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Help Me Organize My Recipes Please! [Moved from Home Cooking board]

So, I've decided to take on the arduous task of organizing my recipes. I have a huge stack of recipes printed from online resources such as Epicurious, and then a bunch more that were cut out of magazines. I got a few good ideas from the thread below. I am a big fan of 3 ring binders and will go that route for most of my recipes .

Right now my biggest dilemma is what I should do regarding my grouping of recipes. These are my thoughts so far...
There is the obvious choice of setting up tabs for apps, mains, dessert etc. However I'm thinking more along the lines of doing a binder for menu's in "heavy rotation" or my basic weeknight dinner recipes. Instead of just a dessert section, I am thinking of setting up my recipes based on holidays. We have some specific foods we eat for Easter and X-mas and I'd like to keep them all in one place. Then there are the apps I make whenever we have company and I'd like to keep those separate as well.
My concern is that this may make finding recipes difficult. Am I creating way too much work for myself by having so many sub categories? I want to think this through before starting.

What are some organization tips you all have found that work for you?


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  1. I am most interested in the cuisines of various countries/regions.

    I keep a ringbinder for each (China, India, ...), then break recipes down by the usual categories (vegetable, soups, ....).


    3 Replies
    1. re: Big Bunny

      Although I have about 100 cookbooks, and 3 huge ring-binders, my on-line printouts were accumulating fast and furiously. I finally resorted to a filing system. At Staples recently I bought a black box which holds hanging files, and several packs of file folders in different colors. I sorted the files according to the major ingredient of the dish, i.e. cabbage, potatoes, rice, macaroni hot, cold mac....ground turkey,,,etc. Vegetable recipes are in green folders, seafood is in light blue, and so on. Various holidays have their own section because dishes cooked for holidays are not duplicated during the year which makes the holiday that much more special...in my small mind, anyway. Each hanging file is tabbed, and each recipe is in archival plastic sleeves, which doubles the space plus the recipe doesn't get messy in the kitchen near the prep area.

      1. re: Gio

        what software do you use for these recipes? Mac or PC? thanks

        1. re: Gio

          Gio I have done the same thing as you except not to the same extent. I think I even got my box at Stapes and bought the colored files. Vegis in green, seafood in light blue! Great minds think alike! I also did not go as far as putting them in plastic sleeves so they can get stained when in the kitchen but I figure I can just reprint it if it gets to bad.
          I originally had them in a huge three ring binder but it quickly filled up and I found I was not punching the recipes just sticking them in the front so it wasn't long until I had a large pile of unorganized recipes. In my box I have tried to keep the number of files limited. Apps, breads, salads/dressings, vegi dishes, soups, legumes, meats (with a separate file for stews/chilis because I do a lot of these), desserts and a misc file for sauces, conversions, things that don't fit into other files. I found when I had to many categories I had a harder time trying to find a place for them. It really doesn't take me that long to flip through them and find what I am looking for. In the future, I may add more categories but for now this works for me.

      2. I really had to computerize everything, because there's no way that I can divide things up into simple categories... for example, Thai spring rolls: do I create a Thai section with an appetizer subsection, or an Appetizer section with a Thai subsection? And then I'd also like to flag favourites and have them grouped together. The only way I could get things to work for me is to put them on my computer and assign each recipe any number of tags (e.g. Thai, appetizer, favourite) for organizational purposes. I then print 'em off as needed or just bring my laptop into the kitchen with me while I cook.

        It works well, too, because I can take pictures of my creations and associate them with the recipes, too, which is nice if I want to share them online or just jog my memory.

        It was the only solution that worked for me. Then again, I'm not known for my stellar organizational abilities :-).

        6 Replies
        1. re: vorpal

          I have some that I input into my epicurious "recipe box" but there is no real organization. I think it would take even more work for me to put them all on the computer at this point. But that's what I should have done from the beginning!

          1. re: vorpal

            I'm in the same camp as vorpal. My entire recipe collection is stored in a handful of Word docs - one for desserts, one for mains, one for apps and one for beverages. Each recipe is tagged with categories, and I can also do keyword searches for ingredients if I'm in the mood for something particular (or if there's something in the fridge that needs to be used up).

