Food on the Web

This week’s CBC Web column (the last of the series)…


“What’s for dinner?” is a question whose answer can inspire joy, dread, or simply ennui. We all have our favorite recipes, and a few that are far from our favorites. But we get tired of even our favorite things if we get them night after night. And we get tired of our least-favorite things even faster.

What to do? Why, turn to the Internet, of course.

Back when home computers were first being talked about, it was always said you could keep your recipes on them. Now we’ve come full circle with recipes on the World Wide Web…and then some. After all, with a Commodore 64 or TRS-80 you might have been able to keep a few dozen of your own recipes on your computer, but with access to the Web, you’ve got millions at your fingertips.

I always head first to a site called Epicurious, which is run by the folks that bring you Gourmet and bon appétit magazines. It’s subtitled “for people who love to eat,” and that’s a pretty good description.

There’s a lot more than just recipes here, of course. There are articles on cooking techniques, dining and travel, kitchen equipment and much more.

But even if it’s just recipes you’re after, you won’t be disappointed.

Since the next holiday of note is St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to see what I could turn up on Epicurious with a recipe search for “green,” and was rewarded with 4,798 results, beginning with “Green Bean, Orange and Green Olive Salad.”

That seemed a bit overwhelming, so I narrowed the search to “green” and “Irish,” and ended up with a more manageable list: Irish Stew, Irish “Bacon” and Cabbage, Irish Pub Salad, Spinach Soup with Green Onions, Venison Medallions with Juniper and Orange, Beef and Guinness Pie, Potato and Cabbage Bundles, Easy Split Pea Soup. I’m sure you could put together a fine, fine St. Paddy’s day feast with that selection.

Just for fun, I also searched the drink recipes, and was rewarded with “Green Tea and Citrus Whiskey Punch,” which at least would be nice change from beer with food coloring in it.

Among the other useful features my wife and I have found at Epicurious is a food dictionary, so if, for example, you run across a recipe calling for harusame, you will know that you need to go buy some Japanese noodles made from soybean, rice or potato flour.

If the recipes at Epicurious sound a bit…adventurous…you might prefer to look at some older-fashioned recipes from, say, fifty years ago.

Or a thousand.

Or two thousand, for that matter. offers “old-fashioned recipes from vintage cookbooks.” Their recent additions, when I visited, included corn bread, egg salad, and various cakes and cookies.

A search “Irish” here got me Irish Apple Pie, Grated Irish Potato, Chocolate Blancmange (which involves something called Irish moss, which, a quick visit back to Epicurious’s food dictionary informed me, is carrageen, “a stubby, purplish seaweed found along the west coast of Ireland, as well as America’s Atlantic coast,” that, dried, is used as a thickening agent), and, of course, Irish Stew.

If the recipes from vintage cookbooks aren’t old enough for you, you might want to visit Medieval Cookery, which is just what it sounds like: a site devoted to medieval cooking, complete with recipes, links to online medieval cookbooks, a dictionary of Middle-English cooking terms, and even a selection of food related paintings. Here you can find recipes for everything from “Gyngerbrede” to Candied Horseradish, Parsnip Pie, Rique-Manger (eggs and apples), Cinnamon Soup and Pochee (poached eggs with custard sauce).

Or you can go even further back and try some of the handful of authentic ancient Roman recipes posted at NOVA Online, the website for the popular PBS science program. Seasoned Mussels, Boiled Eggs in Pine Nut Sauce, Lucanian Sausages, Mulsum (honeyed wine), Garum Fish Sauce, Pear Patina and Libum (sweet cheesecake) are all on the menu.

As you can probably tell, if you go old-fashioned enough, your recipes start getting adventurous again. But what about those occasions when adventurous is exactly what you’re looking for?

Then you might try Nick Paine’s Exotic Kitchen. Nick Paine calls himself “The World’s Only Culinary Archaeologist,”and in his pictures he looks like a cross between an aging rock star and a Hell’s Angel. He likes to travel the world and try some of humanity’s more exotic fare right where it originates. So, on his list of “Top Ten Expedition Meals” you can find Armadillo Ranchera, Cretan Snails, Iguana and Sarapatera (freshwater turtle stew cooked in the turtle’s own cleaned shell). You might have trouble getting the ingredients—Superstore doesn’t carry Armadillo, as far as I know—but it’s interesting to read the recipes.

Of course, lots of people have their own favorite recipes (though perhaps not for Iguana) they’d love to share with others—and there are plenty of places to do that online, too.

One I came across is called the GardenWeb Recipe Exchange, part of GardenWeb, “The Internet’s Garden & Home Community,” and it’s essentially a message board where people both post recipes and post requests for recipes. When I visited this week, the most recent message was a recipe for Pancake Sandwiches. A couple of messages down, someone was looking for cooked salsa recipes; someone else was looking for an authentic chow mein recipe. And they found them, too!

Now, I enjoy cooking, and I’m not ashamed to say so. But if you have a masculine self-image you’d like to bolster while you’re wearing a frilly apron in the kitchen, you can always remind yourself that cooking is a very scientific endeavour. And if anyone questions that, point them to The Science of Cooking, a site created by San Francisco’s Exploratorium, the original science museum. There are sections on eggs, pickles, candy, bread, spices, seasoning and meat, webcasts on topics like the science of bread, answers to weekly questions (This week’s: “What can I do about bitter eggplant?”) and, yes, recipes.

So: if you don’t like the answer to the question, “What’s for dinner?”, surf the Web, and change it.

Just don’t blame me if your kids don’t eat your Armadillo Ranchera.

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