What’s in your recipe book?
March 7, 2021 1:44 PM   Subscribe

What are your must-have recipes? Everyone has kitchen appliance essentials (blender, toaster, etc.), but what recipes should all cooks have a favorite/classic/reliable/etc. version of?

I imagine this varies widely, and I’m trying to broaden my horizons a bit and would love to know what else I should have in my recipe box.

Happy also for you to share any specific recipes, but mostly interested in what “should” be on any cook’s recipe lists. Also happy for sweet or savory things, sides, mains, etc.

posted by stillmoving to Food & Drink (40 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Fermented foods
posted by aniola at 1:49 PM on March 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Chili. Chicken, beef, vegetarian or vegan. Once you get the basics down, you can get it from ingredients to table in 30 minutes.
A basic tomato sauce.
Roasted vegetables. So many different options of seasonings to add variety.

In my house, a really good clam chowder is also a must.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 1:53 PM on March 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

A roast chicken
A simple vinaigrette salad dressing
Eggs the way you like them for breakfast
posted by fancyoats at 2:02 PM on March 7, 2021 [9 favorites]

Banana bread - everyone buys too many/eats too few once in a while ;)

Similarly a favorite egg whites/egg yolks recipe for when some other recipe calls for partial eggs. I like meringue cookies and custard but I know folks who throw them in with scrambled eggs or make a flip cocktail...
posted by february at 2:09 PM on March 7, 2021 [5 favorites]

Some variation of arroz con pollo
A little more specific: This pasta for when you're wiped out and don't feel like cooking anything else; super quick and flavorful.
posted by holborne at 2:10 PM on March 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Banana bread and brownies. These are the two items I prepare most frequently requiring a recipe.
posted by obfuscation at 2:20 PM on March 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

There is a cliche that says if you want to know what kind of cook someone is watch them make a roasted chicken.
posted by bdk3clash at 2:22 PM on March 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

For me learning to make tortillas was great. I make corn tortillas a few times a week. It's not very hard to learn and once you have it down it takes ~30 minutes from nothing to 6 done tortillas, but only about 12 minutes of that is work, the rest is waiting, so I usually will make whatever filling I'm going to use at the same time. I learned from the instructions here

Most of the time I am making breakfast tacos. If I'm including potatoes I start that first since they take a bit to cook, but usually I'm just making bacon-egg-cheese or chorizo-egg-cheese, so my general timeline is:

1. turn on stove on cast iron pan - it takes a bit to find the right temperature, I like it pretty hot
2. mix corn flour and water, knead for a minute, set dough aside - needs to rest 10m
3. get out whatever ingredients I plan to cook with and do any prep, like chop up the bacon if I'm using bacon, just basically make sure I got everything i need at hand
4. before the 10m is up I start dividing the dough into balls
5. I make the tortillas - I have space to do 2 at a time, as each is done I put it into a little tortilla warmer
6. after the last tortilla is done I make the bacon/sausage, then add the eggs, then add some cheese, and then plate everything and eat

Corn tortillas need to steam in a closed container for 10-15m which is perfect since that's about how much time I need to make the filling.

Once you've done it a bunch of times it's very easy and you can learn a few classic fillings plus just in general use leftovers with some additions as filling
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:22 PM on March 7, 2021 [9 favorites]

posted by gideonfrog at 2:23 PM on March 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Pot pie
A standard thanksgiving menu
Caprese salad
A range of little chopped salads and dips to go on eggs or bread or salad
An emulsified salad dressing or two
How not to ruin a steak
Shrimp scampi
A chocolate chip cookie, at least one more cookie jar filling cookie, and some special occasion cookies
A decadent dessert that makes you feel like you love the person you live with when there is a hole inside of you at 2 a.m.
One solidly delicious recipe for every vegetable that comes in the CSA box
posted by shadygrove at 2:52 PM on March 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

One killer dessert. This may vary by what you like in my case it's my Pavlova & my pumpkin pie.

A dish to take to potlucks. Mine is my chocolate chili recipe.

