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TasteBook kicks homemade recipe books up a notch

Ofoto co-founder launches self-service publishing site so people can find recipes online and print personalized, hardcover cookbooks.

Kristina Nielsen has a growing collection of recipes, culled from friends, family members, magazines, books, Web sites and the occasional food package label. She keeps some of them in a binder and some loosely shoved in a drawer; some are neatly printed, some hastily scribbled on notes. Others live online in her recipe boxes on various sites. Together they represent the culmination of the 10 years she's spent learning how to cook new dishes. Now, a company called TasteBook wants to take Kristina's recipe collection--and those of amateur chefs like her--into the 21st century.

A sample of a customized cookbook printed by TasteBook. TasteBook

TasteBook, which plans to launch Tuesday, hopes to create an easy way for people to find recipes and print out their own customized, hardcover cookbooks. A number of self-service publishing services like Blurb, Lulu and Xlibris already allow people to upload their own pictures and text and publish a hardcover book. TasteBook takes the basic idea of those services and caters the process specifically to making recipe books.

TasteBook has two key features: first, it simplifies searching for recipes online by indexing recipes from all over the Web into one list of search results. It then allows people to select recipes from those search results and print them out in a professional-looking cookbook.

At launch, the TasteBook site will include about 25,000 recipes from Epicurious, but the company plans to expand its service to include recipes from other sites beginning next year. People can automatically important their Epicurious recipe boxes and can also upload their own recipes and include them in the books they print.

For $34.95, a user can print a hardcover binder with handpicked cover art and up to 100 recipes with their own comments added. If all 100 recipes aren't used initially, TasteBook will issue credits for the remaining recipes, which can be printed out later and added to the binder or sent to friends.

To avoid copyright issues with the sites that publish recipes, TasteBook licenses recipes from their original publishers when they are printed out. And on TasteBook.com, users can see only previews of recipes. To view a recipe in its entirety, they have to click through to the original recipe site. In this way, TasteBook hopes to drive traffic back to those sites and focus more on recipe discovery and printing rather than getting into the business of creating recipes themselves.

Company co-founder Kamran Mohsenin likens the online interface to that of another bit of well-known software. "We're basically doing the iTunes model," Mohsenin said. "If you know how to use iTunes, you know how to use TasteBook." In addition to acting as an intermediary between consumers and content publishers, TasteBook has a service similar to iTunes Essentials, which are pre-compiled playlists users can browse and use to discover new artists and songs. TasteBook currently has about a dozen featured collections, such as kid-friendly or vegetarian recipes, that users can browse to get ideas.

TasteBook is launching simply, but the company has plans to expand in the coming year by forming new partnerships with other recipe sites, adding more featured recipe collections with various themes and authors and by supporting user-generated photos. They'll also be "turning up the social factor because (cooking is) a very social thing," Mohsenin said. But out of the gate, they're not attempting to become another social networking site.

The company was founded by two former employees of Ofoto (now Kodak Gallery)--Ofoto co-founder Mohsenin and former Chief Technical Architect Greg Schroeder. Don't be surprised to see them delve into other niches eventually. It's the dedication to a specific hobby that sets TasteBook apart from other types of publishing services that don't get involved in the content itself, Mohsenin said.

"We're creating a new category (of publishing), called the custom book. The idea is that we actually understand what 1 cup of milk means. So we can go to Chow or Epicurious and crawl and parse those recipes, and we can attach nutrition data because we understand what a recipe is," he said. That same TasteBook model could be applied to any number of do-it-yourself hobbies with a passionate user base with specialized knowledge and needs.

Update on October 24, 2007: TasteBook announced Tuesday night that it has received funding from CondeNet, publisher of Epicurious.com.