by Dianne Boate
I have some dandy new recipes and food ideas that came about only because of my attention to filing systems of recipes.
Many of us who love cooking, baking, and eating have harbored secret dreams over the years of owning a restaurant or writing a cookbook. In order to do this, you need recipes. Early on, we probably are a bit indiscriminate in the selections of books and magazines; eventually, our tastes and inclinations turn toward definite directions and focus, but there are still files and boxes crammed with snips of this and that, cookbooks stuffed with notes, and recipes clinging for dear life to the refrigerator door.
Some very good advice about recipe collecting is found in The Way To Write and Publish a Cookbook , by Doris McFerran Townsend (St. Martin’s Press, 1985). She created her files by putting the ingredients in alphabetical order, not main categories. My adaptation is to do that by order of my preferences—as in Beets , Corn , Zucchini—rather than a catchall Vegetables file. This is my first file, still existing, edited every few years:
The Baking File Cabinet has listings like All Time Favorites , Dessert Spectaculars , Cookie Favorites , Cakes to Try , etc.:
Here is something really terrific found in the All Time file:
Bourbon-Infused Honey Over Blue Cheese
Place in pan:
1 cup honey
1 large bay leaf
1/4 cup bourbon
Cook over medium heat until it bubbles, lower heat and simmer 5 minutes, remove from stove, stir in bourbon and let cool. Store in jar in refrigerator. I served this poured over a wedge of Danish Blue. To economize, buy Danish instead of Roquefort.
This recipe had a second life when I remembered a snack I used to make for Ronald “Renaissance Pleasure Fair” Patterson that he loved: equal parts butter and blue cheese, with a dash of cognac, all mixed well together. Knocked him flat every time. I smashed together the leftovers of honey and cheese, measured, and added an equal part of butter and dash of cognac. It would be served on toasted pita bread, with a thin radish slice on top. Note: whole wheat pita bread, broken apart and baked until crisp, makes wonderful crackers.
A second approach is to keep track of printed recipes in cookbooks by writing results and any changes made directly onto the pages. Related recipes from other sources are sometimes tucked into the pages of the books:
Here are pages with scribbles from two favorites. In Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cookery for Everyone , almost all leftover rice is folded into pancakes and waffles—her great idea—for texture, and she adds a little sugar and vanilla to pancake batter. Extra syrup not needed.
It never matters how much I multiply this recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible—it is always superb. So many good things to do with lemon curd, as a topping, as a filling, folded into frostings, eaten with spoon in hand. One time I burned it; it was so good I do it now on purpose.
The newest, and best invention yet—and the most fun!—was born at a very dangerous place, the San Francisco Public Library book sale. For 25 cents, I found a small spiral notebook with starting index pages followed by blank pages. This notebook is where I tape in recipes that I’ve cut out from different sources, assign them a page number, and record the title in the index. The recipes are put in as I find them, plus freezer inventories, and good food ideas, along with recipes to try from particular cookbooks. It all makes for an eclectic mix, and is surprisingly easy to navigate—the same way that Chinese might be easier to learn than Italian if you have no reference points for it. With this method, you are creating a whole new system for yourself, one that you’ll remember because you are writing things down and paying attention. It becomes your hatchery for new and original ideas.
And how about those stacks of food magazines? I go at them with great bursts of enthusiasm, assigning myself something like three issues a day—rip, rip, rip for 20 to 30 minutes, and the stacks go down. This year I am cutting down the subscriptions to about four. Some Eastern-flavored magazines don’t match my Western tastes. Chacun à son gôut!
Knowledge is cumulative in cooking, baking, and everything else. Here’s to your glorious new inventions! When you care, you will discover them.
Dianne Boate, a former staff member of the original Dating Game television show, and later, The Renaissance Pleasure Faire, is The Hat Lady, maker of custom millinery, and The Cake Lady, a special events baker for 30 years in the Bay Area. Between cake assignments, she has had several one-woman photography shows, and participated as a botanical illustrator in group shows benefiting the Conservatory of Flowers, National AIDS Memorial Grove, Marin Cancer Institute, and University of California Alumni Association. Her website can be found at www.boatecollection.com