Tara cooks for the Internet world


By KEN BECKSpecial to The Wilson Post

Tara Beard always wanted to write a cookbook but never dreamed she might do it one recipe at a time and without the use of ink or paper.

The homemaker/entrepreneur made her debut on the Internet in late November with her most attractive Web site known as Tara Cooks.

Three things inspired Beard to take her food for thought and place it online so that others could place it on their plates.

"My parents (Al and Myrna Bybee) died young from cancer, and I am trying to think of healthy ways of living. I think cooking from scratch is healthier than convenience foods," said Beard, 43, who earned a business degree at Middle Tennessee State University and a master’s degree in education at Cumberland University.  

"Second, I want to share what I know with others, and third, it’s important we document and preserve our Southern heritage, and part of that is cooking."

"Tara wanted to do a cookbook," said Richard, her husband of 23 years. "Family members encouraged her to write one, so she decided to do this."

"We announced it to everybody in our address book and asked friends to share it with others," Tara recalled.

"Our goal was to have 1,000 hits by the end of the year," Richard said.

"We had 800 hits the first day," Tara added. In January her Web site drew 27,000 hits.

While she is a long way from morphing into the next Martha Stewart, Julia Child or Rachael Ray, Tara is finding sponsors. Google is placing ads on her Web site that plug Skippy Peanut Butter, weight-loss companies and, coincidentally, Rachael Ray.

Tara is high on using organic ingredients but even higher still on making cooking a family affair. All three of her kids (Ethan, 18; Micah, 15; and Hope, 9) know their way around the stove.

"If I can motivate other families to cook together, it’s more than a means to an end, it’s a process. It’s rewarding for my children to say, ‘Look what we cooked. We created it. Now let’s eat!’ Micah probably cooks something every day. (Tonight he fried the mini-burgers.) Ethan doesn’t have as much time, he works as a bus boy at Michael’s restaurant," Tara said.

"Cookies are pretty much the only thing I can cook all by myself," says fourth-grader Hope.

"I try to think of things that would be fun. Recently we did pizza night. That’s something families can cook together and have fun," Tara said.

Here’s how she introduced her pizza recipes on her Web site:

"Times are hard for just about everyone I know right now. People everywhere are staying home more, and eating out less. I read in Sunday’s paper that the sale of board games is up, way up, over previous years. I would imagine most folks like us are looking for economical ways to have fun. So let’s dust off that Monopoly game and have a Friday Night Pizza Party real soon, OK?

"This recipe will make one crust for a 12-15-inch pizza. Since we have two teenage sons, and since teenagers travel in hungry herds, and since we usually adopt extra boys over the weekend. I make a minimum of two crusts for pizza night. My record was four crusts."

Not only does Tara dish it out, but she gets feedback from readers drawn to her recipes from across the continent.

A reader named Ellen commented on Tara’s Alfredo sauce recipe: "I made this Alfredo sauce last night, and it really is the best ever! Better than I’ve had in most restaurants, actually. My husband loved it, too. On top of being delicious, it was super easy! Thanks for the great recipes!"

Tara aims to place three new recipes a week on her site. About two-thirds of them are made with organic ingredients.

"I think it tastes better with organic ingredients. I buy as much organic as I can afford but the recipes are not all organic," says the Kroger shopper.

The homemade chef home schools her children in conjunction with Heritage Christian School in Hermitage where she teaches general science and typing one day a week. She was a buyer for Ponderosa Steakhouse for 13 years and has been operations manager for QED Medical Physics for the past eight years.

But cooking for health, family and tradition and sharing it with the world is a newfound passion.

"It’s very rewarding. There’s a lot of satisfaction in cooking something good that people like to eat. Both my grandmothers were excellent cooks. My Mom made the world’s best biscuits. And I also have fond memories of my Dad at the stove cooking up his beef stew or pinto beans and corn bread. My mother-in-law is a great cook, too. Some of my favorite recipes have been handed down to me through her," Tara said.

Richard, 45, who holds a degree in computer information systems from MTSU and does computer and security consulting, has turned into Tara’s personal food stylist. He spends about an hour shooting, editing and posting the photos that embellish each recipe on the Tara Cooks Web site.

"I’m picky," he said. "Tara had given me this camera 1-½ years ago for my birthday. I loved using it so much that I said, ‘When we do these recipes, I want to take some really good pictures.’ It makes it so more appealing if you have enticing pictures of food."

The computer guru also made the Web site friendly for other cooks.

"A cousin asked us if could make it so they could print out the recipes. Tara gives me the recipe in word document. So I take pictures, edit them in Photoshop, and I’ll make a PDF file, so people can download the recipe and print it out."

The current challenge for Tara and Richard, both Friendship Christian School alums, is to start an organic garden and share the weekly results on their Web site.

"I have a brown thumb," Richard said, "but we’re gonna give a shot at gardening organic with a raised-bed garden, 20 feet by 5 feet."

"I try to cover a good variety of recipes, but holidays and seasons have to do with what I post. I want to focus on canning and freezing in the summer," Tara said. "We plan to raise cucumbers, herbs, peppers, squash, tomatoes. However, if our garden fails, the Mennonites are up the road."

Contact writer Ken Beck at kbtag2@gmail.com