A soup recipe. Mine is my curried Pumpkin Soup or Potato leak.

Winter Comfort food. Paprika Stew with dumplings.

A Quick Bread. I am big on Banana breads, but tend to rotate through the big three, Banana, carrot & Zuch.

A Holiday/special occasion once a year dish and it's sides. Mine is a Rib Roast, Yorkshire pudding, roast veg and gravy. Mashed or Roast potatoes.

A side to take to a Holiday/special occasion once a year meal. Thanks to this sub mine is chicken noodles (thanks guys).

If you like to bake, recipes for all your favorites.
posted by wwax at 2:53 PM on March 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Thinking about what I frequently make in my vegan kitchen:
Some kind of stew.
A homemade go-to spice blend.
A salad dressing with lots of variations.
Flavored vinegar.
Something made with curry spices.
A bean-based dish.
A dish that can be adapted to suit combinations of dietary restrictions (for example, ratatouille or chili could work for vegan & gluten-free).
Jam/ marmalade/ fruit preserve.
Rice pudding.
Sauces: for example, tomato, pesto, cheese (nondairy for me).
posted by wicked_sassy at 2:59 PM on March 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

A good home-made stock and a good bechamel.
posted by dum spiro spero at 3:01 PM on March 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

For me, the basic pasta recipes are must haves. Spaghetti aglio, olio & pepperonici; a basic tomato sauce; lasagna recipes, one with bolognese sauce (which can obviously also be eaten with tagliatelle), one vegetarian; linguine with clams or mussels or with seafood mix from the freezer; pasta with mushrooms. I regularly make pasta with a gorgonzola sauce, too.
Roast chicken. I like Mark Bittmann's recipe, where he uses a cast-iron skillet. Unfortunately it is paywalled (and I don't subscribe anymore, otherwise I would have copy-pasted it). But it is basically heating the pan to max, throwing the seasoned chicken onto it and then turning down the heat. Roasts for 45 minutes. Rests while you use the juices to make a pan sauce. Many options for variation of herbs, maybe put a lemon inside it. Use the leftovers to make a stock.
With the chicken stock, you can make risotto. With leftover risotto, you can make arancini. I really like when one meal feeds over into the next. You can also use leftover chicken for a pot pie.
A Spanish tortilla (omelet) is a very useful thing, because it is good for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
During summer, we very often have a salad made of lettuce and blueberries and/or raspberries, with a dressing of cream, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. During winter we might go for a shredded pointy cabbage or kale massaged with that good vinaigrette mentioned by fancyoats and whatever else looks good, maybe including some seeds or nuts. Also tabouleh salad.
Shepherds pie.
Tuna mousse. Chicken liver mousse. Hummus. Homemade pita to go with them.
Leg of lamb a la boulangère. There are never any leftover potatoes from this, but if there is more meat, lamb leftovers are the best for biksemad, the Danish form of hash, served with a fried egg and pickled beets.
Osso buco.
Oxtail stew.
Fried or steamed whole fish. Hollandaise for the steamed fish. I also make a fish stew inspired by Portuguese bacalao recipes, but I've adapted it to use with fresh or frozen fish, because bacalao is really expensive and hard to get.
Fried rice.
A couple of basic stir fries.
Green or black lentil stew or salad.
Couscous with either meat or vegan stew or both.
Chocolate mousse. Vanilla parfait. Crêpes.

I'm a grandmother, so I've spent a lifetime building this bank of recipes I can make if you wake me up at three in the morning and I'll often have the ingredients, too, and if I don't, I'll feel safe enough to improvise. When I was very young I read a cookbook by a famous, sexist and arrogant French chef, where he claimed a housewife should just have one good dish she knew to perfection, people would love to have it over and over again. That is rubbish, if you like having your friends over more than once a year. But I'll admit that there is a lot of security in making something you have done scores of times. My favorite recipe for that is a coq au vin made with riesling, "Mme Maigret's coq au riesling" from the Larousse Gastronomique. It's elegant but I know it so well, I won't ever fail.
posted by mumimor at 3:02 PM on March 7, 2021 [11 favorites]

