If you're like us, you probably have shelves lined with cookbooks, from the tattered paperback Joy of Cooking you bought when you moved into your first apartment to the latest, lavishly illustrated volumes of food porn to roll off the presses. Yet when you buy that perfect leg of lamb from the butcher or the lemons on the tree in the backyard suddenly start ripening by the dozen, you just can't seem to find a recipe that matches both your mood and the ingredients on hand.
It's time to flick the switch on the old PC and head for the World Wide Web, where you can find more food-related information than you could ever imagine. Hit the right Web site and you can learn how to boil an egg. Link to the next one, and there are instructions for cooking African-style mustard greens and peanut sauce. And if you ever need to know how long to marinate bear steaks before you pop them on the barbecue, that's out there too. (Hint: a long time.)
Like everything else on the Internet, finding recipes is a matter of perseverance, curiosity, and luck. Links lead to links that lead to links, and more than once we've noticed "recipe" buttons lurking inconspicuously in the corners of some pretty unlikely home pages. Like everything else on the Web, the sheer volume of food info is overwhelming, but here's a totally subjective, random look at some of our favorite sites.
First, the biggies. These are sites that contain thousands of recipes, with no specific theme or focus. Overall they're the most useful ones for general browsing. Epicurious (Epicurious.com) is sponsored by the Condé Nast empire, and includes the archives of both Gourmet and Bon Appétit magazines. The Recipe Source may well be the largest food site in the Internet--it claims to have seventy thousand recipes listed, while Epicurious lists a relatively paltry twelve thousand. Still, Epicurious is a pretty slick site with stories, cooking techniques, and online sales of culinary equipment. The search feature is well thought out and even has suggestions for finding what you want. For example, type in the word "lamb" and you get a list of 232 recipes, which may be a bit more than you want to deal with, especially if the dinner guests are due in twenty minutes. If you enter additional ingredients, however, things narrow down quickly. "Lemon and lamb" yields 55 recipes, and if you add "couscous" to the mix, you get just 3. Navigation can be a bit tricky (when we inserted commas between the ingredients, we got an error message), but with practice, you'll be cruising with ease.
The Recipe Source (recipesource.com) started out as the Searchable Online Archive of Recipes (SOAR), which was originally affiliated with UC Berkeley. It's a volunteer labor of love that dates back to 1993, and the Source is still a work in progress. For instance, at present, you can't search for recipes by ingredient. They're only listed by title, which can make it tricky, but often entering one main ingredient will get you more than you'll ever need. You can also browse the type of dish you're looking for (e.g., "main dishes," "soups and stuff," and "on the side") or specify regional cuisines. Be sure to check out the "Extraterrestrial and Bizarre" section, particularly if you're looking for ways to prepare Apple Roast Hadrosaur (you can substitute lean pork if your butcher is out of dinosaur meat), ground pork and peanut butter cookies (purportedly from the Heart of Iowa Cookbook), and something called Chunky Cat Barf, which we couldn't quite make ourselves click on. There are tons of genuinely tempting dishes, too. A nice feature is that the recipes are available in plain text format for more convenient printing.
Okay, so now you've got access to something like 82,000 recipes--enough to last you nearly 225 years, if you cooked a different one for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day. So why look for more? For the same reason we have so many cookbooks--not that we actually expect to use them on anything like a regular basis, but because there's a certain vicarious thrill in reading them, a sensual pleasure as you imagine what an exotic dish will taste, look, and smell like.
Besides, it's fun. Scrolling through these Web sites is an adventure, a chance to turn up something unexpected, possibly delightful, and maybe a bit strange.
Ever look on a can of green beans or box of frozen pizza and noticed the "Visit our Web site at Geneticallymodifiedprocessedfood.com" printed on the label? You probably weren't terribly tempted. But some of them are pretty interesting, and good sources for yet more ideas about preparing meals. At first glance the Gorton's of Gloucester Web site (gortons.com) looks like what you'd expect--an advertisement for the company's fish sticks, "crunchy stuffed fillets," popcorn shrimp, and other mainstays of the frozen food section. But way down at the bottom of the page, on the left, there's a link to the "Fisherman's Cookbook" which has some of the most useful fresh fish facts that we've found anywhere. The "fish glossary" lists dozens of species (along with their alternate names--did you realize that tilapia is also known as St. Peter's fish, mouthbrooder, and ngege?), and has tips about buying and preparing each one, along with links to specific recipes. (By the way, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has info about buying the least environmentally damaging types of fish. Check the "Seafood Watch" section of montereybayaquarium.org.)
Dole.com is similar. The company sells a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, so its recipe section has listings for apricots, bananas, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, and, as you might expect, pineapples. Naturally, each recipe specifies "Dole" produce, but who's to know you got yours at the farmers' market? There's some pretty good basic nutritional information about the various fruits and veggies, too.
Bakers can click onto the home page for King Arthur Flour. The small, Vermont-based, employee-owned producer of baking products has a plethora of recipes for breads, cakes, pies, and so forth (two dozen different coffeecakes, nine kinds of pancakes, and specialties such as injera, Portuguese sweetbread, and dog biscuits). Even better is the "Online Baking Classes" section, which has very basic, very detailed instructions for making breads, pies, and more. Beginners, don't bother to buy a specialty baking cookbook--save your money and log on to the kingarthurflour. com. More experienced cooks can find ways to improve their technique, such as adjusting the ingredients of your next apple pie depending on the type of apples you're using.
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