What's your favorite way to find recipes you want to try in a cookbook?

I'm hunting recipes for the next Genius cookbook (for beginners) and I need your help! I'll be asking a series of questions here on the Hotline as I develop the book, and I'd be very grateful for the community's wisdom, as always. 

This week, I'd love to know how you like to use the table of contents (and other sections) in cookbooks. Do you think "Hm, I feel like chicken" and want to see a chicken section right at the front? Or would you be interested navigating by need-based sections like quick pantry dinners, big weekend projects to feed you through the week, etc.? Or do you just flip to the index to look up the exact ingredients you have? Or—you tell me!

Here's a bit more on the book: https://food52.com/blog...

And the last 5 questions:

What's the very first recipe you learned to make? https://food52.com/hotline...

What book (or TV show or magazine) taught you how to cook? https://food52.com/hotline...

What are the biggest cooking mistakes you've ever made? https://food52.com/hotline...

What types of recipes do you always need more of? https://food52.com/hotline...

What are your biggest recipe pet peeves?

Thank you all,




Kristen M. October 10, 2019
Thank you all! I really appreciate your thoughts.
Sandy A. October 3, 2019
I agree with the double index idea. First by ingredient. If I have a persimmon, I want to know what to do with it. Then maybe by category the way Ina Garten does it, such as "appetizers," "breakfast," "sides," "lunch," etc. Although that can occasionally be challenging, as what one person considers as lunch, another may think of as dinner, so you are looking all over. There may be no perfect answer, but I think the two index approach probably comes close to the most helpful. Mark Bittman also has exhaustive indices, and they work well.
Gammy October 2, 2019
It may turn out that two indexes are needed... one listing main or featured ingredients, the second by type of food: Bread, yeast, formed loaf; Bread, yeast, freeform loaf; Bread, quick bread, savory; Bread, quick bread, sweet. Sometimes you don't know what exactly you want to bake, but seeing a category, then a specific recipe may spark your interest.
Paula N. October 2, 2019
I search for recipes based on what I have on hand that's fresh. If I have a bunch of red bell peppers, I look for recipes that use red bell peppers. So an index by ingredients works for me. I mark (in pencil) recipes in cookbooks that were fabulous or crumby or just so-so, so I'll remember what worked and what didn't. Or I write in what I substituted successfully for what. And if a cookbook is really wonderfully written, I read it from stem to stern. I don't remember what recipe I first learned to cook. When I got married, I couldn't boil an egg. I just tried and tried, and over the years, I have gotten pretty good, and have grown to love cooking. The colors! The smells! The feeling of kneading dough! It's all a sensuous endeavor. Cooking at it's best is about love and nurture. Sharing food is a joy. A good cookbook recognizes all of that, I think. And these days, I use recipes as sparks of inspiration and as guidelines, and I often freely go my own way rather than follow every step religiously.
Louise G. October 2, 2019
I have over 100 cookbooks. Often I will buy a cookbook, just because I like the way it looks. To me seeing something is very important. When I am thumbing through a cookbook, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. A good cookbook has good photographs of the recipes and sometimes, photos of the cooking process as it goes along. I have been in bookstores looking for cookbooks and they might be very good, but when they have few photos , it is hard to imagine what the finished product is like. I do realize that including photos will sometimes increase the cost of the book. but to me, it is worth it.
HalfPint October 2, 2019
I buy these Post-It stickies that are basically little bookmarks. When I go through a cookbook the first time, I 'flag' a recipe that I want to try. My cookbooks are full of these flags :)
BakerBren October 2, 2019
I tend to read or flip through a cookbook first and sort of skim it to get a feeling for the concept. Beautiful pictures really help me to find something of interest quickly. Then I notice recipes or techniques that sound interesting and I make little bookmarks that I put in place to revisit later and I keep a running tally in my head (or sometimes a written list) of what I want to cook and I go for it when things line up.

That said, some of my favorite baking books (and cooking magazines) have a feature I really like which is two tables of contents in the beginning. The first one lists broad concepts and necessary details. The second one has a list of the recipes under each heading and in order within the book. I find that very valuable, and otherwise resort to the index.
Miss_Karen October 2, 2019
It's handy to have the index written with just ingredients. For example: chocolate then list any recipes that have that igredient. It's also good to have it by subject: Cookies, cakes,breads etc. Obviously, there is a huge difference between a mole sauce & a chocolate mousse....Taste of Home cookbooks have this format. I agree that is annoying as all get out to have to flip back & forth to the "see recipe on page____"
I also read cookbooks as if they were novels. I tend to avoid recipes that overdo the 'ultimate/ best ever' etc et al. Everyone thinks their recipe is the best whatever....
gandalf October 2, 2019
Similar to Kristen W., if I want to cook something that I am growing in my garden, I go to the index of a cookbook and look up recipes that are specific to the vegetable/fruit.