            I had been using a file folder system that I started way back when I was a chowpup of 12, but as I got older I started moving frequently and realised that I didn't enjoy having to lug the collection around from one place to the next. So about 5 yrs ago I decided to switch to digital to lighten the load.

            The downside is that it did take a few months to input all my recipes from hard copy, but now that it's done, it's really quite low maintenance. It also helps that most of my favourite magazines have started archiving their recipes on the web, so it's a simple cut and paste job rather than data entry nowadays.

            1. re: vorpal

              I use a computer-based system as well - namely, http://pad.helicoid.net . It's not a cooking application per se, just a free-to-use free-form web text editor that lets you tag all your documents, so I have everything tagged by main ingredients, cuisine type (if applicable), fast, vegetarian, etc. It also has a nice text search will bring up any word in any document, which is useful if you've got a few lone ingredients lying around that you want to use up.

              For recipes that I get off the internet, I just cut & paste them into the pad; for cookbooks that I have at home, I just list the ingredients for my favorite recipes and reference the actual recipe at home. It's really useful because I can look up my recipes anywhere - it's nice to be able to make a shopping list when I have some time to kill at work.

              I'd be in a bit of trouble if they killed the service, which is my one reservation about using it. They do have an export function though so it's not too bad... I just need to remember to export regularly!

              1. re: sistinas

                I just started using Helipad, and it's great. Almost exactly what I'm looking for. Another option may be Google Base, but it seems a little too clunky and overkill for what I need right now, and when you put things on Google Base, they automatically become public (which may or may not matter).

                Thanks, sistinas!

                1. re: dtasse

                  Google Desktop might be an option.

                  If anyone is extremely serious about this... you can hire an inexpensive, over seas IT expert at www.odesk.com to build you a custom database with a slick interface etc., (as oppossed to using Access, Word, or Excel).

                  Another option is learn a little bit MS Sharepoint if you have it at work.

                2. re: sistinas

                  So it's taken me forever to get around to doing this, but so far I love this program! Just wanted to thank you for your help!
                  Thanks to everyone else too, I was going to do the macgourmet, but it looked like (I think) you need a Mac computer, which I don't have.

              2. I'm with vorpal and tartiflette. My recipes are all on a 2 GB memory stick in word format (cut and paste from online recipes). It took a while to organize, but was fun and I was able to weed out lots of recipes I thought I'd use but never did. Use categories like appetizers, breakfast, bread, ..., pasta, poultry, etc. Use as many sub categories as you need. And if you have a recipe for a chicken linguine, decide whether you want it in pasta, poultry or both. Having all your recipes on a memory stick also makes them easily portable. Just make sure you back it up to your hard drive in case you lose it!

                5 Replies
                1. re: dinner belle

                  I had this delima about one year ago and decided I had to take charge. I looked up any recipies that I had printed from an on-line site, used the print function and copied the recipe to a Word file. Saved. Then I created a new Hotmail account specifically just for recipes... emailed the word files (with the recipe name as the subject) and then created sub-folders for app, main, desserts, and then moved the recipes to the classification to which they belonged. Over time, I slowly typed in the recipes that didn't come from somewhere on-line so I'd have them in an electronic format. Well worth the effort... now I can find/print a recipe really quickly and then just throw away the print out without worry. Also, sharing recipes is super easy.

                  1. re: burbankfoodie

                    I haven't found the perfect solution yet. I was hoping someone would recommend some software like sistinas did. We have a new kitchen under construction so I have visions of getting organized! What I have done with my magazines is set up some index cards, one for each category listing the source. I'll have to check out sistina's website recommendation. Creating cross indexes with be perfect ... good for those times I need to use up a particular ingredient.

                    1. re: dfrostnh

                      Hi sweetpea: just love that name. I did my recipes and put them in binders, that
                      way I have them right there in the kitchen where i am cooking. I have one big
                      binder with all the catagories divided up. and then I have a binders broken up
                      for each catagory. and one for each holiday that I cook for. and then one for
                      my favorites. It also keeps the space cut down on your computer.

                      1. re: dfrostnh

                        Wish I could recommend some specific software. I'm a UNIX user, though, and as there's really very little available for that platform and my other non-food passion is computers, I created my own XML based system that suits my needs...

