Gourmet Recipe Tracker: The Kitchen is Now Open

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 13, 2010

There are many reasons I don't cook much. While my tendency to cause food poisoning and spontaneous kitchen fires are two dramatic reasons, more often than not it's just my own bad planning. Finding recipes is time consuming, and compiling lists of needed ingredients from multiple sites inevitably results in ten extra jars of capers destined for indefinite storage in the "disaster supply" corner of the basement.

When Lisa covered some open source recipe tools last year, I figured Taco Recipe Manager was my speed, and I'd be stuck with suggestions like "ramen, capers and jelly." I just didn't have great expectations for the Gourmet recipe manager. I've never found online services terribly useful, and like cookbooks, I usually end up writing information down and missing critical bits.

Fine, I will never be enamored with cooking, but I have a new, deep respect for Gourmet.

Gourmet is licensed under the GPL, and is almost cross-platform -- the latest version runs on BSD and POSIX platforms (it is included in the Ubuntu repositories with extra GNOME Desktop packages) as well as 32-bit Windows systems (Windows XP or earlier).

I'm more of a librarian and database fiend than a foodie. What makes Gourmet exceptional is how well it picks up relevant recipe information from imported web pages. Is it perfect? No, importing recipes from third party websites requires some "tag cleanup" on the user's part. But it manages the task very well, especially when you stop to consider the sheer volume of very different superfluous information on most recipe sites. I wish other import utilities dealt as well with "noisy content."

Gourmet's help documentation is quick and easy, and offers some insight into why the application is organized the way it is. It gives a few subtle hints to help you get the most out of the program, but entering and browsing recipes is largely intuitive.

Editing tags and sections within new and imported recipes is done by selecting text (such as the ingredient list) and clicking the appropriate category on the sidebar. Again, imported content often needs some touch up work, but stray text can be hidden away and misplaced tags and text can be removed and re-organized.

Like all active software projects, it is a work in progress, and some things aren't quite there yet. The unit conversions work reasonably well, and the supplied nutritional data might be a decent reference point for home-brew recipes but you're still on safer ground trusting the nutritional information offered by the recipe author. Adding "ambiguous" tags, including notes or type of dish (main, appetizers, desserts) isn't as straightforward as it could be -- you can do so easily when editing an already existing recipe, or by typing and tagging the expected vocabulary in the new recipe screen.

The batch editing function saves some time organizing the nebulous sorts of tags, and shopping lists can be compiled across recipes. The Gourmet developers have done a remarkable job designing a welcoming, useful interface and eliminating many of the drawbacks of menu planning. It isn't going to make a chef out of me -- but I'm definitely holding import utility developers to a higher standard now.