A few posts ago, I talked about how I don’t plan meals before going to the grocery store or farmer’s market. Instead, I let sales on meat and produce influence what I buy and what I cook for the week. What I failed to tell you, however, is how I decide what I’ll cook. Sometimes a single ingredient will whet my appetite for a particular dish but often I need a little inspiration. I used to buy what’s on sale then review cookbooks and online recipes when I got home but technology has changed things. Before I get to my current method, you need a little back story…

A few years ago, I started typing up all my recipes in Evernote. I loved how Evernote synced across all my devices (computer, tablet, phone), which meant I could access any recipe from any device and could even pull up my Evernote account from any computer with internet access. I got about 80 or so recipes transferred to Evernote before the shine wore off. I still used Evernote for other purposes, especially when opening the restaurant, but I was no longer as committed to using it to organize all my recipes.

Then I found Tastebook. It functions similar to Evernote for me, only its specific function is recipe storage so it has some features Evernote doesn’t (like a shopping list). I started migrating all my recipes from Evernote to Tastebook. This took a while because the Tastebook interface is very specific; you put ingredients in a certain place, instructions in a certain place, upload photos to a certain place, etc. That meant I couldn’t just copy and paste. Plus, there was no app to download to my computer like with Evernote so internet access was required to look up a recipe. My OCD-like tendencies loved that every recipe was formatted the same but I wasn’t sure if the time it took produced much return on investment. Predictably, the shine wore off even quicker with Tastebook. I got less than 60 recipes imported.

Then came Pinterest and it rocked my world. I spent hours browsing food boards and pinning like crazy. I was inspired by some pins and appalled by others but I pinned them all. I didn’t believe that mixing 4 wet ingredients together, pouring it over chicken thighs, and baking it for 30 minutes could really produce the “most delicious chicken you’ve ever tasted” but who was I to judge? So I pinned it and maybe I’d try it later.

After a while, I had a couple people tell me they tried a dish I pinned (not an inspirational pin, one of those “no way that works but I’m pinning it anyway” pins) and how horrible it was. That’s when I realized that because I work with food for a living, some people expect every recipe I pin to work. They don’t know my intent for pinning something, they just see a dish pinned by a chef. So I stopped pinning food. Instead, I opted to open the pin and take screen shots of recipes on my phone. When Pinterest eventually released “secret boards”, I made one for recipes. Good thing because the camera roll on my phone quickly climbed to about 7,000 photos.

The thing about pinning recipes or saving them to your phone (or both) is that you can never find anything. Even if you remember a recipe you pinned 17 months ago, you’ll probably never find it. I knew there had to be another option. That brought me back to Evernote. I had an idea and I needed to test it out. I went to my “Recipes” notebook and created a new note. I added the 4 photos from my phone that made up a single recipe and saved it to that single note. It totally worked. This new method meant I could also create notes for all the recipes I took photos of and had no idea what to do with (from magazines while waiting in the doctor’s office, from a cookbook at my grandmother’s house,…).

That brings me to today. I haven’t yet moved all the photos from my camera roll on my phone to Evernote but I’m well on my way. To date, I have 528 recipes saved. Now when I’m strolling through the meat section and see a sale on sirloin, I open Evernote on my phone, search for sirloin. In a few seconds I’m reviewing every recipe I have that includes sirloin. This has revolutionized my grocery shopping because now I’m not just buying sale items and hoping I have the right things at home to make a great dinner out of it. I leave the grocery store knowing what I’m making for dinner all week and buying any ingredients I need.

Evernote also makes an Evernote Food app, specifically for recipes and meals and all that. It syncs with the original Evernote app but I haven’t messed around with it at all. The original Evernote works for me but it may not be the best option for you. Tastebook is still a great tool so I’ll break down the pros and cons of each, then show you how I use Evernote.

Tastebook
Pros:

  • Easy to use interface
  • Add an ingredient to your shopping list from within a recipe
  • Easily email shopping list
  • The in-app search allows you to search for recipes from several really good sources (Saveur, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Martha Stewart, popular blogs, etc.) and save the recipes to your account
  • Turn your online recipe collection into a printed cookbook with just a few clicks.
  • Easy to print or email recipes
Cons:
  • Can’t create a new recipe from a mobile device
  • Can’t copy and paste a recipe
  • Takes a while to type each recipe
  • Limited format options
  • Internet required to add or recall recipes

