Recipes were long a family affair. Mothers would pass down to daughters well-thumbed cookbooks, dog-eared file cards scribbled with faded ink, yellowed newspaper clippings and magazine columns folded just-so to fit snug in a squat wooden box.

Today, recipes are still about family, but the definition of family and the form of the recipe have broadened dramatically. Daughters, sons and thousands, if not millions, of strangers are brought together by two things: a computer mouse and a hunger for something good to eat.

Recipes have moved from paper to computer screen, allowing anyone anywhere to search and discover dishes from around the world.

Got some chicken, blue cheese and eggs in your fridge? Whip up “cheese-stuffed chicken breasts” from Bigoven.com.

Need to know how to make the “Marlboro Man Sandwich” for your hubby? Get the skinny at “The Pioneer Woman Cooks!” site (thepioneerwomancooks.com).

Want to see as well as read? Check out the video recipes on Youtube.com or imcooked.com or any number of sites.

Something, somewhere is bound to click.

The numbers can be staggering. Some 17 million visits to Allrecipes.com were recorded over the first 28 days of January. The site gets 175 million page visits annually, representing a year-to-year increase of 32 percent, and Allrecipes.com boasts some 35 million unique visitors yearly.

Visits to recipe Web sites are up 21 percent from January 2007 to January 2008, according to statistics from Hitwise, the Internet measurement company based in New York. Hitwise counts 633 recipe Web sites, but Heather Dougherty, company director of research, cautioned that the actual number may be higher because there are so many food blogs out there. She said 61 percent of the traffic to recipe sites is female and these visitors are more mature; 33 percent are 55 or older.

“The idea is to compare things immediately, print out a recipe, cook all over it, make a mess and throw it away,” said food industry consultant Clark Wolf, president of the Manhattan- and Sonoma, Calif.-based Clark Wolf Co.

Take Jonathon Schuster of Chicago. A compliance contractor for a hedge fund, he gathers up recipes such as “roasted vegetables with olive oil” from Men’s Health magazine or “scallops in Champagne sauce” from Cooking Light and stores them all in an online “box” at Allrecipes.com.

“They are my primary reference for making dinner or weekend meals,” he said. “I tend to use the recipe box as a way of storing recipes from various organizations in a single place that I can access from wherever I am: A friend’s home, my parents in California, or on my laptop on the kitchen counter.”

Michele Hays, a stay-at-home mom in Evanston, Ill., uses the TasteBook feature on Epicurious.com. “I’m using my recipe box and adding more recipes and photos. (It’s a) great feature,” she said.

Catherine Lambrecht of Highland Park, Ill., a founder and moderator of LTHForum, the Chicago food site, plays what she calls “recipe roulette” by using Internet search engines to find various dishes, particularly ethnic ones.

“A lot of chambers of commerce or tourism bureaus will feature regional recipes,” she said. “I do get a few odd looks from my family when I announce, “Dinner tonight is from Azerbaijan.’ Variety is the spice of life, which the Internet fuels quite well.”

The Internet also can fuel some frustration.

“There’s an awful lot of garbage you have to wade through, especially if you’re looking for something specific,” Hays said. “You have to spend a lot of time going through the boxed cake mix ones and the canned soup ones and the ones using Velveeta.”

David Leite, a New York food writer, is publisher and editor-in-chief of Leite’s Culinaria (leitesculinaria.com), a compendium of food articles, recipes and food news.

“I am concerned about a lot of these sites,” Leite said. “They put up information and there’s no fact checking.”

Leite said his Web site relies on testers to put a dish through its paces before posting.

“We have a responsibility to the people who come to this site to get accurate information and recipes that work,” he said.

User feedback is really important to Lambrecht, which is a reason she enjoys Epicurious.com.

“It helps any errors of omission that might cause failure the first time,” she said. “Another time a technique was explained better in the feedback than in the original recipes. Some of the recipe tweaks or substitutions are worthwhile.”

Ann Fisher, a legal services attorney from Forest Park, distrusts sites that “seem to pick up recipes from anywhere and everywhere.”

