Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Recipe (Dis)Organization

Unless I am making something insanely simple, most of my kitchen creations start with a recipe.  I have a decent collection of cookbooks, okay, probably more than the average.  But I also source many of my recipes from a variety of other places.

Back in the day before the Internet, I would watch PBS cooking shows and do my best to jot down the recipe as it was playing out on the screen.  Obviously this was before the Internet was used as a supplemental tool to a television show.  Nowadays the Internet has become a great resource for anything I might fancy.  Of course friends and family have shared their recipes with me over the years.  My greatest resource, much to my husband's chagrin, is from my magazines.  I say chagrin because I have difficulty reading through them in a timely fashion.  But once I finish that magazine I'll rip out the recipe for testing and toss the magazine.

All of these pieces of paper sit in pile awaiting their audition in my kitchen.  Once selected for preparation, the audition begins.  As the casting director (my husband is co-casting director) we put the candidate through its paces.  If the outcome is a success, the recipe will be cast for future meals at our table...a repeat performance!

Harnessing all these index cards, notes, printouts etc. has been my challenge.  I've had systems in the past for organizing the recipe cast members, but the last system I put in place is unmanageable.  I started a notebook, with plastic sheets to protect the recipes.  But the order in which everything was filed into this book was in the order in which we tried a recipe.  It's become unwieldy.  I can't lay my hands on recipe for the life of me.  Clearly, I was not applying my mis en place philosophy to my recipe management system.

Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.)Mis en place as explained by chef/writer Anthony Bourdain in his memoir, Kitchen Confidential is, "your station, in a state of readiness, is an extension of your nervous system. The universe is in order when your station is set up the way you like it, everything you need during the course of a shift is at the ready at arm's reach. If you let your mis en place run down, get dirty, get disorganized, you'll quickly find yourself spinning."

Some would advise I scan all of these little tiny pieces of paper into my computer and go digital.  My kitchen just isn't large enough to accommodate even the smallest of laptops nor does scanning, naming or filing sound like an efficient solution.  So my spring cleaning project .... organize the notebook into categories as you would find in any decent cookbook.

Knowing when its time to change something that is not working is the first step.  In drawing that conclusion for myself, I realized with all of the other things in the world to worry about, finding a recipe should not be one of them.  On to the second step...doing something about it!


  1. I have a binder w/recipes in the plastic sleeves as well! I put in colored dividers to help me find the different sections. In the back of the binder is a pocket where I put all the recipes I want to try. Sadly, they're spilling out of the pocket & I'm beginning to think I'm not as organized (or motivated) as I like to think I am.

  2. I use a 2" deep accordian folder to hold a 5 file folder system -- one folder each for soups, salads, desserts, main dishes, sides. That accommodates all sizes of clippings and photocopies and limits the number of recipies I can keep on hand. I also go through the folders 2-3 times a year and throw out recipies that seemed like a great idea but were never tried. If you don't get around to using them in 6 mos.-1 year, you need to let them go.

  3. Okay, your notebook is impressive, but yes, you need sections. I have file folders, and the division is general: Main, Sides, Desserts, Grilling. I actually like the spillage on my recipes, fondly noting by its stains how enduring it has been. You should see Grandma's peach marmalade! Barbara

  4. I too have many cookbooks. Everything from the Joy of Cooking, to Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-In's and Dives cookbook. When a friend and colleague Ken Wilshe's son died very young, he and his wife printed a recipe book of his favorite home-cooked meals. To me, recipe books are like stories. I read them cover to cover, and then decide on which one spoke to me. Same with watching the Food Network. I print it if it wows me. Then in a 3-ring binder it goes (yes, Sly, WITH tabs) with a hand written note on what I liked and what I might change. Sometimes reading the comments the next time, is fun in itself. Food = life.

  5. Joy...one can NEVER have too many cookbooks. I love the story of Ken and his wife coming up with such a creative way to share their son's memory.

    To all, your comments hold me up! Whenever, I start to write a posting, I wonder to myself if anyone else finds it interesting. Your feedback tells me once again...I am not alone!


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