Five Steps for Choosing Online Recipes–A Tutorial

8 Sep

Howdy, folks. Seeing as my oven is still currently a giant, useless piece of scrap metal sitting in my kitchen where yummy baked goods used to emerge, I thought I would take this opportunity to create a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time but never seem to get around to: the art of picking which online recipe to make in a sea of foodie posts scrambling to be called “The One.”

screen shot of pancake recipe

Learn what to look for in choosing the best recipes.

What Difference Does It Make?

So what exactly makes one recipe a better fit for you and your kitchen than another? The answer: lots of things. But using the following helpful hints should help you navigate the uncharted waters and steer clear of most of the taste wrecks until you land on a winner you and your family are most likely to enjoy.

1.) Assembling the “Top Pick” Bracket

Let’s say you’ve Googled the words “Blueberry Pancakes”+”recipe” and have come up with approximately fifty billion website entries matching this search query. Where do you go from there?

Obviously, you’re not going to be able to manually read and sift through every blueberry pancake tutorial on the Internet. Or, if you did, you’d probably be so tired of reading about them by the time you finish that you’d never want to see a blueberry pancake again.

Instead, you want to speedily narrow the field down to a handful of recipes that seem worthy of making the cut. The good news is, some of that work has already been done for you.

Whether you started out using a regular search engine like Google or Yahoo, which ranks search results by pertinence and traffic (good indicators of top-performing recipes), or plunged straight into a recipe database like AllRecipes or Recipe.com, which displays easy-to-read review rankings, a lot of work has been taken out of the equation simply by paying attention to where these results lead you.

Note: I’m definitely not saying that after typing the phrase “blueberry pancakes” into your search field, that the five top search returns are inarguably the best recipes out there to choose from. What I am saying is that you should be able to find several good candidates by surfing the listing in this manner without having to stop and read every single recipe along the way. Basically, if they turn up in the top two or three pages of a search engine, or have four or five stars out of fifty or so reviews on a cooking site, these are probably solid recipes that deliver results, which is what you’re looking for.

Once you’ve taken note of several of promising-sounding candidates, it’s time to get a closer look at the actual recipes.

2.) Thinning the Herd

So, in this imaginary repertoire, you now have a handfiul of recipes for blueberry pancakes that seem like solid contenders. It’s time to click on each one and thrown out all the wild hares that turned out to be restaurant reviews or spam-filled advertisements or photos of somebody’s ridiculous-looking homemade costume of a blueberry pancake for their kid’s 4th-grade play about nutrition. And now, of the remaining websites on your queue, they’re all recipes, they are all centered around the idea of something round and sweet that resembles a pancake, and they all appear to directly involve blueberries:

–“Blueberry-Lemon Pancakes”

–“Easy Blueberry Pancakes”

–“Fast Pancakes with Blueberries”

–“Steel-Cut Oat Pancakes with Wild Maine Bluberries and Organic Mango Chutney”

–“Cheap & Quick Berry Pancakes”

–“Heart-Healthy Blueberry Yogurt Pancakes”

–“Grandma’s Never-Fail Blueberry Hotcakes”

Note: If you don’t like having several browser windows open, you can always copy-and-paste the URLs onto a Microsoft Word document for quick reference and site-jumping without losing your list.

3.) Identifying Your Specific Cooking Goals

Now it’s time to start examining the titles/summaries and determine which ones might suit your expectations best.

Fresh blueberries

Do all of the recipes use the same kind of berries? Are they available near you? Are they fresh or frozen?

For example, if you’re looking for a lower-calorie approach to making blueberry pancakes, titles such as “Heart-Healthy Blueberry Yogurt Pancakes” and “Steel-Cut Oat Pancakes with Wild Maine Bluberries and Organic Mango Chutney” might stand out on the page as the ones to look at first.

On the other hand, if you’re in need of a basic, beginner-level recipe for pancake-making, you may want to avoid fancy or complicated-sounding posts or those that involve ingredients you are less familiar with.

If your family doesn’t eat steel-cut oatmeal and you have never prepared it, you may not want to purchase that ingredient expressly for using a small amount to make pancakes out of. In this instance, “Easy Blueberry Pancakes” and “Cheap & Quick Blueberry Pancakes” might identify themselves as simpler, user-friendly titles.

Similarly, if you are looking for a reliable, traditional recipe that embodies all of the tastes and qualities you generally attribute to delicious restaurant-quality pancakes, “Grandma’s Never-Fail Blueberry Hotcakes” might catch your eye first.

Nonetheless, it’s important to choose three or four suitable recipes to actually read through, to get a good idea of what sort of pancake-making experience you’re likely to have, regardless of the final recipe choice, which brings us to our penultimate step.

4.) Comparing Ingredients & Methods

This part of the process reminds me a lot of reading SAT/ACT prep guides like this one in high school. They were always full of these little strategies for best guessing the correct answer when presented with a completely baffling question that made no sense. For example:

Best SAT guide ever.

Question: If Beauregard and Vladimir have 572 rolls of crepe paper, and Lorelei and Guenevere have 12,000 squares of confetti, how many girls will ask Norman to the Sadie Hawkins dance on Friday?

Answers (Multiple Choice):

a.) 344

b.) 4.34

c.) None, because no one named Norman ever gets asked to dances, let alone by multiple girls.

d.) 434

As amazing as it may sound, and despite this question making absolutely no actual sense, we can easily infer from the above question that the answer is (despite our longing backward glances at option “c”), in fact, option “d” (434).