“Except for Cook’s Illustrated, I seldom start my search at a recipe or cooking site,” she said. “I’m much more likely to just type “recipe’ and then some key ingredients into Google and browse among all the choices that come up.”

For many Web surfers, it’s not just the recipes but the company they get to keep.

Searching for turkey tetrazzini recipes, Dave Hasson of Chicago stumbled onto Simply Recipes (elise.com/recipes), a recipe blog written by Elise Bauer of California. He loved her tetrazzini recipe but there was more.

“Her site was wonderful and posters would reply back with their impressions of the recipes,” he said. “I’ve made it through most of her site since then and check once a week for updates. She always has a great story to go with each recipe and isn’t afraid to use a little butter and cream to get the job done. And her recent post on stock from chicken feet was the icing on the cake.”

Elizabeth Sturrock of Chicago enjoys The Pioneer Woman Cooks blog so much that every time it’s updated she feels it’s “like a little bit of Christmas.”

Leite said the biggest thing Web recipe and food sites have done is to build a bond between cook and author. “Once that connection is made it’s a very strong bond, even more powerful than the print medium. With e-mail, there’s intimacy,” he said.

Cookbook author Dorie Greenspan has her own blog (www.doriegreenspan.com) and contributes recipes regularly to Serious Eats (seriouseats.com). She also has a group of fans called “Tuesdays with Dorie” who are intent on making and posting on their blogs recipes from Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours.”

Greenspan knows she reaches people on the Web she doesn’t reach with her books.

“People from every imaginable walk of life are baking and cooking. Seeing your neighbor with two kids and four dogs and one job making cupcakes and posting it is something,” she said. “There is something very exciting going on.”

Swiss chard, leek and goat cheese tart

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Chilling time: 1 hour

Cooking time: 1 hour

Yield: 10 servings

For this recipe from his site, Leitesculinaria.com, David Leite advises to wash the chard in several changes of water to remove any grit. If you want to use the chard stems, he writes, “Cut the stems into ½-inch pieces and simmer them in chicken stock for 10 minutes or until crisp-tender, then cook them with the leeks. If you use red or rainbow chard, the color may bleed and stain the leeks.”

Ingredients for pastry:

1½ cups flour

1 tablespoon each: minced fresh rosemary, fresh thyme leaves

½ teaspoon salt

1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons ice water

Ingredients for filling:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 pound leeks, white and pale green parts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 pound Swiss chard, stems optional, roughly chopped

3 eggs

1/3 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

3 tablespoons golden raisins, soaked in boiling water 10 minutes, drained

3 tablespoons pine nuts

6 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Method:

1. Place the flour, rosemary, thyme and salt in a food processor; process until blended. Add the butter; pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, with pieces no bigger than small peas, about 13 to 15 one-second pulses.

2. Transfer dough to a medium bowl; drizzle with ¼ cup of the water. Mix with a fork to form a “shaggy” dough. Squeeze some in your hand. If it doesn’t hold together, add the remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Form into a disc; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

3. Position the oven rack in the lower third of the oven; heat oven to 400 degrees. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 13-inch circle. Ease dough into a 10-inch tart pan, fitting it snugly against the sides and bottom; trim the excess. Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork; cover with parchment paper. Fill the tart with pie weights or beans; bake 25 minutes. Remove the weights and parchment; set shell aside to cool.

4. Meanwhile, for the filling, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks; cover skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until leeks soften, 8-10 minutes. Add the chard; cook, uncovered, until excess water evaporates, 6-8 minutes.

5. Beat the eggs, cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Add the vegetable mixture; toss to coat. Pour the mixture into the tart shell. Sprinkle raisins and pine nuts over the top; dot with the goat cheese. Place on a baking sheet; bake until the filling is set and puffy, about 25 minutes. Cool on a rack until room temperature.

