NEW YORK-- I had six pounds of rhubarb, 40-plus cookbooks and a computer.
Where to look for a recipe?
Despite the cookbooks, I find the Web is often the best place to satisfy a food craving or help me figure out what's for dinner.
The Fannie Farmer cookbook has six rhubarb recipes; Epicurious.com has 84. Fannie Farmer is in my kitchen, but I can send an Epicurious recipe from my office computer to my cell phone.
The thicket of recipe Web sites ranges from the slick -- Saveur.com glorifies peasant food with poster-quality photos -- to the promotional -- Meals.com is a front for Nestle S.A. In between are such specialty sites as Topsecretrecipes.com, which tells you how to reproduce an Applebee's Bananaberry Freeze.
Instead of a complete tour of where to whip up dinner off the Web, what follows is a snack of sites:
If you're ready to wade through a big swap meet of recipes, allrecipes.com ("real recipes from real people") has 26,000. For the most part, it's amateurish in the best sense of the word: Many recipes have three steps and very few involve ordering a rare spice from a specialty store in another state. Graphics, design and layout are virtually nonexistent.
On the down side, there's a fair number of recipes from food manufacturers. I have a hard time believing that Libby's Pumpkin Roll with Cream Cheese Filling and Libby's Pumpkin Cranberry Bread, both submitted by Libby's, made it to the Top 10 rated recipe-list without some ballot-stuffing from Libby's employees.
In the world of magazines, Food & Wine's Web site, foodandwine.com, would be great -- if you subscribe to Food & Wine or buy an issue. Otherwise, you're locked out. With so many great recipes available for free, it's hard to justify the expense.
Too bad, because the site has a beautiful collection of slide shows from different chefs and cuisines. There are 31 recipes and photos of North African food and 27 quick pastas, each with a picture and a thumbnail description.
On to Martha.
For cooks, Martha Stewart Living's Web site is a recipe for frustration (although Martha's post-release letter is a brilliant example of discretion, discussing a prison stay without once mentioning prison). There are 3,600 recipes, according to the site, which is a tiny anise seed compared to the giant 18-course meal other sites provide.
Links to recipes are written in little tiny type, as if footnotes to a legal document. Once you click, they're easier to read, but you can only e-mail the recipe or print it, there's no electronic recipe box to store your favorites.
I will say this: Martha's recipes work. A friend is a devoted Martha baker and everything she makes is delicious and beautiful. But the site is no fun.
The grandaddy of commercial recipe Web sites, and my favorite, is Epicurious.com, which bills itself as "The World's Greatest Recipe Collection." Run by the online arm of Conde Nast, the publishing company that owns Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines, the site has a majority of the recipe archives from the magazines -- 20,000 recipes in all. It also has frequently changing articles on everything from Venetian dining to chef/guru Alice Waters' children's garden.
The site's 84 rhubarb recipes include high degree-of-difficulty productions like the rhubarb and white chocolate lattice tart and such novelties as rhubarb poached in jasmine tea with ginger. Then, there are the repeats, including two rhubarb compote recipes.
The format is easy to read, with readers' rating of the recipe, where it came from, when it ran and an icon if it has a photo, if it's quick to make, if it's part of a menu, or if there's a suggested wine pairing.
Readers rate recipes with one to four "forks," one being a mushy disaster and four being a culinary triumph. Some of the more adventurous recipes, or those with the most obscure ingredients, are completely unrated. No one has said a word about the rhubarb lambrusco granita, for instance. (I'd give the rhubarb compote I made three forks.)
One of the joys of the site is the excellent comments from readers. "A Cook from Dublin, Ireland" wrote of the Guinness Stout Ice Cream, "Tried this with eight fellow Guinness workers, all gave it a thumbs up!"
Raves are typical and rants common, but the most fun comments are from people who completely changed a recipe, using whipping cream instead of evaporated milk or bananas instead of butter, then rate the recipe anyway.
On a dark and dreary day, it's always fun to check one of the 595 comments on the site's four-fork rated recipe for "salted water for boiling."
Typical is this, from "A Cook from Los Angeles, CA."
"Fabulous! Love it! My family loves it. Our friends love it. Definitely a keeper. I've been working on something similar for a while, but never pulled it together like this before."
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