In this section I have attempted to create a guide to quality food and cooking info on the net. Why send my readers elsewhere? In fall 2009, when Conde Nast announced it was pulling the plug on Gourmet magazine, Christopher Kimball, then publisher of Cook’s Illustrated, a competitior of Gourmet, wrote a thoughtful op-ed in the New York Times on its demise. He blamed free content on the net and the advertising business model that keeps it alive, and argued for the subscription model his site uses. He said “Google ‘broccoli casserole’ and make the first recipe you find. I guarantee it will be disappointing. The world needs fewer opinions and more thoughtful expertise…”
So I Googled “broccoli casserole” and the very first recipe was in Cooks.com (not related to Cook’s Illustrated). Cooks.com is a humongous recipe database and it had 395 (!) broccoli casserole recipes contributed by, well, anyone. The very first recipe, by someone identified only as “CM” called for “sliced chicken” to be placed in the bottom of the casserole and the rest of the ingredients go on top. Then it said “brown on the top third shelf in a 350°F oven for about 15 minutes or until nicely golden.” It doesn’t say if I’m to use bake or broil, but I’m here to tell you, if you use raw chicken, 15 minutes on either setting is not likely enough time to kill salmonella, rampant in raw chicken nowadays. You could be more than “disappointed” in the first recipe you find, as Kimball predicts. You could be serving everyone a nice case of food poisoning.
I randomly clicked on some of the other recipes. A few looked like they might be pretty good. But many had confusing ingredients lists, failing to specify what kind of cheese, and other recipes had sketchy instructions. The latest thing is “crowd sourced” recipe sites like Foodista and the recipes section of Wikia.com. Anyone can edit any recipe they want. The theory is that the wisdom of the crowd will produce something better than any individual can. It works fairly well on Wikipedia.com, an online encyclopedia. So, if I hate cilantro, I can whip through the site removing cilantro willy nilly. If I like spicy food, I can add a splash of hot sauce to everything. It I work for Velveeta, well, you get the picture. These are new sites, so only time will tell if they produce anything useful, but I am skeptical.
Real recipe writing is hard work and it takes experience. It can take a dozen attempts to get it right. Adjust one ingredient and you probably have to adjust others. After you get it down you have to explain each step so there is no ambiguity. A serious food writer lives in fear of ruining somebody’s meal with an imprecise instruction. So where are those serious food writers and tested recipes?
Google uses a computer program to determine its rankings and far too many of the goods sites are buried. Most of the time it is pretty good. But when it comes to food, Google and the other search engines are bringing us quantity, not quality. So it is left to me to bring us quality.
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Published On: 7/1/2019 Last Modified: 7/14/2021