Z2C #8: How to Keep Your Recipes Organized

Z2C #8: How to Keep Your Recipes Organized

“Mirza Ghasemi is an appetizer distinct to the Caspian Sea region. This smoky and rich blend of roasted eggplant, garlic, tomato, and saffron is simply mesmerizing.”

This dish is ever bit as delicious as the Lala Rokh restaurant says. And every time I wanted to make it, I used to go back to their website (the restaurant where I first ate it) to find the name, google search until I found the recipe I remember liking best, and then, finally, start cooking.

Sounds pretty ridiculous, right? Any good cook knows that it is worth going to great lengths for the right recipe. But with the right recipe management system, you will never again need to jump through so many hoops to find a recipe you have already used.

I’m not going to preach about my method and hope you all drink the KoolAid – there are as many slightly different ways to organize recipes as there are cooks.

The most important thing is to find the method that works best for you.

Are you a very digitally-driven person? Then perhaps Kitchen Monki or a desktop program that you can configure to your heart’s content would work best for you. But if you are a solid paper person who takes pleasure in writing things out neatly by hand, get yourself some notecards or a notebook. If you are very forgetful or tend to lose recipes in your email, use Evernote to quickly clip recipes and store them by tags.

From the least to the most technical, here are the main way to collect recipes:

Notebook

Apart from being low-tech, this is also a very classic approach. Can you remember you mother or grandmother’s handwritten recipe book?  A notebook guarantees that you won’t loose a single recipe – unless you loose the whole book, of course. There is something very cathartic and satisfying about writing by hand in a journal-like book, and I used to to love watching my old roommate Jessica meticulously coping recipes from my cookbooks into her recipe notebook.

Recipe notebooks can be simple, elegant, and handwritten (Georgia Pellegrini’s great-grandmother’s recipe book is a prime example ). These make incredible family heirlooms, but fading ink can definitely be a problem. Another approach is the computer generated version. With a 3-ring or mini binder, you can print recipes as you discover them and add them over time. This is actually a common method used in restaurants, even at Mario Batali’s famed Babbo. My mother took things a step further by scanning her mother’s recipe book, re-printing it, and making a new, sturdier, spiral bound book for me.

Recipe Box

While it is certainly a toss-up which of these first two methods is more technical, a recipe box at least gives you the ability to re-organize your content. When I first started finding recipes I wanted to remember, I put them on notecards trying to re-conjure this nostalgic image of a fifties housewife with her plastic box full of index cards. However, as I quickly learned, without the actual notecard holder, this method leads to more lost recipes than not.

As far as organization goes, this method actual gives you a wealth of options. If you are not one for meticulously copying things by hand, you can attach photocopies from a book or cut-outs from magazines. While you can’t search by keyword, you have ultimate flexibility in how your notecards are ordered. Perhaps alphabetically by title, by course (appetizers, soups, main courses, etc.), by source, or type of cuisine. It is easy to re-order the cards from time to time as you figure out what works best for you – and you can rediscover great recipes in the process.

Online Information Capture System

My information capture system of choice for any type of information, Evernote, is easy to adopt as a highly organized system for recipes only. “Notes” or pieces of information can be organized into “notebooks,” but also tagged with keywords. You can also search for any search term within all your notebooks.

One of the best parts of Evernote is how it grabs your info. You can clip text or whole web pages online, upload pictures snapped from your phone, or enter typed text by email, from your desktop, or online. I typically use this to clip recipes I find online that I like, but there is also an option to scan and upload PDF content so that you never have to waste time looking for your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe in four different cookbooks.

Other ways to capture information online include using your email as a repository, or a recipe specialized program like Kitchen Monki.

Software Program

After reading this excellent round-up of recipe management software, I was turned on to some very elegant solutions. Some advantages of using an actual program to maintain your recipes are that the program can re-jigger the information and spit it out to you in different formats, such as a shopping list or simple recipe page. Certain programs include features such as sub recipes, wine pairings, or a zoomed in “chef’s view.”

MacGourmet ($24.95) bears a striking resemblance to Apple Mail both in its organization and user interface (particularly the icons), while the free Measuring Cup program is more similar to iTunes. If you go the software route, make sure to choose a program that you think you can stick with. There is not usually an easy way to import your recipes into a different program.

Do what works for you

The best thing that you can do is put a little thought into your recipe management system before diving in. If you start using a method that doesn’t align well to your personal habits and tendencies, you will end up abandoning it, potentially loosing both the recipes you have already captured and future repeat-worthy recipes that you don’t know how to organize.

Do you have a favorite recipe management system that isn’t mentioned here? Have you found something that works well for you and have been able to stick to?

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