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HOW DO YOU ORGANIZE YOUR COOKBOOK RECIPES ?

I have tons of wonderful cookbooks,but when it comes time to make a meal....I am at a loss where that special recipe is that I have been wanting to try for the last year. So many books, so many recipes, & I don't have a clue where to start. How in the world do you get it all together? Surely there must be some sort of organizational methods that can be used to point out the favorite recipes in each book. Please give me some suggestions. Putting it sadly, I am buying more cookbooks & still eating the same 'ol stuff, & spending more on groceries. I have never been able to make a menu for a week, much less be able to keep track of where the special recipes are in each book. Is there hope or am I just stuck in this dreadful cycle?
. Sign me "hopeless, hungry & overloaded with cookbooks", sorta like "water, water everywhere, but none to drink".

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  1. Many of the cookbook collecting addicts on this site—and I proudly count myself among them—are members of and proselytizers for EatYourBookscom (http://www.eatyourbooks.com/ ) an online site with a modest annual fee that allows you to search for nearly all of the recipes in nearly all of your cookbooks.

    Here are a few threads that will give you some idea of what it’s all about and how it works.

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/731163
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/719165
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/756408

    For many of us who are members, it has given us access to recipes in our own books that we never had before and has had a very positive impact on meal planning and how we use ingredients we already have on hand.

    Check it out and see if you think it might work for you. Many of us swear by it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: JoanN

      Thanks JoanN...I shall go there.

      1. re: JoanN

        The problem is that the overwhelming majority of my recipes don't come directly from books -- they're torn out of newspapers, clipped from magazines, written down by friends and family -- I really only use about 3 cookbooks with any regularity -- the rest are of completely random origin.

        1. re: sunshine842

          Yes, I understand. I have the same problem with 40+ years of clipped tearsheet plus an 800+ page Word document of cut-and-paste and scanned recipes.

          But the OP was asking specifically about finding recipes among cookbooks s/he already owns and Eat Your Books is unsurpassed in that regard.

      2. *organize*? What is this of which you speak?

        Mine are thrown pell-mell into a binder or tucked between the pages of Joy...waiting the rainy day when I finally decide to do something with them.

        Somehow I always manage to find what I'm looking for, though.

        2 Replies
        1. re: sunshine842

          You are very lucky...I have lost track of what is where. I too have tried the binder thing. I can keep track of the recipes ripped, torn, & copied off the internet, I just need to figure out how to find a particular recipe out there in one of my many cookbooks. For instance, pickled shrimp, was it in a Paula Deen cookbook or perhaps in any one of the other 200 books I own....I am exhausted just thinking of it. Bye for now.

          1. re: sunshine842

            What is this of which you speak? Well, I am speaking in tongues...that is what.

          2. I make photocopies of cookbook recipes, or rip pages out of magazines, and glue-stick them into spiral-bound notebooks. Some of the notebooks are organized by categories like: Entrees, Pork, Canning, Desserts, etc. Others are organized by season. But now I have about 6 spiral bound notebooks and have to remember/search to find the recipe I want, and many copies are just loose in the notebooks. Plastic sheet covers in a binder would be better, and I do have one of these for Holiday Food, but I hate how the plastic gets all greasy and sticky (it's the Christmas cookies...).

            I have a second system of file folders labeled Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter with recipes for each season. These are usually recipes I have yet to try. If they pass muster that season they go into the notebooks.

            10 Replies
            1. re: Junie D

              Been doing that for years, in addition to using my computer files and watt it pols.com. Works for me.

              1. re: bayoucook

                bayoucook, have you are anyone else used a hand held scanner to scan a recipe out of a book to a file which you can load into your computer? I am dumb on those things, do you know anything about that??

                1. re: cstout

                  What I do is google the recipe with the name of the cookbook and then compare it to my physical copy, if they are the same I just copy and paste it from online. Since food and cooking is such a popular topic I have very recipes I had to manually type in.

                  1. re: rasputina

                    Dear rasputina...that is a great suggestion.....talk about simplify simplify...you are with it.