Nutrition information per serving: 374 calories, 67 percent of calories from fat, 29 g fat, 17 g saturated fat, 133 mg cholesterol, 22 g carbohydrates, 9 g protein, 556 mg sodium, 2 g fiber

Cheese-stuffed chicken breasts

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Chilling time: 2 hours

Cooking time: 16 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

On Big Oven’s (bigoven.com) searchable recipe database, you can choose up to three ingredients and find something to eat. This recipe, one of seven found by selecting the words “chicken,” “blue cheese” and “egg,” comes from “Merrymeeting, Merry Eating, A Collection of Recipes Gathered in Maine,” published by the Regional Memorial Hospital Auxiliary of Brunswick, Maine.

Ingredients:

½stick ( ¼ cup) plus 2 tablespoons butter, softened

4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled, at room temperature

3/4 cup each: grated Swiss cheese, cream cheese at room temperature

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded to 1/2-inch thickness

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/3 cup flour

1 egg, beaten

¼ cup dry bread crumbs

Method:

1. Blend 2 tablespoons of the butter, blue cheese, Swiss cheese, cream cheese and nutmeg in a medium bowl; form mixture into 6 ovals. Refrigerate ovals at least 1 hour.

2. Spread each chicken breast half with mustard. Place a cheese oval in the center of each breast. Roll the breast around the cheese, pressing to cover and seal in the cheese; secure with a skewer.

3. Place the flour, egg and bread crumbs in 3 separate shallow bowls; roll each breast in the flour, then the egg, then crumbs. Place on a plate; cover. Chill 1 hour.

4. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat remaining ½ stick of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add the chicken rolls. Cook, lightly browning all sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a baking pan; cook until breasts are cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Nutrition information per serving: 510 calories, 62 percent of calories from fat, 35 g fat, 21 g saturated fat, 197 mg cholesterol, 9 g carbohydrates, 39 g protein, 529 mg sodium, 0.3 g fiber

Pan-seared scallops

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

This recipe on Rouxbe.com was developed by Curtis Webb, sous chef of Joe Fortes Restaurant in Vancouver.

Ingredients:

2 strips bacon, cut into matchsticks

½ shallot, minced

¼ cup cream sherry

1/3 cup apple juice

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

½ stick ( ¼ cup) plus 1 tablespoon butter

12 sea scallops

¼ teaspoon each: salt, freshly ground pepper

2 packed cups baby spinach

Method:

1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Fry bacon until the fat begins to render. Add shallot; cook until lightly browned, 5 minutes. Raise heat to medium-high; add cream sherry. Cook, stirring, until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Add the apple juice and sherry vinegar; cook until reduced by about half, 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; keep warm.

2. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel; heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Season the scallops with the salt and pepper; add the scallops to the skillet. Cook until scallops become golden brown on the bottom, about 3 minutes; turn. Cook until scallops are golden brown on both sides and opaque, about 4 minutes.

3. Transfer the scallops to a platter. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the skillet; spoon the butter over the scallops.

4. Place the spinach in a bowl; set aside. Pour the reserved bacon mixture into the skillet; heat the bacon mixture just to a boil over medium-high heat. Set aside to cool 1 minute. Add half of the bacon mixture to the spinach; toss. Place spinach leaves around the scallops on the platter; drizzle the remaining bacon mixture over the scallops.

Nutrition information per serving: 200 calories, 72 percent of calories from fat, 16 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 56 mg cholesterol, 5 g carbohydrates, 9 g protein, 306 mg sodium, 0.4 g fiber

Bourbon chocolate cake

Peparation time: 20 minutes

Chilling time: 8 hours

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Yield: 12 servings

Cookbook author Dorie Greenspan has a weekly baking column at Seriouseats.com, where she posted this recipe from Lora Brody, who made it when she taped an episode of “Baking with Julia.” “The official name of the cake is boca negra, or black mouth, and the name aptly describes what your mouth will look like after one bite,” Greenspan writes. “I can’t think of another cake that’s this chocolatey … And I love the boozy white-chocolate cream that Lora makes to go on top.”

