Cookbook Grafitti

Ever feel like you have the same recipes over and over and over? Even the ones you really like are starting to get tiresome? Been there. Done that. Back in 2005 I decided to do something about it.

I started off by making a list of the recipes that we made quite a bit. The list had more on it that I suspected would be on there (45 items). But between lunches and dinners, it still meant that every couple of weeks we were likely duplicating something. On our way, but not nearly good enough. About that time I started a low carb diet which required me to make a commitment to explore new recipes. I bought my first low carb cookbook.

I opened up the cookbook and selected the recipe that sounded the best.  My wife, who was cautiously observing my low carb diet and supporting me fully, had not decided to completely commit to low carb yet. I made the recipe for the family and while eating it (I thought it was pretty good) I was interested in seeing what she thought of it. So I asked her for a grade. She gave it a B+. I thought about it and gave it an A-. Our grading had begun.

It got tedious very quickly to write all the new recipes down and their grades, so I broke a cardinal rule; I wrote in the book. I don’t know if it was from many years of being told not to write in books, or some absurd sense of protecting the value of the book by keeping it pristine, but other than a few books in college, I never wrote in books. The grades initially were written on the page of the recipe (my grade then a slash and my wife’s grade). Shortly thereafter, I started adding the date we first made it as well.

Small instructions followed. Then more information. Pretty soon I was defacing every cookbook I owned.

This worked great. I could see when I made the recipe and know if it was good or not. The only problem is that with a dozen (or more) cookbooks, it was sometimes difficult to find some of the best recipes. I could flip through page after page looking for some As, but that was not very effective. Time for more destruction. I created my own table of contents of grades.

On the inside cover of each cookbook, I created columns of grades. All the A’s were together, the top two B’s (B+/B) and lastly the others (B-/C+). I never wanted to make something that was just average a second time, so never bothered to write those in the index. I would then put the page number of the recipe with that grade. Later, I added the major ingredient in case I wanted a beef recipe that was an A.

This practice continued for many years until I decided to record the date that I last made each recipe. To avoid 30 different dates on each recipe page, I resorted to a spreadsheet (ok, yes, a little overboard). Now with Paprika, I record the last made date in the recipe.

The variety in our house is tremendous. As for dinner recipes, it is rare that I will duplicate any recipe during a 3-6 month period. That is unless I am practicing for the Gourmet Club or consciously desire to make it more often. I now have over 550 recipes in Paprika that I have made and both my wife and I have found it worthy of a C+ or better. How is your variety?

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Categories: Recipes, Tools

Author:The Ranting Chef

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28 Comments on “Cookbook Grafitti”

  1. March 15, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    Awesome post! I rarely make the same thing twice much to the chagrin of Mr Meat Eater. I need to start keeping track…


  2. March 15, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    This is a fantastic idea, I used to keep my cookbooks as pristine as my other books but once I really started cooking just about every meal from scratch I don’t mind getting them messy or writing in them. They’re meant to be used! We have a lot of food allergy restrictions so sadly our meals repeat pretty often but I like the idea of keeping better track of when we do repeat a meal. Thank you for stopping by my blog, by the way!


  3. March 15, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    Oddly, I’ve never thought of doing this (but I will now!) Not sure I’ll get as detailed with the index, but when I make a recipe that doesn’t quite work out right, I give it another try – tweaked a bit to hopefully make it better. Of course, that doesn’t always work either. 🙂


  4. {Main St. Cuisine}
    March 15, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    I love this post and can totally identify with what you’re saying. Although I hate writing in books (must be a grade school thing), several years back I started writing the date/occasion on the recipes I was preparing. Not sure why I began this little practice, but it is kind of cool to look back on your cooking history.

    Thanks for dropping by recently and for the “like.”. I appreciate it!


  5. March 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm #

    Thanks for the ‘Like’ and I’m so glad I read your post! I have the same thought in my head too about organising the recipes that I cook from the various cookbooks. Looks like an external spreadsheet is the way to go; I will check out Paprika. Still haven’t found the courage to write in pen in my books… I use a pencil!


