It’s worth making particular mention of a cookbook just added to Common Kitchen: The Runner’s Cookbook, a collection of about 100 recipes gathered and edited by our friend Alison Wade. As described on the official book site,
The Runner’s Cookbook features 100 recipes from 90+ contributors, including Joan Benoit Samuelson, Sebastian Coe, Shalane Flanagan, Adam and Kara Goucher, Ryan and Sara Hall, Deena Kastor, Craig Mottram, Dathan Ritzenhein, Khadevis Robinson, Alan Webb, and many others. All of the proceeds from the sales of this book will be split evenly between Ryan Shay and Jenny Crain’s funds.
If those names mean anything to you, this will be an interesting cookbook to you. I’ve made Adam and Kara Goucher’s contribution (Veggie and Chicken Stir-Fry) a few times now, and it’s worth getting the cookbook for that one alone.
Our link goes to Amazon by default, but if you buy the book through the publisher, Lulu.com, a greater slice of the purchase price will go to the cookbook’s fund-raising beneficiaries.
I just deployed an update to the site which changes the way cookbooks and magazines are added to the site. The changes for magazines are minimal (though you may see errors if you try adding a magazine which doesn’t exist). For cookbooks, however, the change is pretty big.
Formerly, we searched for your book by title or author or ISBN on Amazon, and if we didn’t get back an exact match, we showed you a big list of options and let you pick your book from that list. (If we got an exact match, we skipped the options step.) The code we’re using now (I’ll explain the technical reasons for the change at the end of this post) simply fills in the result with the highest sales ranking and shows you the confirmation page.
This is fine if it picks the book you wanted, but in some cases (when searching by author, for example) you may find it difficult to get the cookbook you were looking for. We suggest you search by title (as exact a match as you can manage) or, if you have it, the ISBN, which will always return a single match.
The reason for the change is that the Ruby library we were previously using, Ruby/Amazon, relied on the 3.0 version of Amazon’s web services, and Amazon is turning off that version next week. Because the updated version of Ruby/Amazon is still under active development (meaning unstable) we opted for an entirely different package, the
acts_as_amazon_product plugin from Netphase. We tweaked it a bit to remove its default limitation to book searches (our version accepts an optional parameter to search any of the stores exposed in Amazon’s ECS) but it does return only one result. The gem it wraps, Amazon-ECS, does support multiple-result queries, so if you miss this service we may be able to revive it with some lower-level hacking.
Using AAAP cut several dozen lines of code out of our codebase, and thus is a good example of the kind of work we’re doing on CK these days: quiet tightening and refactoring behind the scenes.
Last Friday, Common Media, Inc., the producers of Common Kitchen, launched the first stage of the new website we’re building for the re-launched American edition of La Cucina Italiana, the Italian lifestyle magazine.
What does this mean for Common Kitchen? Plenty. Without the strength of this site and this community, we wouldn’t have this work. What’s more, this work will give us the opportunity to continue developing Common Kitchen, improving our data model, our design and user interface, and potentially other benefits to our CK members as the relationship develops.
La Cucina Italiana is known for their recipes, and the developers of the website for the flagship Italian magazine assured us that recipes were the primary reason people visit their site. You can easily see why, with thousands of tested Italian recipes available at lacucinaitaliana.it. We’ll be developing in that direction for the U.S. edition as well, and the lessons we learn there will come back to Common Kitchen in the same way the lessons we’ve learned here are being applied to La Cucina Italiana.
We haven’t been ignoring Common Kitchen, even as the new site has taken much of our time. We’ve recently moved to a new server to give the site more space (in terms of both disk space and performance), and in a recent update we added “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Get) editing tools to text boxes on the site to assist you in formatting blog posts and recipe descriptions, among other things. We’ll continue posting updates here as we make improvements and add features to the site.
It’s often difficult to verbalize the aspirations we have for Common Kitchen, but one goal I sometimes have is to make the list of eminent companies Guru the Caterer mentions on their home page.
Guru’s core business is delivering boxed lunches to a number of drop-off locations around Cambridge and Somerville. His main clientele are Indians working in the area’s technology companies and/or graduate engineering programs, hence his tagline, “Divine food for brilliant minds.” In the past year or so, the business has expanded to include take-out from the Teele Square storefront (on Broadway in Somerville) where the business did its cooking.
The menu is not limited in the long term, but on any given day Guru only has a few dishes available, generally a vegetarian combo and a meat combo. This means that for people like me, with a very limited knowledge of Indian cuisine, it’s simple to order: meat or vegetarian, and then we take what we get. The combos include flatbread, rice, and a vegetable side dish.
