Recently I was talking with someone about having Top 5s for things when people ask you for your favorite restaurants, top places to visit in your town, favorite books, etc. I believe it started when a friend and I were commiserating on visiting cities, asking locals where they would recommend eating or visiting and getting blank stares instead of suggestions. This made me think of also having Top 5s for the more mundane things in life. I’ve often wondered about friends’ top books, the recipes they go back to over and over, the places they visit regularly in their own towns, or any other Top 5s for everyday life.
Omar and I had a talk about top recipes the other night. These weren’t necessarily the most amazing or most favorite recipes ever. These were the simpler recipes we keep coming back to. When something needs to be made and we want something that we know is consistently good and comforting, these are what we turn to. We started making rules, and they pretty much boiled down to one: it has to have been made over and over to the point that the recipe is practically memorized and something is added to it (even if just slightly) to make it ours. These recipes fall more under sides and toppings than mains, but I’d eat a bowl of granola topped with blueberry compote and lemon curd any day.
1 :: blueberry compote from Deborah Madison’s Seasonal Fruit Desserts. it goes on waffles or yogurt or crepes or ice cream of oatmeal or almost anything. We add extra nutmeg and a pinch of salt.
2 :: lemon curd from Gourmet. I first wrote about it here and have made more than I’m comfortable to admit since then. I add a pinch of salt and make sure that I strain it through a fine mesh strainer before I put it in a jar.
3 :: granola from Orangette. I have other recipes that I like, too, but this is the one that is made over and over. There is no melting or separate bowls involved. It’s quick and good. I’ve even left out the oats and doubled other ingredients. I leave out the brown sugar and am starting to play with decreasing the maple syrup. But don’t switch out the olive oil. It’s what makes it.
4 :: oven-baked polenta. For those of you unfamiliar with polenta, think creamy grits and you’ll get an idea of what they are like. It’s the most basic side dish, and yet it’s typically the first dish that’s emptied at dinner. I will substitute chicken broth for water if I have it, and I also sub half-and-half or cream for the milk sometimes. I decrease the salt a bit, and depending on your oven’s temperature, you might need a few extra minutes in the oven. Note – I’ve never tried this with basic, fine cornmeal. I use the coarser polenta cornmeal.
5 :: pesto from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Her proportions are great. And if you are like me and have pine mouth issues (sigh), feel free to sub the pine nuts for whatever is in your pantry.