Going old school with my recipe book boosted my cooking confidence

January 14 | Guest post by Sunsnowjane

old school recipe book

For most of my life I could make you a bitching batch of cookies or quick bread, but was utterly clueless about anything involving chicken, shrimp (really meat of any kind), rice, salads… you get the idea. So as Iโ€™ve learned to cook savory, healthy food for myself and my husband (who has been teaching me, the ever reluctant student, how to cook), what do I do with new recipes that I dig and want to save for later?

At first there were just a few, printed out or ripped from a magazine, and shoved unceremoniously beside the cook books. But I became bolder, and the stack became less practical. Sure, some people bookmark them online, pin them on Pinterest, or save them to their desktop. But I donโ€™t like having electronics on the counter where all manner of disasters happen. I donโ€™t like having to plug things in as the battery is dying, nor am I a fan of poking the iPad screen or computer mouse to keep it from going to sleep when my hands are messier than they have any right to be.

Then I had a basket-free "baskets!" moment.

With the organizational wonders of an empty three-ring binder, sheet protectors, adhesive page markers, and a sharpie, I had a customized, low-effort cookbook that contains exclusively recipes tried and enjoyed by my guy and I.

The solution addressed a number of my neurotic needs:

recipe binder

  • Easy to maintain — not something created in a fit of organizational fervor, but then left to languish
  • Adjustable based on changing needs — when considering other options I became utterly stuck on the idea of categories that could not be renamed or moved around as the collection grew
  • Durable — the surprisingly nice quality binder came from Goodwill for $1, and the sheet protectors mean I am less worried about spilling food on it and ruining everything
  • Cheap — I had everything on hand but the binder
  • Did I mention flexible? The recipes range from foodie blog print outs and photocopies, to emailed recipes from my mom and torn magazine pages; everything can be made to fit happily in the sheet protectors!)

And so now, when I want to make delicious bacon and egg cups on a Saturday morning before I have booted up my technology or consumed sufficient coffee, this excellent recipe is already at my finger tips.

Because these are recipes that I know I have done before and can do again, it has been a huge boost to my cooking confidence and repertoire.

What are your favorite ways to keep, store, and use your recipes?

  1. Nothing much to add other than I love that one of those categories appears to be labelled "Moo". I assume it means Beef, but "Moo" in Thai is Pork, so it could be either!

    5 agree
    • Glad you like it! Yes, "Moo" is beef for my book. My other categories are:
      Chicken
      Aquatic
      Veggie
      Soup-ish
      Bake
      Sugar
      Flavors (this one is mostly dips and spice mixes we make ourselves)

      That's what they are right now, but I'm sure they'll change!

  2. I have one of those binders, too. But I find I have so many recipes torn out of magazines and such that they don't fit in the folder. (Mine has a set number of sheet protectors so I'm limited in what I can put in.) So only our "tried and true" favorites go in there. The rest are in an accordion folder. In the back of the recipe binder, I keep a list (it's about eight pages long) of what's in the accordion folder. (The dessert tab holds about as much as everything else put together!)

    I also subscribe to two cooking magazines (America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country), and have an extensive cookbook collection. I put a post-it note on the front of each book and magazine and write recipes I want to try with the page number. Then, when I'm thinking what to cook that week, it's easy to find new things to try.

    Finally, I make notes on the recipes (in pencil, of course!) as to what we thought, and any modifications we made.

    One issue I've had is it's a pain sometimes to find the recipe I want that's in the binder. Tabs might be the solution! So thanks for that tip.

    3 agree
    • Ooo, I love the folder in the back for the untested recipes! Great idea!

      1 agrees
    • I write in cookbooks, I just don't care about using pencil. I figure it's my cookbook- I own it, I'm not running a library, so I write at will; but in pen, in order to be able to read it next time. I include things like ratings, who liked it a lot, who didn't like it, my ideas for modifications, "too much salt," whose birthday it was for that cake, the date, etc. If I ever discard a cookbook I usually find they're generally not the ones I've written in; the ones I've written in a lot tend to be good, and go nowhere!

      2 agree
  3. For my bridal shower my mom and sister asked everyone to bring a print out of their favorite vegetarian recipe. My mom found a nice binder with birds on it (the theme of our wedding was love birds), brought some sheet protectors, and collected all the recipes into an awesome cookbook for us. It was super fun trying out all my family and friends recipes, and since then all new recipes I find off the internet or jot down notes about go in the binder. It's been super handy, but I need to buy more sheet protectors for the odd sized recipes I clip to the inside front cover.

    7 agree
    • What a wonderful and sweet idea! With odd sized recipes I after tape them to a bigger sheet of paper so they aren't floating.

      2 agree
    • My best friend did this for my bridal shower, too! She contacted all the women in my family and asked for recipes and advice, and had it printed into a beautiful book. It's such a treasure.

