Years ago, I watched my mom, my aunts and my grandma pull tanned and dirty index cards from their recipe boxes. Script, handwritten and smudged; measurements not always exact, steps often left off.
Then one day when I was a child I stood in a family living room, watching as my aunt handed everyone gathered a white binder. I'm not sure if I was old enough to read the typed title on the front of the binder she handed me, or not; but I remember my mom reading the words to me, "Mary Marie's Recipes" and reminding me that was her mother's name. This binder was typed up from my grandmother's handwritten recipes, each one just like the ones I mentioned above; measurements not always exact, steps often left off.
Over the years, that binder has been tagged with post it notes, stained and smeared with splashes of oil, sauce and chocolate. I've added to the pockets, my own print outs and magazine clippings. A few years ago, I was even blessed enough to be given her original recipe box with those handwritten recipes.
Most every chef and cook I have ever worked with has their own version of a recipe box that they keep with them at all times. Some are moleskin journals, others composition notebooks or the standard school notebook. It doesn't matter what kind, they are all filled with not just recipes but ideas, notes, trials and errors, all usually ending in a successful recipe they love.
This is something that I took with me from those restaurant kitchens, from those chefs. I have a recipe box, I have my own recipe binder, I have my grandmothers recipe binder; but I also have a spiral bound journal (similar to the one linked, a small affiliate commission may be earned with the use of this link). It's sectioned off, one lined, one grid lined and one blank pages. Each one I have used for taking notes in the kitchen. I have favorite recipes I've learned from the restaurants, recipes I love from magazines and blogs and cookbooks all written on the lined pages. Pictures, some my own dishes, some clipped from those magazines on the blank pages. Lists and notes and even more recipes on the grid-lined pages.
If you take nothing away from this blog or my posts, if you think all my recipes and advice and the recipes I link you from other cooks are all just useless; take this to heart. Take this advice as gold and grab an empty notebook or journal and start taking notes while you cook and bake. (I do realize that this is kind of ironic, since I constantly say that I don't write down measurements. Please understand, that's true. I don't write down, "1 Tbls Salt" I just write down, "Salt". The only exception is when I bake, that I measure, that I write down.) However, I do write down what I do, the ingredients and the procedure and any notes. Was it too spicy? Not spicy enough? How long did I marinate? Etc.
Being able to use your instincts and learn from mistakes, is how you learn to be a better cook. Having this journal helps do just that.
Read the recipe, do it exactly like it if you need to-the first time. The next time? Change something up and write it down. Take note of what you left out or added, did it make much of a difference? Did it taste better? Worse?
Recently a friend of mine wanted to make something but didn't think she had all the ingredients. I suggested that she look and see what she didn't have and then determine what purpose that ingredient serves to the recipe. Was it vinegar? That adds the acid, but she had lemon juice. Sub it. Was it an oil or butter? Sub it. Was it a heat? Sub for a spice that would add the level of heat you want. Cooking doesn't have to be complicated. It can be, yes, but it doesn't have to be. Use what you have, take note of what works and doesn't and learn from the ups and downs.
Do you already have your own version of a kitchen notebook? Do you take notes and mark your favorites? If you don't, go get one and let me know all about how you are using it. If you do, show me! I want to see! Tag me in your posts, #westandtaylor.