There are countless ways to organize your recipes online and off. I want to share with you a method that automatically syncs my recipes between a website, my home Mac, my work PC and my iPhone. And best of all, I'm doing this all with a single tool: a free version of a program called Evernote.
The reason I'm so thrilled with this system is that it lets me plan meals where ever I happen to be: at home, at work, out and about. If I see something at the market that catches my eye - a seasonal goodie or an item on special - I can easily type in the ingredient and pull up recipe options on my iPhone. But even if you don't have an iPhone, Evernote has the advantage of giving you both online and off-line access to your recipes.
I'd like to step you through my system, step-by-step...
Sign up for Evernote
First stop is the Evernote web site. I suggest viewing the "Quick Introduction to Evernote" video (4 minutes) on the Evernote homepage. It will give you a general idea how Evernote works. Though I'm showing how to use Evernote for recipes, it's handy to store all sorts of reference information.
Next, use the Evernote web site to create an Evernote account. This will give you access to the web version of Evernote (Evernote Web).
Here I've logged into Evernote Web with my account. I store information in several Notebooks - the largest of which is my Food Notebook.
Enter and Save a Recipe Manually
To create a new recipe from scratch, click New...
...type in a recipe...
...and Save Changes. So far, it's not much different than a lot of other online storage options for recipes. But let's continue on...
Install the Web Clipper
Go to the Evernote download page and choose Web Clipper. Here you have two options: a bookmarklet that works with most browsers - and a browser extension for Firefox. Follow the instructions (refer to the the handy video) to install either one of these web clippers.
I use Firebox, so I installed the Evernote Firefox Web Clipper, which sits helpfully in my browser toolbar.
Capture and Save a Recipe with the Clipper
The Web Clipper is super for capturing recipes you might want to try. Recently I saw this fantastic-looking recipe for Roasted Pear Frozen Yogurt. To capture this in Evernote...
I highlight the text of the recipe on the web page...
...and click my browser's Evernote Web Clipper.
The Web Clipper displays a little pop-up that lets me edit the title, assign the note to a notebook (in this case my default Notebook, Food) and tag it. Because this is recipe I want to try, I put an asterisk in front of the title. Alternatively, I could tag it with "to try" but I like seeing at a glance which recipes are tried-and-true and which aren't.
Once I save the note, it's available in Evernote Web.
Automatic Syncing Between Versions
But, here is the cool thing. I actually have 3 other versions Evernote installed...
- Evernote PC (at work)
- Evernote Mac (at home)
- Evernote iPhone (mobile)
So, when I captured the frozen yogurt recipe, Evernote automatically synced it not only to Evernote Web, but to all the other versions I have installed. That means I can access this recipe where ever I may be. (Go to the Evernote downloads page to install any of these versions.)
I'll be honest, what is really killer about Evernote for me is having access to my recipes on my iPhone. It lets me go to the market, see what's looking good, and browse for meal ideas right then and there.
Formatting Text for Easy Recipe Reading
The other thing I've done that is use a standardized font style and size for my recipes so that it's easy for me to read the print-outs in the kitchen (Georgia 14 point for body text; Georgia 18 point bold for the recipe title). For whatever reason, these are referred to Georgia Medium and Georgia Large in the Web version and Mac client.
Using and Filing Recipe Print-Outs
I keep my recipe print-outs (of recipes I've tried) stored in a desktop file in our office. If it's a recipe I'm using for the first time, I'll make notes on the print-out about any changes I made or would want to make in the future. I type those notes into Evernote, print out an updated version of the recipe, and slip it in the file.
Evernote Search is Killer
Another killer feature of Evernote is its search capabilities. There is no need to tag recipes with terms such as ingredients that are already contained within the recipe. That's because it's super-fast to search for terms contained within a note.
Let's say I'm looking for something to do with apples.
I just start typing "apples" and all the recipes containing that word automagically appear.
I do use tags to indicate information that is not typically in the recipe text itself: cuisine type, course, seasonality/holiday, etc.
You can also save searches you are likely to perform a lot: for example "quick entree" or "holiday dessert".
Even Text in Images is Searchable
But wait, there's more. I'm a bit fussy about formatting my recipes for print-out, so I don't use this feature for recipes. But if you have a lot of recipes in non-digital format, you can take a picture of them, store the image in Evernote, and Evernote will recognize the text in the image. This means the text of the recipe - even though it's in a graphic format - is searchable. If you haven't viewed the short introductory video on the Evernote home page, check it out now. This is a seriously cool feature.
Evernote is a general information-capture program, not a specialized recipe storage system. As such, it lacks features such as changing quantities, calculating nutritional information, generating a shopping list. And while you can publish an entire notebook so that it is public, you can't selectively choose what to share and what to keep private. (Public notebooks contains ads unless you opt for a premium membership.)
There is one other very important caveat, which is while Evernote states that it plans to fully support exporting data, exporting is only partially supported currently Windows desktop program and not at all in the Mac version. There is more explanation on this here. Without the ability to export data, you run the risk of data lock if the company goes out of business or otherwise stops supporting the product. Most online and many off-line solutions run the risk of data lock. So at least currently the advantage of storing your information locally - on your own computer - is only partially realized with Evernote. I decided to take the CEO at his word about the company's commitment to providing full data import/export functionality in the desktop applications. But as yet they have not announced a date on when it will be available.
Update: Please note the comment by Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, who points out that data portability is now available.
From the Evernote Blog, Oct. 1, 2008:
Both Evernote for Mac and Evernote for Windows are now in the import/export business. You can export and import notes and notebooks from Evernote for Windows to Evernote for Mac and vice versa. The file is a well-defined XML, which means that your Evernote data is completely portable. This also means that developers can build tools to import notes from various applications into Evernote.
So, there you have it. One way to organize recipes. Like any system, there are trade-offs. But for me it is a relatively simple, flexible set-up that helps me plan meals quickly and more easily.
I hope you enjoyed this post! To view my full list of step-by-step recipes, see the complete recipe index.
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