We tend to work on our own in the mornings, then meet and tag-team on thorny problems in the afternoon. At least for the past few months, this has meant I’ve been going by Guru’s storefront at lunchtime on a regular basis. As I’ve noted, I’m not an experienced critic of Indian food, but I learned years ago not to ask too many questions before I’ve done some eating, and Guru has kept us coming back on a regular basis. A smiling face in greeting (which sometimes, I’ll admit, belongs to the owner’s four-year-old daughter) never hurts, either.
It’s not a storefront which inspires instant confidence, but if you’re looking for lunch in the western end of Somerville, it’s worth taking a walk over to Guru’s.
I read an article a few weeks ago in the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Hampshire Weekly insert about John Thorne and his work at the Hungry Ghost bakery in Northampton, MA. Thorne, the author of several books and a newsletter, Simple Cooking, I’ve mentioned here before, but the part of this article which leapt out at me had less to do with his writing and more to do with his approach to recipes. (I’d link the article, but the Gazette restricts articles on its website to subscribers.)
Thorne told the author that he tends to pick up a recipe and make it over and over again, tinkering with it and refining it, until he arrives at a point where he thinks further refinement isn’t worthwhile. (This is probably not uncommon.) Cooking can be a work of inspiration for him, but not necessarily.
This is encouraging for two reasons; first, it shows an example of the trial and frequent error (or at least, infrequent brilliance) that most of us can actually maintain in the kitchen. But second, Thorne appears to have wholly freed himself from the idea of variety in his menu. Certainly his tastes are wide-ranging, but he finds variety on a monthly or weekly scale, not a daily one. Many of us make the same breakfast for months, if not years, but Thorne expands that approach to lunch and sometimes dinner.
I like this because it essentially gives me permission to eat the same thing(s) repeatedly, with minor variation. I get easily bored with the same dinners, but I’ll make the same sandwich over and over, with every new idea (hey! I should try a different mustard!) making it something new and re-setting the variety clock.
Of course, this doesn’t lead to someone posting a lot of recipes to Common Kitchen, but perhaps removing the performance pressure of making something new each day can lead to more interesting and refined ones.
The internet version of “by popular request” is when Google throws you some traffic that you don’t deserve. We were getting all sorts of people looking for “Common Kitchen Substitutions” and so we created just that! We’re currently working on a list of “Common Kitchen Terms” to keep uninterested parties from ending up looking at our terms and conditions page.
We often get asked how to add a favorite cookbook or recipe on Common Kitchen, so we thought we’d prepare a quick tutorial. This should take only 10 minutes to try, and when you are done you will be an expert at sharing cookbooks and their recipes!
1. Find a favorite cookbook
Grab a couple of your favorite cookbooks off your shelf. Let’s do a quick search to find one already listed on Common Kitchen. Go to the Cookbooks page, enter a few words from the title (or author, or ISBN) in the search box, and click “Search Cookbooks”. If it’s there, check the ISBN to make sure you have the same edition, then click on the title and skip right to Section 2. If its not there, try another one — with over 750 cookbooks on Common Kitchen it’s very likely that we have at least 3 of your top 5 cookbooks.
2. Add a recipe
Find an interesting recipe in the cookbook, and check that it isn’t already listed in the “Recipes” section of its page on Common Kitchen. Click “Add a recipe from this cookbook,” and you will arrive at a page where you can enter a recipe title and page number, as well as an optional description, tags, and key ingredients. If it’s a recipe that you have tried before, check “Tested,” or if it’s one you want to make sometime in the future, check “Untested,” and we will save it to your “Recipe Box”. If you want to review the recipe, click “Review now!” and a review form will appear. When you are done, click “Save,” and you will be returned to the cookbook page.
Now you know how to add and review recipes! Enter a few more of your favorites so people with the same cookbooks will know what to try.
3. Check out other people’s reviews
If the cookbooks you use have recipes that are already reviewed on the site (Fannie Farmer, for example), you will see some number of stars on the right hand side of the recipe list. If you click on one of those recipes (such as Fannie’s Apple Crisp) you will see the text of the reviews, as well as any secondary sources. In this case, someone has posted a link to a blog where you can find this recipe online. From any recipe page you can add your own review by clicking “Write a review.”
4. Try adding some other things
Were there any of your cookbooks that we didn’t have in our database? You can add them very easily, then add recipes as above. Likewise, your favorite recipe sites and magazines. You can also add and review restaurants (and even dishes for a given restaurant).