                        1. re: dfrostnh

                          The best software I've found for a PC is Mastercook. Easy import assistant for individual recipes OR whole books that have been put in MC format by people out on the web.

                          You can categorize by as many categories as you can dream up, put in pictures you pull off the web (I just imported an asparagus salad recipe from Wednesday's Boston Globe food section with a picture of the salad that I wanted to save).

                          It comes with many cookbooks already built in, but you can also create your own cookbooks.

                          http://www.valusoft.com - go to their Home & Office section - several versions of MC....Deluxe 9.0 is the latest and greatest.

                    2. Great ideas everyone, thanks and please keep them coming. Now I'm tempted to try to put them all on the computer, especially since a lot of, my recipes come from websites. The thing I love about Epicurious is that I can type in ingredients and it will give me a recipe based on what I want to use up. So Sistinas software link sounds very appealing as do the other computer based ideas .
                      I do have some concerns regarding what would happen if my computer crashed, or the software was no longer available though.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: SweetPea914

                        What I posted is actually web-based, so it's not platform dependent at all. You can use it from anywhere, on any system. It does have an export so you can dump out a big text file with all of your recipes to print or store elsewhere. It's free so giving it a whirl doesn't hurt... and I'm not an employee or anyone who works on it, just someone who's looked around for a solution also and that was the best I could come up with for myself. I'm a fan of tagging for cross-references and lo-fi things that aren't feature-bloated.

                        I've heard of people mailing recipes to a separate recipe-specific gmail account and using gmail's tagging and search features to reference their recipes, which I think is pretty cool too. I don't think gmail is going anywhere, so you could also try that. If you have a lot of recipes from magazines and other sources who doesn't want to retype, you could also just scan and tag the images, as gmail has a ton of storage space.

                        1. re: sistinas

                          ooooohhhh, I forgot I have a scanner and therefore don't have to actually type everything in. Also I typically do bring my computer into the kitchen, put it on the breakfast bar and follow recipes that way anyway. OK, now I'm leaning toward a computer based filing system (I think). I'm so glad I decided to pick everyones brain!

                      2. Just about any of the computer-based or internet-based solutions already discussed will work, especially if you do keep or bring your computer in the kitchen with you as you cook. Just wanted to add one more suggestion. I hate the idea of wasting paper, thus don't agree with another poster who suggested you print out the recipe when you need it and then just throw away the printout.

                        I always print out a recipe because when I'm cooking I move it around with me in the kitchen - on one counter as I'm measuring, chopping, etc and preparing my mise en place, then over to the stove if I'm doing stove top cooking, and so forth. Keeping it in a sheet protector keeps it clean, would hate to spill anything on my laptop and since one's fingers do get messy I'd not want to touch the keyboard.

                        If a new recipe is a keeper, it goes into a plastic sheet protector and is stored in my favorites binder, sorted by categories. No, there's no cross-indexing, but my tried and true favorites is not that big that it's a problem paging through it. If a new recipe isn't worth the trouble or is not worth keeping, I throw away the print out after I first delete it from my on-line storage medium. The recipes that I've clipped from magazines, newspapers, or printed out and not yet tried go into manila folders, labeled by category. Then once I test any of those recipes if they're keepers they get entered on line and printed and stored in my favorites binder. Admittedly my favorites binder now spans two binders, but that' s a small price to pay for having immediate access.

                        I also have hundreds of cookbooks, and after too many occasions of searching for that one recipe that I never thought I'd lose track of which book it was in, I've also started to type up the favorites from my cook books for storage in my binders. Works great for me; the only caveat is I must always remind myself to record the source as I type into my on-line medium, for again I find I forget the source though I never thought I would!

                        Anyway, there is no best way, you have to try out and find what works for you. But I've been collecting recipes and cooking since I was twelve, and trying all sorts of recipe management software, including building my own recipe database and trying to use MS Excel for easier cross-indexing, I've arrived at the low-tech solution of typing or copying recipes into ms word, storing them in categorized folders, and print off as needed and then destroyed or retained in the binders as discussed above.

