In my ongoing quest for quick prep meals, I decided to try an almond chicken stir-fry recipe. I used to steer away from stir-fry because I couldn’t handle the heat (literally and figuratively, pun intended and not intended) but perseverance and a trust that chicken really can cook that fast have led to great improvements. After I cooked the almond chicken to perfection and I was finished strutting around the house, I put the recipe in The Big Blue Binder.
The Big Blue Binder is my version of a family recipe book. My mom had (and still has) an orange and yellow tin box that contains decades old index cards with faded pencil marks, encrusted with grease and flour. It’s cute and full of memories, but I like to run a much tighter ship. My binder is divided into sections by recipe type, the recipes printed by laser onto letter-size paper and protected from cooking elements by clear plastic covers. Not only that, but the worthy recipes, the ones we really like, I manually enter into a recipe template I have created.
Worthy recipes are not easy to come by. After several years of practice I can weed out the really crappy ones by sight. Any recipe calling for cream of mushroom soup, ketchup or heavy on an ingredient I don’t like can be quickly nixed. I’ve found a couple of favorite sites that yield more good recipes than bad, including Simply Recipes and Cook’s Country. In order to make it into The Big Blue Binder, the recipe must be successfully made at least once and be good enough to be made frequently. If I make any substitutions or changes, I take notes that I transfer to the template. I have a section on the bottom right for a rating, between one and five stars, from both Shaun and myself. Obviously there’s nothing in there with just one star, that would be stupid. But Shaun and I have very different tastes so if I love a dish and he only gave it three stars, that dish will get made less often, or we can try to tweak it to get five starts from the both of us. (If this sounds needlessly complicated, it is, but I find this kind of organizational project very soothing.)
I keep recipes I want to try in the front pocket. I keep recipes that are on the fence – ones that have been made and have potential but need to be further tested and tweaked – in the front pocket of their respective sections. The binder is quite full at the moment, but my goal is to weed out the bad, the mediocre and the untested in favor of a full book with all knock out, five star recipes. I wonder what will happen if I ever achieve this goal. Will that stop me from looking up recipes online? Will I finally have a singular and finite recipe resource? Probably not. I’ll probably start a second binder.