This week I've noticed some recently published cookbooks based on popular food blogs. When I saw the books I wondered why the publishers think I'd spend money to buy a cookbook when the same recipes are available online, in a more convenient format, at no cost. Most of the new recipes I've tried at home over the last few years haven't come from the cookbooks I buy, they come from recipes freely available on food blogs.
I'd hardly call myself a food blog devotee. I don't follow any particular bloggers, don't pore over the artistic step-by-step photos, and don't engage with the personal stories that accompany each entry. When I'm looking for a recipe I google for what I want and scroll directly to the bare bones recipe. In seconds I can tell from reading the ingredients whether or not the recipe is right for me.
I keep a Pinterest page of recipes that intrigue me, which keeps me organized as I search for, or happen across, cool recipes online. If I plan to make a recipe in the next several days, I save it to my beloved Paprika recipe app, which displays the recipe while I cook. Often with one click of a button on my laptop, I can have the recipe waiting on my iPad in the kitchen in a matter of seconds. And if a recipe turns out great, a food blog recipe is so simple to share (and free to share) with friends and followers.
Food blogs are incredibly convenient when I want to search for, organize, display for cooking, and share recipes. Cookbooks aren't so convenient.
Searching inside a Kindle book isn't as powerful as a google search and isn't universal- I have to repeat the search from book to book- assuming what I want is even in my collection. There is no automatic way to keep a list of the recipes I want to try in various Kindle cookbooks, I have to manually create a list outside the app.
When it's time to cook, display on a Kindle cookbook is problematic. The Kindle cookbook often spreads the recipe across a number of pages, so I have to scroll back and forth with gooey fingers. The Kindle book will automatically turn off after a couple of idle minutes, while Paprika App will keep my tablet powered and displaying until I manually tell it to go to sleep.
Getting a Kindle cookbook recipe into the Paprika App is possible, but involves downloading the Kindle book to my computer, followed by a tedious series of manual copies and pastes, and gives me no option for capturing a photo of the recipe.
The last major downside of making a recipe from a cookbook, is that when I want to share a great recipe, whether here on my blog, or via social media, I can't do it. No link, stringent copyright notices, no sharing. The recipe lives isolated in my kitchen.
Given the advantages of searching for, organizing, and sharing recipes with food blogs, why would I want to pay for the inconvenience of a cookbook when the more convenient and more comprehensive blog is available for free?
A closer look not just at the recipes I've made, but at the things I've learned about cooking over the last year, shows that the money spent on cookbooks was far from wasted. A book on vegan Indian cooking inspired me to try making popcorn on the stovetop for the first time, and introduced me to the idea of peeling and prepping veggies right when I get them home from the store. A book on making homemade crackers taught me to keep a jar of mixed seeds in my pantry that I now use regularly in all sorts of my own recipes. Reading the nutrition forward from the Runner's World Cookbook inspired me to create our favorite new post-run snack: Pink Lady apples dipped in crunchy natural peanut butter with a hint of sea salt. The cookbook that came with my bread maker has a section on jam. Jam? I can make my own jam? I can make my own jam!!
I think cookbooks are better purveyors of ideas than food blogs. That's certainly not to say that food blogs lack ideas, but those ideas are presented in bite-sized doses based on the context of what's going on in the world at large or in the blogger's kitchen/life at that time. Cookbooks present a linear transmission of a cook's approach to creating food. Introductions lead us through nutritional, cultural, and some personal information. Then there may be a discussion of ingredients and techniques. And sprinkled throughout the introductions and recipes are tips and tricks that are often far more valuable to me than the dishes, themselves.
When it's time to get dinner on the table, and to share the joy of cooking with my family and friends, food blogs are a much better option than cookbooks. But cookbooks still have a place for me. My cookbooks are great teachers. They've brought goodness from their writers' kitchens to mine, and helped me grasp fundamentals of approaching new styles of cooking, new tips and tricks, and new ideas for creating.