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Finding a recipe among your cookbooks

I have a large collection of cookbooks (by my standard, about 30), but often find myself going to the internet to find a recipe when I need one. The reason for is that with so many cookbooks, it takes too long to find what I am looking for, for instance an interesting pork tenderloin recipe. I could go through all the cookbooks, or I could just look on line. I have been thinking of ways to avoid this, and this is all that I have come up with:

recording in a database the following from each cookbook - Name of cookbook, name of each recipe, type of recipe (app, entre, lunch, cocktail, etc...), primary ingredient, and page. That way I could just go to my computer, sort by pork, and then go to whichever cookbook has the most interesting recipe.

Obviosly this would be time consuming. Anybody else have a better (more efficient) system?

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  1. That would be very efficient! And time-consuming, as you mentioned. My system, if it can be called that, is to pull out several cookbooks that either look like they might be useful or I (vaguely) remember having what I'm looking for, and then sitting on the floor in front of the wall o' cookbooks, and digging through them. I do tend to remember recipes that I'd like to try, though usually I end up combining various parts of several recipes, which can be fun too. That makes giving recipes to others kind of difficult, though, lol. The other day I told someone to "take the recipe for the orange cake, but make it with lemons and add more zest, and then use this buttercream but mix half of it with ground almonds and then instead of the raspberries, use raspberry jam" ... etc etc etc. :)

    2 Replies
    1. re: Chocolatechipkt

      "My system, if it can be called that, is to pull out several cookbooks that either look like they might be useful or I (vaguely) remember having what I'm looking for, and then sitting on the floor in front of the wall o' cookbooks".

      Finally - I have proof that I'm not the only one! My husband walks by, looks at me sitting on the floor with books spread about, and just shakes his head.

      Bayou has started a good thread - lots of helpful suggestions on organizing.

      1. re: Rubee

        You see, that is what SO and I call fun. We spent saturday morning looking through recipes before we hit the farmer's market... :)


    2. How about just recording recipe stats in your data base as you use the recipe? Every book has a lot of recipes that you'll never use. Don't waste time logging them.

      1 Reply
      1. re: yayadave


        I do tend to record, or at least flag, recipies that I have used. I have a good memory for recipies that I have used in the past. It is the ones that I have not used that I want to be aware of, so that one day I will use them.

      2. I keep a notebook with a list of recipes I've tried, the source, any modifications and how it turned out. It lives on the bookcase with the most actively used cookbooks. A critical part of this is having a pencil firmly attached to the notebook!

        2 Replies
        1. re: sheiladeedee

          This is how I do it too, or I will go through the cookbook and make notes on paper that is then kept on the inside cover of the book so I can glance at it quickly. Sometimes I will flag pages too that look interesting. But then again, I read cookbooks like some people read romance novels......all starry eyed and glassed over!!!

          1. re: cooknKate

            I read them for pleasure too - and after this many years with them I know where to find most of the recipes I use regularly without consulting my list. And I have a fair idea where to find something suitable if I haven't made it before or if I want a variation. The books have such distinctive personalities - The New Best Recipe and the other CI books are meticulous but not really adventurous - so are Joy and Fannie, Julia is classic and precise but the dishes are a little more unusual for my style of cooking, Bittman is more interesting and has a good range of international - Mario is, well, Mario.... and so on. So if I am looking for something adventurous and unusual for a dinner party for Columbus Day weekend I'll check out Mario or one of the other Italians, or Giada's recipes on the Food Network. If my mother decides she wants a nice chicken stew, out comes New Best Recipe.

            I take no chances, however, with cookie and candy recipes. I do a lot of holiday baking for presents and all the recipes I regularly use are in the computer and printed out on blue paper (with the source listed) and inserted into one of those notebooks with plastic page protectors so nothing splatters them. The title of that notebook is "Sheila's Blue Book of Happiness" and I don't lend it out!

