About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Monday, July 21, 2008
I loved it.

John Lethlean wrote an article regarding a brilliant idea for a quick and easy way to find a recipe from an ever expanding library of cookbooks. If you like to cook and you're anything like me, collecting cookbooks until they are falling off your shelves, you'd know that after a while, finding exactly where a certain type of recipe is, or even more annoyingly, Alzheimer's not withstanding, recalling which of those many hundreds of cookbooks contains the exact recipe you want, which, after reading about it so many years prior, your cerebral cortex is unable to provide the connection between that recipe and the book it's from. Believe me, it does happen.

His idea is roughly this. Buy a cookbook, then, be able to download from the publisher its index as a file to your computer. Et voila, a simple desktop keyword search will then reveal all the indexes of your cookbooks that contain the terms of your search, getting you into the kitchen that bit quicker, instead of tediously searching your books one by one.

Ironically, this idea might help Lethlean overcome his own feelings regarding the Roux brothers. He tells of picking up one of their cookbooks many years ago, which was clearly targeted at professional or aspiring professional cooks and reading their version of chicken stock and the horror he felt at the prescriptive process, part of which involved studding two entire onions with cloves, a bit like a couple of well rounded echidnas with clove quills if you will.

I'm guessing that book was The Roux Brothers New Classic Cuisine, but, if he had all their books in his library, along with all their indexes stored on his computer, Lethlean would have quickly found a user friendly version in their book French Country Cooking, that rivals in ease the Stephanie Alexander method he referenced. The cloves had all but disappeared, leaving a single solitary quill per onion.

A bit like taking stock to make stock.
  posted at 10:09 am

At 1:21 pm, Blogger Thermomixer said...

It is a great idea & would be much easier than what I had started doing - typing indexes in Excel - bloody hard.

BTW - Cabernet was the wine that when reduced gave off truffle aromas.

At 2:47 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad someone things it has a little merit... the only feedback I have had from a publisher was from Hardie Grant who say, in effect, "good idea but impractical."

I don't understand... I mean I have an index of the next Age Good Food Guide on my desk top and my Search Function is including it in all my searches.

So why wouldn't that work for recipe books and why is is so hard for a publisher to make this available to customers?

At 2:50 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excuse my proof reading - this keyboard has lost it edge.

At 4:30 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This would be a pretty easy resource for publishers to provide, even for their existing booklists.

I'm beginning to feel we need something similar for all the recipes on blogs too -- i've remembered three dishes people had written up recently and couldn't for the life of me locate them within a reasonable timeframe.

And Neil, loved the clove-laden barb;)

At 7:07 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neil, your prodigous output must, one day, produce a book! Hope the index can be downloaded.
Continue to love your blog

At 11:33 pm, Blogger Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

We are so close to being able to do this -- with programs like Delicious Library, we can scan the bar code on cookbooks and Amazon.com provides all the info about the book, image of the cover etc. (By the way, it's a great way to keep track of the 400-500 cookbooks I have, and whether I've lent them to anyone...) So the next thing will be to scan the book and the index and brief summary of contents pops up. Wouldn't that be great?

At 11:56 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife takes multiple loose leaf note books, creates categories that are useful to her. Beef, veal, carrots, meals for 40+ etc. Perhaps she has a 100 categories. She then goes through the cookbooks one at a time and every recipe that looks interesting gets listed by name, book, page and principle ingrediants in the appropriate category.

This takes her a couple of years and she is currently on her fourth version. She does keep it up as new books come in, but as time goes by our tastes and techniques increase.

I've no idea how many cookbooks we own, but there are 36 linear feet (about 11 meters) of food magazines, Bon Appetite going back to April 1980. There are a lot more shelves for cookbooks.

At 11:58 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't stud the onion with cloves, put them in a tea ball.

Or simply strain the stock, which gets the loose cloves, pepper corns, broken bay leaves, onions etc.

At 2:07 am, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I would love to be able to search like that!
Why don't you show up in my feed reader any more. I reload it and it still doesn't show. Boooooo.

At 8:44 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi thermomixer, that would be hard too, I can't even imagine doing something like that, we had better get our weight behind John's idea...more time then for life's little pleasures.

