If you were to judge by the way I cook, you'd guess that most of the dishes I prepare have only the barest acquaintance with written recipes. And you'd be absolutely right. I might go online and double-check the ingredients for something I'm making, but very rarely do I ever set out to prepare dinner with a recipe in hand.
That doesn't mean I don't keep recipes around, however. I do have a respectable collection of cookbooks. And I have recipe scrapbooks. Lots of recipe scrapbooks.
I started clipping and scrapbooking recipes at the age of twelve, when I lived at home and the closest I ever got to cooking was frying the occasional breakfast egg. I would dive for the paper on Saturday mornings, because the Saturday issue of the Sydney Morning Herald contained the Good Weekend magazine, and the Good Weekend magazine contained recipes.
In retrospect, I have no idea who the staff of the Good Weekend intended as their target audience. The recipes ranged from straightforward ("Moist Roast Chicken") to upscale ("Zucchini Flower Risotto") to exotic ("Spring Rolls with Nuoc Mam") to impossibly esoteric ("Seared Kangaroo Tenderloin with Beetroot-Onion Jam.") There was no discernible logic in the way the recipes varied: one week the issue might contain a recipe for a basic apple pie, and the next there would be a recipe for white peach sorbet that involved sugar syrup measuring 28 Baum on a saccharometer. Shopping for ingredients could be as simple as making a trip to the supermarket for pork chops, or as complicated as visiting all the specialty food shops in Sydney to hunt down a "bush chook" (emu). And this was all in the mid-90s, well before the foodie movement really began.
Whatever the intended audience, it probably never crossed the minds of the Good Weekend staff that they were participating in the culinary education of a frustrated young glutton. They introduced me to chachouka and tiramisu. I learned about techniques such as tunnel-boning a leg of lamb and baking whole fish in rock salt. Those recipes offered a world beyond Kitchen Sink Soup and spaghetti with jarred sauce, and clipping and pasting them into scrapbooks was an act of hope. I promised myself that someday, I'd cook my way through all of them.
And in a way, I have. I didn't follow the recipe exactly, but I made zucchini flower risotto regularly during my semester in Rome. I've stuffed my own pumpkin ravioli and roasted many chickens. I've learned to steam artichokes and bake flourless chocolate torte. I still turn to my recipe scrapbooks for ideas, even if I don't follow them to the letter when I cook.
I'm still adding to those scrapbooks, bit by bit. I tore this recipe from a New York Times Magazine several months ago, and baked it on a whim tonight. (I originally wanted to bake a soufflé, but I lacked a suitable baking dish.) A cross between a crepe and a Yorkshire pudding, it's incredibly easy to make, and there is something wonderfully appealing about the way it comes out of the oven, all puffy and golden.
David Eyres Pancake
This recipe appeared in a Times article by Craig Claiborne.
½ cup flour
½ cup milk
Pinch of ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Juice of half a lemon
Fig or blackberry jam, pear butter or any kind of marmalade, for serving (optional).
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the flour, milk and nutmeg and lightly beat until blended but still slightly lumpy.
2. Melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet with a heatproof handle over medium-high heat. When very hot but not brown, pour in the batter. Bake in the oven until the pancake is billowing on the edges and golden brown, about 15 minutes.
3. Working quickly, remove the pan from the oven and, using a fine-meshed sieve, sprinkle with the sugar. Return to the oven for 1 to 2 minutes more. Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve with jam, pear butter or marmalade. Serves 2 to 4.