Although I rarely follow a recipe to the letter, I have been collecting them for years. I have recipes jotted down on cocktail napkins from the old St. George Restaurant (now Tra Vigne) in St. Helena, where I used to work. I have lots of Mexican recipes that Rene's mother Jovita uses to make his favorite dishes. I have a whole binder of recipes printed from Internet websites. And somewhere in my collection, I have a fantastic barbeque sauce recipe, handwritten on a piece of official White House stationery.
Oddly enough, I don't have any of my mother's favorite recipes anywhere except in my head. In fact, I don't even think they're written down anywhere. My mother never was much of a 'gourmet cook', but she made the best chicken pie on the planet. Other family favorites were pot roast with brown gravy, Southern fried chicken, beef stew, meatloaf, pork chops, spaghetti with meat sauce, seafood gumbo, crab omelets, apple pie, peach cobbler, and the lightest, fluffiest buttermilk biscuits from the Mason-Dixon Line to the Gulf of Mexico. She made dinner for eight every night, and each week after church, we gathered around the dining room table for a big Sunday dinner. She always made a huge turkey filled with moist and savory stuffing at Thanksgiving and Christmas. During the holidays, our kitchen was transformed into a Christmas goodies assembly line that turned out countless dozens of divinity and praline candies, butter balls, spicy cheese straws, and homemade Chex mix. And my mother made a four-layer coconut-pineapple cake for my dad's boss every year that was absolute heaven. So I guess that's where I get my love of cooking, although I also learned a lot working in the restaurant business. I was always hanging around the kitchen, observing the chefs and pestering them with questions.
It's easy to tell which are the favorite recipes in my cookbooks. They just naturally fall open to those pages, most of which are splattered and stained with the ingredients that go into that dish. Among the most obvious are the recipe for a delightful little cheese puff called Gougere in my Silver Palate Cookbook, the recipes for Basic Sushi Rice and one for Stuffed Pickled Cucumbers in The Cooking of Japan; and the page with the Spinach Timbale recipe in my original copy of The Joy of Cooking is a dead giveaway too.
I have recently added two daily recipe features and two food blogs to my Yahoo home page. Last Saturday's Epicurious Recipe of the Day was one for Empanadas. Of course, as usual, I ad libbed a bit and made them with ground beef instead of chorizo, corn niblets instead of potatoes, and tomato-jalapeno salsa instead of bell peppers. The result was a dozen tasty little meat tarts in a flaky, golden pie crust. Yum! They disappeared faster than you can say 'Epicurous.com'.
And now that I'm doing Dinner & a Movie, I'm adding a half-dozen new recipes from various sources to my collection every month. No doubt some of them will become favorites that I will make over and over again. Among the most memorable so far are the recipe for Prawns with Kimchee and Chili Mayonnaise, and the Peaches Marinated in Rice Wine that I made for my Korean 301/302 dinner... the Chicken and Beef Satay with Peanut Sauce, and the Coconut Shrimp that I made last month for my Thai Suriyothai dinner... the Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Nam Cha Dipping Sauce, the Green Papaya Salad with Cellophane Noodles and Hanoi Fried Yellow Fish Nuggets, and the Grilled Pork with Chinese Five Spice Powder that I made for my Scent of Green Papaya dinner... the homemade chutneys and Mulligatawny Soup I made for my Monsoon Wedding Indian Curry dinner... the Buckwheat Soba with Ponzu sauce that I made for my Tampopo Japanese dinner... the Shrimp and Water Chestnut Croquettes, the Hot and Sour Soup, and the Baked Tilapia from my Eat Drink Man Woman Taiwanese dinner. And I have no doubt that many of the recipes from my upcoming dinners will make it to my 'All Star' list as well.