I’m not one to follow recipes – I cook by feel, taste, and, most of the time, by what inspires me in restaurants and in the kitchens of my friends.
I freely admit to being a food geek, so I’m not the least bit embarrassed to say that I own a pocket-size notebook, which I find perfect for jotting down all sorts of details and sketching out plate presentations. Even if I forget my oh-so-handy notebook (which is about half the time), I find something to scribble on, whether it’s a cocktail napkin or valet ticket. It’s the way I get things down. It’s the only way I can remember. I have friends who can recite every detail -- with mind-boggling clarity -- from a meal they enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) 10 years earlier. I can’t. Call it a curse.
Why am I telling you this? Because this “notebook” method only gets me so far when I take the ideas back to my kitchen. And until recently, I just plowed through my notes, whipped up the dishes, and patted myself on the back when I got it right. So a few months ago I devised a plan to hang on to a few tasty crumbs when recreating dishes at home. I use my computer and digital camera to help keep track of things.
While I’m plating, I take a quick, low-resolution digital image – nothing fancy. This provides me with all the visual cues I need to later jot down everything that happened in the kitchen. It’s amazing how much I can remember with the help of a simple picture. With that locked in, I sit down at the computer the next day and make a few notes about the procedures and how things came together. This allows me to nail the recipe over and over again, as well as add ideas about how I’d jazz things up or twist something a certain way the next time. I realize this is not rocket science, but you might try this or develop your own system for storing and keeping your favorite recipes. I think you’ll find it allows you to move beyond simple recipe cards.
What's your secret to hanging on to your favorite recipes?
Have a tried and true recipe your friends and family love?
I’ll use a fun little dish from Standard Bistro – a solid restaurant a few ticks south of Birmingham – that I tried to duplicate at home to demonstrate how this works.
What follows are my actual notes based on the picture (left) taken in my kitchen just before serving my family:
Sweet Potatoes, Spinach, and Caramelized Onion (served under grilled pork chops)
• Small dice on sweet potatoes – toss in olive oil, herb mix (also used fresh thyme), s&p – bake in single layer at 350˚ for about 1.5 hrs. (check at 1 hr.) – sprinkle with kosher salt – set aside.
• Cook bacon (I used 4 slices); remove bacon and reserve drippings. (Use bacon in “bacon breadcrumbs”)
• Caramelize sliced onion in bacon drippings (add olive oil, if needed).
• When ready to serve, reheat onion – add minced garlic – add sweet potato cubes – add spinach. Adjust seasoning.
Serve With: Grilled or roasted pork chops and steak
Bacon Breadcrumbs (served over the roasted asparagus)
• Process bread in food processor to fine crumble; remove and set aside.
• Process bacon in food processor to pretty fine crumble; remove.
• Stir breadcrumbs (1 Tbsp. At a time) into bacon – you want there to be a good balance of breadcrumbs to bacon – season with salt and pepper.
Breadcrumbs would also be good with: top mac & cheese casserole, potato gratin, grilled or roasted asparagus