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Something Is Always Cooking on the Internet

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
February 2009 Issue
January 2, 2009

Something Is Always Cooking on the Internet

Not long after cooking by fire was discovered, I theorize early humans exchanged recipes. Some recipes became valuable heirlooms, passing through the generations. These connect us to our heritages, as well as wonderful memories. Sharing your family’s oldest, most valuable recipes is a sign of friendship, akin to welcoming a new member into the tribe.

Any gathering of passionate cooks gives way to comparisons of recipes and kitchen secrets. Virtual gatherings are no different than the best dinner parties.

There are thousands of places on the Web to obtain and share recipes. The publishers of famous magazines, cookbooks, or even television networks own many of these sites.

Of the commercial Web sites, I suggest All Recipes (http://allrecipes.com/) as one of the best. The “Recipe Exchange” forums are among the most active you’ll find. Members share recipes, which are then rated on a five-star scale. You can read detailed reviews or write your own. Some recipes have as many as three thousand reviews.

You can calculate nutritional information, convert between U.S. and metric measures, and even instantly change the recipe based on the number of servings you need. Those of us who would rather not use a computer in the kitchen, you can print the recipes in full-page or index card size. If you join All Recipes, which is free, you can add recipes to your “Virtual Recipe Box.”

Though affiliated with Reader’s Digest, the site seems more about the food than promoting magazines or cookbooks. All Recipes has relatively few ads when compared to other similar sites.

If you want to search more than 30,000 recipes from popular magazines, My Recipes (http://www.myrecipes.com/) is a good resource. However, this site exists solely to promote the publications, not to create a sense of community. I like to search the Cooking Light recipes for dessert ideas.

As with All Recipes, you can print recipes in various formats. You can also save a list of favorite recipes at My Recipes, including your own recipes. If My Recipes had a community area where people actively mingled and shared ideas, it would be a great site. It’s still one of the best commercial sites for cooking information.

The best cooking Web sites are generally independent or operated by really dedicated “foodies.”

CopyKat Chat (http://www.copykatchat.com/) began as a community dedicated to copying famous restaurant recipes. More than 4000 active members trade everything from “Chili’s Tortilla Soup” to “Red Lobster Biscuits.” If it’s on a menu, someone at CopyKat has found a way to recreate the taste. Members have moved beyond copying to posting their own variations of popular recipes. The modified recipes range from vegetarian variations to “kicked up” recipes with a bit more spice.

The Recipe Link (http://www.recipelink.com/) and Recipe Secrets (http://www.recipesecrets.net/) also began as “copycat” communities. The sites are poplar, but difficult to navigate and not visually appealing. Recipe Secrets dedicates too much space to promoting cookbooks, but the community forums make it worth a visit.

Yahoo Groups (http://groups.yahoo.com/) is home to more than 20,000 cooking groups, ranging from Asian cooking to vegetarian diets. Simply join Yahoo, which is free, and then search the groups system for your favorite types of cooking.

Some of the best Yahoo cooking groups include Daily Recipes and Cocina-Mexicana. If you are looking for quick and easy meals All Easy Cookin’ is an e-mail newsletter you can join through the Yahoo Groups system. Easy Cookin’ is not a fancy newsletter. It usually has two or three recipes and links to Web sites with more.

Because Yahoo is commercial, some groups are actually promotional gimmicks. I located one that had great recipes, but the ingredients were always brand names from a particular conglomerate. Every message posted was from an employee of the company, reading like press releases. I prefer groups to have “real people” in the community.

When you want to know what people think, nothing beats reading topical blogs. Writer Anita Chu’s blog Dessert First (http://dessertfirst.typepad.com/) is a great read if you have a sweet tooth. Chu is the author of A Field Guide to Cookies. Her commentaries on life as a foodie include recipes, beautiful photographs of dishes, and links to related Web sites. People respond to the posts on Dessert First, building a genuine connection between readers and the author.

Lisa Fain’s blog, the Homesick Texan (http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com/) features the best in Tex-Mex and Southwestern recipes, along with the author’s memories of growing up in Texas. Fain now lives in New York, giving her ample opportunities to compare the foods and lifestyles of the two states.

The Food Blog Blog (http://www.foodblogblog.com/) is the ultimate link to blogs on food. While the site is simply a list of 2000 other Web sites, exploring the links could occupy days. A random list of five sites appears at the top when you visit the Food Blog. I doubt I will ever be able to visit every suggested site.

Once you have recipes, you’ll probably want to store them. There are some excellent recipe database applications to choose from.

For Windows, I suggest Big Oven (http://www.bigoven.com/), Cook’n (http://www.dvo.com/), or MasterCook Deluxe (retail). Big Oven is priced between Cook’n and MasterCook. For under $50 you get a great program that’s easy to use. While Cook’n is great, too, it is expensive.

I mention MasterCook because the software is so popular that it dominates the Windows market for recipe storage. The MasterCook recipe format is a standard online and other application can import the MasterCook files. You can locate a copy of MasterCook for under $20, so it’s a great way to start saving your recipes.

For Macintosh users, MacGourmet (http://www.macgourmet.com/) is a great application. MacGourmet is like iTunes for recipes, so the interface is familiar and easy to use. Not only is the price impressive, at $25, but MacGourmet can import and export MasterCook data, so you can share recipes with most Windows recipe databases.

MacGourmet can be used to create real cookbooks, too. These look professional, especially if you include photographs. Some users have even submitted these to Lulu (http://www.lulu.com/), allowing people to purchase these cookbooks as physical books.

The virtual world is great, but sometimes nothing beats a cookbook!


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