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Quality of recipes on "recipe sites?"

UptownKevin Dec 26, 2006 09:25 PM

I won't mention any of the names here, but I have taken time to peruse some of the "recipe web sites" when looking for a specific recipe. For instance, today I did a search for Paella and came up with several different variations on a wildly popular recipe site. Only problem is that I know enough about Paella to know that some of these recipes couldn't possibly be any good.

To be sure, I did a search on that site for "jambalaya." I know plenty about jambalaya and some of the recipes on there looked plain wrong or disgusting. And some of them were rated 5 stars! I mean, jambalaya is a rice dish, but I can't tell you how many recipes called to "ladle it over white rice." Are you kidding? And this leads me to my question.

How many of these recipes are any good? Is it just a bunch of midwestern (no offense) housewives who couoldn't spot good food if it hit them in the head? I saw how many bad jambalaya recipes were out there, but what if I was looking for a recipe of something I've never cooked?


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  1. c
    christy319 RE: UptownKevin Dec 26, 2006 09:32 PM

    You have to trust a site before just randomly making something from it. I generally trust epicurious, and I will generally trust SOME of the food network recipes depending on the chef (Yes to Sara Moulton and Ina Garten, no to many, many others). I have had the same experience as you with too many other sites-I've found some really disgusting sounding recipes on some of them-so I don't even bother to look at any others besides the two I mentioned anymore.

    1 Reply
    1. re: christy319
      clim212 RE: christy319 Feb 17, 2007 04:04 AM

      I agree that this is key - trusting a site and the sources on the site. I 've personally found Ina's recipes to work simply because she makes essentially simple dishes that everyone is familiar with and uses high quality ingredients. Also, recipes that are backed by test kitchens generally work well (i.e. Better Homes & Gardens website/cookbooks). . . I've tried recipes from allrecipes.com and while I love that it's mainly a user-generated site, I've found that recipes with great ratings from the community don't work out at times. So I use this site to initially browse. Also just looking at the ingredients list carefully should play a big part - oftentimes the recipe name/description can be a facade as the ensuing ingredients don't look appealing.

    2. Robert Lauriston RE: UptownKevin Dec 26, 2006 09:45 PM

      Start with a site that has recipes from professionals that have been tested prior to publication, such as epicurious.com or foodtv.com.

      Then compare amateur recipes if you like.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston
        gyp7318 RE: Robert Lauriston Dec 27, 2006 06:57 PM

        I have used several recipes from foodtv.com and they have all turned out great. They ranged from Paula Deen's "two sticka butter" recipes, Emeril, and Tyler Florence. I look to these professionals and their staff behind them to tweak it and also look at the user ratings as well.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston
          melly RE: Robert Lauriston Dec 30, 2006 01:34 AM

          Simply Recipes is an exception...they test em all in their home. Great site!

        2. h
          HillJ RE: UptownKevin Dec 26, 2006 09:51 PM

          Or, understand these sites for what they try to be...outlets for the home cook, the guy/gal who gets raves for "their original," the community of untrained folks who just like to play with their food and receive no pay for just sharing their own "tried and true" thru a website (who does make $ on ads) and with a web audience out there looking for something different.

          What never ceases to amaze me are the number of recipes posted by pros and non pros that claim to be original. I think it is fair to say that an original recipe/culinary idea is hard to claim.

          1. p
            personalcheffie RE: UptownKevin Dec 26, 2006 11:52 PM

            I rarely follow a recipe, I will use it as a guide, and make my changes to our taste or my client's taste.

            I don't put a lot of validity in any one site more than another, I've had to throw out Emeril's stuff before, because I didn't use my own good judgment on what was written.

            I cannot stress enough what another chef friend of mine taught me. Don't put so much value in the written recipe. Many times amounts are wrong, method is better off doing something else, and spices should be added, doubled or taken away.

            I come across those Jambalaya recipes, using Italian sausage (couldn't believe my eyes that they would even print such a thing), and yes, take into consideration the average person's taste and what they think is authentic or good. We are in the minority.

            This is why Olive Garden and Applebee's THRIVE!

            1. b
              BangorDin RE: UptownKevin Dec 27, 2006 03:33 AM

              Just this afternoon I saw an Ina Garten recipe for huumus, which called for *hot sauce*! Experts and professionals surely argue about authenticity, and what's "good" is SO subjective.
              I'm always amazed at the vast never-ending supply of recipes out there.

              1. free sample addict aka Tracy L RE: UptownKevin Dec 27, 2006 05:17 AM

                Unless the site advocates using all processed foods most sites that I end up googling are a real help. Trying to find the proper technique or appropriate ingredients is never a goal for me as I have plenty of cookbooks that already have that information. I usually pick and choose different parts of recipes that appeal to me to create one that I like. BTW, I love the midwestern housewife sites to find new (and easy) ways of making comfort food or to find lost family recipes.

