I’m late to the i-game but I think I may have an interesting perspective on the world of apps available for iPads, iPhones, and the iPod Touch like mine. There seem to be three categories of apps that are useful to cooks: recipe apps; utilities (like timers); and what I call guilty conscience apps.
In the recipe category the best should be able to stand in for cookbooks, I think. When apps offer the same collection of recipes as an entire cookbook they can seem inexpensive (maybe $5 versus $30) but compare the 125-year-old cookbooks that are almost as useful today as they were when bought to the probably useful lifetime of app technology.
Caution when taking your expensive device into a hot, wet, and greasy kitchen is a good idea and apparently cryo-vacing iPhones (like this guy does) has become quite popular. So, as always, operate at your own risk. I’ve found four recipe apps that I really quite like and I think would be very useful for most intermediate cooks:
Cook’s (free): The Cook’s Illustrated app has an interesting marketing feature. The app is free but only comes with 50 recipes, you need to buy an online subscription (I recommend doing this anyway) to get the rest of the recipes from their entire back catalog. Through the app all recipes include the thorough reasoning that went into developing them, the usual clear instructions and some illustrations and recipe videos. Cook’s has included good timer and shopping list features as well as access to their ingredient taste tests (but not equipment reviews). Biggest drawback here is that it needs a network connection to operate.
How to Cook Everything (free or $4.99): I don’t own Mark Bittman’s book by the same name that the recipes for this app are drawn from but have started recommending it as one of three or four cookbooks to start a collection with. Bittman has clear instructions for recipes drawn from a diverse cultural palette that deliver consistently delicious food. If you change your settings to metric units you’ll get some of the ingredients (e.g. flour and butter but not salt or grated cheese) appropriately listed by weight. Along with the CI app this one will get lots of use by beginner as well as intermediate and advanced cooks. There is a free version that has “100+ essential recipes” but the appeal of How to Cook is really more the encyclopedia reference of having 2,000+ recipes and variations in one place. True to Bittman form there are a large number of recipes in this app that will appeal to the herbivores in the crowd.
Ratio ($4.99): The best feature of this app (and Michael Ruhlman’s book of the same name) is that it naturally leads to thoughtful cooking. Recipes aren’t driven by Oprah-endorsed health trends (sprouted spelt, wild blueberry, dairy-free muffins, anyone?) but by technique, science, and flavour. There is a good level of flexibility but I would like to see a bit more and I’m happy to see that Ruhlman is fully behind measuring ingredients by weight and the use of metric. (I frequently use the app to convert weights from imperial to metric.) I’ve heard or read him say “When you know a ratio, you don’t know a recipe, you know 1,000.” enough times that it feels cliched but this is true.
MarioCooks ($9.99): I know Guy Fieri captures the demographic that the Food Network is after but I can’t imagine there were more than a few dozen IQ points around the table back in 2007 when they decided to cancel Mario Batali’s shows. Batali is a large reason why Italian is what I cook when I can’t think of what else to make. Hell, he’s a large reason why I cook at all. Luckily, large doses of the chef in orange clogs can be had by purchasing his app. Recipes are organised by season, region, course, among other categories and each one has a full video that spotlights Chef Batali’s concise teaching skills and passion for good food. The app comes with only 63 recipes and a hefty price tag, though, so you should already be pretty certain you’ll get some value from the whole Mario-on-video experience.
Martha Stewart and Jamie Oliver also have recipe apps and there are ones from Epicurious and Big Oven whose recipe collections stretch into the tens of thousands.
For utilities timers and shopping lists seem to be the two obvious choices. All four of my favourite apps have at least one of the other but for big meals who actually sticks to using one cookbook for the whole thing? Seems like it would be cumbersome to keep switching back and forth so a global app for either (or both) functions is what we need but I have yet to find one I really like. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comment section.
Finally, what I call guilty conscience apps are the ones that allow us to make more sustainable, seasonal, and local food choices. The Ocean Wise app is my favourite for guidance on sustainable seafood especially because it’s free and only needs a network connection for periodic updates. Harvest Mark has a great idea with their app that will let consumers scan special bar codes to trace meat and produce back to the farm or get recall information but implementation seems to be limited to the west coast of the US for now. Many of the “what’s in season now” apps are US-only–I guess you could get a pretty close estimate for Ontario by selecting Michigan or New York)–and fairly bare bones. But here I recognise that I haven’t totally plumbed the depths of what’s available so leave your suggestions in comment form.