Postbureaucrat

Personal blogging by Steph Gray, founder of Helpful Digital and erstwhile bureaucrat

As a foodie, I have too many recipe books I never use…

Chez Gray, we’re into our cooking. Not like crazy obsessive, but we’ve always enjoyed making interesting food. So over time, we’ve accumulated quite a lot of recipe books – over 80, actually. But despite them being to hand, and full of interesting recipes, we found we weren’t using them much. Some sat on the shelf, unloved, year after year.

We worked on solving the ‘where to go holiday?’ problem with TripRandomiser about 18 months ago, and that gave us a bit of a taste for decision-making based on chance.

So, not long after that, I set up The Foodomiser, and we’ve been using it as a family on and off ever since. In a nutshell, the idea is:

  1. We set up a simple database of our recipe books (originally we did this via a barcode-scanning app we found on an app store. It sort of worked, but frankly we found manual entry is more reliable and easier). This then feeds a tiny app I made to put all the pages in all the books end-to-end, and pick one at random (so bigger books stand a bigger chance of getting picked)
  2. We added The Foodomiser web app shortcut to our phones’ home screen and use the app from time to time to pick a random page from a random book in our library
  3. We then hunt through our shelves looking for the corresponding book, and decide if it’s a viable recipe (see ‘red lines’ below). If so, we note down the book/page.
  4. We get the ingredients together (or buy/order them) and then make it. Sometimes we put the results on Instagram.

Here’s how it looks:

 

Recently, I’ve tinkered with the app a bit to open it up to others: now you too can run your own Foodomiser library and app.

So, you make whatever it says?

Kind of. The first rule of The Foodomiser is: there are no rules. But we’ve adopted a few practical principles:

  1. If the page isn’t a viable recipe (it’s a picture, or some waffle-y intro) then you spin again
  2. If the recipe has ingredients some/most of the family are allergic to or hate, you spin again
  3. If a recipe book keeps turning up recipes that frankly don’t spark joy, then delete it from the library and Marie Kondo-it out of your life: give the book to a charity shop. Bonus: while you’re in the charity shop, see if you can find a replacement!
  4. Keep spinning a few times to get a batch of recipes to get a balanced diet (some main courses and puddings) and make them over time
  5. Not everyone has to know they’ll like it, in order for you to make it. It just has to be interesting/viable, given we’re a family with two small, fussy boys and busy lifestyles

We’ve had some real dark horses emerge (home made pumpernickel was actually great), a few popular classics (home made jam donuts) and some repertoire-expanding creations (fresh pasta).

Above all, it’s got us using our recipe books again, clearing out some of the less exciting ones we’ve had cluttering up the house for 20 years, and making more interesting meals. Foodomiser spins are a social activity, and quite an entertaining way to decide what to cook (will it be chocolate cake or seaweed salad? Drumroll…)

Feel free to pop some of your own books into The Foodomiser and set one up for yourself. Let me know how you get on!

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2 comments on “As a foodie, I have too many recipe books I never use…

  1. Avatar Graham says:

    Simple idea, love it. Might have to give it a go – one of my old projects is a recipe tracker, to build up a shopping list from a few clicks. Maybe there’s a way to get these two talking via API… 😁

    1. Avatar Steph says:

      Oooh, interesting. I’d be intrigued to know if there’s a better open source book database to call on too – ideally the input process would be zapping some barcodes/ISBN numbers with your phone and all done.