Can't find the perfect entrée for a dinner à deux? Bored with cookbooks you know by heart? The Internet is a cook's candy store, a bubbling cauldron of recipes just waiting to be whipped, blended, boiled, and baked into reality. And even if you've already explored megasites like Gourmet.com, there are plenty of lesser-known virtual kitchens worth a taste.
With its declared mission "to equip the aspiring cook with some of the core knowledge needed to get going," Gastronomer is hardly the definitive site for serious chefs. But it does go behind the recipes, providing sound advice with a sense of humor on everything from spices to appliances (it explains the difference between Teflon and Caphalon, and why you shouldn't buy a combination potato peeler-bean slicer). If you're ready for the next level, a section of essays includes the must-reads "Advice for Young Men" and "Pot Lucks, A Cautionary Tale."
The Jewish mother of all recipe sites, the Searchable Online Archive of Recipes has over 67,000 dishes -- more than even Mom. Divided by type of dish (main course, soup, side, dessert) or ethnicity (an impressive array including Icelandic, Serbian, Welsh, and Eskimo), soar's recipes appear as text-only files that are easy to print and easier to follow. There's no test kitchen, though, so make a test run if you're planning a dinner party around Cherokee bean balls.
"Veggies Unite!" reads the welcome mat at this digital retreat from the evil empire of omnivores. But even meat eaters should make the trek -- the smoothie list alone is seventy shakes long -- and the site offers a handy guide to what foods contain which vitamins. There's even a vegetarian poetry corner: "Cruelty is a choice / But soy is, too / I'm done with killing / I'm just waiting for you."
The Internet is full of secret recipes for everything, from absinthe to the A-bomb. And while the CIA might not have this site bookmarked, you can bet someone mounting a coup against the Colonel does. Have you ever wondered why your pancakes aren't as puffy as ihop's, or your Mexican food as flavorful as Taco Bell's Enchirito? This site shows you how to create "kitchen clones" of all those greasy, fatty fast-food items you just can't live without. Todd Wilbur, who was inspired to start concocting clones after that bogus Mrs. Fields recipe made the online rounds way back when, will even show you how to make a Hostess Twinkies rip-off.
Whether you're a parent, a teen, or somewhere in-between, iEmily.com, a health site for girls, will have the answer to your question. Sleekly designed and informative without being preachy, the site is packed with articles on topics from tattoos to tampons, male anatomy to learning disabilities, herbal medicine to teen angst. Speaking of teen angst, there's also a huge glossary of health terms, with quick definitions of everything from epinephrine to panic attacks.
Fall of the Net
Craving some bright colors besides the ones on your www.empire.state.ny.us/tourism/foliage offers regional foliage updates on the state of upstate New York, complete with a map of regional leaf-changing patterns and a nature guide that identifies 24 of the leaves you're likely to ogle. There's also a colorful list of fall events, from Hudson Valley farmers' markets to Adirondacks balloon festivals. Of course, you'll have to put down your mouse to participate.