An iPhone can turn into a much more useful cooking tool than your favorite mixing bowl, frying pan, or cutting board, if you download the right apps. Recipes are easier to access from a phone than from a conventional cookbook, and some apps include handy how-to videos. Many will generate shopping lists which you can view on your phone when you get to the store. Cooking apps aren't limited to recipes and shopping lists, either.
Some apps can help you find food substitutes, do tricky kitchen math, or alert you when your 30-minute casserole is done in the kitchen while you're in the living room.
Just a few words of caution before you start cooking with your iPhone. Keep the phone away from ingredients that might spill on to it. Avoid putting it on your main meal prep counter. Propping it up on a shelf works best.
Here's a roundup of some of the more useful and interesting cooking apps. (Most are compatible with just about all versions of iOS; more stringent requirements above iOS 4.2 are noted.)
Free/$19.99 per year
Requires iOS 5.1 or higher
Boasting a collection of over 250,000 recipes, the BigOven app offers the most exhaustive list of recipes you're likely to find, although many of them can only be accessed after you sign up for a $19.99 per year subscription. This includes the vegetarian collection, for example. However, that still leaves plenty of recipes available on the free version.
The paid version also has no ads, and it can create shopping lists directly from the recipes. A "Leftover Wizard" lets you locate recipes by entering up to three ingredients in your kitchen. I tried broccoli and rice and got a list of dozens of possible recipes, but most required several more serious ingredients like chicken or fish.
Where do they get 250,000 recipes? Unlike the other apps described here, BigOven supplies user-generated recipes.
Free/$34.95 per year
This appealing app provides just 50 recipes, but what's nice is that you can view videos showing you how to make each one. The recipes are all tested too, and they come with wonderful photographs. The recipes are organized into the usual categories of main dishes, side dishes, desserts, etc.
There are also timers built into each recipe that you can activate for audible alerts while you cook -- a great touch. Perhaps the most interesting section of the app is the "Taste Tests" area, where the publisher provides brand name recommendations for dozens of product categories, like canned tomatoes and pasta.
On the down side, the app often leads you to discover the information you want is only available through an upsell to a CooksIllustrated.com premium membership (which is not sold through the app but uses the Safari browser for the transaction).
Whole Foods Market Recipes
This straightforward recipe app does exactly what you'd expect, providing ingredients and cooking instructions for a wide range of foods, with lots of emphasis on special diets, such as vegan or gluten-free. This is fantastic if you have restricted-diet company coming and you don't have a clue what to make!
Of course, you can buy all the ingredients listed at your local Whole Foods store, but the selling is soft, with just a store locater feature and a shopping list to encourage sales.
Moreover, one feature might actually discourage unnecessary trips to the store. It's an ingredients "on hand" recipe finder, somewhat along the same lines as the Leftover Wizard in BigOven.
Enter the ingredients you have available, and the Whole Foods' recipe finder will suggest recipes that use them. (You might be be out of luck if you have red meat on hand, however. The non-veggie dishes here appear to be limited to fish and poultry.)
This app -- which is based on the book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking --- includes about two dozen recipes in categories like doughs, batters, custards, and fat-based sauces. For each recipe, the app provides an ingredients list, along with a pie-chart showing the ingredients' proportions.
On the list, you can change a quantity for one ingredient, and then all the other ingredients will change proportionately to match. So you can easily take a recipe and adapt it to how much of an ingredient you have on hand, or make a different amount. You can also change the units, such as from ounces to liters.
What's most impressive is that it will also convert between different types of measurements, approximating the weight of a certain ingredient for a given volume. So if the recipe calls for a quart but you only have a kitchen scale to measure, you can approximate the right amount. Cooking instructions are also provided under a "Details" tab.
Don't miss Part 2 of this article, which has five more cooking apps!
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