pie crust
ice cream
posted by Redstart at 3:13 PM on March 7, 2021


A lot of good suggestions upthread. I'd also add that it's really useful to have a familiarity with more general techniques such that you can put together foods within a general category easily no matter what specific ingredients you have on hand. So, for instance, if you nail down how to build a sauteed vegetable base for a pasta dish, you can make it with tomatoes and fennel and crushed red pepper just as easily as you can make it with jarred red peppers and capers. Or once you've got the fundaments of chicken soup down, it could have onions and carrots and celery and bay leaves, or leeks and sweet potatoes and dill, or zucchini and coconut milk and star anise and lime, and it's all basically the same process.
posted by saladin at 3:14 PM on March 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Lentil curry. The one that I make uses ingredients that store well (so I can almost always rustle it up), it's cheap, reasonably quick prep time, and it tastes good. I'm not vegan, but the recipe is, and should be fine for most people to eat.
posted by adamrice at 3:20 PM on March 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

Instead of recipes as such, I will make a bid for formulas - very basic recipes that are easily customizable so you can adapt and use them to whatever you've got in the house.

For example - instead of a quiche recipe that specifies "1/2 pound of bacon, 4 ounces ham, 1 cup of shredded gruyere cheese and one cup of chopped onion" to go in the filling, you get a basic recipe (the crust, the egg mixture) and then a note about "1 cup total of whatever cheese you want, 1 pound of whatever cooked meat or vegetable you want". Or, for a stir-fry, it will say "x amount of rice, y amount of soy sauce, 1 pound of whatever meat you want and 2 cups total whatever vegetables you want".

This will let you adapt to what you actually have in your fridge instead of feeling like you have to slavishly follow a recipe or track down an ingredient. There's a number of dishes that are good for these kinds of catch-all formulas - quiche and soup and stir-fry, omelets, savory quick breads, pasta casseroles...I regularly make a lo mein for myself following a formula like this, adapting it to whatever vegetables happen to be in the house.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:21 PM on March 7, 2021 [20 favorites]

A fruit bowl of strawberries, blackberries and tangerines is always welcome. They are nutritious and give you something to do with your hands.
posted by SPrintF at 4:18 PM on March 7, 2021

Stew - it's the one thing I can make pretty much off the cuff and it tends to turn out generally quite edible. If I had been more organised, I'd have kept a primitive record of what was ok and what really worked, as I just tend to put in whatever mix of herbs and seasoning I can lay my hands on at the time. Stew matures as well, so I usually cook it for a good hour and a half or two hours the day before we eat it and then cook it for at least another hour and some the day of consumption.

Mr MMDP will always have a couple of portions of a basic balti or Bolognese type sauce in the freezer. He can prepare both pretty much from memory now.

+1 to a good roast, and there it would be all about the prep - so quarter a lime to go inside a chicken, leave a pork joint (or any other joint you want to get a really crisp skin on) salted and uncovered in the fridge for at least a day before you cook it (obviously make sure it can't contaminate / be contaminated by anything else), maybe get lots of herbs and oil worked into the meat before cooking, let the meat rest afterwards.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:29 PM on March 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Lentil soup. We have 2 favorites, one with marjoram & thyme and another with turmeric & cumin.
Salad & dressing. Lettuce and whatever else strikes your fancy. We always make our own dressing.
Rice. We fry it and make salads with it.
Beans. Refried, in salads, on the side, over rice, etc.
Pasta. We make puttanesca frequently.
Fish. Cooked in foil or on a charcoal grill.
Eggs. Many good ideas upthread, or poach them in any simmering liquid you like.

