The Joy of (Online) Cooking

Where do you look for culinary inspiration?

Online recipe collections are giving traditional cookbooks a run for the money. More and more of us are bypassing the cookbooks in our own collections and turning to cooking blogs and websites. The web has the advantage of immediacy, with an infinite number of recipes at your fingertips. And the web wins out in searchability; no back-of-the-cookbook index can rival the encyclopedic search terms of an online recipe database.

But when it comes to the recipes themselves, cookbooks have a clear advantage. Popular recipe databases like Allrecipes and Epicurious are made up of predominantly user-submitted recipes. There is no vetting of taste levels or recipe quality. When you cook from one of these recipes, you have no track record with its creator to guide you. Contrast that with the singular aesthetic that permeates all the recipes in a cookbook. If it’s a good match with your tastes, the book is a keeper. It becomes a go-to title that you consult again and again. You can cook from it with confidence.

Some recently-launched websites are addressing this issue, looking to combine web-based search capabilities with cookbook-quality content.

Cookbooker calls itself ‘a search engine for your bookshelf.’ Basically a social networking site for cookbook users, Cookbooker’s members review and rate recipes from cookbooks and magazines in their own collections. While it doesn’t provide access to new recipes, it brings a certain interactivity to the cookbooks on your shelves.

Year-old Cookstr is an online database with content limited to recipes from published cookbooks and professional chefs. At last count, the site listed more than 4,000 recipes from about 350 cookbooks. Cookstr also produces a cookbook-oriented blog as well as the Cookstr 10, a weekly¬† newsletter delivering 10 themed recipes (soups, fall comfort foods, vegetarian entrees) to subscribers’ inboxes weekly.

If the web wins out over traditional cookbooks because of convenience and search capabilities, then newly-launched Eat Your Books should level the playing field. This subscription-based site ($25 a year; $50 for a lifetime) has a proprietary cookbook index of 16,000 titles and counting. Once you identify the titles in your collection, you can search for recipes in your own virtual cookbooks through the Eat Your Books index.

It’s time to dust off those cookbooks and let this hybrid technology breathe some new life into them.

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7 Responses to The Joy of (Online) Cooking

  1. Janice says:

    You are brave! And you’ll feel so light on your feet after the purging. Just be sure to find good homes for the discards.

  2. Emily P. says:

    I’m minimizing my possessions this fall and I already know that one of the hardest editing jobs will be of my cookbooks. I’ve been a collector of them for so long, but have bought some titles that I have opened once or twice and never made a thing from. Those will get purged. My signed copy of From Julia Child’s Kitchen? That will stay. The hundred or so in the middle? I think a big glass of white wine and a vision of a clear shelf. Won’t be easy though!

  3. Tricia says:

    Nothing will replace the feel and visual pleasure one gets from a book or photo of food. I look to my cookbooks for inspiration and I can scroll down a page in a book just as easy as I can on the computer. Looking things up is part of the fun, but the real thrill is finding just the right photo (and ingredients) with what I am in the mood to make and eat and serve to my guests. Inspiration cannot be hacked into either! Thanks for the discussion!

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  5. Brad says:

    Thanks for the links, it still feels good to pull out a cook book occasionally and use it instead of a blog, but I rarely do.

  6. Zibi says:

    I like searching for recipes online because you can find different spins on the same general idea and pick the one you think best suits your tastes…or combine your favourite flavours from different ones to create your own dish.

  7. Swede says:

    On-line recipes and sites allow for us to experience international cuisines and learn about more than just food. Thanks for the article! Sugar + Spice

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