Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hey Cookthink—think fast

Every now and again, I'll get a food memory: a sudden recollection of a particular dish that makes my mouth water. (Other people get this too, right? Right??)

It often happens when I think about real proper
fish 'n' chips. I can almost feel the oily sweetness of the batter.

Hey, don't knock it unless you've tried it.

And recently I was trying to remember what was so good about the unexpectedly excellent rabbit stew I had at Vinny's at Night (an evening
recounted here by the fabulous Scurvyann) when suddenly it hit me on the sides of my tongue: balsamic vinegar.

On the other side of the coin, sometimes I just get a good old-fashioned craving for ... umm ... something lemony, or a good fresh crunchy thing, or a bowl of spicy stuff with ginger and garlic--but I can't necessarily decipher what it should be.

So I was excited to discover
Cookthink, a tool that, allegedly, helps you narrow your tastebuds' desires to a single recipe. Choose from the tagcloud of cravables (by ingredient, dish, cuisine and mood) or add your own, and it will serve up the how-to for a dish to assuage your hunger.

So it claims.

First I tried honey - souffle - French - elegant, and it suggested Savory Egg Custard with Cheese. Delicious, I'm sure. But not only is this not a sweet dish, as I'd hoped (I'da thought the honey would have been a dead giveaway), the recipe doesn't even include honey.

Next I put in mango - breakfast - charming - European to see how it would cope--and got Kielbasa and White Bean Soup. Huh??

Avocado - poultry - Tex-Mex - fresh means Creamy Marjoram Vinaigrette.

Does. Not. Compute.

So, okay, I thought, I'll toss it a softball. Underhand. Slow-pitch.

Cinnamon - cream - rice - American - traditional.

Rice pudding, right?

Nope: Shrimp Bisque.

Well, it does have cream in it.

In fairness, the Cookthink blog does note that they're not going to include dessert recipes immediately. But still, wouldn't you expect at least a risotto of sorts?

Not that every attempt was a dud: red wine - one pot - French - satisfying produced a hearty
coq au vin recipe. And attempts to mess with its head backfired pleasantly: beef-vegetarian-Indian-fishy produced a tasty-looking Indian-style beef and sweet potato dish.

But some of the choices are strange (who "craves" all-purpose flour? Or cornstarch? Or peanut oil?) and some are close in philosophy but seem to miss the point of the craving (if I'm jonesing for plum tomatoes, don't offer me a tomato-free chicken, broccoli and parmesan dish).

And the straightforward search function needs some tweaking; attempts to rediscover the aforementioned coq au vin recipe brought up everything from Simple Vegetarian Borscht to Baba Ghanoush, but not the dish I was seeking.

So as a compendium of recipes, this looks pretty cool--nice user interface, cute javascript pop-ups and clearly written, creative, intriguing recipes. The whole thing has a nice tone. The content speaks to me (and says "make me! Eat me!").

But I have to wonder whether this isn't a case of style over substance; can they get past the functionality glitches to serve up a site that delivers on its promise?

Or would their users be better served by (gasp!) a Food Network-style categorization, which may not be cool, but at least allows people to actually find the recipes they're looking for?



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