How I Research Recipes

One of the questions I get more than any other about Macheesmo is where I find the recipes I use. And it’s a pretty good question. I mean, it’s not like I am a chef or anything. And while I alter a lot of the recipes I get for Macheesmo, it would be seriously stupid for me to sit around in my kitchen for a week trying to figure out how to make, say, a pretzel when there are more than enough resources to at least use as a baseline.

In this post I’ll walk you through the basic process I use when I’m looking for a recipe that I haven’t used before.

Narrowing the field

When researching a recipe I usually start by making sure that I can narrow down what I’m looking for as much as possible. This may sound like a given, but I’ve caught myself a few times saying things like, “I want to make enchiladas.” Ok. Good luck Nick sifting through the 2 million enchilada results that I’m going to find.

But if I say beef enchiladas. In a red sauce. With corn tortillas. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Hitting the books

I’m starting to amass a pretty sizeable cookbook library and it’s the first place I go to look for a recipe. I have this vague sense that recipes in cookbooks are slightly more reliable than those online. I’m not sure that this is actually a justifiable position because I’ve used recipes from books before that I swear the author must have never made due to their complete suck-factor. I’ve also seen bloggers struggle with recipes 5 or 6 times before posting them. So it is a mixed bag.

But given any 1 random recipe online and 1 random printed recipe, I’ll take the printed recipe.

Of course the problem with books is that you get what you get. You can’t go back to the table of contents and request a new version on page 200 with peaches instead of apples (although that would be awesome). This means that you either have to make the recipe as is or venture into the world of recipe changes, which can sometimes go horribly awry. This is especially true with baking recipes in my experience.

So after pillaging what I can from the books, I turn to what Betsy frequently describes as “The Other Woman”:

The Internet

The thing about the Internet when it comes to recipes is that you are looking for a very specific thing. Something like a crystal clear raindrop. In the middle of a tidal wave. With a lot of other raindrops that look just like yours but taste like doo-doo. See what I’m saying?

First, let me tell you how to easily eliminate a lot of the bad stuff:

Avoid the Google. Yea. You read that write. I’m not saying that I don’t use google to find recipes, but honestly it’s one of the last places I check if I just can’t find much. And this goes for all large search engines, not just Google. The results just don’t always guarantee quality stuff and there are better tools to use.

Avoid Community Food Sites. Again, I go to sites like allrecipes.com and recipezaar.com occasionally, but I never start there and very rarely just lift a recipe from these sites. The problem is that these sites tend to have a lot of bad/untested recipes and it is kind of hard to see who is posting quality stuff and who is not unless you invest serious time in the community. That’s awesome if you want to do that, but for just finding a quick recipe, they can sometimes lead you astray.

Yes. I realize that I may have just dissed the way that many people, in fact, found this site (Google) and dissed some of the largest recipe sharing sites on the Internet. What I mean to get across is that I never start in these places. So where do I start?

Food Blog Search. This is a really cool custom Google search that a few dedicated food bloggers created. The cool thing about this is that the creators have to add in each site individually before it gets indexed by the search. That means that the results tend to be from really high quality blogs and sites. I start a lot of searches here.

Internet Friends. I have an ever growing list of food blogs that I trust and read frequently (most are on my sidebar). If I’m searching for something and any one of these sites pops up, I almost always default to it over a random site.

Food Porn Sites. I visit sites like Foodgawker, Tastespotting, and some new sites on the scene pretty much daily. These sites are easy to search and have pretty dependable recipes. At the worst, you’ll get to see some good photography!

If none of those things turn up any results then I usually check with Daddy Google and if there are absolutely no results there than I make the dish immediately because I guess I’m the first one to think of it… or it’s the worst idea ever.

Synthesize

The real power with all of this is when you can start synthesizing recipes – sticking stuff together. Sticking with the enchilada example, I might get the filling portion of the recipe from a cookbook, the sauce from a quick food blog search, and the method from a favorite website. Slap them all together and now I have something fairly new!

So what did I miss? Where do you go to find your recipes?

Photo by mbgrigby.

7 comments on “How I Research Recipes

  1. What a great post, Nick! I use a similar method, though I do a lot of meal planning while I'm at work and away from my cookbook collection. I tend to start with a food blog search. I use epicurious.com when I think I may have been inspired by something I read in one of the magazines, but I always ALWAYS read the reviews by other users; I think they're the most helpful part of sites like that.

  2. I hardly use recipes from allrecipes.com too. After reading some of the reviews where people change all the ingredients and still complain, it's hard to find a reliable review. I tend to use foodgawker and tastespotting too. At least the pictures can tell half the story.

  3. Great post!

    Community food sites are filled with untested recipes that may or may not work. Unfortunately they are usually the sites that pop up first when doing a search. Finding a recipe on line can be totally overwhelming, particularly for a beginner cook. It is great to actually find a site that works for you and is of your skill level. (What is classified as "Easy" for Emeril is not always the case for everyone else!)

    I usually spend about a week "startcooking-izing" a recipe before it ends up as a video on my site. (My poor husband is my official taste tester. After seven different tries in a row making Fried Rice, I'm not sure he will ever eat it again!)

    I too have way too many cookbooks of which I have only ever used just a few of the recipes in the whole book. My tried and true cookbook resource is The Joy of Cooking. For recipes that always work, I think the Barefoot Contessa is fabulous – but cut the salt in half for every single recipe.

    Cheers!

    Kathy

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    For those that haven't, check out startcooking.com The videos there are pretty top notch especially for people just learning kitchen skills.

  5. allrecipes and sort by rating and sift through how many votes it has to determine if it is a artificially high rating. also #cooking on irc.freenode.net people have a decent report

  6. I feel like I need to clarify my earlier comment! No, there isn’t usually a lot of value in the reviews on allrecipes or the other community-type sites with sooooo many user-generated recipes. But if the reviews are on a recipe I find on epicurious (which has therefore probably been published in Bon Appetit or Gourmet) it’s been tested pretty thoroughly before publication. Can’t always say the same of a recipe on foodnetwork.com, but sometimes if I’ve seen it on a show, and then go look up the recipes, a previous cook has left a helpful tip that I have forgotten from the show, or an easier way of achieving the same result.

    And if all else fails, at least when people substitute EVERY ingredient and then don’t get why it didn’t work, it can be sort of amusing… :)

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