Organizing Recipes Online

Organizing Recipes Online

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. I am recovering from an injury that makes it difficult to do a lot of walking, or to stand up for more than a few minutes at a time, so unfortunately I haven’t been able to film any recipes, and probably won’t for at least a few more weeks. So, in the meantime, I’ll be making text-only posts about some topics related to food and cooking. With all the sitting down I’ve been doing, I’ve had plenty of time to organize my recipes, so today I’ll tell you how I’ve done them.

When Dave and I got engaged, I bought a large loose-leaf notebook and used it to organize the existing recipes I had from magazine clippings or website printouts. It just had some basic categories: dinner, lunch, dessert, etc. Then when it got bigger, I started making sub-categories: instead of just “dinner,” now it was chicken, beef, fish, etc. But as the recipe notebook grew, I found it hard to find a particular recipe that I wanted, because each category now had dozens of papers in it.

When I finally got a smartphone in 2010, I decided that somehow getting all my recipes online would be better than using a notebook. Then I could look at them alphabetically or by category, or even do a search to find what I wanted. I could also access recipes from my phone while away from home. So my first effort at organizing my recipes was with Drupal, a content management system for websites that allows you to sort and organize data in different ways (all kinds of data, not just recipes). There is quite a learning curve to this software, but as an amateur web designer, I already had quite a bit of experience with it. It worked out okay, but in the end, I decided that Drupal was a bit more complex than what I needed.

My recipes are now all organized using Google Docs, and it’s working out really well. Since I have other non-recipe documents there, I created a folder (which Google calls a “collection”) and named it “Recipes.” Within that collection are sub-collections that categorize the recipes. What’s great about this is that I make just one document for each recipe, but that document can appear within as many sub-collections as I want. So, for example, my Asian-Inspired Chicken Noodle Soup is classified under: dinner, chicken, and Nigella Lawson Recipe. I can find the recipe under any of those sub-collections, or just search all the recipes for the title.

Many recipes are ones that I found online, or are available online in addition to the print source. In those cases, my document includes a link to the original webpage where I got the recipe. I will usually refer to the original page when cooking, but having the full-text in my document helps by making the whole collection searchable, and acting as a backup if the webpage ever disappears. I also have documents for the most frequently-made recipes from my cookbooks, because this allows me to look at them when away from home – for example, double-checking a recipe while shopping, or planning next week’s meals & grocery list on my lunch hour at work.

So, here are just some of the categories I’ve been using:
Cook’s Illustrated Recipe
Haven’t Made yet
King Arthur Flour Recipe
Mark Bittman Recipe
Nigella Lawson Recipe
Regular Dinner
Side Vegetable

“Regular Dinner” includes some of the recipes in the “Dinner” category. In here, I put anything that I’ve made at least a few times before, that’s suitable for a dinner for the two of us (rather than a large dinner for company). It’s my go-to category when I need to plan next week’s dinners and want something tried-and-true, without having to think about it too much. (So the name refers to dinners that I make on a “regular” basis.)

When I am in the mood to try something new, I find the “Haven’t Made Yet” category really helpful. Any time I add a new recipe that I haven’t made, I put it in this category, along with the other categories that apply. I’ve coded it red to make it extra-noticeable. So, for example, I can look at the “Dinner” category, and anything that also falls under “Haven’t Made Yet” is immediately visible, if I want to try something new:

Google Docs

The “Dinner” label doesn’t appear here, since on this screen I am viewing all recipes within that category, so that label would be redundant. But notice how the Roasted Chicken Breasts immediately stand out as something I haven’t made.

And now that I have an Android tablet (which Dave got me for Christmas) I use that to display my recipes while in the kitchen (I put a large ziplock bag over the tablet to protect it from splashes and splatters). Since my tablet and phone are already logged in/synced to my Google account anyway, I don’t need to do any extra logging in when accessing my recipes on the Google Docs app. And of course, I can look at them on my computer through the Google Docs website.

I mentioned that I have some of my cookbook recipes entered into my documents. But that still leaves plenty of other recipes not listed. Of course, I still do spend time perusing my books to find new recipes or look up information on a technique. But there are times when I might want to look up something while away from home, or even do a search across multiple cookbooks. For those times, I find Eat Your Books helpful. This website creates an index of all the cookbooks you own, listed as “My Bookshelf.” Then, you can search for a recipe in your bookshelf, and see results from all your books. The catch is, you don’t see the whole recipe, just the list of ingredients, without amounts. This way, there is no copyright violation, since it’s assumed that you own the book so you can look up the full recipe yourself. But at least this can help you find a recipe when you’ve forgotten which book it’s in, or get an idea of what ingredients you need when the book itself isn’t handy.

There are a couple of downsides to this site. For one, it isn’t free, and currently the yearly cost is $25. Also, while they do have an impressive database of over 85,000 cookbooks, that still doesn’t include every cookbook ever made. So there is a good chance that not all your cookbooks will be indexed. My bookshelf contains 28 cookbooks, and 11 of them aren’t indexed. Some of my books are on the obscure side, such as a facsimile of the 1931 edition of Joy of Cooking or a book of recipes bought from Porter’s Restaurant in London, England. But there are also some books by well-known sources, such as Betty Crocker and King Arthur, that also aren’t indexed. Still, they are adding new cookbooks all the time, so maybe they will be indexed eventually. The only thing preventing me from giving this site a wholehearted recommendation is the fact that I think $25 is a little steep. But I definitely urge you to at least try it out. You can enter up to 5 books with a free membership, so that can give you an idea of whether it’s something you might use.

So, how do you organize your recipes? Let us know in the comments!