Deb Dana’s “Very Slightly Messy Manual”

As you may recall from one of my earlier posts, I have a semi-problematic cookbook addiction. Rather than accept responsibility for my problem, I am going to shift the blame onto someone else: my brother.

Several birthdays ago (as in, ahem, approximately 23 birthdays ago), my brother bought me my very first cookbook, KidsCooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual, published by Klutz Press.

The book came with a set of four measuring spoons — tablespoon, teaspoon, half teaspoon, and quarter teaspoon — each one a different color to correspond with a different measurement, and the instructions featured goofy cartoon animals and spoke directly to the kids who would be cooking from it.


Needless to say, I loved this gift. Who couldn’t love a gift with recipes like this?


And characters like this?


It was, shall we say, my gateway cookbook. With it began my unhealthy habit of buying way too many cookbooks enthusiastic support of the cookbook industry.

Some of the recipes were aimed at children’s palates specifically (see: “Non-Yukky Vegetables” and “Home-Baked Fish Sticks”), but others could appeal to kids of all ages. To this day, Deb Dana’s Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies stem from this cookbook, with only minor variations. (Seriously. Those cookies are delicious.) And what adult doesn’t enjoy a good old “Egg in a Frame?”


I have lived in four different cities since my brother bought me this cookbook and have accumulated numerous other tomes, from famed chefs and bakers alike. At this point, I have essentially memorized any recipes I still make from KidsCooking. And yet that folksy little cookbook, with its spiral binding and card stock pages, is probably the most meaningful cookbook on my entire bookshelf, and I can’t ever see myself letting it go.

What about you? What was your first cookbook? Do you still have it?

11 Replies to “Deb Dana’s “Very Slightly Messy Manual””

  1. Cookbook? What’s that? *grin*

    Um, I’m not much of one for cooking. Somebody once gave me a chocolate cookbook (um, cooking with chocolate, not an actual book made of chocolate…which is kind of too bad), knowing my love of the stuff and thinking it might inspire me, I suppose. I liked looking at the pictures, but I never actually made anything from it.

    P.S. In our house we call that “egg in a hole.”

    1. There should be a book made out of chocolate. This should be a thing.

      And yes, I’ve called that egg in a hole, too! I feel like it has lots of different names, but in the end, all are equally delicious :).

  2. Mmmmm. Chocolate cookbook. Mmmmm.
    My favorite cookbooks are still in my mother’s possession. They were old when I discovered them as a teenager, so the recipes are totally classic, old school, pre-processed anything. These are the books from which I learned to make the very complicated cake recipes. I think I might have talked her into giving them to me. We’ll see.

    1. I *love* old cookbooks. My grandmother donated a number of her old ones to me (including The Settlement Cookbook), and I treat them almost like antiques!

  3. Did I hear someone say cookbook made of chocolate???

    As for me, I have a slew of cookbooks but never use them. Ever. I have recipes in my grandmother’s handwriting. Those are keepers.

  4. It’s toad in the hole! TOAD!

    And I love it. I learned how to make it in one of those bonkers ‘sandwich makers’ which was my only appliance for a time. A person can live on oranges and toad in the hole. I sincerely believe that.

    But one shouldn’t! Which is why I love cookbooks too. You are not alone, my friend.

    Do you use any cookbooks on your ereader or tablet? I have been reading my food magazines on my iPad and it’s enough to make me wonder if I could be a convert. But then, you can’t get cookie dough on an iPad and then look fondly on the chocolate smears five years later.

    1. In our house, we never called it toad in the hole is because in England that’s a totally different dish, involving sausages and Yorkshire pudding batter: I’ve never had it, but it sounds like it has potential (sausages and popover batter…what could be bad?). Apparently there are a zillion names for the whole “egg fried in the middle of a piece of toast” thing, though:

      I sometimes read recipes off my iPhone, but I haven’t done the whole tablet thing yet. I think I’m too worried I’d spill grease or batter all over it! And like you, I sort of like revisiting recipes and finding smudge marks from my last endeavor. I feel like it makes the recipe more substantial somehow.

  5. My first cookbook was “The Disney Cookbook” – a kids’ cookbook put out in the mid ’70s featuring such delights as “The White Rabbit’s Ginger-Apple Fizz” (which I loved) and “Sleeping Beauty’s Pinwheels” (donuts topped with ice cream – which I did not like so much, because even at a young age I was a donut and ice cream purist…). My mother actually let me help her cook all the time, sparking a lifelong love of cooking. As an adult, it gives me the willies to think about some of the messes I made – all of which my mother not only endured but encouraged, in the name of fostering my love for the kitchen. I owe her a big one.

    By the way – I do love the egg dish you pictured. Only where I come from, we call it “Toad in a Hole.” Why, I have no idea. (And PS: you can drop bits of chopped scallion on the egg right after cracking it into the “hole” and you get some amazing scallion-egg things going.

    1. That ginger-apple fizz sounds super delicious! Was it like a fizzy juice/soda thing? And I love that your mom let you make a mess in the kitchen. She obviously instilled a love for the kitchen in you!

      Oooh, and love the scallion idea. As I mentioned to Kelly above, we didn’t call it toad in a hole because in England that’s another dish altogether, but whatever you call it, it’s delicious!!

  6. Egg in a frame looks sooooo good. My grandmother bought me my first cookbook when I was around ten in hopes that I’d be more girlish (I only have boy cousins and brothers, so it was a hopeless endeavor). I do still have the cookbook, though! I went through a phase in middle school where I really liked to cook (it made grandma so very happy) but since then I’ve pretty accepted that I’m really bad at following direction.

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