                  2. re: cstout

                    I could to that, but I like my low-tech way of doing it. I already have a zillion recipes online. I have over 1800 on epicurious alone! Several of my notebooks I keep in the kitchen because they have my most tried and true and most want-to-cook-soon recipes in them. I try to keep in close "contact" with all of the ones I've put together. EYB takes care of the rest.

                2. re: Junie D

                  Junie D, I would go nuts trying to organize by season....doesn't really matter here in Tx though, the seasons are so subtle that one hardly notices a season has come & gone. How do you find a recipe that is in one of your cookbooks though???

                  1. re: cstout

                    By season is the only way I can organize fruit and vegetable recipes. If you don't think Texas has noticeable seasons, I'd bet money you aren't from there ;-) I make copies of cookbook recipes and glue them into the notebooks.

                    1. re: Junie D

                      Junie D, yep, born & raised here, but I forgot to mention, I am in a little spot down the road from Luckenbach...kinda in a valley & it never does anything except get hot & hotter, cold & colder. We are in an extreme drought now. Guess I stand corrected on the weather thing, I could make a winter & summer folder.

                      1. re: cstout

                        I stand corrected - you disproved my theory. I am a native Northern Californian and every fall there is an article in the paper here by some sad displaced Easterner moaning about how we don't have a "real fall." I write back to the editor, "If you don't think we have a real fall, you aren't paying attention. And by the way, go back to Connecticut."

                        There you go - winter and summer folders!

                    2. re: cstout

                      Same here in South Mississippi. We have summer, summer, summer, and a cold spell every now and then.

                  2. I tried Eat Your Books but they don't have all my cookbooks on their site.

                    I use the Mac Gourmet app on my computer and just copy my favorite recipes into it.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: rasputina

                      I don't know what a Mac Gourmet is...will have to check that out....thanks.

                    2. Eat Your Books sounds like a great application, but I never seem to get around to using it. So I've developed a low-tech solution that works great for our household. As I read a cookbook I make a note of recipes I want to try, either by bookmarking the page or writing the name of the recipe and the page number down on a single sheet of paper. If I use bookmarks, eventually I do make a list. Then I either keep the list inside the front cover of the cookbook, or add the book's title to the top of the page and file the list together with other books' lists in my recipe binder.

                      I've also made a list that I keep adding to of the family favorites - those recipes that we turn to again and again, so when I'm stumped for what to cook I and lack ambition, I scan the favorites list for some inspiration.

                      These lists are hand-written, because I don't keep my laptop in the kitchen, don't use the laptop when I cook and don't usually have it turned on when I'm reading. It's low tech, most certainly not comprehensive like I expect Eat Your Books would be, but it's good enough for me. Most importantly, it works for me.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: janniecooks

                        Your system is one that I was thinking of doing...just cannot get motivated to pull out a cookbook...go through each page & say, "yeah, this might be a good one to list on the front cover or sheet of paper." Yep, slow going. That sort of thing needs to be done as soon as the cookbooks comes into my possession, that way it is done.

                        1. re: cstout

                          Yes, it could be a bit of a task. But, I love to read and browse through my cookbooks over and over again, so I don't find it much of a chore. I'm too lazy to type recipes into my PC, when I already have a hard copy version in the book, and scanning and creating a PDF to either print out or have on my PC for later reference is too convoluted. Easier for me just to make a note of where the recipe can be found and keep those notes separate!

                          1. re: janniecooks

                            You know it's amazing what you will select from the cookbook when you are hungry...later on you go back to those selections & say, "why in the world did mark this one to try?" Oh well,it is a wonderful thing we have our cookbooks, recipes & pages from everywhere...everything is fine until we try to find what we think we are looking for.

                            1. re: janniecooks

                              You can take that just one step further. Start a page in Word called Recipes to Try or whatever, and list the names, book and page number. These can be arranged any way you want as you go along. Then just keep the list on your computer desk top to update or review at will. Easier than keeping track of a bunch of notes. I keep all kinds of to-dos and reminders that way and love the convenience.