        2. I have a system that really works well for me. First, I went thru every cookbook I had and made an index (in Word format) of every recipe I like. I listed the cookbook name, then the recipe name and page number. I sorted them (in different documents) by type: poultry, meat, seafood, starch, appetizers, salads, etc. Then I printed out each list and keep them in separate binders, along with recipes that I've clipped and want to try, or have tried. Whenever I need to find a recipe I go to the respective binder, look at either the list or the clipped recipes and find what I want.

          Recipes that make it onto my "frequently used and liked" list get their own Word document, again sorted by type, which I keep next to the stove for easy reference. These recipes are fully typed out for immediate use, not reference.

          It sounds time consuming but once you get it done it's easy to maintain.

          2 Replies
          1. re: rednails

            I should clarify one thing above--the list of frequently used/liked recipes is just one Word document, not different ones. So, all the chicken recipes are listed in a row, then the meat, etc etc. I abreviate a lot once I've made them a few times. This is basically a mini cookbook, about 18 pages long right now, but still easily managable.

            I used to keep all my old magazines, using tabs to find recipes I liked, and also a master index as well. THAT was a lot of work, not to mention a huge space waster. I finally clipped/photocopied the recipes I liked and put them in my binder.

            I also forgot to mention the other organizer thing I do--when Id don't have time to put the clipped recipes into my binder, I put them into file folders marked w/the same catergories.

            1. re: rednails

              This is what I do with my magazines as well... I do this both for recipes and design, and it works really well for me.

          2. Sounds like "Cookbook Mise en Place." You did a serious amount of work.

            2 Replies
            1. re: yayadave

              It wasn't as bad as you think, and it really works. And it's truly easy to update. It's actually harder to keep on top of the clipped recipes.

              OK, I admit, I'm addicted to clipping recipes. There, I said it. There must be a 12-step program for me out there.....

              1. re: rednails

                Yeah, it's called Chowhound. A 24/7 chance to meet with other addicts.

            2. I admit, I never bought cookbooks because I always found Epicurious and other on-line recipe sites easier. Now I've inherited quite the collection. What I do is use post it flags to flag out the recipes I want to try. It also helps that with books, I tend to stick with one. Finally, for those hall of fame recipes, I have a recipe journal which I hand write. :)


              1. Can't I pay Google to scan all of my cookbooks and magazines into electronic format so I can do a local search electronically without all of the hours of manual indexing?


                1. When I first read your post, I was thinking that you were going to type out all the recipes, and I was thinking, yeah, that's crazy! But, after re-reading, I really don't think it would take that long to do an index like you're talking about, esp. if you only have 30 cookbooks. Then again, I'm a bit of an Excel dork!

                  At any rate, my system is to call my mom and say, "Do you remember what cookbook such and such recipe is in?" and she does the same with me... generally we find it! (Except there is that one damn turkey recipe!) Not the best system, but it's our system!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Katie Nell

                    Good point about only 30 cookbooks. Probably a modified system like rednails uses would work well.

                  2. I rely on my failing memory. I have around 200+ books I think - I haven't really counted, they fill a couple of bookcases and overflow onto tables and counters. Sometimes I'll find a recipe online and think Aha! that sounds good. Then I'll see that it's from a book I own. I rely on epicurious to tell me what's in my old Gourmets which I haven't opened in years because I can't remember what's in which issue.

                    I need an online index to find anything. I wonder if there's any interest in someone providing a service like this? I never look up articles in professional journals from the hardcopy indices any more, I look them up online. It's far quicker.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: cheryl_h

                      I use a combination of my memory, the cookbook indices, and the tabs that I may have put on the pages of recipes that looked good at the time. If it's not a specific recipe that I'm looking for, but rather a "hmm, I feel like cooking a pork roast", I'll start by perusing the usual suspects (by index) - Marcella, Casas, Julia, Kamman to see what I come up with. With Gourmet magazine, I usually have a vague recollection of what types of recipes are found in a given month - ie, peaches = summer months, turkey/rib roast = Nov/Dec, good hors d'oeuvres = New Year's Eve menu in Dec, lamb = March/April (Easter) and then I start pulling those months and seeing what I find.

                      I also once made the huge mistake of tearing out all of the indices from Gourmet, and have since mislaid them. But, that brings an idea to mind - why not photo copy the indices to your cookbooks and put them in a binder or something - then you'd have a quick reference guide to start with. I may just do that myself!

