Apptastic Cooking Tools, Part II

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E-cookbooks and cooking apps have a ways to go before they make cookbooks and cooking magazines obsolete. Paper purists will always prefer the tactile feel of a real book. And of course there are the economic realities that make iPads, iPhones, and other devices luxury items few home cooks can afford. As these devices become more affordable, and more publications move their works to the electronic format, however, cookbooks may go the way of the eggbeater.

Martha Stewart Makes Cookies, 99 cents for iPad.

Leave it to Martha Stewart to create one of the most stylish and drool-worthy cooking apps available. Martha understands that we eat with our eyes as much as with our stomachs, and the Martha Stewart Makes Cookies app offers a visual feast. The main screen offers a mural of dozens of cookie photographs. Scroll from left to right to view cookies for "Hedonists," "Traditionalists," "Grown-Ups," and more. You can also search recipes by spinning a wheel to select cookies by shape or method, and ingredient.

In addition to the recipes, there are instructional videos, basic baking tips, and packaging ideas. The packages are beautiful, and most include a template you can e-mail to yourself and print. The e-mail and share features are the only ones that require an Internet connection. Otherwise, the app works seamlessly offline. Within each recipe there are timers, and you can add your own notes, or send ingredients to a shopping list.

Like many of Martha's recipes, these cookies are aren't always easy. The Chocolate-Mint Ice-Cream Sandwiches look amazing, but the first step in the recipe is, "Make the ice cream." You aren't getting off easy here. To make Martha-worthy ice-cream sandwiches, you better be making your own damn ice cream too.

Ratio, $4.99 for iPhone.

Michael Ruhlman, co-author of cookbooks such as The French Laundry with Thomas Keller, and of many of his own books, is on a mission. "Free yourself from recipes" is the selling point of his book Ratio and the app of the same name. The idea is to teach home cooks what professional chefs learn in culinary school: Every dish, whether it's custard, sausage, or cookies, has a simple proportion of one ingredient relative to the next. Once you understand these ratios, you can create hundreds of variations and free yourself from recipes.

This is a great app for someone who doesn't like recipes to begin with, but doesn't understand why their bearnaise sauce breaks or their pie dough isn't flaky. Downloading this app is just the first step, however, in what will be a long process in freeing yourself from recipes. The ratios are a great start, but it will take practice and plenty of work before you can take the simple flour/fat/sugar ratio and create a tasty cookie. The app allows you to save your recipes creations, so you can record your work, adapt it, and improve on it as your recipe liberation continues.

Gourmet Live, Free for iPad.

Gourmet magazine has risen from the ashes, but like that cat in Pet Semetary that returns from the dead, something is not quite right. Gourmet Live is a shell of its former self. It isn't possessed and won't harm you, but it isn't the magazine we all knew and loved.

The app updates every Wednesday with a page of articles from past and present issues. It's more like a newsletter than a magazine, but the photos are gorgeous and there are some familiar names like Sarah Rich and Neil Katz in the bylines. There is also a content partnership with SeriousEats.com, and sponsored recipes from various corporations. I don't know what Clinique has to do with Pan-Glazed Fish With Citrus and Soy, but they sponsored the recipe and it looks delicious.

Unlike other cooking and magazine apps for the iPad, Gourmet Live is a little clunky to navigate. You don't gain the seamless functionality and navigation that you do with other apps. It's more like taking a magazine off the coffee table, thumbing through it looking for a recipe, then realizing you have the wrong issue. So you walk to the other room to find the issue you think the recipe is in, and rifle through a stack of back issues. You get the idea.

While the app is free, you have the option to buy exclusive content for 99 cents. As you click through the current issue, however, little pop-ups invite you to browse recipes. If you miss this opportunity, maybe that is when you have to pony up the 99 cents. It's not exactly clear. For $9.99 you can upgrade to unlimited access, which will be a great deal for a year's worth of Gourmet Live, once they work out some of the bugs.

Read Part I of this week's Cooking the Books for review of three other cooking apps.

 
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