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Managing cooking recipes in the modern household
2011-02-06

I recently had to decide on the future of an expanding collection of cooking recipes in my household. Here are the topics I considered.

Cookbook Shelf

The current situation

  • I own a few cookbooks, either I bought them or they were gifts. They all have different formats.
  • When I want to cook something special that isn't in the cookbooks, I search the internet for a recipe. Then I tend to print it for later use.
  • If I happen to find an interesting recipe in a magazine, I cut it out or copy it.
  • I try to keep those sheets within a folder, ordered alphabetically.

The problem

  • Apparently I'm not fast enough to process the papers waiting to be copied and/or sorted.
  • The drawer where the cookbooks and the papers are stored is crowded.
  • To find a recipe involving potatoes and mushrooms, which can be cooked in less than 45 min, I have to rely on my memory, indices in books, an arbitrary alphabetical categorization, as well as going throught loose sheets.
  • The experience can be frustrating, especially if I have no time to recall and ponder.

The solutions

Solution 1: Optimize the system in use

It should be possible to optimized the current process to get more satisfaction out of it.

How

  • Order the sheets in the folder in categories like appetizer, main dish, dessert, etc., to better target the appropriate direction at first.
  • Convert every recipe found in a book, a magazine or online into a page in the cookbook folder. Rather quickly and methodically.
  • Store the unprocessed stuff somewhere else than in the drawer, where there would be only "finished" recipes - those which are already cut out, pasted, copied, ordered.

Disadvantages

  • Searching
    • If I only have some potatoes and mushrooms left at home, I still have to go through the whole "Main dish" part of the folder to find a recipe.
    • If I just desperately want to eat goat cheese, regardless of the combination, I'll have to go through the whole cookbook folder.
  • Handling
    • I will have a bunch of unproccessed recipes waiting for me to manage them before I can use them. I probably will postpone the work until the next Christmas holiday. (And then I'll have something better to do.)
    • The paper formats are all different, and some won't fit nicely in my folder.
  • Scalability
    • If I'm given 3 more cookbooks as presents within the next 6 years, I'll have to get a second folder.
    • I could scale to the "Desserts folder", while the "Main dish folder" will grow and the contents soon will need even more folders. After 10 years, I'll have an entire shelf filled with cookbook folders. In the kitchen.

Solution 2: Go digital

My weekend of cookbook writing/recipe testing...While the current system still can be digitalized without having to request a 3 months leave from work, it is important to take a look at the possibilities.

How

  • Digitalize all the recipes that are on paper.
  • Have a system to store them.
  • Enter new recipes directly into the system.

Possible implementations

  • Use a native system, e.g. a cooking recipes management software to install on a computer.
  • Use a script that already covers most of the functions I need, e.g. Maian Recipe.
  • Use a Wiki or Wiki-like CMS.
  • Design and create an own system. (With 2 techies in the house, this is an option I can consider without flinching.)

Disadvantages

  • Entering data into a digital system is not neccessarily as easy as placing a sheet of paper into a folder. It may be formatted correctly for the program to accept it.
  • There are many programs on the market and there are nice ones, but a native system is very binding. I'd like to separate my data pool from any interface, to be able to use it as I see fit. (I may want to publish an eBook about cooking some day, right?)
  • Enhancing an existing script which I haven't coded myself can be a pain. The cookbook project should keep a fun factor.
  • While I love to design a database's architecture, I don't like parsers. Sentences like "Honey, if you don't get the parser to work I won't be able to cook dinner today!" are definitely not in the scope of my relationship.

The choice

I decided to give MediaWiki a chance.

Advantages

  • Entering a recipe, either typing it or pasting it from another source, is pretty easy when you're familiar with Wikis (I am).
  • A library takes care of image handling. (Yes, I'm getting lazy!)
  • The search function fits my needs.
  • The system is scalable.
  • It's free and it's open source.
Now, how do you manage your cooking recipes at home?


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