                              1. re: MazDee

                                Very simple...good idea...love the "desktop" idea...the computer is where we are most of the time when we are not in the kitchen.

                            2. re: cstout

                              I do ALL of mine like that. I write every recipe that I want to try on sheets of paper with the book title and sheet page on it, staple them, and keep them in a pitcher in the kitchen. I also have a master list of recipes to cook sooner rather than later that I keep on my fridge.

                            3. re: janniecooks

                              I use those little post it tabs for marking pages in cookbooks.

                              1. re: rasputina

                                Nay nay for me...those little post it tabs drive me absolutely crazy...something about all those little things sticking out everywhere disturbs my thought process. Oh well, there are some things I can't handle in life....big post it tabs are ok....but those little bitty ones give me the willies. Thanks for the suggestion though...I am sure someone else out will love the idea.

                            4. For my recipes, I made a website, for one's I find in books and magazines, I scan to PDFs, and ones on the web I bookmark.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: zuklaak

                                I was thinking about buying a hand held scanner that you just wave over the page of a cookbook or any other document & that would create a file I could download to my computer & eventually get that file into some sort of organized system. Do you have a hand held scanner like the one I just described??

                                1. re: cstout

                                  No have a flat bed scanner, part of a mult-function printer I have. I haven't tried books yet, but I guess I'd have to hold them flat for each page.

                                  1. re: zuklaak

                                    I tried pressing a cookbook from the library down flat to make a copy & it broke the spine...boy, was I in trouble...had to buy the book for retail price & really only liked that one recipe in the whole darn thing!!!!

                              2. when i find a recipe online, i copy and paste it into this online task manager, rememberthemilk.com, that i think is totally amazing (free, unless you sign up for the premium, which allows you access to customer service if you have a problem--that's 25/year). it's supposed to function as a to-do list but it works great for this.

                                this won't make complete sense until you actually go on the site and look around, but: i have separate lists for different categories, desserts, mains, baking, etc. i make the title of the recipe the task name, and copy the recipe itself into the notes field.

                                it's fully searchable--so, if i want to bake a cake i'll do a search for "cake"; if i have some leeks i want to use i'll do a search for "leeks," etc. similar to eatyourbooks, which i also use.

                                in the case of recipes for which i only have hard copies--i.e., clippings, which i keep in a binder, and cookbooks that aren't indexed on eatyourbooks--i index the most interesting ones on rememberthemilk, typing in the name of the recipe, source, and principal ingredients and seasonings. it only takes about twenty minutes to go through an average cookbook and index the ten or fifteen recipes you're most interested in.

                                not a perfect system but it usually allows me to track things down.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Dorothy Dean

                                  You have got it together girl...I am going to find that web site right away...think I will start off with typing in the recipe, source & main ingredients in that rememberthemilk.com. As far as a perfect system, I do not think one exists...just some or better than others. Love the idea that it is fully searchable. Thanks for going into detail so I will know how to set my recipes up. I may have a question or two, if I may ask, after I go to that site. Thanks so much for your detailed input.

                                  1. re: cstout

                                    cool!! i'm generally not a have-it-together-person when it comes to organization, but this site helps a lot. have fun--happy to answer any questions!

                                    1. re: cstout

                                      p.s. one important thing--if you want to search the "notes" fields, you have to select the advanced search option.

                                  2. I try to store all my recipes on my hard drive in "Word" format.

                                    I search on line and try to find the recipe on line but if I must, I type it in. I get very few recipes from magazines and newspapers but when I do, I can almost always find in it on line so I can cut and paste it. Whenever possible, I try to keep the recipe to 1 page. Sometimes, I can't but I try. I usually add a "variations" section to the end of the recipe with notes like "Try substituting this for that.". When I cook, I print the recipe and put it on the counter for reference. When I'm through cooking, I throw it away.

                                    I have the recipes organized into several categories and several categories under those. I didn't know for sure how many I had but after I let someone I know have a flashdrive with all the recipes, she said I had 2037 recipes. I have more now because I put more in every day or so. I do have some recipes in two different categories so some are duplicated.

