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What’s cooking?

Culinary resources on the Web will have you going back for seconds.

Loitering in my mom’s kitchen over Thanksgiving, I picked up a cookbook she’d left sitting on the counter: Betty Crocker, circa 1965. Each page laid out an entire dinner, complete with shopping plan, preparation tips, and dessert. While my husband and I joked about the antiquated language, garish pictures, and questionable food choices–jellied chicken loaf?–it reminded me of something lost. Mom’s generation and those before her had to cook, mostly from scratch, in order to eat. (In my house, “cooking” is any meal that takes longer than 20 minutes to make.) Reading Betty’s book, with its sensible plans and gentle advice, I realized we still need her.

Of course, she already knew that. As I revisited the Top 100 Cooking Sites (mentioned in November’s column), I felt like a latecomer to the Web’s swingingest speakeasy. Cooking sites might be the nirvana of Web surfing, loaded with thousands of recipes, tips, videos, and slide shows. Most are user- and bandwidth-friendly, and free. For this column, the first of two parts, we’ll look at the top six sites whose features merit the most attention. As with a master cookbook, you’ll find yourself referring to them often.

Betty Crocker

The “all about cooking” section is a must-see that covers kitchen setup, frequently used items, equipment selection, and food safety. Registering allows you to save recipes to a personalized “recipe box” or meal planner. You can swap recipes from the planner to a grocery list, which organizes ingredients into categories like “refrigerated” and “canned goods.”

The Ultimate Cookbook

Set eating preferences–vegan, kosher, low-sodium, high-fiber, and so on–before you browse recipes. Search by skill level, region, or holiday. See more than one recipe at a time for ingredient comparisons, then select items for a shopping list. One caveat: When you revisit after registering, there is no login box. Click “search my recipes” to see your personalized content.

Cooking.com

Cooking.com is all about selling, and it delivers high-end content to match. Its sophisticated yet simple recipes and menus offer nutritional information along with wine suggestions when appropriate. Video demos cover seasonal topics, such as making eggnog or setting a formal table. There’s no shopping list, but Cooking.com makes up for it with clickable glossary terms. Its instructions are clear and conversational, easing you into unfamiliar cuisines or techniques.

Better Homes and Gardens

Upload your own recipes, or save ones from this site. Add comments to recipes with a “notepad.” Those who register can download special sections as PDFs to generate a virtual cookbook complete with large type, vivid photography, and clickable page flipping. Other features include slide shows, a chat room, and recipe ratings.

VegSource and VegWeb

VegSource is vegetarian, while VegWeb is strictly vegan. Both feature a meal planner/recipe saver and a grocery-list function. Each organizes recipes by dish, meal time, and main ingredient.

iVillage

The detailed recipe finder features drop-down menus for choosing dinner, lunch, beverage, breakfast, snack, or dessert. Choose the dish (e.g., appetizer), preferred ingredients (spinach), and other requirements (fat-free). You can even select preparation methods or special occasions. The down side of all this specificity is that fewer results match all your needs.

Next time: Let’s hear it for the side dishes: These sites round out your cooking oeuvre.

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