayer for Tory Burch Lettuce Ware dinner plates that arrived under the Christmas tree thanks to Tory’s Black Friday 30% off everything sale.

Dodie Thayer for Tory Burch Lettuce Ware dinner plate

So big, fresh and gorgeous, even my 21-year old son approved. I can’t wait to host a ladies luncheon that feels as fresh as this one featured on Tory’s website.

Tory Burch luncheon table with Lettuce Ware

You know how much we love pink and green around here. The combination of these plates and my vintage pink linen napkins equals near perfection.


Tory Burch Lettuce Ware dinner plate with vintage pink napkin © The Gracious Posse

How marvelous would they be sitting on a tablecloth made from one of the fabrics in Dana Gibson’s latest collection for Stroheim? Her fresh linen chintzes took my breathe away while I was doing a little Christmas shopping at this local design star’s new atelier.

Dana Gibson Chintz Green-Grey

Chintz Green-Grey

Dana Gibson Chintz Spring


Deciding a favorite colorway is tough; you’ve really got to see and feel them in person to appreciate the full extent of their beauty. While visiting with Dana, I also fell hard for all of her green accessories, including these.


 Ellen and I can’t wait to take you on a tour of Dana’s new digs later this year.

I may also be craving green because my healthy-eating track fell to the wayside beginning on Thanksgiving. My joints have been nagging me to stop enjoying the baked goods so ubiquitous over the holidays – wheat really does cause inflammation in my hips and knees. Fortunately, these green balls of nutrition satisfy tastebuds, too,

thanks to Ina Garten’s simple recipe for Sautéed Shredded Brussels Sprouts from her latest cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey.

This gorgeous green arrangement from the latest issue of flower magazine also has me sighing for all things green.

Margaret Ludwig’s monochromatic French floral design in Jan-Feb 2017 issue of flower magazine

Created in the French floral style, the monocromatic design by New Orleanian Margaret Ludwig of Giverny Design feels as fresh as 2017. It also reminds me to just get outside to refresh and exercise.

For me fresh and refresh is the true appeal of green. The time has come to take a fresh look at parts of my life that are in serious need of a refresh, and green is going to help take me there. In a literal sense, I’ll be starting with painting the back of my living room bookshelves green, and I am looking forward to refreshing some items around the house that we will be sure to share.

Ellen and I are also planning to refresh The Gracious Posse website this year. We would love to hear your suggestions for making this site your favorite place to visit online, even as we try to make it profitable. Your comments and ideas always give us an instant refresh.

January 10, 2017

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Feeling Green in 2017 © The Gracious Posse

Sense-ational January

Oddly, January is one of my favorite months. Not only because many of my favorite people celebrate birthdays (Alison, daughter eBh, sister-in-law mLl, and lDd to name a few), but because my world slows down – relatively – leaving me with time to appreciate January’s ability to stimulate the senses. 


sunrise on snow-covered Sulgrave Road © The Gracious Posse

The white stuff is exquisite in central Virginia because we don’t live with it for months on end. It’s hard to beat a pristine snowfall in the early morning. I can’t wait to see when we get the first one (maybe tomorrow?).

crape myrtle bark in January © The Gracious Posse

The texture and color of crape myrtles shine during the drab winter. The sculptural nature of a crape that hasn’t been maimed by overzealous pruners adds visual pleasure to an otherwise drab landscape.

amaryllis © The Gracious Posse

Once the Christmas decor is packed away, I am left with a clean slate in my house and a single reminder of the holidays: my annual amaryllis. The fresh simplicity enables me to just relax and breathe.


No leaf blowers blaring outside, no nagging to-do’s running through my head, just the quiet chirp of an occasional bird on a warmer day interrupts the quiet silence of January.

blue jay in back yard © The Gracious Posse


blanket from Iceland © The Gracious Posse

The textures of winter bring me joy: my grandmother’s mink stroller, my flannel pj’s, and my super-warm blanket from my trip to Iceland. January is the ideal month to snuggle up.


stuffed portobello mushrooms @ The Gracious Posse

Naturally at the beginning of the year I am motivated to experiment with new healthy recipes, like Alison’s stuffed portobello mushrooms. Usually the motivation lasts only a few weeks, until it’s time to get excited for Super Bowl fare like man dip


Does anything smell more like January than walking through the neighborhood and catching the wafting of a fire from the neighbor’s chimney? The perfect day then becomes complete when you return home from the walk to the smell of soup,

White Chicken Chili

like my white chicken chili, simmering on the stove.

Other months don’t require as much work to find joy, but the subtleties of January’s senses help me transition nicely from the helter-skelter of the holidays to a steadier pace as I begin the new year’s journey. What are your sensational January favorites?

January 5, 2017

Welcome, January 2017

Happy New Year globe © The Gracious Posse

Happy New Year, gracious readers, albeit a day late! Ready for the start of a new trip around the sun? I am always eager for the refresh that naturally follows the tradition-filled holidays and to discover new events, ideas, people and places that enliven the mundane. While we hope to be able to say Yes to more opportunities this year, let’s not lose sight of those that make a regular January appearance. In the spirit of starting 2017 off with a delightful mix of new and tradition, here’s what we are looking forward to this January:

Golden Globe Awards

2017 Golden Globes

January 8th
8 p.m.
with Jimmy Fallon hosting, this year’s ceremony won’t be all about the dresses

College Football National Championship National Championship Tampa Bay 2017

Monday, January 9th
Raymond James Stadium
Tampa, Florida
8 p.m.

Beekeeping Class

beekeeper in action

Saturday, January 21st
9 – 11 a.m.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
sign up for So You Want to Keep Bees? and
start planning your next hobby

Chinese New Year

2017 Chinese New Year of the Rooster

Saturday, January 28th
the year of the Rooster, which represents dawn and awakening, is a reminder that with hard work and patience, you can triumph and succeed

Shiver in the River Shiver in the River

Saturday, January 28th
Historic Tredegar
clean-up along the banks of the James River
5K Family Fun Run
James River Jump

Anything Goes Gala 2017
2017 Anything Goes Gala invitation

January 28, 2017
6:00 p.m.
The Jefferson Hotel
more information and tickets here

Only the first month of the year and it looks like it will be going fast. What are you going to say yes to? Maybe we’ll add it to our January list.

January 2, 2017