I'm not a big fan of meat but some of the people I cook for are, so I put a couple of fork-pierced lemons in a whole chicken, drape a slice or two of bacon on top of the chicken, put the chicken in a crockpot, and cook it on high at least four hours.
posted by kingless at 4:44 PM on March 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

lentil & veggie soup. ez. awesome. tune it to your own taste. do like some mexicans, with fruit. i attest that the pineapple totally works.
posted by j_curiouser at 4:45 PM on March 7, 2021

Cheese and potato soup
Potatoes au gratin
Cold “French”Salad: blanched green beans, cheese (feta or gorgonzola, chopped roasted walnuts, onions, pinch of salt
Black beans and rice
Frittata - with whatever
Curried chicken salad
Basic stir fry with Panang/green/or red curry
Roast pork loin with rosemary
Fried potatoes.
posted by sudogeek at 6:24 PM on March 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Chocolate chip cookies
Chicken soup (because it can become so many other soups)
Breakfast eggs (three ways)
Something on the grill (burgers or chicken)
Pizza (not frozen!!)
White rice
posted by wenestvedt at 6:44 PM on March 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

This thread is awesome. I forgot how much I used to like making some of these (oxtail stew, I'm so sorry I forgot about you!), plan to do so again.

My list would include:
Roast chicken and veg/potatoes. Basic idea of roasts in general.
Chicken soup (or other comfort soup, like miso).
Beef stew and/or chili.
At least one good casserole.
At least one good salad dressing.
At least one good pasta sauce.
At least one more-than-basic veggie side dish.
A working knowledge of how to make stir-fry and curry. Ditto fresh salsa.
At least one great beans and rice recipe.
Grilled cheese sammiches.

How to marinate and brine meat! I came late to this and it really makes such a difference.

My most unique recipe in heavy rotation in recent months is a chicken quinoa casserole. It started life as a stuffed squash recipe I found online and I modified it heavily to our tastes as I kept making it:

1 lb skinless boneless white chicken breast, chopped
4 cups cooked quinoa
1/2 large yellow onion (or 1 small)
1 stalk celery
small amount olive oil
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup pecans
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup real maple syrup
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
a bit less than 1 Tbsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
several sprigs fresh chopped parsley

Sautee the onion and celery in olive oil on low-medium for a while. The onions should be soft but celery should still be somewhat crunchy.

Add the chopped chicken, the chicken stock, the cayenne pepper and thyme, cook for several more minutes until the chicken is just done.

Add the quinoa and cook for another minute or two until it soaks up the broth.

Turn heat off and add nuts, cranberries, parsley, vinegar and syrup. Stir mixture, taste, and add salt as desired.

I usually serve it with green beans rather than squash.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 6:48 PM on March 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Mashed potatoes.
Baked potatoes.
posted by NotLost at 7:13 PM on March 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Half the time I try to make a recipe seems to be spent finding stuff, both in the store and in the cupboard. And so, a fast track to culinary technique is to isolate it from the ingredient shopping/chopping/measuring. How? With the new meal kits from Sunbasket, Blue Apron, etc. For the beginning cook, these kits are a fantastic way to build a solid foundation and try out different things.
posted by dum spiro spero at 7:33 PM on March 7, 2021

My personal things are:

A vinaigrette (mine is good olive oil, champagne vinegar, mustard and maple syrup, sometimes citrus)
An upside down fruit cake (based on this)
An omelet
Ginger cookies
Chocolate stout cake
Chicken broth
Chicken soup
Roasted chicken
A pan sauce
posted by vunder at 8:22 PM on March 7, 2021

At least one cake for celebrating things. A side to bring to Thanksgiving. A side to bring to a potluck that isn't Thanksgiving. A "fancy", making it for someone else breakfast. Your favorite variation on a chicken and rice based one pot meal. Pesto.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:22 PM on March 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

You’ve gotten such good answers already, but I really like the framing of “food for such and such holiday/event/social occasion/mood.” For me, this means having a side I can bring to any party (cashew brittle), a Thanksgiving dessert (Smitten Kitchen’s pecan cranberry frangipane), a soup for when you’re under the weather (avgolemono), a meal for when guests are coming over (homemade pizza or the NYT sweet and spicy roast chicken), the standard, favorite birthday cake (homemade layered angel food with whipped cream and strawberries). You can go in wildly different directions under all of these categories, but mastering something to fulfill all of the situations most relevant to your life is hugely valuable.
posted by exutima at 11:15 PM on March 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

a basic muffin
a basic scone
pizza dough
no-cook pizza sauce
greek salad dressing
slow cooker soups, stews, everything
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 5:13 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is a little bit different kind of answer: you should have at least one cookbook of the omnibus, recipe for everything type. The prototype was the Boston Cooking School cookbook by Fannie Farmer. Joy of Cooking is an example. Betty Crocker is an example.

