The Observer Food Monthly recently celebrated the joy of the recipe by compiling a list of favourite and cherished recipes. As editor Nigel Slater observed, recipes "are there to whet our appetite, inspire the regular cook, spread the word of something we want others to know about, to instil confidence in the inexperienced, to remind the reader of a forgotten and much-loved dish, and to preserve the classic dishes in an instantly recognisable form."
Inspired by Nigel, my favourite food writer Jill Dupleix started compiling her own list on her Sydney Morning Herald blog: "I love recipes. I love reading them, cooking from them, and writing them. Every time I cook from a new recipe, I can tell so much about the person who put it together - how much they know, how much they care, whether they are trying to be helpful, or clever." she wrote.
"Some recipes are mystifying in their simplicity, others in their complexity. And I know I am not alone in hating recipes that list as ingredients other recipes, with a note to ‘see page 25’ for something you can’t proceed without making from scratch."
I found it a hugely difficult task to compile my own list. There's many meals I cook that I don't use a recipe for, such as roast chicken (or beef or lamb), spaghetti bolognaise, lasagna, or a basic risotto. Or the dishes made from recipes that my grandmother and mother have handed down to me: beef casserole with parsley dumplings, chocolate pudding, golden syrup dumplings, shortbread, Christmas fruit mince tarts.
Although it was difficult, it was also an interesting task to consider what makes a recipe cross over from the "must try" pile to become part of the treasured repertoire of repeats. Is it that the pairing of the ingredients made my tastebuds swoon? Is it that the elegance of the final product belies the simplicity of the technique?
Jill offered a clue: "The very best recipes are those that leave you with something, that introduce you to a new little tip or technique or ingredient that you can use time and time again."
When I put together my list, it was no surprise that my favourite cooks, Jill Dupleix, Bill Granger and Donna Hay, dominated. I love the simplicity and freshness of their cooking and many of their recipes do instantly enter my repertoire.
Here's my initial list, in alphabetical order. There would be so many more but these are the ones that spring to mind.
Abruzzo lentil soup (Jill Dupleix) - on the menu at least once a week in winter
Beef stroganoff with buttered noodles (Bill Granger) - this replaced by previous favourite by Margaret Fulton - the addition of Dijon mustard gives it an extra flavour boost
Buttermilk pancakes (Stephanie Alexander) - the only recipe to use for Shrove Tuesday (or a special breakfast)
Caramel salmon (Bill Granger) - on the menu at least once a week
Chicken bastilla (adapted from a Jill Dupleix recipe) - great dinner party stand-by, especially served with a Moroccan carrot salad
Corn chowder (Beverley Sutherland Smith) - rich and thick, this is a perfect winter soup
Italian walnut and coffee cake (from Gourmet Traveller) - an excellent cake to serve for afternoon tea or dessert
Garlic beef with spiced couscous (Donna Hay) - a great weeknight meal
Lemon cake (Beverley Sutherland Smith) - I've been making this one since I first discovered it in Epicure about 15 years ago. Light and moist, this has a sugary lemon syrup poured over the top
Lemon cake (Donna Hay magazine, issue 5, published 2002) - when I want a tangy, buttery cake, this is the one I go for, as it's topped off with lemon butter icing
Lemon delicious (Stephanie Alexander) - Adam would eat this every day if he could!
Meatloaf (adapted from a Jill Dupleix recipe) - great comfort food in winter
One-pot chocolate cake (Allan Campion and Michele Curtis) - the latest addition to my repertoire - this recipe was worth the price of the cookbook alone!
Parmesan-crusted chicken (Donna Hay) - perfect weeknight meal
Perfect scrambled eggs (Bill Granger) - no more needs to be said - these are simply the best
Salt and five-spice chicken (Donna Hay) - addictively salty and on the table in 20 minutes
Soy chicken with pickled ginger soba noodles (Delicious magazine, June 2005) - a really light, healthy delicious meal
The ultimate chocolate chip cookie (from a Nestle advertisement) The name is justified, with the addition of a secret ingredient that means no-one can ever stop at just one
Tortellini with tuna and peas (adapted from a Jill Dupleix recipe) - perfect weeknight meal that I've adapted and refined over the years. Can be put together in 12 minutes - the time it takes the tortellini to cook