After spending an hour and half on my knees, sorting through stacks of cookbooks, looking for a recipe I knew must be somewhere, in some book--if I could only remember the name -- I was beside myself. I opened boxes. I tramped out to the garage to peruse my rarely used stash. I searched next to the bed, in the living room, all over the house, and never did turn up the recipe I was looking for.
Fast forward to yesterday when I decided to go to a site I'd discovered weeks before, but never really examined closely. It's called Eat Your Books and is billed as a search engine for your cookbooks.
Sounds too easy: add titles of cookbooks to your "library" and you can search for recipes in any of the books therein. You get to add up to five books for free, which would be fine if that's all I had. Then again if I only had five cookbooks, I wouldn't need this site at all.
But after inputting five books and running a quick search, I quickly saw how easy and useful having all of my considerable collection in the database would be.
I went ahead and signed up for a premium membership at $25 a year or $2.50 a month. In just under an hour I added the titles of 144 books—and now have some 27,000-plus recipes in a searchable database.
That's just a fraction of my collection, but it's a start. Eat Your Books has more than 5,000 books and over 1.1 million recipes indexed of which 149,000 have online recipe links.
To be clear, the site does not include actual recipes, just the recipe's whereabouts in your cookbook collection -- which book or books it appears in and on which page numbers.
It's pretty brilliant, actually. And I kind of liked adding in my cookbooks, some of which I'd forgotten about and would never have gotten around to consulting for years. It works quite simply -- you type in the name of the book or the author, check a box and it is added to your collection.
I found, too, that I had many titles by the usual suspects—Paula Wolfert, Claudia Roden, Sam and Sam Clark, Patricia Wells, Marcella Hazan, Rick Bayless, Diana Kennedy, Greg Malouf, Naomi Duguid. Those are even easier to enter. Type in the author's name and you can check off which books of theirs you have, adding them to the database.
For mega collections, you can also scan in the book's bar code or ISBN number. But it's so easy to just type in the title or the author's surname. I found all of Fuchsia Dunlop's books, Deborah Madison's, Yotam Ottolenghi's, including books hot off the presses. Even cookbooks from relatively obscure British authors.
When you want to find a recipe, or search for recipes using a specific ingredient, you simply type that in and a list of locations pops up.
When I searched recipes for burrata, for example, I got a list of recipes from "the Mozza Cookbook" and one from Thomas Keller's "Ad Hoc at Home."
I typed in galangal, and got mushroom spring rolls with galangal emulsion from “Asian Flavors of Jean-George,” chicken, galangal and coconut soup from “Asian Ingredients" by Bruce Cost and garden peas with galangal from Naomi Duguid’s “Burma: Rivers of Flavor”— as well as 1,532 other recipes. The site searches not only by recipe title, but by ingredient.
It will also search blogs (David Lebovitz, Food 52, Smitten Kitchen), magazines (Bon Appetit and Cooking Light, but also Kinfolk and Sweet Paul), online recipes and your personal recipes.
And get this -- it will print out a shopping list for any recipe you want to make. The shopping list, however, just includes items you wouldn't normally have in your pantry and doesn't list specific quantities.
Whew! The next time I want to bake shortbread (oh, yes, pistachio shortbread from "Ottolenghi: the Cookbook") or pralines (walnut praline and blackberry sundae from Alice Medrich's "Bittersweet"), I can decide between all the various recipes I have lurking somewhere in my cookbooks if I could only find them.
Now I can.