Traditional Cookbooks vs. E-Readers, Searches and Apps

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Whenever a new cookbook comes into my possession, the first thing I do is sit down, scan through the recipes and use Post-Its to flag the things I might actually take the time to make, paying attention to ingredients and the time required to pull a dish together. It makes for easy referencing, especially if I need to break from the same tired old meals and learn to make something new. However, it seems that the digital powers that be are trying to make this facet of my analog life obsolete. Will websites and e-readers ultimately replace the tried-and-true hard copy cookbook?

New York Times tech blogger Sam Grobart fired a few warning shots in his recent piece about which technological gadgets to keep and which ones to toss. While he positions himself as a supporter of books, he points out some new apps on the market that may make cookbooks obsolete. They're geared to making life in the kitchen easier with instructional videos, built-in timers and the ability to email oneself a list of ingredients when making a run to the grocery store. There's also the added benefit of having color photographs for every recipe—which is a luxury in printed cookbooks.

But as he also points out in his piece, books are generally not that expensive; if something happens to one, it's not the end of the world. If something happens to your e-reader, that's a huge chunk of change gone down the drain. And need I remind anyone of how hopelessly messy a kitchen can be? Although there are preventative measures you can take to protect your investment, the stuff that can gunk up and ruin an electronic device are easily wiped off from a book. Furthermore, if you need to adjust recipes to suit your personal taste, it's not that inconvenient to find a pencil and mark your amendments in a book's margins.

Google also threw a jab at the traditional cookbook format with its new online recipe search, allowing amateur cooks to refine a search by ingredients, calorie count and cooking time. Offhand, this sounds pretty handy—but is something lost in the ongoing quest for convenience? New York Times Cookbook editor and blogger Amanda Hesser has her reservations:

Google’s search engine gives vast advantage to the largest recipe websites with the resources to input all this metadata, and particularly those who home in on “quick and easy” and low calorie dishes (which, by the way, doesn’t mean the recipes are actually healthy). In so doing, Google unwittingly—but damagingly—promotes a cooking culture focused on speed and diets.

I gave the search a quick try and, personally, I see this as a fine way to make use of odds-and-ends ingredients lurking in the pantry. For example, I was readily able to find a recipe that could make use of leftover pearl barley and lentils—ingredients I bought for recipes I didn't especially enjoy, and I didn't know how to use those ingredients outside of those dishes. Nevertheless, I would never use it as a primary meal planning resource. There's much fun to be had flipping through a cookbook and stumbling on recipes where the author pairs ingredients in ways that wouldn't have occurred to you. Don't get me wrong—I'm not opposed to new technologies. It is a question of form and function, and as far as I'm concerned, physical cookbooks are more practical for primary cooking references.

Do you think the latest technologies will make you stop buying cookbooks? Continue the discussion in the comments area below.

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