Monday, June 1, 2009

How to organize recipes: part one

Recipe organization is one of those areas where there as many solutions as people. I’ve yet to meet someone who organized her recipes exactly like anyone else. I think the main issue is that recipes come in many forms, whether bound in cookbooks, loose in an infinite number of shapes and sizes, or stored somewhere on your computer. If you don’t have any system at all, except maybe a drawer stuffed to the gills with paper, or a bookshelf loaded with dog-eared cookbooks, here are some suggestions to get things onto organized footing. Since this is a pretty in-depth topic, I’ve decided to create three separate posts for the three main recipe formats: cookbooks, loose recipes and electronic ones.


  • First of all, donate or sell any cookbook that you never make recipes from.
  • Second, organize what's left however you tend to set up your books (by author, binding type, etc). I like to organize my cookbooks by subject, from general to specific. That means I have The Joy of Cooking and The Bon Appetit Cookbook on one end and Citrus Cookbook and Pancakes: From Morning to Midnight on the other.
  • Thirdly, if there is a big book taking up a lot of space and you only use a couple of the recipes in it, remove, scan or photocopy those recipes and get rid of the book. It’s just taking up space.
  • Fourth, the remaining books need to have a system for finding frequently used or "want to try" recipes. This system could be as simple as a Post It note, page marker/flag or book mark on which you write a note that can be seen from the outside of the book to remind you what’s on that page. The note you write yourself shouldn’t necessarily match the title of the recipe; make it the name you remember the recipe by (e.g.: Spicy Ribs instead of Roasted Asian-Spiced Pork Ribs).
Cookbook Tips

  • Tip: If you’re an exuberant cook and don’t want to have to worry about getting ingredients all over your cookbook pages, photocopy a working copy of a recipe and leave the book safely shelved while you are working.
  • Extra tip: If you have a cookbook collection, you may not want to put anything with adhesive to mark your recipes, since the adhesive can damage the book over time. Use slips of paper instead.
  • Super extra recipe tip: Whenever I make a recipe, I mark the date I made it and any notes to myself in pencil on the recipe. It helps when I’m looking for a chocolate sauce recipe if the one I find in the Bon Appetite cookbook has a note reminding me I tried it two years ago and it didn’t turn out very well. 
Tune in later this week for parts two and three of how to organize recipes!

Creative Commons cookbook photo posted to flickr by LollyKnit

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