Ingredients for white chocolate cream:

1 cup whipping cream

12 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped

¼ cup Bourbon or more to taste

Ingredients for chocolate cake:

1 1/3 cups sugar

½ cup Bourbon

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces, at room temperature

5 eggs, at room temperature

1½ tablespoons flour

Method:

1. Heat the cream in a saucepan until small bubbles form around the edge. Meanwhile, put the white chocolate in a food processor or in a blender container. Pour the cream over the chocolate; process until completely smooth. Add the Bourbon; taste and add up to a tablespoon more if you want. Pour into a container with a tight-fitting lid; refrigerate 8 hours. (The cream can be kept in the refrigerator for a week or frozen for up to a month; thaw overnight in refrigerator.)

2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-inch round cake pan; line the bottom with buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the cake pan in a shallow roasting pan; set aside.

3. For the cake, heat the sugar and Bourbon to a full boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook to a syrup, about 2 minutes.

4. Place the chocolate in a food processor; pour the syrup into the work bowl. Process until the mixture is completely blended, about 12 seconds. Add the butter, in pieces, with the machine running. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour. Process until smooth, about 15 seconds. Transfer the batter into the prepared pan.

5. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come about 1 inch up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the top is dry, about 30 minutes. Remove the cake pan from its water bath; wipe the cake pan dry. Cover the top of the cake with a sheet of plastic wrap. Invert the cake onto a flat plate, peel off the parchment. Quickly but gently invert again onto a serving platter; remove the plastic. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature with the chilled white chocolate cream.

Nutrition information per serving: 665 calories, 62 percent of calories from fat, 46 g fat, 26 g saturated fat, 161 mg cholesterol, 65 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, 65 mg sodium, 3 g fiber

Where in the Web do they cook?

Who better to ask for names of favorite recipe Web sites than the folks at LTHForum.com, the popular Chicago food Internet site that sports plenty of recipes and extensive recipe indexes contributed by members? Here are some of the responses:

-Allrecipes.com: Jonathon Schuster of Chicago says he uses this site “to store my own recipes in a private file. It’s nice to have them online in one place.”

-Cooksillustrated.com: “My mainstay,” writes Ann Fisher of Forest Park, Ill., about this magazine-sponsored site, which is accessible only to Web subscribers. “I have no hesitation using one of their recipes for company even though I may never have tried it out before.”

-Epicurious.com: Jonah Orlofsky of Glencoe, Ill., likes the site, home to the content of Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines, “because of the comments people post on the recipes. You can tell it’s a very sophisticated crowd and they will frequently suggest excellent modifications to a recipe.”

-Imcooked.com: Tom Keith of Evanston, Ill. describes this video recipe site as the “YouTube of cuisine.” It has, among other things, videos of cooking demonstrations from Christopher Walken and Paul McCartney.

-Leitesculinaria.com: “They get permission weekly to publish recipes from different cookbooks. It’s really an excellent site,” writes Michael Morowitz of Chicago. Leite’s Culinaria offers recipes, articles, food history and more.

-Thepioneerwomancooks.com: “Her gorgeous pictures and witty prose really make the site,” writes Elizabeth Sturrock of Chicago. The Pioneer Woman is a self-described “desperate housewife” living in Oklahoma, known simply as Ree.

You are what you search for

Careful what you search for on the Web. Your recipe questions may be tracked to illuminate new food and lifestyle trends. In its “Monthly Measuring Cup” report, Allrecipes.com shares the data gleaned from thousands of visitors searching its more than 38,000 recipes. Here’s some of what Allrecipes.com learned in January:

-Top 5 emerging search terms: Tilapia, muffins, fish, chicken breasts, soups

-Top 5 decreasing search terms: Breakfast casserole, sugar cookies, punch, turkey, scalloped potatoes

-Top 5 emerging comfort-food terms: Chicken pot pie, chicken casserole, slow cooker, meatloaf, pizza

-Top 3 most viewed recipes: “Banana Banana Bread,” “World’s Best Lasagna,” “Awesome Slow Cooker Pot Roast”

-Top 5 emerging “healthy” food terms: fish, vegetable soup, tofu, stir-fry, vegetarian

-Top 5 diet search terms: South Beach diet, Atkins/Low-Carb diet, Mediterranean diet, Sonoma Diet, DASH diet


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