Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Anatomy of a Recipe Search: FoodNetwork.com vs. Epicurious.com

Let me first say, that the initial time I went on Epicurious, I misspelled it and ended up on some horrible porno site (which I could never find again).

The other day, I was thinking about what to make for dinner and I decided to stage an informal competition between these 2 websites. Which one would come up with the best recipe fastest? I typed in "boneless chicken and pasta", knowing that, even though I had boneless thighs, most likely the recipes would come up using the breast. But that was ok, I didn't want it to be too challenging. I also knew that no matter what the pasta was, I was intending to use this fabulous new whole wheat spaghetti from Barilla. (It comes in many varieties.)

I started with the Food Network website. 80 results came up. The first recipe was Giada's
Grilled Meats and Vegetables over Saffron Orzo. Meats? Who said anything about Meats? I checked out the recipe and it was indeed for Chicken, in fact, BOTH breast and thighs. But it had shrimp and it was grilled and I really wanted something I could do quickly in a saute pan.

Recipe number 2 was Easy Chipotle Cashew Chicken with Brown Rice. I said PASTA. I DID look at it though. It was a Rachael Ray recipe. It had NINETEEN ingredients. This was going to take only 1800 seconds?

Recipe number 3 on my search was Stuffed Boneless Quail with Wild Rice, Sage and Apples. What the...? The only word that matched my search was boneless. I just want to throw a bunch of stuff into a pan, add the spaghetti and call it dinner. Stuffing BONELESS QUAIL does not exactly fit my vision of what I wanted to be happening in my kitchen that night. And what is an egg white doing in the stuffing? (I had to take a peek.) Oh, the recipe is from a spa...That explains it. It's ok to eat some nasty bird that's probably the first cousin of a pigeon??? But under no circumstances should you put one egg yolk (that's going to feed SIX people) in the mixture that's going inside the bird.

I was beginning to lose faith in the Food Network. Where are all of the tasty dishes I've seen Michael and Giada and, of course, Ina do over the years? Where does this ragtaggle collection of recipes come from?

The next 3 dishes are non contenders as well: Chicken Marvalasala and Pappardelle with Rosemary Gravy (Rachael Ray) ; Easy Chicken, Mushroom and Spinach Alfredo Lasagna (Emeril Lagasse); Chicken with Roasted Red Pepper, Chorizo and Sweet Pea Sauce over Rice (Rachael Ray).

The Chicken Marvalasala appears to be some kind of take-off on Chicken Marsala. I'm not making something with a made-up name. The next one, a lasagna, is NOT what I'm looking for and the one after THAT is NUMBER ONE a Rachael Ray recipe and NUMBER TWO over RICE. This is getting a bit ridiculous.

A quick perusal shows many rice dishes in the list of 80. And most of the recipes are Rachael's or Emeril's. Remember I LOVE everything about Emeril, except his recipes, and it would be ok to have dinner with Rachael Ray, just let me do the cooking...I think it may be time to move on. If you can't find the recipe you're looking for by page 3, there's something wrong. Oh, there was one other recipe that I took a look at. It involved boiling pieces of chicken in tomato sauce and putting THAT over the pasta. No, thank you. That was from an episode of something called Policewomen. The person responsible for that should be arrested...

I was hoping for better luck with Epicurious. I got 53 results. The first was Liu Shaokun's Spicy Buckwheat Noodles with Chicken from Gourmet, April 2003 . Nah, I wasn't interested in Asian that night. The second was Chinese Chicken Noodle Soup with Sesame and Green Onions from Bon Appétit, February 2002. What's going on here? I didn't SAY anything about soup and why another Asian dish?


The third was Pasta with Chicken,Sun-Dried Tomatoes,Gorgonzola and Pine Nuts, Bon Appétit, October 1997. Hmmm, this could be good. This could be what I was looking for. THIS IS WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR.


I was only going to make a few substitutions: Thighs for breasts; spaghetti for the gnocchi; no garlic; parsley instead of basil; pasta water AND stock for the stock; no prosciutto and goat cheese instead of gorgonzola. WHY you might ask am I even using this recipe, when I've changed every single ingredient except for the sun-dried tomatoes and the pine nuts? Because this was exactly the method I wanted (quickly sauteed), the ingreds I was using really were interchangeable and, most importantly, when I looked at the recipe it got me to start thinking about cooking dinner...It took me on a path where I could imagine cooking and eating this dish.

After all that searching, this dish turned out very nicely, but you want to hear something funny? Remember I said I kept only two of the original ingredients? Well, make that one...I forgot to put in the pine nuts.

2 comments:

Alex said...

so is the lesson here that both websites are a waste of time? i think ill go make some ramen. mmm.

Sue Gordon said...

No, Alex, don’t stop cooking. The lesson is that a recipe is just a starting point. If it can actually get you into the kitchen thinking about cooking your next meal, then half the job is done. The other half is up to you to cook something satisfying for your body and your soul. About recipe searches: naturally, the Food Network is using its website and recipe search feature to push its celebrity chefs. They don’t care whether you find the recipe you want or not, just as long as Emeril’s recipes get 30 million hits that hour.