Cooking Librarianship

Managing my back issues of Cook’s Illustrated magazine

I am a Cook’s Illustrated fanatic. That is not too strong of a word to express my devotion to that magazine. My grandmother was a wonderful cook, but for whatever reason, she didn’t pass down her skills to me. In her defense, I never asked. So I feel like Cook’s Illustrated taught me how to cook.

One of their many tag lines is, “Recipes that work.” And CI recipes really do work. If you follow the instructions exactly, the food is excellent. And after many years of following CI recipes to the letter, I finally learned my own technique. Little things, like how hot the pan has to be to put a good sear on a piece of meat. How to roast vegetables. When to pull the cookies out of the oven at the perfect moment.

After more than 10 years of Cook Illustrated issues arriving in the mailbox every other month, though, I do believe they have offered recipes for everything I’m in interested in cooking. Frankly, I noticed this for the first time about two years ago, but I was in denial. Now I’m admitting grudgingly that the heyday of Angie and Cook’s Illustrated is coming to its natural end. And frankly, I’m tired of keeping dozens of raggedy back issues organized in my kitchen’s limited space.

Fortunately for me, I have options — many options. What makes Cook’s Illustrated special has no ads, and this is a good thing. But it also means they’re always packaging and re-packaging their content, to sell it again and again. Thus the Cook’s Illustrated spin-offs of Cook’s Illustrated Online, America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Country and The Best Recipe Cookbooks.

I’ve had a subscription to the website for sometime now, and it’s always been handy. It’s an instant index to the paper issues, for one. And sometimes I would decide at work to cook a certain recipe that night; it was wonderful to be able to log on and see the ingredients so I could stop at the store on the way home.

So here’s my plan to reorganize my own personal library of Cook’s Illustrated received wisdom: I’ve bought two giant CI cookbooks, The New Best Recipe (updated edition) and More Best Recipes. I’m storing my hard copy back issues in anticipation of recycling them at a future date. I will keep the website subscription. (And to be honest, I’m thinking of getting the iPad subscription to the magazine, too.)

Why this long, rambling post about all this? I think my relationship with Cook’s Illustrated is a case study in information management.

What I’m finding in this case is that sometimes more information isn’t better. It’s just more. I’m trying to find a way to get less information, but information that is more relevant to me and better organized. Sixty magazines are hard to keep organized. Two cookbooks are easy.

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