  6. March 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    I have been cooking for a long time but only recently started to write down my recipe (having a blog really helped). Like a of us I do get ideas from others and make changes but never ever thought of writing in books. I think we were all raised the same.


  7. March 15, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    I have about 150 recipes for various things, some derivative of other recipes, others family favorites. I note the ones with a creamy sauce go over big aroun here so there’s Pork Chops with Sour Cream and Dill Sauce, or Beef Stroganoff.

    Also a big believer in brine. Chicken benefits most, pork then beef sometimes.

    Dinner this evening was baked salmon that had a tarragon and lemon thyme seasoning, home made potatoes au gratin, and some broccoli rabe sauteed with copious garlic.

    Glad you likedd my frosting post!


  8. March 15, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    I bought a software called Living Cookbook and now I enter in my recipes as I go along. and keep notes in there. It is a great tool much like what I use at the restaurant but for home cooks. It will cost recipes and help you maintain an inventory.


  9. March 16, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    I suppose it’s just how we were all brought up, not to write in books. I won’t be writing in my cookery books, but then I don’t refer to them as often as you do. I do allow myself to write in my walk books, though, with a date, mark out of 10 and a summary of whether it would be suitable for all seasons and points of interest.
    So if it makes a book easier to use in future, we should all allow ourselves to write in books occasionally, and savour the naughtiness of it!


  10. krbowers
    March 16, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    hmmm – must start writing in the cookbooks. I use post-it’s sticking out of the tops a lot!


    • vegetarianinameateatingfamily
      March 16, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

      Yep, I’ve done that!


  11. March 16, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    I LOVE this post! Takes me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. She did the same thing and I loved reading her notes on how to “fix” the recipe. 🙂


  12. Stash
    March 16, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    It’s nice to see that folks are using cookbooks as they are meant to be used — for cooking, not for looking.


  13. March 16, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    I have 2 cookbooks that are pristine and I run back and forth from the table with arms up like a surgeon so I don’t mark the pages, (they are coffee table type tombs but with really good recipes plus they were a gift) and then I have ones that are covered in food stains and written all over, with adjustments to temperatures or ingredients. I did start dating and rating recipes but I just forgot to. My rating was simple, a tick or a cross. I think I will start up again and get my pool of favourite recipes together in one spot . Now that I have Paprika I can do that.


  14. vegetarianinameateatingfamily
    March 16, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    I am mad for cooking magazines, but I got to the stage where I had a massive pile of them, and whenever I wanted to cook something, I knew it was in one of them, but just didn’ know where. Like you with writing in your books, I felt wrong about doing it, but I started ripping out the pages! (yep, no idea why either, but I felt so bad) I sorted them into Meat, Vegetarian, Chicken, Fish and Yummy Stuff. Now, whenever I want a fish recipe, I can flick through all the recipes easily. If they’re really good (hubby 13yo & 15yo are clear if it’s not to their liking), it goes into my recipe folder.


    • March 16, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

      I used to collect the magazines and had scraps of recipes. Finally, I did what you did and tore out the magazines. When I got the Paprika app, I put all of the torn out recipes in a large envelope. For the next year, I’d pull from that envelope three times a week until I either had made everything (and put into Paprika) or threw it away.


  15. March 16, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    Hi Pat!
    I’m all for grafitti-ing cookbooks. And like vegetarianinameateatingfamily I pull pages from magazines and newspapers to add to a recipe file rather than keep the whole mag for one or two pages I may use once a year.

    My cookbooks are well-loved, and it was my grandmother who taught me the value of annotating the recipes as I went. Some of my most treasured possessions are her old cookbooks with her spidery writing in the margins. She still guides me to add an extra pinch of this or that, or to not bother at all with something else.

    Great blog! So pleased to have found it 🙂


  16. aviendha1979
    March 16, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

    I do the same thing, only I use a number scale: 5/10, 10/10, etc, and I include the kids in my ratings. Instead of coming up with a separate list of the greats, I put an average rating next to the index listing. I do a lot of finding of recipes in my books by starting at the index anyhow, because I cook based on what is coming out of the garden or what I’ve put up in the freezer/pantry for the winter, not what we feel like eating.

