Take one Air Force wife who loves to cook.
Add a few hundred recipes from Air Force families around the world. Stir in a husband, two daughters, friends and neighbors to help in the kitchen or serve as taste testers, and you have the initial ingredients for the "Best of the Best Air Force Cookbook," by Karen Tosten.
Oh, and simmer for two years. That’s how long it took to complete the book, Karen said by phone from her Yorktown, Va., home. Her newly published book is part of the "Best of the Best" series, a state-by-state sampling of American cooking.
Military life is rich in recipes, Karen told the publisher of the series.
"I told them they were missing the biggest and best source," she said. "We move around the country and get new recipes from all over."
Karen’s suggestion became her commission to write the book. She collected recipes from family and friends and solicited more through newspapers at Air Force bases worldwide.
The publisher’s test kitchen vetted the recipes, but Karen and her family also tested more than half of the 400 submissions at home.
"My girls and their friends got to help make the recipes," Karen said.
"We had neighborhood parties, for (friends) to come over and try things, so we had a group decision on a lot of recipes."
Not all were delicious. Karen said she learned something from baking Cantaloupe Pie: "Hot cantaloupe is just not a good idea."
Some odd-sounding dishes were successful, like Cornbread Salad and Dr Pepper Chocolate Cake, but most of the 300-plus recipes that made the cut don’t have unusual ingredients.
"We wanted the recipes to be things that were easily accessible … things that are in grocery stores," Karen said. "We didn’t want anything too wacky or hard to find."
The book includes recipes appropriate for family meals, squadron picnics and dinner parties large or small. There are also appetizers, desserts and beverages. A chapter about cookies and candy is appropriately called "Afterburners."
The recipes, like military families, came from all over.
"I got recipes sent in from Korea, Japan and people in Germany," Karen said. The book lists each recipe’s contributor and hometown. Some include anecdotes and photos.
The experience of traveling and moving enriches the recipe collections of military families, Karen said.
"Squadron events, potlucks, cooking for each other when a husband or wife is TDY," also contribute to the cooking style of military life, she said.
The book’s contents came from senior airmen, chief master sergeants and colonels, active duty and retired, husbands, wives, parents, grandparents and even military kids, including the author’s two daughters.
Karen included some recipes from her own kitchen, from her mother-in-law and father-in-law, a retired fighter pilot. Her husband, a navigator, retired in 2006.
Karen said she hopes the book finds an audience outside of the military.
"I’m very proud of this book. The main goal was to share the Air Force with the civilian world. Let them have a little taste of our travels and our experience and our friendships that we’ve made and recipes we’ve shared with each other."
Karen said photos and stories that accompany some recipes are among her favorite ingredients in the book. She said she hopes to include more of those in her next project, "Best of the Best Army Cookbook," to which her Army friends and relatives are eager to contribute.
Karen said she plans to travel and promote her current book this summer. Then it’s back to the kitchen for a taste of Army life.
For more information about Karen’s cookbook adventures and a sample recipe, see the Spouse Calls blog.
Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany. Contact her at email@example.com and see the Spouse Calls blog athttp://blogs.stripes.com/blogs/spousecalls.