This post is by staff writer Honey Smith.

When I became a vegetarian 10+ years ago, I bought two cookbooks: a 20-minutes-or-less cookbook and a five-ingredients-or-less cookbook. I was trying to keep things simple. I got by on these two cookbooks for a long time, mostly because while I was cooking as a student I lived in places with antique gas stoves. I was afraid to use anything but the stovetop, my toaster oven or the microwave I borrowed from a friend.

About five years ago, when I got my first full-time job and lived in a place with a decent kitchen, I began cooking as a hobby. So I started collecting cookbooks. With the exception of a couple cookbooks from the used bookstore, my cookbooks have been gifts. However, despite being (mostly) free, in my experience cookbooks don’t have a great ROI.

The average cookbook has at least 100 recipes in it (often many more). For any given cookbook, I usually find between five and 10 “go-to” recipes that I will make again and again. Another 10 recipes might be duds (things I will not make again either because I didn’t like them or because they were too time consuming or difficult to be worth it). The vast majority of recipes will go untried completely.

I love lots of the recipes I’ve gotten from cookbooks (vegan sweet potato and black bean enchiladas with homemade salsa, anyone?). However, many of my cookbooks have slowly become Stuff. The good news is, in this day and age there’s actually very little reason to own a bunch of cookbooks in the first place. These days, I rely mainly on two tools to plan my menus: my blog reader and Pinterest.

Blog reader

I use Google Reader to follow blogs using the RSS feature (although as of July 1, 2013 Google is discontinuing the Reader). This enables me to follow 100+ blogs fairly easily. I am always on the lookout for new blogs, which I find out about through several strategies:

  • Blogs that are mentioned on blogs I already follow (in entries or in comments)

  • Blogrolls on blogs I already follow

  • Blogs recommended by friends with similar interests

  • The “Recommended Sources” feature on Google Reader (though soon that will go away as well — does anyone use an alternative RSS reader and have recommendations?)

  • Searching for blogs by my favorite cookbook authors. I am a huge fan of Robin RobertsonNava Atlas, and Kathy Hester, for example, and they all blog in addition to writing their cookbooks. In fact, if they’re promoting a new cookbook, they’ll often feature some of the recipes!

Although I like the Reader for much of my other blog-following, it turned out to be cumbersome for following cooking blogs. Sometimes I would save blogs as unread with the intention of making something, only to become overwhelmed. Sometimes I would print the recipe, only to lose it. Sometimes I would email myself a link, only to have it end up in my “recipes to try” folder, never to be seen again.

Then, Pinterest changed my recipe-hunting strategy forever.

The Pinterest strategy

Pinterest is an easy way of organizing things you find on the Internet. Once you’ve created a free account, you can create “boards” based around a theme. I have boards for breakfast, appetizers, salads, sandwiches, soups, and main courses. Then within each board you “pin” specific webpages.

What makes Pinterest different from the bookmark feature on your browser is that it displays each of your pins attractively. Most food bloggers post (ridiculously gorgeous) photos of their recipes. When I pin a recipe, what I see in my board is the name of the recipe and the photo. If you click on a pin, it will open the original page in a separate tab/window.

Having everything organized and displayed graphically on Pinterest has sped up my Reader experience significantly. When I see a recipe that I think I’d be interested in, I open the webpage to that recipe and pin it to the appropriate board. Then I can mark the entry as read in my Reader without worrying that I’ll forget about it.

When it’s time to go grocery shopping, I log into Pinterest and see what inspires me. I pick out some options that I’m interested in and send the links to Jake. Then I make my shopping list based on the recipes we want to try. Shopping from a list is one strategy for saving money at the grocery store.

The first time I make something, I usually bring up the Pinterest app on my cell phone and then open the webpage from there. That way, I don’t have to print anything out (save the trees!). If the recipe makes the “I’d eat this again and again” cut, then I’ll copy it out onto a recipe card and store it in my recipe box (save space!).

Advanced Pinteresting

You may also be interested in “following” as a way to find webpages that interest you. You can create private boards only you can see. However, as opposed to Facebook where a lot of information is personal, Pinterest is just a way of collecting and sharing Internet links that are publicly available anyway. That means the default setting for profiles and boards on Pinterest is public.

You can either follow all of someone’s Pinterest activities or you can choose to follow specific boards. For example, if a vegan blogger I followed was also really into knitting and had a knitting projects board, I might not be interested in that!

Warning: Much like YouTube, where clicking on one ninja cat or penguins being penguins video leads to it suddenly being seven hours later before you realize what happened, Pinterest is a black hole of time-suck to the unwary. Don’t try this at work!

Other interests

I don’t use my Pinterest account for much aside from my recipe boards (OK, I have a board of cute kitten and bunny pictures!). But maybe you’ve been reading this article thinking, “I don’t like to cook,” or “I am not very adventurous,” or, “I have plenty of recipes in my normal rotation.” That doesn’t mean Pinterest is useless to you!

Maybe you are into knitting, like my example above. Or gardening. Or DIY home renovations. Heck, I tried putting “frugal” into the search and came up with a ton of results. There’s something for everyone!

But if you do enjoy cooking and are looking for new recipes (or you want to learn to cook), I highly recommend Pinterest.

Are you on Pinterest? What type of things do you “pin”?

Update/Disclaimer: Pinterest did not request this review, nor did they provide any compensation for it. It is just a free service that saves me time, money and helped me win a battle in the War on Stuff.