Evernote
Pros:
  • Save a photo as a recipe
  • Tag each recipe for quick searches later
  • Open formatting within note
  • Recognizes and searches text in photos (with Evernote Pro only)
  • Easy to print or email notes
  • Can give others access to your notebooks (and set permissions)
Cons:
  • Limited upload space per month (more with Evernote Pro but still limited)
  • Search feature not always reliable
  • The search is too good. If I search “beef”, it will pull up every recipe that contains beef stock.
Weighing the pros and cons of each, Evernote easily won out for me. Here’s how I use it to save photos of recipes from my phone, which I find easier than adding them through the app on my computer. This demo is on an iPhone but I’m sure the steps on other phones are similar. Today, let’s add a recipe I found for a copycat Dairy Queen Blizzard from BraveTart. I’m slightly obsessed with Blizzards and since all the DQs around me closed and the other fast food equivalents can’t compare, I need a recipe. The girl at BraveTart is a talented pastry chef with an impressive dedication to detail so I can’t wait to try this one.
Step 1:  
First, I edited out any unwanted details by opening each photo in my Camera Roll. You can skip this step if you don’t mind the browser banner at the top and botom of your photo. You know I have OCDish tendencies so I edit the photos to make them seamless. Most of the time.

Step 2:

Go to your recipes notebook in Evernote. This is important, make sure you’re in the right notebook. Any new note you create will automatically default to the notebook you’re currently in. I made the mistake of adding over 80 recipes to the wrong notebook and had to transfer them all later. Total time killer.

Hit the + in the upper right-hand corner to create a new note.

Step 3:  Add recipe

If you want to type the recipe, click in the body and start typing then skip to Step 7.

If you want to add photos as the recipe, tap the camera icon to add a photo.

Step 4:

Tap ‘Choose Existing’ if you’ve already saved the photo to your camera roll.

Tap ‘Take Photo’ if you haven’t.

Step 4.5: Take the photo.

Note: if you need to take several photos, take them from the camera on your phone (not within the Evernote app). Otherwise, you’ll have to keep repeating Steps 3 through 4.5 for each photo.


Step 5:  Add photo

If you’re adding just one photo, you can simply tap that photo to add it to the note and skip to Step 7. If you’re adding several photos, click the icon in the bottom left-hand corner.


Step 6:  Select multiple photos

Tap each photo you want to add. You’ll see a checkmark appear over each photo you select. Make sure you select them in the order you want them to appear on the note… if you select the last one first, that one will appear first on the note.

When you’ve selected all your photos, click “Add Selected Photos” at the bottom.

Step 7:  Add title

Add a title to your note. If you want to add tags or change the notebook, click on the “i” in the top right. If not, hit “Close” and you’re done.

Step 8:  Add tags

If you upgrade to Evernote Pro ($5/month or $45/year), the app will search text within your photos so you don’t need to go crazy with tags. That said, I also tag things that are not mentioned in the recipe. For example, all my cakes say they’re cakes in the title so I never tag “cake”. But it doesn’t say “dessert” so I tag dessert in every sweet recipe I save, including fruit dishes. I tag “breakfast” for all breakfast dishes. I could write a whole post on tags. Not now, maybe later.

If you don’t upgrade to Evernote Pro, you need to tag your recipes well and the more tags, the better. In addition to the examples I gave above, you should also tag the top 1 or 2 items within the recipe. Don’t just tag “chicken”, get a little more specific. If it’s a recipe for a whole chicken, tag “whole chicken”. If it’s chicken breast, tag “chicken breast”. This will make a significant difference in your search results when you’re looking for dinner ideas.

Step 9: Review

There’s my Blizzard recipe! I don’t have the words to convey just how excited I am to try it. My expectations are high and devastation is looming if it doesn’t taste like DQ’s.

Now let’s pretend you’re at the grocery store and good quality chocolate is on sale. If everything was right with the world, it would be a punishable crime to walk past chocolate on sale. It’s not, of course, but you still buy some. Just in case. You open Evernote to get some ideas and you find a recipe you’ve never made but always wanted to. In this case, a very French chocolate cake with an oozy salted caramel center (I actually found this one on a French site). You decide you’re going to make it. At this point, tap the little star to the left of the title to save it to your Favorites. Now it’s saved in your Favorites, which you can access from the Evernote main screen.


I keep my Favorites clear… all that’s in there are the recipes I plan on making this week. Once I’ve made them, I remove them from Favorites. This prevents me from looking at the package of beef tips in my fridge and thinking, “what was I going to make with this?” I just go to my Favorites and after a short process of elimination, I’ve found my recipe. The more items in “Favorites”, the longer the process of elimination.

I know this system won’t work for everyone but it’s perfect for me. I’m not down with spending hours creating fancy menu boards with corresponding recipe binders and detailed shopping lists. I used to do a version of that but my grocery bill is so much less when I shop for sales instead of set menus.
I’m curious… what works for you? Is there something else you use that I haven’t tried yet?
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