Cookbooks are an important tool in many kitchens. Whether it’s Joy of Cooking, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, or The Pioneer Woman Cooks, most home cooks have several books lining the shelves of their kitchen. Some are soiled with butter or chocolate, while others are inscribed with handwritten notes and reminders of past successes and failures. More and more home cooks today, however, are going online before heading into the kitchen. The Internet has long been a veritable goldmine of cooking tips, tricks, and recipes. With the popularity of mobile apps and devices like the iPad, those online resources can now be in the kitchen with you. Just prop up your device on the countertop, tap and scroll to access a nearly endless supply of recipes. In this week’s Cooking the Books, we’ll review a half dozen of the most-popular cooking apps available. Today, we’ll start with the must-have cooking apps.Epicurious. Free. Available for iPad, iPhone/iPod Touch and Android. Since 1995, Epicurious.com has been one of the most popular cooking Web sites with its catalog of recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines. Since the introduction of the Epicurious app in early 2009, features have been continually added, making this one of the best cooking apps available. You can add ingredients from any recipe to a shopping list, or share recipes with friends via e-mail or social networks. Search recipes by keyword, or browse using the helpful tabs that group recipes by categories like “Party Snacks,” “Fast Breakfasts,” and “I Can Barely Cook.” You can also search by main ingredient, course, dish type, occasion or season, and cuisine. User reviews and nutritional information are included for each recipe, so among the dozen or so apple-pie recipes, you can read the reviews to decide which one is best for you. While the Epicurious app is free, for $1.99 you can now download a sync feature that allows you to access saved lists and favorites from any device you have the app installed on, or by logging into a computer.The only caveat with the otherwise flawless Epicurious app is that you have to be connected to the Internet to use it. You can still access favorites and shopping lists, but searching for new recipes requires an Internet connection. How to Cook Everything. $9.99 for iPad; $4.99 for iPhone/iPod Touch.The popular and indispensable How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman has gone digital. This app has updated and improved Bittman’s popular cookbook into an easy-to-navigate resource for over 2,000 no-nonsense recipes. The app features illustrated how-tos showing everything from crimping a pie shell to cleaning squid. There are hundreds of cooking tips throughout, plus “chapters” on ingredients, techniques, and equipment advice. This app can be used offline as well, so it as much an e-book as it is app. Much like the cookbook of the same name, this app sorts recipes by course or main ingredient. “Bittman’s Picks” highlight a hundred or so recipes, labeling them vegetarian, make-ahead, or “fast” recipes. Each recipe includes embedded timers for each step of the process. Other helpful features in this app are shopping lists, bookmarks within recipes, a recipe-note option, featured recipe photos, and links to technique tips and recipe variations.Allrecipes. Free for basic, Pro upgrade – $4.99 for iPad or $2.99 for iPhone/iPod Touch. Crowd-sourced recipe powerhouse, and local company, Allrecipes.com has recently upgraded its already popular iPhone/iPod Touch app to a Pro version for $2.99 that removed ads and added functions such as saving recipes, searching by ingredient, and signing in to sync with your online profile. The “dinner spinner” allows you to choose a dish based on course, ingredient, and cooking time. The new iPad app has most of the same features of the iPhone/iPod Touch app, but also allows for advanced search refinement by dietary restrictions, ingredient, and cooking method. You can also enter ingredients into “hold the” and “I want” fields. The “Inspire Me” section features a slideshow of images, but since most are submitted by users, their quality and clarity vary a great deal. The $4.99 Pro version allows you to save recipes, create shopping lists, and sync with other devices.
For each recipe, the cooking page includes helpful features like calorie count and a cooking timer. As with Epicurious however, you need to be connected to the Internet to use most features of the app. Read Part II of this week’s Cooking the Books for more cooking app reviews.