A Well-Balanced Diet of Sites

Four sites that can to help you cook up tasty treats.

The Web is the fastest way to master the world of food -- from helping you locate exotic spices to providing you with great recipes. But you can have too much of a good thing. So here is our comparison of four sites that will help you maintain a well-balanced diet of cooking information.

Site Tavolo (formerly Digital Chef)
www.tavolo.com
Cooking.com
www.cooking.com
Food.com
www.food.com
Epicurious
www.epicurious.com
Ingredients Tavolo, which means "table" in Italian, brings everything to it. You'll find thousands of specialty foods, plus kitchenware and other cooking-related products -- even dishes and linens. Although this site has partnered with Fine Cooking and Food & Wine, it far exceeds the limits of print. Besides selling a wide range of cookware, tableware, and specialty foods, the site offers recipes, cooking techniques, and advice. The largest dining network, with 12,000 restaurants, grocery stores, and delivery services. This site lets you choose a restaurant, view the entire menu, order your meal, and have it delivered to your home or office or have it ready for pickup. Anything and everything you might want to know about food, beverages, and cooking. From what a certain dish is to how to make it -- even how to eat it correctly. (Check out the etiquette guide under "Playing with Your Food.")
Bon Appetit Because the site has partnered with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), one of the country's finest cooking schools, you'll find exclusive recipes from the CIA's own recipe files as well as from top-quality cookbooks and Tavolo's staff. The Chefs' Roundtable, a board of eight culinary experts, offers tips on the joys of cooking. During their yearlong tenure, members must contribute 4 feature articles and 12 recipes and must participate in interviews and chats. No surprises. When browsing the restaurants in your neighborhood, you can see which restaurants are closed, and place your order up to 90 days in advance. Huge portions of information without anyone trying to sell you anything -- except, maybe, a year's subscription to Bon Appétit or Gourmet magazine. (This is a Condé Nast site.)
Send It Back Although there are generous helpings of useful information on food and cooking techniques, this site is not for the novice. If the extent of your cooking experience consists of boiling water or microwaving a burrito, you might be in over your head. Content may rule, but functionality counts too. That's where Cooking.com is lacking. There's no place to save your favorite recipes. And if you want to serve 40 people with one of its recipes for 4 people, you'd better brush up on your math. Don't throw your phone away yet. If there's a problem after you submit the order, you'll have to contact Food.com's customer-service operation by phone at 888-292-3775. The only downer: With all the information, you might be tempted to gorge yourself. Plan to spend some time at this site.
Catch of the Day Once you've selected a recipe, you can print it and save it in your own personal cookbook. Are you having a dinner party for 12 but the recipe serves 4? Enter the number of guests into the calculator, and the site adjusts the ingredients. For each product (blender, cookie sheet, and so on), there is a "Product Characteristics" outline that details product specs, features, and construction. There's even material on how to clean and care for the product. A delivery service for businesses. Need 50 sandwiches for a meeting? Browse the menus of restaurants that can handle the order. Attach a name to each item, so there's no confusion about who ordered turkey with no tomato. One tasty feature is "Chef Finder," which can help you locate that new chef you've been hearing about, scan who's running the best restaurants in the country, or see what ingredients the top chefs are using.

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