Thursday, November 7, 2013

Simplifying Supper: Creating a Recipe Binder

Earlier this week I told you all about my to-do list for the remainder of 2013.  I decided to start off by tackling my recipe binder and thought it would be fun to spend the next few posts sharing how I have simplified our meal planning and de-stressed our dinner-time routine.  And, as an added bonus, I am even including some of my favorite, go-to recipes.  Yum!

I love to cook.  Before having kids, I was always spending hours in the kitchen pouring over cookbooks and trying new recipes.  But after having kids I realized that I needed to change my ways and fast.  Anyone out there who is a parent knows that the 30-minutes leading up to dinner time is known as the "witching hour" in most households with toddlers.  It always seems that the biggest meltdowns happen right when I have three things on the stove and a timer beeping to remind me that my dinner is about to burn up in the oven.  I learned that the best time for me to make dinner was actually during the mid-afternoon while my children napped, so I began seeking out recipes that I could prep mostly in advance.  As my recipe collection grew and evolved, I began filing away all my favorite recipes in a three-ring binder and, thus, Everyday Dishes was born.

Everyday Dishes is like my recipe Bible.  Inside it contains hundreds of our favorite recipes, all meeting a certain list of criteria I developed for keeping things simple and doable:
  1. I must be able to get all of the ingredients in a regular grocery store.
  2. I must be able to prepare the majority of the meal in advance.
  3. The recipe must be straight-forward and easy to make.

I divided my notebook in to nine categories: 
  • Vegetarian Main Dishes
  • Seafood
  • Poultry
  • Meat
  • Pork
  • Soup
  • Vegetable Sides
  • Potatoes. Pastas, Rice and Grains
  • Salads

I also recently put together a second notebook for non-dinner recipes.  That notebook includes recipes for lunch ideas, snacks, appetizers, sweets and "other".

When I first created my notebook a couple years ago, I started out by going through all my favorite cookbooks and recipe blogs and marking all the recipes that fit my above mentioned criteria.  I had my hubby move our printer/copier into our family room and I began making copies of each recipe I had marked.   I put each of my recipes in clear sheet protectors to protect them from spills when I am using them in the kitchen. I'm not gonna lie: this was quite an undertaking.  Ultimately, I was able to get all my recipes marked, printed, copied and sorted in about the same amount of time that it took us to watch a movie.    

Since that time, whenever I come upon a new recipe that I like and fits my criteria, I print it out (or copy it) and add it to the binder.  More recently, I took the binder one step further and began formatting all of my recipes so that they would look the same.  The type-A side of me loves how organized and uniform my binder looks, but formatting all those recipes was way more time consuming than I thought it would be, so I would not necessarily recommend doing it.  

While creating the binder did take a bit of time, the payoff has been huge!  Now when I am planning meals for the week, I only need to look at one cookbook -- my recipe binder!  Without a doubt, this binder has saved me many, many hours of sorting through my cookbook collection week after week.

I have had some people suggest that it makes more sense to keep recipes filed electronically instead of the ol' paper method.  While this is definitely a more modern approach, I really like having a book that I can browse through when I am meal planning instead of having to click though multiple links.  Additionally, I don't always want to have my computer on the counter with me while I am cooking -- it makes more sense for me to have a paper recipe.  But, I know my paper system may not work for everyone, so if you would prefer to organize your recipes electronically, I highly recommend the website Pepperplate.  You can manually enter recipes or import recipes from over thirty-five different websites.  Pepperplate will also help you create meal plans and grocery lists.

In my next post, I'll share more about how I do my weekly meal planning.  Until then, here is a recipe for you to add to your own repertoire.  Bon Appetite!


Chicken Cakes with Horseradish Aioli
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 4 (2 patties per serving)

Great served with frozen sweet potato fries and a Cesar salad.  If you don’t like things too spicy, you can use less horseradish in the aioli, or serve with a BBQ sauce instead.  As with most things I make, this is one that can be made in advance and/or frozen.  I always make a double batch and freeze the extras for later meals.
Chicken Cakes:
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 large  breasts)
¼ c. chopped fresh chives
3 TBS mayonnaise
1 tsp. Cajun seasoning
¼ tsp. salt
2 egg whites
1 cup bread crumbs (available in the baking aisle)
2 tsp. canola oil

3 TBS mayonnaise
1 TBS horseradish
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/8 tsp. salt

1.      Place chicken in food processor; pulse until ground.  (From personal experience, I have noticed that once the raw chicken dries on the bowl and blade of the food processor, it is hard to clean off.  I recommend immediately washing blade and bowl after use to make the job easier.) 
2.      Combine chicken, chives, mayo, Cajun seasoning, salt, egg whites and breadcrumbs in a medium bowl.  Mix well.  Divide mixture into 8 equal portions, shaping each into a ½ inch thick patty. 
3.      Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add patties; cook 7 minutes on each side or until done.
4.      To prepare aioli, combine ingredients in a small bowl.  Serve with cakes.

To prepare in advance, complete steps 1-2, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours. 

To freeze, line a baking sheet with wax paper and spray with cooking spray.  Place raw cakes on cookie sheet and put in freezer.  Once frozen, transfer to a Ziploc freezer bag for storage.


  1. Looks great! How did you make your labels and the cover page for your binder? Also, how did you get the tab dividers to stick out past the page protectors?

    1. Hi there! I made the cover page using Microsoft Excel. For the tabs, I purchased the Extra Wide Tab Dividers from Staples. The dividers come with a template that you can use to print out your own labels.

  2. I love recipes and cooking too. I am an electronic / paper girl. I have an index with all my recipes from cookbooks, websites, magazines etc. I have them categorized in much the same way you do. I put all my recipes in a software package called MasterCook. I have for years. I print out each recipe and have them filed in hanging files. I lost my entire database onetime, which is what led to printing. Plus printing means I have the recipe available to be in the kitchen with me. lastly, and this goes a bit in the insane category, I found I wasn't cooking too many different recipes. So I have a HuGE brandy snifter with little slips of paper that has the recipe on it. Each week I select a couple from the jar and prepare those. It keeps things interesting.

    1. I love your idea of randomly choosing recipes from a jar! I think that would save even more time since it doesn't require much thinking. :) I haven't heard of the MasterCook program so I will need to look into that. Great ideas!