                        1. I started the 3-ring binder system years and years before there was an epicurious.com -- or an Internet. I have long cut out recipes from magazines and newspapers and taped them onto white pages, cramming as many onto each page as possible. I use subject tabs that I have labeled Appetizers, Beverages, Breads, Deserts, Duck and Goose, etc. all the way through to Vegetables. With printouts from epicurious.com or other on-line resources, I just punch holes in the paper and add them to the binder -- and of course, tape clipped recipes onto the back. I also have separate binders for similarly sorted Asian and Mexican recipes.

                          1. I just do it the old-fashioned way -- print it and put it in a three-ring binder that I have organized according to main ingredient -- poultry, seafood, salads, red meat, pasta, rice dishes, vegetables, bread dishes (which remains empty), desserts, chocolate desserts. I can't get into the subdivisions. Too much work. And if a vegetable dish has a bit of meat in it, it just goes under vegetables. And I can't get into the app, mains categorization because many times I eat appetizers as my meal.

                            I also keep a file of recipes I've actually made either from cookbooks or my master binder. And if I make a recipe from a binder that doesn't turn out well, I just throw it out.

                            1. I know you mentioned that you like to use the 3 ring binder system, but since you like to use subcategories I would recommend some type of recipe software. I use MacGourmet and really like it. When entering a recipe you can select what course it is, but then there are dozens of categories such as vegetarian, seasonal etc and you can add your own categories if you wish. You can then create smart lists that will automatically create groupings of recipes for you and when you add a new recipe to your collection, it will automatically add it to whatever smart list it would fall under.
                              Good luck.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: HungryRubia

                                I would second MacGourmet. While it is not everything I would hoped for, It has in the last year improved significantly, which means they are still working on it. Best thing about it is it's ability to import recipes from sites like Epicurious and Food network. Plus you can make a text clipping from non supported sties and format them easily for the Software. Plus it has menu Planing, Shopping List creation and the USDA nutritional Database which can help figure out what the nutritional content of the recipe is.

                                Take Care

                                - Patrick

                              2. In the spirit of Open Source solutions like Linux, mySQL etc., if anybody else is interested... maybe we can get a group together to build a good Recipe DB application, incorporating the best CH ideas, using Access with an Excel front end?

                                1. SweetPea, did you ever organize your recipes? I read all of the ideas about computerizing, which I might do at some point in the future, but when I first started clipping recipes, I just put them in a scrap book. Then that got full (it was a small-ish notebook), I got more scrapbooks. The first two scrapbooks are admittedly "hodgepodge", since I just pasted all recipes I liked, but now I've started separating them into different categories--which admittedly are arbitrary, but I have (roughly) "main", "breakfast foods" (waffles, pancakes, and anything that is bread, etc.), "appetizers/sides/salads", "Japanese", and "desserts". I'm toying around with the idea of a holiday one. I haven't had the time to do this, but my friend indexes all of her recipes. I might eventually do that.

                                  The computer thing sounds interesting, but I think I like the old-fashioned fussing and handling a recipe written in print, etc. I still do old-fashioned calendars and schedules (as opposed to the palm pilot that everyone else has), too.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: anzu

                                    Ha ha. Me too. Tried to use a palm pilot but hated it. I'm only in my thirties but I guess I'm too fuddy duddy. There's this satisfaction I get when I cross something off in my To Do list.

                                    1. re: Miss Needle

                                      I actually got a pseudo palm pilot free from work and ended up "selling" it for $30, b/c I took it out of the box and tried it, but I never used it beyond day 2. I've finally conceded that I need to database my contacts for keeping track of holiday cards, but when it comes down to it, if I'm on the phone jotting down someone's number or checking my schedule to coordinate plans, it is so much quicker for me to flip to "May" on my schedule thingie and check if I'm free on such and such a night than to take my palm out of a protector case, turn it on, click on schedules, click on May, etc. etc., then take out my stylus and pen it in, etc. Likewise with phone numbers. Sure I have them stored on my computer somewhere, but for the top 30 numbers I dial, I just have a list jotted down next to the phone.

                                      And shopping lists and to do lists are always hand-written! (But that is also b/c I can then mix English with characters and chemical symbols for my shopping list.)

                                  2. in lieu of a software program, you might try an online resource such as scanmyrecipes.com that will scan and transcribe your recipes and upload into an online account. it helps organize recipes in an online format, but the paper recipes do become kind of secondary with this tool.