                1. c
                  Canada Eats RE: UptownKevin Dec 27, 2006 04:11 PM

                  I've often found good recipes on food blogs- like other sites, you have to get to know a blog a little before you can gauge whether your tastes will mesh with the blogger's.

                  A lot of bloggers also post recipes from cookbooks- I've recently gotten recipes from Dorie Greenspan, Claudia Roden, and Paula Wolfert, none of whose books I yet own. It's a great way to "nibble" from a cookbook before deciding whether to buy it.

                  - Lea

                  1. l
                    laylag RE: UptownKevin Dec 27, 2006 04:27 PM

                    I know which sites you are speaking about and yes, I too have found improbable and often particularly offensive recipes particularly when it comes to ethnic foods. It's often like sorting through Sandra Lee's (Food Network) recipe files. I've found recipes calling for cottage cheese use in Italian food, etc. Yicky and, honestly, ignorant.

                    That said, I've also found a few decent and even some excellent recipes on those sites. I generally use my judgement as a fairly skilled home cook and also read the reviews carefully trying to discern the "tastes" and food experience of the reviewers.

                    It's very difficult to find "perfect" always excellent recipes in any one source. I've made things from very "respectable" cook books, web sites and magazines and had poor results too - maybe my fault, maybe not. So, I generally compare recipes from several sites, follow my instincts and go with one that "sounds" right or adjust one that sounds pretty good.

                    I wish there were one perfect place for recipes but, alas, I fear there is not.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: laylag
                      kloomis RE: laylag Jan 3, 2007 01:32 PM

                      Sandra Lee's recipes are the absolute worst. I've gotten sucked into a couple of her "quick and easy" recipes... and they taste bad and normally the recipes are off. I tried a cookie recipe and couldn't even handle the dough. Other Food TV recipes tend to be good, though I shy away from Emerils b/c he tends to use about 20 ingredients.

                      1. re: kloomis
                        laylag RE: kloomis Jan 3, 2007 04:39 PM

                        You were brave to try them kloomis. I've seen other posts on this site linking to other sites that imply/state that SL is generally a bit tipsy which could explain quite a bit although it doesn't explain why that woman has a cooking show on FN. I find it baffling.

                        1. re: kloomis
                          coasterphil RE: kloomis Jan 5, 2007 04:16 PM

                          I have to agree with this. I only tried one of her recipes, but it was one of the worst things I've ever made at home. I was in a pinch and needed to find something, but I'll never make that mistake again.

                      2. s
                        suebro RE: UptownKevin Dec 27, 2006 05:23 PM

                        I would also expect that some of these ingredients are published in recipes so that those who live in little towns in mid America are able to make the items as well. Not everyone is able to purchase the correct gourmet meat or cheese.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: suebro
                          christy319 RE: suebro Dec 28, 2006 12:06 AM

                          I doubt that's the case very often anymore. The VAST majority of Americans live in suburbs and cities. I think more often people just make something they way their mom made it, or the way they have made it for decades, or with the cheapest rather than the better and more expensive ingredients (ie my mother in law buys Cool Whip in a variety of artifical flavors because she says it's cheaper and easier than buying and whipping real cream).

                          1. re: christy319
                            amyzan RE: christy319 Dec 29, 2006 04:49 PM

                            There are towns where ingredients like ricotta can't be found. My grandmother lived in one in Northeast Arkansas. I am not going to insult her little town, but I couldn't live there, and found visiting a challenge. I wish I could recall all the things I couldn't find there, but a few I remember are plain yogurt, ricotta cheese, black beans, and decent looking chicken, (the ironic part of which is that chickens are raised and processed there.) I ate a lot of fresh produce when I visited in the summers, as that was abundant and wonderful. Yes, the vast majority of Americans live near metropolitan areas, but that doesn't mean there aren't places that generate such "substitute" recipes out of necessity. I'm also not saying people don't use such substitutes because their mother did, but demographics have changed substantially over a few generations for much of the population, sometimes over just one generation. My mother might not have been able to find ricotta 30 years ago, and if I use her recipe, it might call for cottage cheese. Hopefully, I would update it!

                            1. re: amyzan
                              Andiereid RE: amyzan Jan 2, 2007 06:17 PM

                              I grew up in Northeast Arkansas in Jonesboro, which was the biggest town around there and was still awfully small and I can remember growing up, there was not a lot to choose from in the Safeway. It's MUCH better now - pretty normal by grocery standards, but I would imagine in Weiner and Rector that might not necessarily be the case - still.

                              1. re: Andiereid
                                amyzan RE: Andiereid Jan 3, 2007 05:00 PM

                                Andiereid, I'm sorry I meant northwest AR. I don't know why I typed the wrong area! I agree that the choices in groceries have improved over the years, and I haven't been since she passed a couple years ago. For all I know, there could be a lot of availability now, but honestly, I doubt it.

