She is definitely in the minority. According to a survey AllRecipes commissioned last year, cooks now turn more to the Internet for recipes than to cookbooks or family members. Last year, according to Nielsen, sales of cookbooks fell for the first time since 2007.
AllRecipes users tend toward the harried and middle-aged, people who enjoy cooking for their families but are hustling to get a quick Tuesday dinner on the table. That means they have priorities, said Williams: They prefer five to seven ingredients that they can find in their pantries or at a mid-range grocery store. They want nice, clean pictures of each dish. They don’t want to spend more than an hour cooking.
As a result, AllRecipes’ best-loved dishes tend to be classic and easy, verging on unsophisticated. Just behind Chandler’s lasagna are a basic pancake, banana bread and sugar cookie, each made with seven ingredients. The site’s top-rated pot roast calls for two cans of cream of mushroom soup, a package of dried onion soup mix and a 5 1/2-pound roast. That’s it.
Chandler’s lasagna is the exception. It takes 2 1/2 hours to cook, excluding prep time, and its 20 ingredients cost about $40. After an hour and a half on the stove, the sauce tastes good the way a jar of Bertoli sauce tastes good: bright and acidic, but not particularly nuanced.
The ricotta filling, which Chandler makes with cheese, one egg and a bit of parsley, seems flat next to the béchamel sauce that’s traditional in parts of Italy, or the nutmeg- and mint-tinged varieties that exist elsewhere on AllRecipes.
Other cooks have suggested hundreds of tweaks: less salt and fennel, a cup of red wine, an extra pinch of Italian seasoning – even a healthful makeover that substitutes lean turkey and low-fat mozzarella for the ground beef and sliced cheese.
Chandler doesn’t mind the changes; in fact, he has used some of them himself. One of his sons has a gluten allergy, and his wife is what Chandler terms a “health nut,” which has forced him to invent different versions of the dish. He also hates following recipes; he’d never measured the ingredients in the World’s Best Lasagna until he decided to put it online.
“I like blending the flavors and coloring outside the lines,” he said. “The sauce is best when you salt it to taste and then, once you get it going, just flavor it as you go.”
His other advice for cooks who want to make his lasagna: Let it sit in the fridge overnight; it’s better the next day.
And be careful whom you cook it for, because you could end up making it regularly. Chandler takes the dish to events 12 to 15 times a year, often at the request of someone who discovers it’s the “world’s best.”
“I’m definitely not a foodie,” says Chandler, a man who has probably taught Americans as much about lasagna as Mario Batali has. “I don’t have aspirations to be on MasterChef or anything. But I love to cook.”