Have fun with the site, and let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.
Extra: Find yourself a friend or two
We automatically add the Common Kitchen team to your friend list when you sign up, but if you have other friends who use the site you can search for them by username or email address. Once you have found someone, just click “Add to your network,” and you will see their reviews as “Activity in my network.” They will also appear on Facebook if you have our application installed.
Since things have been bubbling quite publicly over at Facebook recently, I thought I’d post an update about Common Kitchen’s presence on Facebook and where we are with our application and other Facebook activity.
First, some progress: we have a “page” now, so you can become a “fan” of Common Kitchen. I think Facebook created these “pages” as a way to avoid the phenomenon of “fakesters,” where people create false profiles as stand-ins for companies, mascots, etc. (or less commercial concepts.) We’re not really sure what being a “fan” of Common Kitchen will mean in the long run, but we’ll see what we can do to make it a positive experience.
Second, we’ve “published” our application, which means it shows up in Facebook’s official lists of applications. It’s seen a fair amount of traffic since then, which is good news and actually a little surprising to us, given that (*cough*) it doesn’t do much yet. Mostly, it attempts to push your activity on Common Kitchen (posting reviews, etc.) into your Facebook news feed, and it puts a link to Common Kitchen in your profile.
What’s interesting here is that Facebook’s new (and controversial) “Beacon” service has pretty much the same function of our application: if we were to sign up for Beacon, we could use that to publish the same information to your news feed or mini-feed, and presumably with more consistency (because we’d be paying for it.) This does make us question where the Common Kitchen application is headed in the long run: what can we do with it to provide the greatest utility to our users? Right now, the answer to that is unclear, so we don’t have (m)any immediate plans for it.
Beacon, on the other hand, seems like a bad bet until Facebook irons out its many problems. For one thing, its opt-out nature is troubling; you would have to tell Facebook not to publish Common Kitchen stories, unlike our application, where adding the application is an affirmative action on your part. (We doubt too many Common Kitchen feed stories would be something you’d want to hide, but the principle stands.) The opt-out process has been poorly handled by Facebook and still has major issues, but they’re getting better. For another, there’s a lot of troubling information floating around suggesting that Beacon, even if it’s not publishing to your news feed, is helping Facebook track your online activity outside its own domain. Nothing Google, Microsoft and Amazon haven’t been doing for years, of course (yes, I have the Alexa Firefox extension installed, thanks) but a bit disturbing without an opt-in.
So for the time being, we’re staying on the course we’ve already plotted. We’ll keep you posted if and when it changes.
Amid the big announcements last week, one big feature of Common Kitchen got underplayed, and now may be a good time to highlight it.The simple summary is this: if you’re a Common Kitchen user, you can keep a free food blog on the site. Just go to the “My Account” link on the left, and you’ll see a link which says something like, “Create Your Blog.” And there it is. Take a look at mine, for example.The point of these blogs is a bit more complicated. Every recipe on Common Kitchen has a source, whether that’s a cookbook, a magazine, or a website. But anyone who has been cooking for more than a few weeks has at least one recipe kicking around which bears no relation to any published source. How would you put that recipe on Common Kitchen?The answer is: post it on your blog. Now the blog is the source. That’s what I did with my sweet potato fries, for example. As I was writing the post, I checked a box at the bottom of the form which said, “Add this as a recipe to Common Kitchen,” and now the recipe is listed on the site (and quite well rated, as well, since I fed them to Noah and medfordgardener.)There’s nothing stopping you from using your blog to write about other things, like musing on oregano or even non-food-related details. It’s yours, after all. So now that I’ve rambled on, what do you have to say?
CommonKitchen.com has officially launched! We’re not “done” in any sense, but most of the major pieces are in place. We’ve taken the “beta” phrase off the logo on the site, which means we’re not planning on removing anything big without giving you a lot of warning.
If you haven’t visited the site in a few weeks, come on by and see what’s new: better searching (including restaurant searches based on location), recipe indexing from magazines, and food blogs for everyone.
We’ve posted an announcement about Common Kitchen on our website. Please feel free to send the link (or the entire announcement) on to anyone you know who might be interested in Common Kitchen. You can also use the “Invite a friend” link on the site itself.
And don’t forget to add your recipes! If those of you in the USA need last-minute Thanksgiving ideas, check our collection of recipes tagged “thanksgiving”. And after dinner on Thursday, come back and review the recipes, or use your food blog to tell us what you tried and how it worked! It’s your collective experience with the recipes on the site that makes the community work.
Thank you for being part of Common Kitchen!