On the Menu: Sorting web sites for recipes
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At least once a week I find myself standing in my kitchen or in the middle of an aisle at the grocery store, trying to recall exactly where I saw that recipe for apple and kohlrabi salad, chile rellenos or lamb meatballs. Was it from a cookbook? Torn out from a magazine? Is it somewhere in my e-mail?
Recipes are easier to come by these days, but all that means is that they're even harder to organize or navigate. My horde of inspiring recipes grows daily, but if I don't make a recipe within a week or two of discovery, it inevitably gets lost in the ever-increasing pile of potential dinners.
Instead, I wind up cooking without a recipe or making the same tried-and-true dishes. That doesn't keep dinner from being delicious, but it does mean that I miss out on an opportunity to try a new dish, learn a new technique, explore a new combination of flavors, all of which add up to developing as a cook.
Many organized cooks use binders, file folders and meticulously handwritten note cards to store recipes. But that system isn't going to work for me, or most of the cooks I know. Ideally, I want to be able to see my recipes, all of my recipes, whether I'm in my kitchen, at the office and even on vacation. So, I turned to the Internet, hoping to find a solution that would allow me to both organize the numerous recipes in my potential arsenal and improve my access to them.
Turns out, it's easy to waste an evening (or entire weekend) exploring different virtual storage options. I evaluated sites based on a number of criteria, including how much they cost, what kinds of recipes they were best suited for, and how easy and pleasant they were to use.
None of the sites I explored offered a way to deal with hard copy recipes, other than letting users type them up. Hopefully, these sites will eventually allow users to scan recipes and either convert the images into their recipe format, or preserve the images themselves, which would be a wonderful way to incorporate family recipes into a complete collection.
While no one site solved my storage conundrum completely, there were a number of interesting options, especially if most of your recipes come from a single genre.
Users can select cookbooks, food magazines and food websites to a virtual bookshelf, then review recipes they've made and browse reviews by other members.
Ideal media: Cookbooker already holds thousands of cookbooks, hundreds of websites and dozens of cooking magazines, and since you can manually add any source that's not already included, it's possible to build a comprehensive list.
Fun features: Discover great new recipe sources; get ideas and tips from other cooks; a recipe folder makes it easy to make a note of a recipe you want to try later.
Downside: It may be called Cookbooker, but it doesn't provide much virtual access to cookbooks -- not even a full index of recipes.
Users can select from 80,000 books to build a virtual library; provides access to a full index of recipes, making it easy to search for that salmon dish you noticed last month or just find a new way to cook potatoes.
Cost: 30 days free, then $25 per year or $50 lifetime membership
Fun features: Recipes include a list of essential ingredients. It's not always completely clear (it doesn't include amounts, and doesn't distinguish between things like fresh or dried herbs), but it would probably provide sufficient reminders to shop for a previously made recipe.
Downside: Eat Your Books sticks exclusively to cookbooks, so it's only a partial solution for most cooks.
Allows users to add, store and organize as many recipes as they want.
Ideal media: The straightforward format makes it extremely easy to add recipes from e-mail, websites or a word document, but hard-copy recipes will need to be manually typed up.
Fun features: Create shopping lists or e-mail recipes to a friend with the click of a button.
Downside: If OneTsp ever goes away, so do all your recipes, so be sure to save copies.
This site allows users to add, store and organize recipes, which are then visible to the rest of the Recipe Thing community.
Ideal media: Recipes on the Web or from Word documents can be copied and pasted onto the site, while hard copy recipes will need to be typed up. It is not clear whether there are copyright issues with posting published recipes from other sources.
Fun features: A meal planning calendar and a virtual pantry that can keep track of ingredients you usually have on hand are both helpful additions for advance planning; set up a virtual cooking club using the "friend" feature; an export feature makes it easy to back up recipes.
Downside: All recipes are public, so if you're a fan of secret recipes (or someday want to write a cookbook), don't put your personal recipes on the site.