Day 23: How To Organize Your Recipes

by carolyn on April 23, 2012

I’ve been idolizing my cousin, Martha, since at least the age of 15. I think it started around the time that “crunk” and “word up” were linguistically popular. One thing we never agreed on was how “crunk” was spelled, but I defer to her judgment on all other great philosophical questions.  It’s a big job being someone’s biggest fan but I have taken the responsibility to heart. I’ve written countless essays about my “role model and biggest influence” starring Martha and she is one of the few people who I still tell everything to. She is also the absolute best person to call if you’re having a bad day/breakdown/’end of the world as I know it’ experience. I’m not sure what it is, she just has this magical balance of wisdom, empathy, and self-deprecating humor that always makes me feel better.

She is also responsible for nagging encouraging me to start this blog, so it’s about time I devote a post to her. And by that I mean get her to write one for me.

In her spare time, Martha organizes like it’s an Olympic sport. The extent of organization in certain areas of her life are phenomenal going on certifiable. When I saw Martha’s following status update on Facebook, I knew it was time to bring her into the blog:

Spent a good portion of the weekend compiling recipes from some of my 20+ cookbooks. I’m excited for all the potential culinary success that lies within this binder, and yet I still have no idea what I’m going to cook for dinner tomorrow.

* * *

How to Make Your Own Cookbook in 72 Hours or More

by Martha

One of my projects, in life, is to create my own cookbook of recipes I love and have tweaked and perfected to my own liking. So, about 6 months ago, I took my notebook of recipes printed from the Internet (stained with olive oil and so many hand-written notes to myself that most were borderline unreadable), and I started typing them up in Word. Shockingly, there were not enough to fill a cookbook or really even more than about a week’s worth of dinners.

Project cookbook was put on hold while I began to seek out more recipes. Sounds like a simple enough task, and for most people it probably is. Pinterest + a few of your favorite cooking blogs + sites like All Recipes + cookbooks collecting dust on the bookshelf = an infinite number of recipes. And that is where I run into trouble and end up feeling completely overwhelmed.

My philosophy when organizing anything is to start with the entire set of all things possible and then, little by little, promote and demote items until you have the desired result. This is how I organize my digital pictures, clean out my closet, or pick a DVD to watch. It’s certainly not necessary and insanely inefficient. (My sister stopped watching movies with me years ago because it took longer to pick out a DVD to watch than to actually watch the movie.) Anyway, this is all to say, that just printing off a Pinterest recipe and trying it would have been too simple and something I would never do.

I was (and still am) printing lots of recipes from the Internet, but I was just shoving them in the pockets of my binder with all my newly typed Word documents, and it didn’t take long until that became unmanageable.

So, I made the executive decision that I needed to have one notebook of recipes that I had cooked, knew we liked enough to have again, and had therefore typed up – my “go-tos” and what is actually the beginnings of the cookbook I hope to one day make (a ½ to 1 inch binder was more than big enough to accommodate these recipes).

I also needed to have a separate notebook of recipes I had never cooked before but wanted to try (a 1½ to 2 inch binder barely fit all these recipes – I’ll explain why so many in a minute.) I’m certainly not suggesting everyone do this. However, I do suggest one three ring binder with tabs. Make the tabs categories that make sense for your cooking. Mine are Chicken, Seafood, Other Meat, Pasta, Soups, Salads, Side Dishes and Miscellaneous (which includes Breakfasts, Desserts, Sauces, Dressings, and Random Info.)

How and why do I have hundreds of recipes I’ve never cooked before? Well, it’s like I said: for me, I need to start with the largest possible set and then whittle my way down to make sure I didn’t somehow overlook the best recipes out there.

In addition to printing out all kinds of random recipes from the Internet, I have also purchased 12-15 cookbooks in the past year or so. While I do NOT recommend you go stock up on cookbooks, I DO recommend going through all the ones you currently own. Get some post-it flags, flip through the each cookbook, cover to cover (pretty quickly), and flag the ones you think you might like to cook.

Next (and I know this is where most people will say I cross the line into OCD territory), make a copy of the pages you flagged so you can put them in your 3-ring binder. I know it sounds crazy to have purchased a cookbook and then pay make a copy of it, but it’s totally worth it! Let’s be honest, most cookbooks have between 100 and 500 recipes in them. Most people would never even think about cooking more than 20-40 from any given book, so just take what you like from each book and don’t drag around all that extra paper with you. Also, I hate having a book open when I’m cooking. I’d much rather just have a single sheet of paper to refer to.

So, that’s what I did all weekend – flipped through about 10 cookbooks (some old and some new), flagged recipes, made copies of flagged recipes, three-hole punched them, and put them behind the appropriate tab in my binder.

I’m not gonna lie: it took HOURS and HOURS of time, and yes, there are probably better things I could be doing with my time. But, I’m thrilled with the result! I basically created a cookbook of things I know I want to cook. So, next time I’m up for trying a new recipe, all I have to do is open the binder. Also, now when I find a new recipe online, I can print it, hole punch it, and put it exactly where it belongs.

So, if you don’t have supplies already, make a trip to Office Depot for a three-ring binder (or two), tabs, post-it flags, and a three hole punch – or steal from your employer if necessary.

If you don’t have 15 cookbooks, it probably won’t take you as long as it took me.

Also, if you’re not OCD, it probably won’t take you as long as it took me.

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