Ever since The Julie/Julia Project, the blogosphere seems filled with people who have committed themselves to cooking every single recipe in a particular cookbook and writing about it. What Julie Powell did with Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, is now being done with Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast, Grant Achatz's Alinea and Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home, to name a few.
The majority of us are not getting nearly as much use out of our cookbooks, however, and, if you're anything like me, you probably have cookbooks in every room of the house with dog eared pages marking recipes you'll never get around to making. Or maybe you do this: You decide that you are going to make chicken for dinner, and, for once, instead of just Googling "chicken" and having hundreds of thousands of recipes at your fingertips, you decide to actually use a cookbook from your shelf. You then spend hours poring through indexes in book after book, searching for a suitable chicken recipe, until ultimately, you realize that you've lost the momentum and end up just ordering take-out chicken instead.
I've been hoping for years to find something in between these two extremes, as I have as little interest in cooking from one book cover to cover, as I have patience for spending hours browsing indexes seeking out the perfect recipe. Then, a few months ago I read about a new website that seems to provide exactly what I’ve been looking for. Eat Your Books, a really cool site that has a database of about 16,000 cookbook titles (and counting,) has put together a format that allows you to search through all of your cookbooks for recipes without ever having to scour an index again. The way it works is that you build your own virtual bookshelf on the site based on the cookbooks that you actually own. Yes, the initial input process is tedious as you do have to search through the listing of titles in order to add them to your bookshelf, but once the process is done, so is the work. Then, the next time you want to search through your cookbooks for a recipe for, say, chicken, all you do is type "chicken" in the search box, and up pops a listing of every recipe, from every book you own, that contains chicken. You can refine your search based on ethnicity, cut of chicken, course, type of dish, author, holiday and even categories that you create yourself. There is a place for you to rate cookbooks and recipes on the site, a shopping list feature, a menu feature, and even a location feature that allows you to organize your books on the site based on which shelf in your house they sit on. What Eat Your Books does not do, is to show actual recipes. After all, the point is to get you using your own books, right? It does, however, show listings of ingredients from each recipe and organizes recipes into various categories, so that you have a strong idea of what the recipe is like before you ever crack the book.
I can honestly say that since becoming a member of Eat Your Books, I use my cookbooks way more often than I used to. I also feel a lot less guilty when I buy a new cookbook, because I know that it is not going to just sit on my shelf collecting book markers and dust.