Also, I have found that the "recipes" link on Food52 is helpful, so I can type in a particular food item and see how others have cooked it.
luvcookbooks October 2, 2019
I read the cookbook in bed before I go to sleep and find the recipes I might make. I read cookbooks start to finish. Sometimes I put a sticky note next to recipes I might try, but I am sad when I see sticky notes marking lots of recipes that I haven’t gotten to, so mostly I tuck them away in my mind. Then when I am designing a menu, I pull out the books and find my “to try” recipes. I like books organized by ingredients, like Jane Grigson’s “Good Things”. I like menu cookbooks and cookbooks organized by type of cooking. Reading Jocasta Innes “The Pauper’s Cookbook” and she organizes by chapters like “Quick” and “Slimming”. I also like books that are mostly story with a few recipes, like MFK Fisher. As I write, I realize that I am no help at all, since I like almost every format. I am very happy when I see a section for preserves and pantry cooking. I usually check the index to see if there are interesting quince recipes, since I am obsessed with quinces.
Nancy October 2, 2019
Lovely short essay, luvcookbooks.
Quinces, me too.
Do you make (Sephardic or other) quince preserves? If not, worth a try.
What other quince recipes do you love?
luvcookbooks October 2, 2019
Quince orange marmalade is my favorite quince preserve. More quince than orange.
Love membrillo.
Love quince tart and pie. What about you?
Nancy October 2, 2019
No favorite yet. Just pick up recipes as I come across them (because relatively rare). So far, in addition to membrillo, oached, crostata, chutney, crumble, compote, in applesauce, on ice cream.
Your quince orange marmalade sounds good.
Stephanie G. October 2, 2019
Luvcookbooks, you're my double! That's almost exactly how I handle my recipes and menus. I love to read cookbooks.
Kristen W. October 2, 2019
For me it’s all about planning dishes around what I get in the CSA box that week, so I also head straight for the index and look for the ingredient(s) I am trying to utilize. As Nancy pointed out, though, that may not be the first thing a beginner cook would look for.
Nancy October 1, 2019
Kristen - one answer and a few thoughts.
Answer - my favorite way of finding a recipe, whether the book is new to me or around for a long time, is to use the cookbook's index.
• You’re also asking another question, which is how to organize the whole book for greatest usefulness for new(ish) cooks.
• I think organizing by ingredients is the best for ongoing use.
• I think organizing by menu, by meal or by technique may be for intermediate or advanced home cooks. Or for those learning a new cuisine, a new technique, a new culture.
• Also, keep in mind that sometimes cookbooks are for reading and learning before hitting the lab (I mean, kitchen), so maybe THAT’S an organizing principle.
• Whatever you do, be clear and consistent. And please keep flipping back and forth in the book while making one dish to a minimum.
Last, ask some new(ish) cooks themselves what they want or don't want. They may have a different take on things.
cristinathebaker October 1, 2019
What's your favorite way to find recipes you want to try in a cookbook? I go straight to the Index to get ideas if I have a specific ingredient in mind. When I was starting out to cook and entertain, I geared towards cookbooks that go by seasons and with full menu suggestions. Pairing courses was really helpful.

What's the very first recipe you learned to make? https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/eggplant-polenta-stacks-with-tomato-sauce-3070 I made it a lot of times until my plate looked like the picture on the recipe.

What book (or TV show or magazine) taught you how to cook? Ina Gartner, Martha Stewart and Cooks Illustrated/ATK.

What are the biggest cooking mistakes you've ever made? When doubling/halfing(?) recipes and there's that 1 ingredient that did not get adjusted. And when I made souffle - recipe uses a big ramekin and I decided to use small, individual size but did't adjust oven time. sadness followed.

What are your biggest recipe pet peeves? (1) Not listing ingredients in chronological order, (2) not including ingredients by weight (specially on baking) (3) "Small onions, small lemons, small orange" does not help. Size varies.

Hope these helps! Good luck. looking forward to adding to my 'Genius' library.

Recommended by Food52