      1 agrees
    • We did this too – We custom printed recipe cards that matched our invitations and included them with the shower invites. Be sure to add the "From the kitchen of:" line on the recipe cards so you can remember who provided which recipes. There are two that I especially treasure…one from my aunt who has since passed away (love that it's hand-written) and another who actually provided a recipe that she got from my grandma (who is also no longer with us.)

      1 agrees
  4. Me toooo! I've got a bright blue binder for recipes. Instead of printing them off, I tend to re-write them on graph paper so they fit snugly in the page protectors. The act of writing them out helps me remember the recipe better. I can also re-organize the ingredient list and steps to help me keep track better. Like, if the first four ingredients need to be mixed before adding anything else, I can write those down and leave a space to remind me to combine those first. Makes cooking easier and I don't have to pull up Pinterest or page through my cook books to find my favorite recipes. All hail the recipe binder!

    4 agree
    • That's a great idea to rewrite them like that! I may need to start doing that with some recipes!

  5. I do the same thing. And I have a chip clip on a hook next to the stove where I hang the recipe I'm working on. Bonus: if you're modifying the number of servings and need to write down something but not necessarily forever, dry erase comes off the sheet protector.

    3 agree
  6. My husband and I use an app/website called "Pepper Plate". We have grown to ADORE it and it really works for us. You can import or manually enter recipes. From the recipes you can build shopping lists, scale the recipe, and plan a week of meals. The awesome part is every device is synced to 1 account so I can build a shopping list then have my husband pick everything up. Truly, we throw out way less food and I make way less trips to the food store. I also don't have to worry about what I'm cooking that day because I just plan out a week's worth of meals on Sunday. Normally I cook 3 healthy sized meals and this holds 2 of us over including lunches. We do go out a few times a week as well.

    3 agree
    • We plan out our meals for the week too, though we are much more low tech and use a white board on the fridge. Life is so much easier when the week's meals are planned out! We will have to check out that app you recommended

  7. I try to save all my recipes in Evernote (they mostly come from online anyway; I type or scan the rest). But I also have a binder with sheet protectors for my most frequently made recipes. I'm overdue for some recipe cleanup!

    2 agree
    • I also use Evernote and while it can be tedious to copy recipes over, I find it so useful in the long run!

      Some of my favorite things:
      -Recipes can have multiple tags, so I don't need to decide if my chili recipe fits better under 'Vegetarian', 'Soups/Stews/Chilis', 'Winter meals', 'Lots of leftovers', etc but can instead put it in all the relevant categories.
      -I can pull up all my recipes on a computer or tablet/phone (so I do have to have one of these in the kitchen while cooking) and basically always have my complete recipe list on me, since I bring my phone everywhere. With the Evernote Food app I can get my recipes even when I have no internet access, which is extremely convenient for weekend trips, etc. I also love being able to check a list of ingredients if I randomly end up at a grocery store without preplanning a list.
      -It's super easy to just send someone a link if they want a copy of a particular recipe.
      -Since everything is editable it's really convenient for adding notes about what worked or what to change for next time.
      -I can search by recipe title or keyword/ingredient, for those times when I really need to use up an eggplant but can't remember what dishes use eggplant.

      Basically, Evernote is probably harder to maintain than a recipe binder, but it fits the needs of being adjustable and cheap! (And you can add basically anything you want, as long as you're willing to scan or retype paper recipes.)

  8. I've got a binder too, but it is horribly unorganized! I've been shoving new recipies ripped from magazines or printed from the web into the binder, esp. in the front/back pockets, plus taking pages out to use cooking & not putting them back in the 'right' place. Add in a lot of notes & kitchen splatters, & the thing is kind of a wreck. Still kind of usable, but just barely!

    1 agrees
  9. This makes me feel nostalgic. My mom has a collection of these types of binders. She doesn't have the recipes in sheet protectors, but has separate binders for meats and desserts and I think she may have a whole one just for cakes. They have yellowed typewritten pages, magazine pages with 3 holes punched in them, and a few handwritten ones. We can tell which ones are best by the spills on them. ๐Ÿ™‚

    What I have is a recipe box. I had ordered a a card box for my wedding with notecards for people to sign and leave contact info (instant Christmas Card list!) from etsy, and after the wedding, I ordered new cards and dividers from the seller and now I have a pretty box that I keep the good recipes in ๐Ÿ™‚

    1 agrees
  10. I have a plethora of cookbooks, printed out recipes, etc. But I actually have an old school recipe box with recipe cards that I use all the time. This is my box that contains 'tried and true' recipes, my own personal recipes and recipes given to me by family members and friends. I've come to love hand written recipe cards and my daughter will inherit this box one day. She already loves to look through it.