                                    I tried "Dragon Naturally Speaking" but didn't like it. When I can, I will get a hand scanner because I still have a lot of recipes in cookbooks that need transcribed.

                                    I really do wish that the cookbook industry would step into the 21st century and start providing a disk with all the recipes in the book.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                                      Hank, we all ought to revolt & refuse to buy another cookbook until they provide the disks you were talking about...or maybe they could provide an option that the cookbook could either be an ebook or hard copy...something like that. You certainly are a recipe collector....is there a contest somewhere out here that picks a winner for the "most collected recipes"??

                                      1. re: cstout

                                        Or they could provide a one time code in the book and an online address to download the recipes.

                                        If I ever get that hand scanner, I will have a lot more. Also I just got "Professional Baking" (fourth Edition 2005 college edition). It has a cd-rom with it that includes all 850 recipes in the book so I will have close to 3000 recipes soon.

                                    2. I use Evernote. It can reside in the "cloud" and you can also sync it to a version which is on your local laptop/PC. It's a very good program. Just start the program /login and then when you find a recipe you can to clip, you can highlight and just hit a button which you can put on your toolbar. The program automatically logs the web address if you ever want to go back to the source of the recipe and the text itself. You can add tags for fast searchs or just search your evernote. It is by far the best thing I've found. Forget Word, forget other program...this is it. and it's FREE.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: LUV_TO_EAT

                                        I don't trust "the cloud" yet or other online sources especially free ones. I figure free services are only free until they figure out a way to charge you.

                                        I have heard of people just bookmarking recipes but they aren't always there. Several times I have gone onto food network and they listed a recipe but when you pulled it up, it had some explanation about why they no longer had the recipe. Apparently, their agreements with some of those chefs are on a calendar.

                                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                                          The software can also reside on your PC/Laptop. The cloud is convenient because you can access it as well from anywhere. When you get on either way, you can "sync" the two databases. As the recipe is "clipped" into your program, it's always there regardless of whether the bookmarked link still exists or not (sometimes it's moved). Since this is for recipes, security is not an issue. If the service (which is very very well known) ever goes to pay service, I'm sure there are many others more than willing to provide conversion facilities.

                                          As well, Evernote can be accessed from smartphones. Go to the grocery store and have your grocery list with you.

                                          This truly is the fastest/easiest method for cookbooks IMO. Once you've tried it, you'll never go back to Word/Excel type files which can become corrupted over time.

                                        2. re: LUV_TO_EAT

                                          I love Evernote for collecting internet recipes! I have a notebook for each category and tags make it easy to find what I want. Way easier than printing recipes and then filing and storing the hard copies. Plus it doesn't use up my hard drive space and I can easily add my own notes.

                                          Actually, I use Evernote for organizing anything and everything I collect on the internet.

                                        3. I'd truly spent years trying to figure this out and I honestly don't think there's "one right answer". I've come to the conclusion that the best way to organize your cookbook recipes depends on how you cook.

                                          When I was younger and less experienced in the kitchen I always turned to my cookbooks or the internet for inspiration. I'd see a recipe or recipes that I liked and that would dictate what went on the menu that night, week or for a certain event. Of course, the more I looked for "the perfect recipe" for whatever it was, the more fabulous recipes I'd see that I wanted to "Try Later" I used to jot the info (source, pg # etc) down on paper but when the paper stacks became unwieldy and inefficient, I opted to automate.

                                          I created two Excel spreadsheets one called "T&T Favourites" and the other was "To Try" where I could record the names, pg #s etc of recipes and I categorized them by topic such as "produce, beef, pork, poultry, pasta, veggies, salads, soups etc" Not only did I transfer all the info I had on paper to Excel, I also started going through my (extensive) cookbook collection, cover to cover and "recorded" in Excel the recipes I wanted to try or, that were T&T. I eventually recorded about 60% of my collection. While I found the "T&T" info to be helpful, I also found that when I was planning my menus, I'd still find it hard to resist the urge to flip through my books or, surf the web. The Excel "To Try" list was a lot of work to pull together but I realized that by looking at the recipe name on a sheet I had no context. The recipes on my list just didn't have the appeal they did initially when I recorded them because I couldn't see the photo, or wasn't reading the head note, or seeing the ingredients. I was still pulling my books and surfing the web and my "To Try" list just kept growing because I would rarely cook from it.