You want to find one with the cuisine and level of difficulty appropriate for you. We have an old Pillsbury cookbook from the 1959s. That's before fancy cooking became a thing. It's the place to go for Sloppy Joe's and instant fudge sauce.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:45 AM on March 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

Something that people like a lot and that turns out well: The Serious Eats pan pizza recipe. It takes a lot of practice to make a really good thin crust and you kind of need a pizza stone. But this pan pizza turns out very well from jump. I like to make one with spinach and goat cheese. And you can make it in cake pans if you need to make smaller ones or don't have a skillet.

My quick cauliflower vaguely Indian recipe: grate your cauliflower. Cook it in peanut or coconut oil, covered, for about seven minutes over medium heat. It should taste nutty and cooked when you taste it. Season with some salt and stir in at least 1 T of an Indian curry paste diluted in an equal amount of water. Stir and continue to cook until the curry paste coats the cauliflower. Top with cashews or peanuts, toasted or not. I just get Kitchens of India curry paste - the butter chicken one is very mild but I just use whatever I have. People really like this and it's very easy and also, as long as you pay attention to the curry paste you're using, vegan.
posted by Frowner at 8:42 AM on March 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Quick pickled vegetables -- easy, versatile, thrifty. Lifts up the most humble taco, sandwich, or cocktail.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:13 AM on March 8, 2021

I like having go-to items to bring to different types of pot-lucks: a dessert, a Thanksgiving or holiday item, a brunch item, a lunch item, a picnic item. Also definitely chocolate chip cookies and brownies.
posted by radioamy at 12:15 PM on March 8, 2021

-risotto milanaise
-braised short ribs (chuck steak/stew meat works fine too)
-a reliable roast chicken
-a reliable roast (roast beef)
-a good winter soup and a good summer soup
-the ability to follow the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag to the letter
-the ability to follow the cheesecake recipe on the back of cream cheese to the letter
-one perfect cocktail
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:43 PM on March 8, 2021

Wanted to add:
Family heritage recipes.

-the Thanksgiving stuffing you always had
-the beloved appetizers, desserts, and house specialties that could become lost recipes if not preserved.

Someone gave me a 1962 Betty Crocker cookbook for Christmas last year, and it's the cookbook my mother and father learned to cook from, so it means a lot to me. Sometimes I remember 'Oh yeah, that pastry' or whatever and look and it's in there.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:46 PM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

No knead bread. Used the NY Times recipes as my guideline and after a few hiccups, I can now turn out a beautiful loaf. I start it off on Saturday morning and bake for our Sunday breakfast. I am happy that I will be able to bring it to potlucks or make it part of our holiday meals.
posted by IndigoOnTheGo at 8:35 AM on March 9, 2021

For years, the annual Book Group Holiday Fest was at my house. It was potluck, but I grew up in the Midwest where you make a hot dish if it's at your house, so I developed a good repertoire of dishes that scale well for a big group. Making Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner for the whole family is a great learning experience; if you have kitchen competency and the Internet, you can make anything, but making it in somebody else's kitchen, on time, is an achievement, one which many of our mothers pulled off routinely.

Learn to make vegetable-centric dishes, because we all want to eat more vegetables, and you will sometimes cook for vegans.
posted by theora55 at 2:53 PM on March 28, 2021

There's a great book I rely on called "100 Recipes Everyone Should Know".
posted by ragtimepiano at 7:16 PM on March 28, 2021

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