Recipe Sources for Meal Planning

When I packed my bags for a year in Europe, I contemplated bringing a few of my favorite cookbooks. After all, I would be living in Slovakia and the Czech Republic; I was unlikely to find many alternatives there that both used English directions and American measurements. In the end, though, weight considerations ruled the day and I left the books behind.

Instead, I relied entirely on the Internet for cooking help. I always have sought at least some recipes online, but while I was abroad, it was my sole source of inspiration. Here are a few sites I relied on to fill in my weekly meal plans:

Food Network: Much as I wish this wasn't my number-one source (it's so popular and obvious), I admit that I hit up this database most frequently. I did so partly because I had access to American television via the Internet and saw tasty recipes I wanted to try, but I also ended up there in large part because of the sheer size of the database. You can find instructions for just about any dish at Food Network's site, including many ethnic foods that are hard to source reliably online. Almost all of the recipes have been professionally tested, too, which is a big plus for me, having been burned in the past by random ones that didn't turn out at all like I expected.

Cook's Country/America's Test Kitchen: Speaking of extensively tested recipes! These folks go through dozens of iterations before settling on a recipe that, at best, balances taste, time and effort, and health considerations. Sometimes I think ease of preparation takes a backseat to taste in their recipes, as they avoid convenience products and sometimes require seemingly silly extra steps to get the food just right. I don't always strive for perfection myself, but when I do, I know where to go. The Cook's Country web site requires an annual membership fee, but the America's Test Kitchen page offers two TV seasons' worth of free recipes. I'm kind of new to Allrecipes. I was leery of the site because so many recipes come from the community rather than professionals, so I wasn't sure how reliable they could be. However, I've learned that the key to successful use of Allrecipes is to read the comments. People post all sorts of helpful information gleaned from their experiences making the dishes, and they'll let you know not only if a recipe is off but also how to fix it! It's a good source for easier, home cooking-style recipes, and as a bonus, most come with complete nutritional data.

Taste of Home: If I'm looking for a recipe for something like an overnight slaw or chicken casserole, I'm likely to check here first. The writing can be corny (everything is "zippy" for some reason), but the huge database is a treasure trove of the kind of recipes our mothers or grandmothers specialized in. The magazine's test kitchen checks the recipes before publication to ensure reliability.

Food Blog Search: I haven't used the search engine much yet, but I thought it might be the best representative for all the food blogs I have used as recipe sources in the past year. With food blogs, you usually get a photo of the finished product as cooked by someone much like yourself, with commentary akin to Allrecipes. A couple of my favorite are The Pioneer Woman Cooks! (great if you are a visual learner) and Kalyn's Kitchen (lots of South Beach Diet info).

That's a decent top five right there. Now that I'm back Stateside, I'm looking forward to digging into cookbooks again for recipe ideas, but I know now that with the Internet, a recipe is never far away.

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