My Cookbook Library Hack

By Mashav Shelef | Recipes

Apr 08

I had some time off events and tours this past month. That had me cooking a lot more for my family. And so, I was looking for some new and interesting ways to use my pantry items and odd frozen collection of stuff.

If you’ve been to my kitchen-studio, you’ve instantly seen my collection of cooking books which I absolutely love. Usually, I use these cooking books to get inspiration for new dishes, but in times that it’s a more of a practical search for a recipe, I’ve found myself more often searching google instead. Why is that?

The process of looking through my cookbook library for a recipe is flawed:

  1. I usually look for a specific dish or an ingredient
  2. Counting on my memory of where is that recipe I remember seeing somewhere sometime
  3. There’s no quick and easy way to cross-search all the books I own (and I live by quick and easy these days).
  4. I usually use at least 2-3 similar recipes to make one recipe of my own

Well, you see my point and probably many of you had the same problem yourselves. And this is why I result many times to Googling a dish/ingredient instead.

But Googling a recipe also has it’s cons:

  1. There’s just too many recipes that it’s overwhelming.
  2. Hard to tell which would be a good one to try.
  3. Trying to find a recipe with more than 2 specific ingredients doesn’t work so well
  4. Sometimes I wonder if the better-picture-taking-bloggers really do have the better recipes. (Which they probably don’t but I always gravitate to these since, well, I’m a visual person.)
  5. I have a whole library of acclaimed chefs, best rated cookbooks and personal favorites right here at home but I can’t really tap into all this well-of-knowledge to find what I’m looking for.

I just wished my whole library was indexed, and that I can search it as easily as I used google.

Before going through the whole process of indexing the whole thing by myself, I decided to pause and look for a hack online. It seemed like this might be a problem many have faced before me.

I did my research and found a pretty cool option. It’s not perfect (and I’ll tell you why in a bit), but it was by far the quickest way to get access to as much information for a very fair price. (Took about 30 minutes of work):

The steps I took to hack my cookbook library:

  1. Created an account in
  2. Paid for a membership ($30 a year)
  3. Added 59 of my cookbooks to my “Bookshelf” (I did find most of my books, with the exception of 5-6, mostly books in Hebrew or French)
  4. Out of these 59, 42 were already indexed in the website. I know it’s not all of them but more than 70% isn’t bad. (Most of the non-indexed books are more guides, tips and flavor matching book of sorts, so I was missing only about 10 books with actual recipes).
  5. I requested the un-indexed books to be indexed (wishful thinking but maybe in a bit they will be indexed). There’s also an option to self-index those if one wanted to (I did not yet read what it entails exactly).
  6. That’s it! I’m done.
My Virtual Bookshelf

And now, I tested my new way of searching for a recipe:

  1. Searching for any ingredients or a dish that I want would give me a list of recipes with the name of the book and page number from my library.
  2. To help me choose a recipe I can sort the results by name, author, rating, date etc.
  3. I can further filter the results by number of categories like type of recipe, course, cuisine, cooking style and more.
  4. After choosing a recipe, I can open the recipe page and see a list of the ingredients for that recipe, pictures if there’re any (users can add their own pictures as well), a link to the full recipe if it exists online, notes that users left, rating and tags. That’s pretty amazing!
  5. Another cool feature is that I can add any recipe to my shopping list. The shopping list will update according to the recipes I need and I can sort it, print it and go grocery shopping with it. Pretty neat.

All this was pretty impressive in first sight. I wonder how handy it will come to be in the next few months. I especially like being able to see other people’s notes on a specific recipe. It looks like there’re many more features to discover still: bookmarking books I want, monthly new books recommendations, adding your own recipes and follow cooking blogs.

Notes feature

I’ve also found this platform very convenient combined with – I use this great website to keep all my recipes. But this is a topic for another post!

Some cons of

  1. Not all books can be found and many still aren’t indexed. You’d be better off if your bookshelf consists of mostly popular books in English. Other cases are less than optimal.
  2. Ingredient list is not whole. The basic pantry items are marked as store-cupboard ingredients without details and no amounts listed.
  3. You can’t scale a recipe up and down before adding to the shopping list.
  4. If you decide to stop paying, all your information would be gone. I think. (Unless you can export it somehow.)
Website created a shopping list


All in all I am pretty happy with this solution, hoping it would get better with time and a growing community. I decided to share this discovery with everyone I know because I think it’s so simple but gives a lot of value and can possibly help many others cookbook nerds like me out there.

I feel like now I am a lot more excited about using my cookbooks, and expending my collection, because I know I would be able to use it better when I need them. Hopefully this guide helped you too to get your cookbooks bookshelf used a lot more!


About the Author

Inspired by International and Asian cuisine and her bringing up in Tel Aviv, Mashav Shelef leads the team of Le Couloir, tailoring private events, creating new and inspiring menus and making sure every event is one to remember. A graduate from Ferrandi - Paris and experienced in several Michelin starred restaurants. In 2013 created a Pop-up Secret Kitchen in Tel Aviv and now starting her way as a Personal Chef in San Francisco. She brings dedication, creativity and her undeniable passion for food together with a fresh approach to cooking derived from her scientific background.