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        Your suggestion of photocopying the indices is an excellent one. But I'd have to haul everything to Staples or someplace that has a copier. This could be a long-term project.

                        I've just about given up on the magazines, every time I pull one out I think "why haven't I made this?", then forget it once I put it down.

                        1. re: cheryl_h

                          I have a v. inexpensive ($60) printer/scanner/photocopier - HP - that I bought from Costco - has come in handy in all sorts of ways - scanning a recipe to email to a friend rather than retyping etc. (And for work things, of course, and doing a quick copy of something important that goes in the mail - tax returns come to mind.)

                          I also use it to photocopy recipes when I'm having a dinner party or travelling some where to cook, so I don't have to flip through all the books.

                          For the magazines - I put tabs (or, more recently found a use for the inserts - I tear them up and use them as bookmarks) the first time I go through a magazine, and then I check back occasionally to see if I feel like making the tabbed items. For all mags other than Gourmet, I cut out the recipes and then paste them into a book organized by category (salads, fish, dessert, etc.)

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            An inexpensive copier might be a solution. I'd like to use copies of recipes rather than have books propped open, getting splashed in the kitchen. DH may throw a fit if I bring yet another gadget home, but he might see the usefulness of it for himself.

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              Replying to Cheryl H - when I photocopy the recipes to cook from - I use masking tape and tape them to the cupboards - works perfectly ...

                              Also - it's not a "gadget", it's a "tool" - ;-)

                              1. re: MMRuth

                                Replying to MMRuth - If you go to an office supply store you can get some blue stuff called Poster Putty. You only need a dot on each corner and there's no clean-up. Says it holds up to 1#.

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  Yes, I got a lot of good use out of my el cheapo printer/ scanner/ copier... I've since upgraded, but the old one is still going strong, and was a damn good copier! Any excuse to never have to walk into Kinko's again is good in my book too!

                            2. re: cheryl_h

                              I'm in the same boat cookbook wise but I seem to have a very good idea of what is in which book. Usually I can find a recipe I want without much hassle.

                            3. There is usually a software that comes with most scanners called OCR - Optical Character Recognition. It allow you to scan a document and then translate it into editable text.

                              You must check the text after scanning because it gets it right about 90% of the time. But it sure saves alot of typing.

                              Here's a little how to.

                              1. i have hundreds of cookbooks (mostly inherited from my parents) and about 40 i actually bought myself.

                                i also collect recipes from various magazines that look good and that i hope i'll actually make someday. instead of keeping stacks and stacks of magazines (i hate clutter) i rip them out and put them in a separate cookbook that i made out of a binder, dividers, and sheet protectors. i also put recipes i print out from online (chowhound) that i intend to try someday. once i make them, i mark on the recipe any modifications i made, and just how good it was. if it was disgusting... i throw it away. ;)

                                i also have a professional cookbook i made with a blank notebook that at my various jobs, i write down all the recipes from the restaurant i worked at. also mark whats good and whats not. (or cross them off once i quit) haha!

                                i try to rely on my memory to find recipes but i think whoever mentioned photocopying recipes out of your cookbooks and placing them into a new binder with sheet protectors would be the best idea! i also have that HP printer/fax/scanner/copier from costco. LOVE IT! it was a good deal and actually hasn't broken yet.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: junglekitte

                                  I do the same thing with binders, dividers, and sheet protectors. I use these for all my internet printed recipes, but I think the photocopying out of cookbooks/new binder idea is brilliant!
                                  This Christmas I made recipe books for my kids with all our fav. family recipes including pictures of them at parties and food events over their growing up years.
                                  I'd love to be able to rely on my memory as to which recipe is in which of my many cookbooks, but as I get older that just gets harder and harder. Great thread!

                                  1. re: junglekitte

                                    I don't print out anything I find online. Printed matter breeds in my house. I make a copy, usually a Word or pdf document and save it in a file. If it's a recipe, I'll set up my laptop in the kitchen and read from the saved file. My recipe files have gotten so large I need to start an index to keep track of them.

