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Dinosaurs in the recipe box

The dinosaurs!
The Dinosaurs, courtesy of the NYPL Image Collection

Occasionally it occurs to me that my recipe card file is bogged down with dinosaurs. Raaar!

Among them, the petrified recipes I experimented with while I was a vegetarian. The newspaper clippings that piqued my interest on the page, but never materialized on the plate. Rich and complicated French sauces from cooking school that just don't fit my workaday lifestyle. A spate of the neatly filed, color-coded 3x5 cards that demarcate my lifetime of culinary dreams.

And then, there's the recipes that stay at the front of the box. They're not appropriately categorized. They're stained from use. They're full of illegible scribbled notes. Most are more or less committed to memory.

(Let's get really multimedia and add in an old-school audio cue to this blog post... I recommend The Replacments' "Here Comes a Regular.")

Yes, here come the regulars.

I'm working in food media and recipe editing right now, and I've come to understand that most people use a limited repertoire of the foods they make regularly. That changes with the seasons, of course, and most like to break out and experiment with something new if they feel reasonably confident they'llhave some success. No research to back this up, but I'd wager that risk-takers and those with professional chops have a far wider breadth of regular recipes than those who fear the stove.

The question, then. Do your own "house specialties" constitute a rut, or a groove? I prefer to view my reliable regulars as supremely groove-worthy. Especially since their simplicity begs boundless improvisation.

Our standard Sunday hummus enjoyed heaps of fresh garlic last week, zatar spice and roasted red peppers the week before, a curry blend and whole chickpeas the week before that.

My super-rich poundcake is normally cooked in a bundt pan, but around the holidays, it gets lemon zest and a juicy glaze and gets baked into small, individual pans for gift-giving.

In fresh berrry season, the granola is very plain (to make way for tangy-sweet berry goodness). During the barren winter, it's a festival of dried fruits and nuts. Most of the time, I sweeten it with maple syrup, but honey works just as well (and is quite a bit cheaper than the pure maple).

Moving into fall, I foresee these as the top-twenty regulars for Chez Ginsu (with a hopelessly long list of variations):

1. The green salad (and its best friend, the vinaigrette)
2. The poundcake (see below for recipe variation)
3. Green veggies 'n bacon
4. The bean soup
5. The lamb stew
6. The hummus
7. The granola
8. The carrot cake
9. The banana bread
10. That egg thing: The shakshuka
11. The chai masala
12. The curry masala
13. The garam masala
14. The chicken salad
15. The oatmeal cookies
16. The quiche (and its partner in crime, the pie shell)
17. The fresh fruit pie/tart (which will move from apple to pear to pumpkin)
18. The chicken soup
19. The squash soup
20. The fruit chutney/compote

Sadly, the fresh fruit salsa, the panzanella and the pickling brine will need a winter break, due to seasonal produce constraints.

Below, the recipe that inspired this post, a well-loved and requested variation on "the poundcake."

Feeds a throng. Awesome sliced and served with a hot cup of joe. Definitely not appropriate for those with dietary concerns. Feel free to cut back the sugar to 2.5 cups if you prefer yours a little less sweet.
The Massive Cardamom Cream Cake (Serves 12-15)

3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 oz full-fat sour cream or 8 oz cream cheese
3 cups sugar
6 fresh eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp freshly ground green cardamom
3 cups pastry flour (for best results, sift before using)
1 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a bundt pan.
2. Cream the butter and sour cream (or cream cheese) with the sugar until light and airy, about 5-7 minutes.
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
4. Add the vanilla, cardamom and salt, then add the flour all at once. Mix only until the flour is blended. Over-beating leads to tough cake. Nobody likes tough cake.
5. Pour the batter into the pan and even out the top with a rubber spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean (about 1 hour, 15 minutes).
6. Cool the pan on a rack for 30 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and let cool completely. Enjoy with coffee or tea.

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9.27.2006

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