Food & Drink

Recipes with a dash of order

The Fresh cookbook binder has 12 dividers and holds up to 80 recipe cards.
The Fresh cookbook binder has 12 dividers and holds up to 80 recipe cards. Courtesy of

Whether you’re an experienced cook or a novice in the kitchen, chances are you’ll be preparing at least one or two dishes for a holiday meal this month. Maybe you’re thinking about making one of your tried-and-true recipes. Do you know where to find it? Or you may be looking for something different and plan to flip through your collected recipes. Can you find them all in one place?

Organizing recipes is not always a top priority, but there’s no doubt that taking some time to get them in order can make the cooking process more enjoyable and less time-consuming.

The strategy you choose depends on your preference for hard-copy or digital versions. If you’re having a tough time deciding which option will best suit your needs, start by thinking about how you have acquired most of your current recipes. If you have significantly more of one type than the other, you’ll have less work converting print to digital or vice versa. Both options work well; the trick is picking the right one for you and sticking with it.

Digital recipes

There are several apps and Web sites that make digital recipe organization simple. A few of the most popular are Paprika Recipe Manager, Pepperplate and BigOven, but there are others. The best way to find which one fits your specific needs and organizational style is to simply try one out.

Paprika Recipe Manager ($4.99 for iOS or Android) allows users to search and clip recipes online, or to type and edit them manually. Once you’ve loaded recipes, you can organize them by category and the app will generate a grocery list. Similarly, users of Pepperplate (free for Android, iOS, Windows 8) can manually enter their favorite recipes or import them from their favorite cooking Web sites. This app can also create shopping lists and help with planning customized menus. And BigOven (free for Android, iPad, iPhone, Windows Phone) not only has hundreds of thousands of searchable recipes, it also has a feature that will suggest recipes based on up to 10 ingredients in your pantry. The “recipe scan” feature allows users to upload pictures of handwritten or typed recipes and have them transcribed for you.

Using a digital device has the advantage of keeping your kitchen clear of paper clutter and freeing up counter space. However, if you choose this option, you will have to spend some time inputting or scanning paper recipes.

If cooking is really your thing and you’re worried about sullying your screen, there’s a gadget called the Key Ingredient Recipe Tablet that sells for about $90. In addition to offering recipe organization, this 8-by-5-inch tablet has text-to-speech technology and will read recipes out loud as you cook. It also has a heat-resistant silicon case that, ads say, “wipes clean and adds a layer of protection for bumps and falls.”

Paper recipes

Even some very technologically inclined people still prefer recipes written on paper, whether a page torn from a magazine, an index card from a grandmother or a printout from a website.

One popular way to organize recipes is to create a recipe binder. Some recipe-specific binders are sold with pre-made labels, dividers and sheet protectors. Others require that you purchase those supplies separately. It’s also easy to create your own organizer with a standard binder from an office supply store.

Although snipping, collecting and organizing recipes for a binder requires more effort than using an app, it does give you the ultimate flexibility in terms of your ability to include anything you want, despite its origin, and allows you to customize your categories in a way that makes most sense to you.

For instance, you might organize your recipes by course: appetizers, salads and soups, main courses, desserts. Or, you could do it by food type: poultry, seafood, vegetables, fruits, etc.

And one idea that makes sense for a lot of people is to create space in the binder for recipes you’d like to test before putting them into a specific category. Once you’ve tried them, file them into the proper section. If a recipe looks good on paper but you know you will never make it and no one in your family will ever eat it, don’t keep it.

The key to making a binder system work is to incorporate recipes regularly. If a friend e-mails you a recipe, print it and put it in the binder. If you tear recipes from newspapers or magazines, put them away before they get lost or just pile up. Keep extra page protectors in the binder, so you can easily slip in a new recipe.

If you’ve always relied upon recipes written on index cards that you keep in a box, by all means stick with it. Old cards can be laminated to protect them from wear and spills. And if you love paging through cookbooks to see the pictures of beautifully prepared meals, just be sure to mark pages you would like to remember with tabs or bookmarks so you can easily refer to them again. It may even be useful to keep a simple index of favorite recipes and cookbook titles so you can quickly find the correct cookbook again. Keep only the cookbooks that you’ve cooked from in the past few years. Having too many is not only unnecessary for most people, it can be overwhelming.