                                    1. re: cheryl_h

                                      I usually just email an online recipe to myself ... but I don't use on-line resources much.

                                  2. I've actually done this. I type the info for each recipe into Excel because it's easier to drag and drop infomation like cookbook_title, chaper, etc. and then import it all into an MS Access database. In addition to the info you listed, I also put into ID's so I can identify unique recipes, i.e. chocolate cake from two different cookbooks. Also in the database, I keep track of recipes I've tried along with a rating and comments and such and have queries that link up the various tables. Since it's in a database I can search by keywords, ratings, categories, etc. Typing in all this information actually doesn't take very long at all and it is incredibly useful. I couldn't tell by your posting if by database you meant an actual relational database or just a data set kept in Excel, but if you can get someone (either yourself or some data geek) to set up a relational database for you it is much more flexible and much easier to find information.

                                    1. I put a sticky note inside the front cover of each cookbook, on which I write the recipes (and page numbers) that sound interesting to me. That lets me quick check the front of the cookbook for a summary of the "high points" of that particular cookbook. I have at least 200 cookbooks, but I like reading through them and making notes.

                                      If I make a recipe and really like it, I flag the page with a small sticky note so I can find it again. And if I REALLY like the recipe, I copy it into my "time-tested favorites" book (mine is handwritten, but yours could be a file of photocopied recipes, or a computer file).


                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: AnneInMpls

                                        I think that's a major part of this exercise. If you "like reading through them," you'll easily pick out the ones that you need to add to your own personal index, no matter what the mechanics of saving the information.

                                        1. re: yayadave

                                          I think you are absolutely right - I browse through favorite cookbooks every couple of months, and as a result, have a general idea of what is in them.

                                      2. Great thread for all of us cookbook and recipe addicts dying to be organized!

                                        1. For online recipes that I haven't tried yet, I copy the text of the recipe into a Word document -- easy to do from html format. I print out the Word document, save it on my hard drive in an "untried recipes" folder and file the hard copy in a 3 ring binder of "recipes to try". The "recipes to try" binder is organized in loose categories but not detailed ones (apps, mains, sides, desserts, etc.). But I do keep the order of the mains and sides so that all the poultry is grouped together, all the green bean recipes, etc. These Word docs also go on my flash drive (see below).

                                        2. For magazine recipes that I haven't tried yet, I clip them and photcopy onto letter sized paper, 3 hole punch it and put it in my "recipes to try" notebook. Usually I take a pdf of it as well, to keep on a flash drive (the flash drive goes with me everywhere -- see below).

                                        3. For all untried recipes from online or from magazines, I am lethal in striking them. If there is any question about whether my audience or I will like it, or I'm not 100% sure of it, it does not go in the "recipes to try" book. After I've tried it and if my audience and I deem it is worthy of permanent inclusion in my "black book," I will type it up in a Word document (if I didn't do it when originally putting the recipe in my "recipes to try" book) and add it to my "black book." This book is very short (under 50 pages) and contains my mom's and grandmothers' recipes plus the best of the best of the online and magazine recipes.

                                        4. For recipes from my own cookbooks, I am currently in the process of going through each cookbook and creating an index of only recipes that I either have made and are worthy of making again, or those that I want to try, organized in general categories (apps, sides, mains, etc.) with page numbers. Each cookbook index is in Word format, so I can search it. I have sorted each cookbook index to separate out recipes that I have tried and will make again vs. not yet made. None of the cookbook recipes go in the "black book." I just keep the indices handy.

                                        5. Flash drive -- the best part for planning! I keep my cookbook indices with me on a flash drive along with my "black book." Also my "recipes to try" travel on my flash drive with me if they are in Word or pdf format. So the only thing I don't have access to when away from the kitchen are the cookbooks themselves, but at least I have the indices, and I have my "recipes to try" and my "black book" with me for last minute planning.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: farmersdaughter

                                          Those are great ideas, esp. the flash drive! On my last vacation I found myself digging around a Web site desperately trying to find a recipe I'd posted months ago, b/c I didn't have all my recipes with me. Thanks! :)