November 06, 2008

How to conquer your pile of recipe clippings

Everyone who has ever cooked has used a written recipe of some type. If you're lucky, you're content with a small library of cookbooks and you refer to them as necessary. If you're like the rest of us food-obsessed people, you probably have stacks of cookbooks, dozens of links to recipe websites, and stacks of magazines. And I'll bet that there's a few of you out there with that most dreaded of beasts, THE THREE RING BINDER. You wish this horrid creature would go away, but how can it? You're always feeding it more-more-more. Slips of paper with handwritten notes, newspaper clippings with black-and-white photos, and stained index cards with directions and ingredients of untold culinary delights just waiting to be made.

It might feel like you just want to shove the whole thing in the broiler, fire it up, clear up the ashes and start from scratch, but how can you part with these treasures? Family heirlooms! The recipe for the best-ever pizza crust could be in that pile! Chicken with raisins and cinnamon sounds so weird, but it might be delicious, but how will you ever know if you throw it out? That one recipe for pissaladière, that survived the garbage bin through several apartment changes... but that you did, finally, make one day and it turned out so good that it made you decide to dedicate the next two years to attending culinary school.

What I did with my pile (and still do, as the pile ever grows!) was to break it down into manageable sized-bites. Sit down with a cup of tea and pick out about a half-inch stack. Sort them by major type, such as protein, carb, veggie, appetizer, dessert. Then, each week when you make your menus, pick out a few that you haven't tried, and make them! If they're winners, then type them up and keep them on your computer. (more on that in a minute) If not, then you didn't waste time typing in all those fractions.

Ah yes, the computer. If you type in a couple recipes at a time, you'll get through them eventually. Make one document for each recipe (any simple text editor will do) and file them in folders the same way you sorted them into piles before. Whether you are doing a search or looking by category, you should be able to access any recipe with a few clicks. Here's my organization rules:

click to embiggen

Do I have cookbooks? Yes of course.
Am I still compelled to tear recipes out of magazines? Guilty!
Is there still a pile of ragged-edged pages sticking out of my recipes folder? You Betcha!

...but little by little, I'm whittling it down, and incorporating some new recipes into my repertoire.

This has inspired me to attack my pile for a few soon as the kettle whistles!