This is because you’re basically playing the “One of These Things Is Not Like the Other” game from Sesame Street, except in this case it’s actually “One of These Things Is More Like the Others.” (As I recall, that’s the title of one of the guessing segments in the “Up Your Score” SAT book. I will utilize the authors’ methods to demonstrate how I arrived at the correct answer using this strategy:

Three out of four of the answers are numbers involving variations of the digits “3” and “4,” making it likely that the correct answer also involves “3” and “4”, thereby eliminating answer “c”, despite our strong inclination to choose it.

Next, I can see that two out of three of the answers are 3-digit, non-decimal-place numbers, thereby eliminating answer “b,” but not before we also take notice that both answers “b” and “d” have ordered the digits 4-3-4. This means that of our remaining choices, “a” and “d”, only “d” is both a 3-digit, non-decimal-place number AND ordered in the 4-3-4 format. Therefore, as much as we may protest, “d” is the best answer to guess in this circumstance. (Norman, you stud!)

*In much the same way as we discovered how many girls are jonesing for Norman’s sexy moves at the school dance, we can also determine which pancake recipe is likely to have the most standard and/or desirable results, depending on our goal.

For example, if four out of five recipes use baking powder and only one recipe calls for baking soda, we can safely infer that baking powder is the preferred leavening agent for blueberry pancakes. Additionally, if three out of the remaining four recipes use a combination of milk and oil whereas the remaining recipe instead uses a cup of yogurt, we may be skeptical about using the yogurt recipe if “traditional” is what we were going for.

And this what you do, so on and so forth, until you have either landed on one recipe that more-or-less utilizes the most common ingredients in generally standard amounts, or whittled down a couple of recipes that appear to be most similar to the others and use between them an amalgamation of desirable ingredients and measurements.

You will also, in doing this, want to read the directions portion of each chosen recipes to eliminate any that use equipment you do not have or complicated methods you do not wish to attempt. For example, if one recipe calls for using a crepe iron and all others use either a pan or griddle, you may want to avoid the crepe iron recipe, unless the directions note that you can duplicate the results using equipment you already have. Once you have settled on a recipe (or two) that you intend to use, you’ve only got one step left.

5.) Read specific reviews and remarks before beginning

Even if your chosen recipe sounds absolutely delicious and involves all of the yummy ingredients you wanted to include, it’s still a very good idea to at least skim over some of the reviews from others who have tried the recipe. Often times, I read over recipe reviews only to find that half the readers who have rated a particular recipe “five stars” (or “five spatulas” or whatever else) haven’t even actually tried making the recipe! They’re just rating how it sounds to them!

I really hate this, and truly believe in my heart that there is a special room reserved for jerks like this in the depths of hell, despite the fact that they probably think they’re just being “encouraging,” but it is something you’ve got to be aware of nonetheless.

So, skim over the review section, be on the lookout for any recurring issues reviewers are having with a particular method or ingredient, note any possible alternate substitutions or solutions posted therein, and basically just get a feel of what sort of experience the other reviewers had with this recipe overall. Decide from that if there are any adjustments to be made or tweaking you’d like to do to the recipe, and then you’re ready to go!

Summary

I know that seemed like a long post to explain a seemingly simple process like picking out a recipe for blueberry pancakes, but please trust me when I say that I do a LOT of recipe-surfing and ingredient-experimentations, and this method really is tried-and-true in the Red Kitchen. The good news is that this method probably takes less time to implement than it does to even read about in this post, once you get used to operating this way. Meanwhile, if you’ve gleaned even one little, useful morsel information or inspiration from this post, then I’m happy. And if not, I’m done writing this long-ass post now anyway, which also makes me happy. So really, I win either way. 🙂

I hope all of your recipes are winners, too. Happy cooking [and websurfing]!

–Gracie

P.S. And for this specific example, I can assure you, the best recipe for blueberry pancakes is actually here. 🙂 So you know. How’s that for time-saving?

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5 Responses to “Five Steps for Choosing Online Recipes–A Tutorial”

  1. redforkhippie September 8, 2010 at 9:02 PM #

    That’s awesome, but what I really want is the recipe for Tasty 800 Bars, as I loaned my copy of Up Your Score to somebody in high school, and it came back with several pages missing — including the one that had the recipe on it. In retrospect, I probably should have kicked that guy’s butt….

    • Gracie September 8, 2010 at 9:18 PM #

      Yeah I remember it had pages missing when you loaned it to me so I had to buy my own copy which is probably still at Mom’s house somewhere. It had the recipes in it. My fave was the verbal section glossary with contextual memory devices–like “Bob Euker has been known to ‘abase’ himself at ‘a base-‘ball game” and “The terrorist ‘abominate’-d Nathan so much that he put ‘a-bomb-in-Nate’s’ boxer shorts” and so on. ROTF!

  2. hampshirecook September 9, 2010 at 2:17 AM #

    Fell over your post in random recipe surfing and I so totally agree finding a decent recipe online is really time-consuming, I steer clear now of “best recipe ever…” or “guaranteed 100% results” claims. I also filter by no pix of the person actually making it or the final result = good chance they didn’t and the recipe is therefore potentially a recycled, tweaked to death dud. I know that’s a sweeping generalisation and could be really unfair to some fantastic camera-less cook…but I wont risk it anymore…

    • Gracie September 15, 2010 at 8:07 AM #

      Good call, hampshirecook, and sound advice. And, even though I know what you mean about feeling unfair to a camera-less cook, it makes total sense that one has to have some sort of a screening process to narrow the field down a bit, and there will be different criteria for each reader. 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Five Steps for Choosing the Best Recipe to Use (Online) « The Red … | Cheap Quick Recipes - September 8, 2010

    […] Original post by Gracie […]

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