There is a red binder in my kitchen cabinet, and in that red binder resides the following: A recipe for barbecue sauce I tore from a magazine years ago and never made. Scrawled instructions on a Post-it Note to remind me how to roast pumpkin seeds once a year. Directions from eHow on how to stir-fry “anything.” Countless handwritten recipes on a wide variety of paper, including stationary with inspirational quotes, stationary from my first newspaper job and, for some reason, Hello Kitty stationary I do not recall owning. There are recipes I use all the time and recipes I made once and promptly forgot about forever. It is a mess—and it’s the most organized system I have.
My other “systems” include: a folder in my email full of recipes I found online that I want to try some day. A board on Pinterest where I add recipes I find mostly by stalking my mother-in-law’s much more extensive Pinterest board. A recipe box that contains a few recipes I make once in a while and a whole bunch I don’t. And, finally, this family recipe book my husband and I received as a gift and have yet to write a single thing in. Not to mention the countless recipe books with bookmarked pages because I like the pasta salad recipe in one book but the lemon chicken orzo soup in another.
There are some recipes I want to preserve forever, like the printed-out email with detailed directions from my dad, instructing my 20-year-old self on how to make mashed potatoes for the first time. (“Add any additional milk sparingly,” he wisely advised, “because once it’s in there, you can’t take it out, and you don’t want runny potatoes.”) And the directions I wrote down one night after I called my grandma, just months before she died, to ask how to make her meatball sauce. But I need a better system.
The binder itself is a pretty good way to organize loose recipes, as I use plastic sleeves and dividers to keep my bread recipes separate from those for veggies, main courses, pastas, and desserts. But it quickly becomes overrun with things I want to try (but never will), and still I find myself rummaging through my email for that creamy tortellini soup recipe I sent to myself a few weeks ago.
Tell me in the comments: How do you organize your recipes, both online and offline? How long do you hang on to a new recipe before you decide you’re never going to make it, and it’s time to set it free? How often do you go through your physical recipes to purge the ones you don’t use? What apps or other online systems do you use to organize the recipes you don’t yet want to print? How do you even remember that you liked that spicy Thai shrimp you made from that one cookbook last week? How you keep track of and organize the endless recipe options at your disposal?