                                          Increasingly, I came to cook or bake based on what I was picking up at the market. Fresh produce, a lovely cut of meat, a fabulous sale etc. Ingredients now play a key role in determining my menu planning and "what's for dinner, lunch or the next dinner party".

                                          I've now landed happily on using Eat Your Books. I have retained the flexibility to create the same bookmarks I had in Excel (produce, beef, T&T, great for dinner parties, make-ahead, quick and easy etc) and I have the added flexibility of taking my cookbook collection to the market w me on my ipad. I love how EYB allows me to narrow my search to plan a menu. I might decide on a Spanish meal. Then I can search by ingredients or course or cooking method or whatever I desire. EYB also has the added bonus of allowing me to add reviews of my books and individual recipes. So if I'm wondering which of my Tuscan cookbooks has delivered the most successful results or, which cookbook I've been using the most, I can find all this info in EYB. EYB is far more efficient for me than any other method of organizing I've used in the past.

                                          Eat Your Books works well for me because it compliments the way I cook. As a cookbook addict, I'm always going to want to pull my books from the shelves and enjoy their beautiful pictures, fabulous stories or much-stained pages.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: Breadcrumbs

                                            You are absolutely right about all the different filing systems out there...gosh this is why we bought the book in the first place...to relish the pictures..read the stories, & just plain enjoying knowing that the book is just waiting there to be browsed in a spare moment....maybe that is the way it was meant to be all along without all our filing, organizing & whatnot..Humans can manage to make an obsession out of things..I am certainly one of them. You are tending to simplify shopping by picking what looks good at the market & going from there, Edna Lewis did that . Unfortunately, I pretty much have to know ahead of time what to buy since I live in a rural area & can only make it to "town" once a week....with gas prices out of sight. EYB seems to work for a great deal of people...thanks for going into detail how it works.

                                            1. re: cstout

                                              That is interesting that you have brought up pictures in the cookbooks. I like pictures in cookbooks but I don't copy them nor do I copy the little blurbs at the front of the recipe about Aunt Clara passing the recipe down or whatever. Half the time, I don't even copy the name of the cook. When I save a recipe it just has the bare bones info. I often shorten the wording.

                                              You know how every recipe takes a paragraph to tell you to cream butter and sugar or how to sweat onions? I am just as likely to eliminate the verbiage and say "sweat the onions" or "cream the butter and sugar".

                                              I have heard a lot of people say how important the pictures are to them but I'm not that interested. I am certainly not interested enough to save them in my recipe. Go figure.

                                              1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                I couldn't care less about pictures, but I'm a little screwy about the origins of the recipes...printed recipes not so much, but personal recipes that I've been given are always accompanied by notes about its origin. "This spaghetti sauce was Marco's Italian grandmother's recipe". "Green jello salad that Grandma Ada made every year for Christmas Eve" "Kelly's gingersnaps"

                                                Might be the genealogist part of me, but I treasure my little notes, because the stories of how the recipes came into my kitchen are a part of *my* history. I treasure my grandmother's recipe box, because it is full of all of these little notes, and it triggers memories and stories of how our family evolved (some stories are better than others....)

                                          2. I have a recipe log in the front of my planner. Each entry has the recipe title, source, date, and page number. For example, this recipe from Fine Cooking magazine:
                                            "chicken cutlets with bell pepper ragout" FC 07/11 p.72.
                                            I have a feel for what I made chronologically so this system works quite well for me. This method would be fine in a Word file too. The one down side is keeping track of any changes I make to a recipe. My blog will capture my adapted recipes in some of those cases.