                          2. re: suebro
                            christy319 RE: suebro Dec 28, 2006 12:06 AM

                            Oops double post

                          3. amyzan RE: UptownKevin Dec 27, 2006 08:38 PM

                            Me experience is that I have to read through recipes from such sites. I use them from time to time, as I'm always looking to do something new, or "new for now." I also freely make changes, and alter techniques quite a lot. What amazes me is published cookbooks with tasteless recipes or instructions that use techniques which would easily ruin the food. For example, I've found published muffin recipes that recommend using a hand held mixer. Sure, if you want hockey pucks for muffins!

                            1. m
                              melly RE: UptownKevin Dec 28, 2006 07:19 PM

                              One of the very best sites is Simply Recipes! Elise knows what she is doing and I use her recipes all the time.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: melly
                                Canada Eats RE: melly Dec 28, 2006 07:52 PM

                                I'll second that one. Lots of great, straightforward recipes. Definitely worth bookmarking.

                                - Lea

                              2. jen kalb RE: UptownKevin Dec 30, 2006 02:55 AM

                                It surprises me how many recipes on recipe sites are simply lifted from cookbooks without attribution. Not to mention when the posters take credit for the recipes as their own!

                                Then too, recipe authors may not be thrilled with their top recipes being published without their permission, even with attribution. And if changes and mistakes are made its even worse for the author who gets blamed for someone else's carelesness.

                                Sometimes I search for songs online - often the are published with a few small word changes, I suppose to avoid intellectual property issues. In a recipe, a few words, an ingredient or a quantity can make a big difference.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: jen kalb
                                  Canada Eats RE: jen kalb Dec 30, 2006 04:39 PM

                                  Hi Jen, that's very true- I think it's a case of buyer (or cook) beware. You have to get to know the site a little first- I know when I use recipes posted by bloggers, I already have a sense of who they are and how reliable their use of cookbook recipes is (ie. do they make changes, do they note them, etc). Yes, there are plenty of sites which just lift verbatim, but there are also sites where someone just wants to share a recipe they enjoyed or talk about a cookbook, which is often valuable information for me in deciding whether it's a book I would enjoy and use.

                                  There are also situations where the author does indeed give permission. They're few and far between- I'm thinking mostly of Leite's Culinaria, where I recently found Paula Wolfert's muhammara, reprinted with her blessings. He often runs recipes from other books too.

                                  Overall though, I find it's fairly obvious, in most cases, as to how the recipe was used, whether it's attributed, being lifted for profit, etc.

                                  - Lea

                                  1. re: Canada Eats
                                    personalcheffie RE: Canada Eats Dec 30, 2006 05:21 PM

                                    Canada Eats? I am very interested in the Muhammara recipe, as I've been making it for a client every week.

                                    1. re: personalcheffie
                                      Canada Eats RE: personalcheffie Dec 30, 2006 05:40 PM

                                      Hi personalcheffie, the recipe is on Leite's Culinaria website. Here's the link:


                                      - Lea

                                      1. re: Canada Eats
                                        personalcheffie RE: Canada Eats Dec 31, 2006 09:54 PM

                                        Thanks very much.

                                2. choctastic RE: UptownKevin Jan 5, 2007 04:51 AM

                                  i like allrecipes and epicurious most of hte time except for asian recipes and for those i go on asian sites or use my cookbooks. I generally look for recipes that have a lot of positive reviews. i then read the reviews and determine if that recipe is for me. i like the sites with user reviews because it means i get the benefit from others testing the recipe. this has worked very well for me.

                                  just because you think something is disgusting doesn't mean that someone else would not benefit from that recipe. ymmv and all that.

                                  9 Replies
                                  1. re: choctastic
                                    CDouglas RE: choctastic Jan 5, 2007 02:53 PM

                                    I suspect that allrecipes was the site the OP was referencing. My main problem with that site is when you begin to go through the reviews for a 5 star recipe you inevitably discover that many reviewers change the recipe into something that only remotely resembles the original yet assign a favorable rating anyhow.

                                    A 5 star PB&J recipe on Wonder would most likely have one review like, "Loved your recipe. It was simple, inexpensive and delicious. My DH is on Atkins so we substituted lettuce leaves for the bread. My side of the family has a history of peanut allergies so I used a nice roasted garlic hummus instead of the PB. Jelly just did not seem to go with what I had at this point so I left it out and added a sprinkle of lemon juice. Amazing! Thank you so much - 5 stars!"

                                    Here is a link to a recipe site that I like a lot. Great recipes with proper credit given where needed. I am linking it directly to the first recipe I made from the site - Alain Ducasse's herb-roasted chicken. Truly delicous.