    I also only rarely follow the actual recipe, so I note any substitutions and omissions all over the place. I’m pretty sure this drives my husband crazy (he’s an anti-book defacer… I write in ALL my books), but I’m the head chef round here. 🙂


  17. March 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    I am with you on not desecrating books, but I too make an exception for cookbooks – how else to record whether there was just a little too much lemon juice, or not enough chilli? I’d not thought of scoring recipes, though – great idea!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, it has been good to take a look at yours. Even though we’re not following the same eating plan, you’ve got some really interesting ideas. 🙂


  18. March 18, 2012 at 1:53 am #

    What a great site! I love this post.. it certainly is hard to break free from those “rules” of your past, but writing in your cook books makes perfect sense
    PS Thanks for liking my post 🙂


  19. The Blog Hospital
    March 18, 2012 at 9:54 am #

    You liked My Kitchen Journey write up so I hoped on over here to check out what is up with this Ranting Chef. And this post idea, maybe with a few of my own twists added, will be introduced to my kitchen journey. My daughter, one year left in culinary school for her bachelor’s, does not write in her books either. All I can say … you have a follower. Love, love, love this idea !!! Now … to find me some good cookbooks to “destroy”. : )


  20. March 18, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    I write in my cookbooks, too! I’ve actually used the notes to compile “best of” books for my family/friends. I love your rating system — I may steal it!


  21. March 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    we have pretty good variety at my house–6 cooks=6 times as many meals! i would say that for main courses, we have a couple of people that stick by a few tried and true options so we get them monthly or so, but otherwise it’s rare to repeat more than once or twice a year.
    for side dishes, it’s a quicker rotation. eating mostly from CSA shares mean that you have like 4 meals a week of radishes for 6 straight weeks–so, it starts to get a bit redundant in that sort of situation.
    i never think to write in my cookbooks because i so often just use the concept rather than the recipe itself–but i do use detailed notes when i tag recipes in my google reader or on pinterest so they will be easy to find again–and occasionally, if i realllly love something–like the amateur gourmet’s cream scone recipe–i will email it to myself with every possible key word i might use to search for it! and in my cookbooks, i occasionally use post it flags if there’s something i want to cook someday and don’t want to forget.


  22. March 19, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    How funny, I am trying to go the opposite route and develop a “stable” of tried-and-true winners that will serve me in lieu of a live-in chef. Easy things, delicious things, things that can be tweaked to deal with what’s left over, what the mood is.
    I have gazillions of recipes, whittled down my scores of cookbooks, and now am on to simplify, simplify, simplify.
    Different strokes for different folks — at different times.
    I certainly enjoy reading your blog, though. I’m happy to let you do it!


  23. March 20, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    I have TONS of cookbooks that I can’t bear to part with – but I rarely use them! My most-used recipes are on cards or cut from magazines, stored in a pretty wooden recipe box I got for a wedding gift over 20 years ago. However, the few cookbook recipes (and many of my recipe cards/clippings) that I do use have writing on them. I’ve just put comments about how we liked it or changes that I’ve made to make it more to our tastes. I love the idea about the date you first made it! And now you’ve inspired me to go through my stash of cookbooks and give some new things a try. I’m enjoying your blog!


  24. March 20, 2012 at 10:00 pm #

    Cooking is such a completely hands-on, get dirty, flexible, mood-swinging, constantly shifting playground that it seems crazy to me *not* to annotate and footnote everything to the nth degree so there’s the slightest hope of recapturing successes or avoiding repetition of horrors. If a cookbook is just for enjoying pretty food porn, that’s another thing entirely, but if it’s for real use, why not make it truly functional!


  25. March 21, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    Your cookbooks have become artist’s books !



  1. The Holy Recipe Book « - March 18, 2012

    […] an article this morning titled Cookbook Graffiti.  It was an eye opener on a few issues with this kitchen journey I am on.   It helped me focus on […]


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