    1 agrees
  11. My mother has a collection of these. I recently started my own, which made me a bit nostalgic. Right now it's full of crockpot recipes as I'm aiming to try 35-45 new crockpot recipes this year. The organization is rather "organic" right now, inasmuch as I only have one binder (at the moment) which houses main courses, sides, breads, and desserts. I will probably have to expand to more than one binder soon, and as I do, I may start "gifting" out or donating the cookbooks I own but do not use… after going through them and looking for one or two gems to add to my homemade cookbook, of course. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Oh, and each recipe is marked with the date I made it, and any changes I make to the recipe – usually upping the variety and volume of herbs/spices in it, or adjusting the cooking time/heat for our current oven. Much like Mark Twain and writing in the margins of books to have a conversation, a recipe is not a recipe until I've had a conversation (or several) with it!

    2 agree
    • "Much like Mark Twain and writing in the margins of books to have a conversation, a recipe is not a recipe until I've had a conversation (or several) with it!"

      I have so much love for this! I am the same way with books and find that as my cooking confidence grows I am writing on recipes in a similar fashion.

      1 agrees
  12. What a great idea! I use a recipe box (actually a coupon organizer, a plastic accordian file that nicely fits 3" x 5" cards). It's small and indestructible, and it nicely fits our recipes, blank cards and a pen.

    I find low-tech recipe storage very useful, whether it's a recipe binder or box or basket. I'm TERRIBLE about never deleting bookmarks or Pinterest pins, so when I find an online recipe I love, I write it on an index card and tuck it into the recipe box. That way, when I'm looking for a recipe I know will taste good, I don't have to play dinnertime roulette with my many, many bookmarked recipes.

    2 agree
  13. I really need to do this. Right now, I have recipes saved as PDFs on my computer, but you're right, it's a pain when your computer isn't on or your battery is dying, PLUS there's the constant risk of an accident spilling on your computer and frying it…As for cooking, I have the opposite problem to Sunsnowjane: I can cook just about anything now without a recipe, but I'm highly dependent on them when it comes to baking. For me, baking seems to require a lot more precision than cooking, such that I'm a lot more likely to mess up…

    2 agree
    • For me, the precision gives me confidence. I know precisely how much to add of everything, precisely how long to bake things at precise temperatures. I am forever asking my husband what numbers on our stove are med, med-high, high, or whatever else. I know my muffins are done because the timer goes off and the toothpick comes out clean. When cooking (at least for me) there's a lot more instinct involved and a lot more just KNOWING when to mix in the next thing, turn the heat up or down. For my husband, it's natural and automatic and he can't fathom how I get so flustered over "is it ready NOW?" That said, the more I cook, the better I become at it and the more I love it.

  14. I have 2 binders! But only one is like this, the other is for testing recipes before they go into the binder.
    What I do is pin and bookmark recipes that I'd like to try one day. On sundays, I sit down and plan out a week worth of meals, by looking through everything I have. Every time I try a new recipe from the internet, I hand write it down in my first "test" binder. As I make the recipe, I scribble notes onto it, ect. Once I've "perfected" the recipe I type it up and put it in my second binder which is my official pretty organized binder! If it's a complete fail and I don't want to try it again, I just X it out and use the back of the paper to write down another recipe to try. I try to make 2 new recipes a week, just to build up a cache of recipes that I know I can do ๐Ÿ™‚

    3 agree
    • Wow! I aspire to one day be that organized when trying new recipes. You are my new role model ๐Ÿ™‚

      2 agree
  15. Low tech, but organized is a really great!

    I used to have a cute little recipe box from Etsy that I loved, with little tabbed dividers where I'd keep all my recipe cards. It worked great for a while for all the tried and true recipes we loved to cook regularly, but I found the system hard to use for figuring out what I want to try for later and finding that recipe for Chili (did I put it under soups? Or beef?).

    I seemed to outgrow that senario when we changed our diet/lifestyle three years ago and I started to have to look up a lot of new recipes, and wanted to remember a lot of new recipes to try. Now, I put all recipes I want to try in the future on pinterest (I only have two boards โ€” savory and sweet โ€” so it's easy to find stuff later). Anything I've tried and want to make again, I use an online recipe clipper. For the longest time that was ZipList, but since they were bought recently and stopped working, I've switched to YumPrint, which I actually like more than ZipList. The added benefit of the online tools, is you can use them for meal planning, and spur of the moment at the grocery store "Ohhh xxx is on sale, I should make that xxx recipe." I also have a kitchen iPad that is stuck to a cabinet front with command picture hangers (it's been there for three years without a problem), that I use to watch TV and play music while cooking, with the added benefit of pulling up recipes of things I don't have memorized. It's always plugged into the wall (and a speaker), so it's never not charged. You can easily set your iPad to not go to sleep, so all I have to do, is when I'm done with the kitchen, to put it to sleep by tapping the power button. But maybe I'm an exemption, because I already had a tablet in the kitchen to use for recipes and I *really* needed tagging and search for my recipes.

  16. I have my own version of this – I write down recipes I find online or in magazines (that don't lend themselves well to clipping out) in a notebook. The old school marbled patterned kind. Works pretty well, but I do wish I had been able to organize it as efficiently as you have done with your binder.

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