Not all recipes are created equal. If you want to get anything (general knowledge or a delicious dinner) out of a recipe, you need to start with a a quality foundation. Since it can take a while to gain the ability to read what is on the page and imagine the finished product in your head, here is a guide to the best places to find helpful, descriptive recipes that yield dinner guest impressing food:
“Cookbook” can sometimes end up being synonymous with “coffee table book.” They both start with the same letter, have pretty pictures, and are large and rarely paged through; why not? Well, there is a reason these people got a book deal. And even when that seems a little questionable, at least they have a whole staff to edit, test, and photograph their work.
Because of the rigorous testing that goes into the creation of most cookbooks, they are your surest bet for a result-producing recipe. You can even often find recipes hidden within other recipes. Keep it Seasonal, one of my most inspiring cookbooks, often lists a recipe for a soup along with a little muffin or some other bread accompaniment that is a great stand-alone item as well. My favorite Moroccan carrot salad was actually a small mention as a side to a grilled chicken sandwich.
2. Friends and Family
This one is huge. I cannot tell you how many of my favorite or must trusted recipes have come from someone that I know (or someone that they know). Sometimes you steal a bite of your co-workers lunch and have an eye-opening moment, other times potluck events are a goldmine, and still other times, you have the pleasure of delicious, impressive home cooking in a friend’s home.
Don’t under estimate your family though – many of your relatives have years, if not decades, of cooking on you. Even though I don’t eat meat anymore, I still crave my aunt’s Thanksgiving stuffing. More often than not, some intrepid detective work among your relatives can turn up a handwritten cookbook from a grandmother or great-grandmother.
Food magazines differ from cookbooks in one key aspect: they contain more than recipes. In periodicals, there is much more space to tell the history and context of a recipe, discuss season specific foods and how to use them, and get information about how to use particular kitchen gadgets.
After the recent, untimely death of Gourmet, there was a certain period of collective morning for food writers and food lovers all over. Though some still prophesize that it will return, phoenix-like, from the ashes, gracing us once again with its visceral photographs, and continuing to add a bit of two-dimensional luxury to our lives, there are still other food magazines. Also from the Conde Nast family (hey – they do stand for quality for a reason), Bon Appetit and Cooking Light are recipe-filled and very accessible for any level of cook. Saveur, Vegetarian Times, and Food & Wine also brim with inventive recipes and useful tips.
Estimates show that there are currently more than 30,000 food blogs in existence. When looking for recipes, it can really seem difficult to even know where to start. Forbes Women recently covered the top 8 food bloggers and Mashable has a (now slightly dated) list of 55+ foodies to follow on twitter, many of whom have blogs. A number of bloggers have also landed book deals, including the blog that brought about the Julia Child renaissance, The Julie/Julia Project.
One of the huge upsides to a recipe on a blog is that the steps are usually described in great detail, often with pictures along for each step, along with potential disaster points to avoid. Some of the most aesthetically pleasing of the bunch come from food photographers, who tasty and elegant recipes live up to their appetite-heightening imagery. I think those who have made a successful cross-over into mainstream media are some of the best bets. Forget about ubiquitous blog-inspired book deals; the author of Orangette landed herself a column in Bon Appetit.
5. Recipe Index Sites
Though Epicurious is no doubt the most illustrious of this pack, culling recipes from Conde Nast publications including Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, and the now defunct Gourmet, there are more recipe index sites than varieties of cuisine. The key is to make sure that the goal of the site is to provide recipes that result in great food, not just to make money from ads and affiliate links.
Certain names practically promise the kind of culinary success that will earn you many new friends (Epicurious) while overs are a deep and broad repository of international cuisine (RecipeZaar). Just make sure to poke around the site a bit before trying out on of their recipes; if they are general sparing in both direction and specificity of ingredients, the resulting food will probably be equally sparing in taste and the sparkle of food that is just plain good.
Where NOT to find good recipes
Google. That should really be ’nuff said, but even I find myself resorting to the big G for rare, regional, or otherwise tough to track down recipes. Google, unfortunately, typically returns all but the most specific search terms with sites overflowing with ads and underwhelming in terms of both quality and amount of information.
I have optimistically done this enough times to know that the recipes that pop up at the top are typically not great quality and won’t guarantee you excellent results, like the tested and approved sources above. More often than not, the recipes have been copied and pasted (read: stolen) from other places in order to create a search-engine-eye-catching, comprehensive cache of recipes.