                                    1. re: CDouglas
                                      heathermb RE: CDouglas Jan 5, 2007 04:10 PM

                                      Perfect example CDouglas - I find this very often to be the case in the reviews on Epicurious. Now I mostly read them for the entertainment value of the changes and commentary.

                                      1. re: heathermb
                                        shanagain RE: heathermb Jan 5, 2007 05:15 PM

                                        I LOVE reading the changes/commentary in the reviews at allrecipes as well, particularly the negative ones. "I subbed applesauce for butter as suggested by one poster, and nutmeg for pepper as suggested by another, and added garlic as in the original recipe, and really can't see why this recipe is in the savory breads section. Plus, it was terrible and I had to throw it out! Can't recommend, sorry."

                                        It just cracks me up how many times you'll see "maybe I did something wrong, but..."

                                        1. re: shanagain
                                          jen kalb RE: shanagain Jan 5, 2007 08:06 PM

                                          Its great when people pan recipes which they have made major changes to!

                                          1. re: shanagain
                                            dietfoodie RE: shanagain Jan 6, 2007 10:17 PM

                                            I love that too! Or when they say, "This recipe was way too high in fat and calories, so I used fake butter, skim milk, and low-fat sour cream, and it turned out disgusting!"

                                            As if being low-fat and suitable for their diet is the supreme function of any recipe, and god help the ones that don't pander to them.

                                        2. re: CDouglas
                                          traceybell RE: CDouglas Jan 7, 2007 06:57 AM

                                          thanks for this. i love the small selection from diverse sources. would never otherwise have looked at this site twice, as it looks messy. i've had good luck from epicurious. from my small sampling, i think i tend to enjoy the gourmet recipes more than the bon appetit.

                                          1. re: traceybell
                                            choctastic RE: traceybell Jan 7, 2007 07:27 AM

                                            actually this has been my experience so far as well.

                                            1. re: traceybell
                                              CDouglas RE: traceybell Jan 8, 2007 12:08 AM

                                              My pleasure. The site is absolutely a mess. It took me a long time to learn how to navigate it and when I return I always need a few minutes to reorient myself. The recipes are sound and I have not seen most of them elsewhere.

                                          2. re: choctastic
                                            sunshinedrop RE: choctastic Jan 5, 2007 04:43 PM

                                            I like allrecipes too, because I never use a recipe as written anyways and I go through all the reviews and make changes as I see fit. It is also good to get a base recipe that I already have ideas about doctoring up. Plus, most of the reviews seem to be pretty spot on to the recipe.

                                          3. s
                                            Seldomsated RE: UptownKevin Jan 5, 2007 09:26 PM

                                            I've had success with the recipes on the Martha Stewart site, and also with epicurious - since they get recipes from Bon Appetit and Gourmet files - it is a trusted source. I also do what the other posters mentioned - look at a few recipes and combine the elements I like. All that being said, take them with a grain of salt. It's not so long ago that I started precooking my onions before adding to meatballs - no recipe I ever saw mentioned that step before, but boy, it is a world of difference!

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Seldomsated
                                              choctastic RE: Seldomsated Jan 7, 2007 07:28 AM

                                              martha stewart site has some really great recipes.

                                              1. re: Seldomsated
                                                johnb RE: Seldomsated Jan 7, 2007 05:11 PM

                                                FWIW--raw and cooked prepared onions are very different things; for example, I often ask for both on my burgers; they each add something quite different.

                                              2. IndyGirl RE: UptownKevin Jan 6, 2007 07:32 AM

                                                Hahaa. I think I may know the site to which you refer. I think, personally, that there are some great chefs on sites like that (allrecipes and others), but you have to know the good chefs. Many of the recipes are, yes, reposts of already-published things with potentially wrong amounts, and many may not work. But there are gems at most recipe sites. If you're savvy and good at imagining flavors together--and it sounds like you are, you should be able to sift through the junk to find the gems. If you're intuitive about this (and again, it sounds like you are), you can also avoid a true disaster by beginning to improvise when you sense that the written recipe isn't going to work. Like several others have said, I rarely stick to a recipe.

                                                I trust the folks at CooksTalk (chat site of finecooking.com), and often search their forums of the Tried & True Recipe archive when looking for something. I've never had a failure from a recipe recommended by one of their posters.

                                                I bookmarked that "Simply Recipes" site. Excellent rec!

                                                1. k
                                                  kootenaygirl RE: UptownKevin Jan 6, 2007 10:26 PM

                                                  NEVER EVER use Mr. Breakfast.com. People send in recipes that are spectacularly bad - for instance, one woman said she made a variety of flavored pancake syrups using jello. And the Huevos Rancheros recipe was unrecognizable.

                                                  1. m
                                                    meat_eater RE: UptownKevin Feb 16, 2007 06:35 PM

                                                    This is a really nice topic. I'll definitely use this as a guide

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