Friday, April 19, 2013

Batch of links - Organizing meals and recipes

I think I’ve talked about this before, but I used to get confused when making shopping lists and cooking meals for the week. There was a time when I didn’t really plan a meal for each day, just bought things “for the week or so”, then ended up pacing the kitchen after classes, wondering what to eat. Then I started planning meals in advance, but I have so many recipes to try that I would on occasion have all the ingredients ready to go and, for the life of me, couldn’t remember what I had meant to make with them! Now, I’ve simplified my life with a weekly menu (using a template from here). While I still have to put some effort into deciding what to eat the coming week (and in case you’re wondering, that’s usually what I’m doing on Friday mornings), I love having it all organized later in such a way that I always know what I’m supposed to be making on what day, and I can include instructions on which foods to pull out of the freezer a day in advance, or which meal I should make first so that various ingredients don’t go bad.

A lot of people struggle trying to organize their recipes, though. There are online tools to help manage your bookmarks, like Delicious or Plan to Eat (though the latter works with a paid membership), plus Pinterest and Evernote, of course. You can always email recipes to yourself in Gmail so that you can later search them not just by title, but by ingredient. Plus, there are tons of suggestions here and here. There’s also a new app called Paprika that might be helpful to some. (All this presupposes, of course, that you use some kind of electronic device, mobile or not, to browse various food sites, but most people do. The Engineer and I do not own a smartphone at this point, so I can’t comment on any mobile apps; all I have to contribute is that I would love an iPhone, though I probably wouldn’t use it enough to justify the monthly fees, and I usually don’t fall for the newer-is-better mindset out there.)

What is working for me so far is a system where I have bookmarks organized by type of recipe to try (mains, side dishes, desserts, etc.), plus a pile of recipes torn out of magazines, and cookbooks with post-it tabs for bookmarks. I pick some of them each week, and once I make them and decide to keep them, I produce an 8.5x11 paper of them (meaning I print it out or punch holes in the magazine page, depending on the situation, and change the cookbook bookmark from a vertical to a horizontal orientation – I’m very anal about it, what can I say), along with any modifications, and put that in organized binders (I used to write them out by hand in notebooks before, and while I still have those, I prefer the flexibility of binders). My meal binders are organized by type of dish, plus a whole section for vegetarian dishes. It gets confusing, unless you’re me, but I like having one spot – my kitchen bookshelf – to look up tried and true recipes, as opposed to having some on paper and some online. Plus, I’ve been in a situation before where I couldn’t access some recipe because there was a power failure, thus no internets. I have several binders, because I couldn’t find any big enough for all the recipes, though I admit I’m envious of the one on 71 toes!

As for grocery shopping apps, some people might find OurGroceries helpful, as it will sync up between two devices (so you can update the list in real time with your smartphone if you run errands without your partner, or your partner can add something to it after you’ve left for the store), plus it has a recipe feature that allows you to pull up all the ingredients for a recipe you like.

It can still be hard to come up with inspiration, though, even when you have recipes all bookmarked and piled up. Here are some suggestions to find fresh inspiration, including reading a restaurant menu. I have to admit I’m often in a rut these days.

There’s also a website that I fnd wonderful in theory: Eat Your Books, n which you create a paid profile (free for 5 books, and for unlimited books it’s something like $25 for one year or $50 for a lifetime – I’d totally pay the latter!) and enter the cookbooks you own. Then, you can enter a few ingredients that you have lying around, and the program will tell you which recipes in your cookbooks call for those ingredients! It sounds awesome, but last time I checked, they were still building a library, and they didn’t have enough of the cookbooks I own for me to want to sign up. I’m still keeping that in mind, though, as I hope they’ll expand the list of titles they cover!

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