Hi john, as you can see from the comments everyone likes your idea. As to being impractical, how can they say that? The index is already on their computer, it just needs to be made available; if I can publish to the web, it would be a snap to them. S'pose it's stating the obvious, but it would be a great marketing tool as well, can you imagine, all those people going to the companies' websites to download indexes, they could be shown all sorts of things...like ads for instance.

No worries, this principality is proof reader free, promise.

Hi duncan, funny you should mention that, there is an index available as a widget, called Food Blog Search. A few bloggers got together and came up with it.

Hi elliot, thanks for your kind words and I look forward to the day you publish your restaurant guide as well, your blog is so comprehensive.

Hi lydia, it is such a good idea, if bloggers like you can have a searchable index on their blogs, surely the next step for publishers is to do this. It can't be that hard.

Hi ntsc, your wife ought to be sainted, that is an amazing amout of work, good on her. Crikey, that's a lot of space for just magazines and I can sort of picture how many books you must have. Not easy being a food lover sometimes and no one else gets it.

Good advice.

Hi tanna, I am so there too. It would make life so easy. I'm using an old feed reader, perhaps I'll have to update.

At 9:34 am, Blogger Thermomixer said...

Could we get a group together to approach publishers? It really is in their interests.
El Bulli's book comes with CD which is completely searchable - but not the text I am likely to pull out for everyday dining.

At 9:51 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a simple & clever idea, one of those..'Now why didn't I think of that'...ideas.

At 1:40 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi thermomixer, spot on, it is in their interests. Perhaps the best approach would be to email publishing companies and say you have read an article about searchable indexes, so how about it.

Hi gobbler, me too. Perhaps we can be like Oscar Wilde. When told a witty joke, he said that he wished he thought of it. A dinner companion replied, "Don't worry Oscar, you will."

At 3:20 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to be that it isn't only cooking books that could benefit from this idea, aromatherapy books as well, or if someone has a guide to herbs and their medicinal properties.
I will go back to playing WoW and ganking allies ftw!
- P

At 12:49 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are pictures of the shelves as the 12th post down on this page: http://www.americastestkitchen.com/ibb/posts.aspx?postID=245118&postRepeater1-p=6#252129

I've no idea how many cook books we own and it is probably about 1/6 of the total library.

I put my wife's weekly menus up as a blog: http://menu.vldyson.com and early the following week post pictures of process and plate.

At 8:21 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi honey, absolutely right, it could be used for more than cookbooks, publishers need to wake up. Stop ganking, it's not nice!

Hi ntsc, I can see you and your wife are really voracious readers, that is a lot of books, no wonder your wife spends so much time trying to keep track!

At 1:16 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a great idea.

If the book's on google books, you can use it too - http://books.google.com/

Harold McGee has a link to the google book search results for On Food and Cooking at his site.

At 1:29 pm, Blogger paul kennedy said...

Sorry to rain on your idea but anything to do with removing the tactile pleasure of thumbing through books and using a bit of brain power to find something and rendering the function to electronic means is a Not a Good Idea in my book, pardon the pun.

Quite frankly, I absolutley love the thrill of the chase. Some books fall open at regularly used pages; others take a bit more teasing out.

If the geeks have their way we will never be away from a computer screen.

Kitchen Hand

At 1:59 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi zoe, thanks for the link, it looks absolutely fascinating; they have a section devoted to cookbooks too, very useful.

Hi paul, you're out! I don't mind a bit of rain coming my way, but would you mind sprinkling some over the catchments as well? Oh, and a little bit for my secret morel patch!

It's not my idea, but I will say this. I drove manual cars until my early forties and thought to drive nothing else. When I bought my first auto, it was because that's what my current wife could drive. I still love to drive manuals but I now love to drive autos too. My wife still doesn't drive me anywhere.

At 6:57 am, Blogger Intrepid in the Kitchen- JdG: said...

Neil! What an excellent idea- my only concern is that I will lose all together those lovely moments when I do peruse my cookbooks and get lost in a world of forgotten flavours as I search for 'that' recipe! There is still something to be said for searching for one recipe and arriving at another instead.
But for those moments (too many of them) when time is short- what an excellent way to find what you're looking for!

At 2:32 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi intrepid, don't get me wrong, I'd never leave the cookbooks that way, I love to sift through them, but there are times when I need a specific recipe or text and can't remember exactly where it is. We need to take the best of both worlds.

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