Storing all those reams of recipes

We have ideas on how to organize a collection that is out of control

January 01, 2003|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

If you're scouting around for a New Year's resolution you can keep, how about this one: Organize all those recipes you've saved from favorite magazines, newspapers, friends and relatives.

Let's face it, if they're stuffed into boxes or pressed between the pages of books, if they're piling up on the kitchen counter or shoved into a drawer, you'll never find the one you want when you need it.

Linda Lipsett, a Washington lawyer, knows. She had amassed hundreds of recipes that were "mushed together, stuffed into cookbooks."

"I needed to make my life easier," Lipsett says.

She hired Ellen Epstein, a professional organizer in Chevy Chase, to find a solution.

"She had a messy, messy box," Epstein says. "It was all stuffed and overflowing."

Epstein took the box and went to an office-supply store where she bought loose-leaf notebooks, photo-album inserts, plastic sleeves and page dividers.

She put the recipes into the plastic pages and let Lipsett choose the categories that she wanted to organize the book. "We had a whole section of just soups," Epstein says.

The result? "It's been a huge success," Lipsett says. "I've kept it up."

Now whenever she sees a recipe she likes or when a friend jots one down on a piece of paper, she slips it into the plastic pages of the notebook. "It's incredibly efficient," she says.

A notebook with plastic sleeves is just one of many ways to organize a recipe collection.

Professional chefs and cookbook authors often rely on computers to store their recipes.

Mary Donovan, cookbook editor for the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., advocates a computer shareware program that the school will begin to sell this month called Pro Chef Menu Master.

"For a long time I didn't use any electronic system," she says. She relied on a Rolodex to reference her thousands of recipes that were in books and magazines.

"I've got bookcases in every single room of my house," she says.

Last year, she began using the computer program, which allows her to search for recipes by ingredients, cuisine, cooking methods and kind of dish. She liked the bonus features, such as the nutritional information and shopping lists it could create.

Now when she gets new recipes, she scans them into her computer.

But she isn't quite ready to give up her Rolodex system. "I still like books a lot and magazines," she says.

For years, Michael Gettier, executive chef at Antrim 1844 in Taneytown, wrote his recipes on index cards that he kept in plastic sleeves stored in a bank deposit bag.

"It was the most valuable thing I owned," he says.

Later, he developed a system of copying recipes into spiral notebooks, along with ingredients lists and his comments about the dishes.

He now uses a computer. During the blizzard in 1996, he stayed home and wrote a computer program that allows him to store his recipes and keep tabs on ingredient costs. Like Donovan, he scans in recipes he finds in books and magazines.

"I hate having magazines sitting around," he says. He sells the program he calls RecipePack for $19 on the Internet, but he hasn't discarded the notebooks altogether. He prints out the recipes and ingredients lists and places them in notebooks where his kitchen help can refer to them.

Washington cookbook author Joan Nathan also uses a computer to store recipes, but she cherishes the handwritten recipes she has from friends and relatives. "I love those old cards," she says. "It's sad we're so technologically oriented."

Today, she says, she doesn't have time to rewrite every recipe onto a card the way she used to. Most of the recipes she collects for her cookbooks are in her computer. Others she clips from magazines or newspapers are put in legal-size file folders. "I do it right away, otherwise I'll have a lot of junk around," she says.

She's still working on the categories in the folders. She has bread, brunch, chicken and meat, vegetarian and cookies. She says desserts pose a problem. "I don't really know how to do that."

Steffi Neumann, a massage therapist who lives in Mount Washington, brings her orderly sensibility to her recipe files. She tears the recipes from the many cooking magazines she receives and glues them onto sheets of paper that she puts into a binder. If there is part of a recipe on the back, she photocopies it.

"Most of the time I try to cook the recipe before I put it in the binder," she says. "It works out very well."

She used to save the magazines, but tossed them out about three years ago. "It was getting to be too many and I wouldn't use them," she says.

Restaurant consultant Diane Neas can't bare the thought of throwing away her cooking magazines. She has 30 years' worth of Gourmet magazines in boxes in the basement and 30 years' worth of Bon Appetit magazines shelved upstairs.

She also admits that her recipe collection is not as organized as she wishes it would be. The problem, she says, is she hasn't found a system that fits all of the recipes she has.

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