How appetizing! Affordable cooking apps
You can use your iPhone or iPad to watch movies, listen to music, and surf the Web. But surprisingly inexpensive apps make them nifty tools for learning or upgrading cooking skills.
The best are full-on apps, with hours of video included. Others are more like enhanced books, but even those include tricks such as setting a timer as you begin each step. Glossaries, basics, maps, special tips: all included.
The amount of content shoved into one app varies, though. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything app presents an astonishing 2,000 recipes from his bestselling cookbooks, while Baking With Dorie focuses on 25 recipes in great depth and with detailed videos.
The iPad's larger screen is ideally suited for learning techniques via video (unfortunately, the selection for Android is not nearly as wide).
Despite the snarky comments that anything more than $1.99 is too expensive, these apps are a bargain compared with a traditional cookbook, especially since you're pretty much buying a personal tutor to get you through the rough spots. And they're entirely portable.
Here are six of the best culinary apps I've found:
Easy as Pie featuring Evan Kleiman
I love this app from Evan Kleiman of KCRW-FM's Good Food. As your pie coach, Kleiman's going to take the scary away and put the fun back into baking. No strict schoolmarm, she offers up the elements - crust, filling, topping - which you can put together any way you like. So, if you've always dreamed of making banana cream pie, high hat apple pie (which Kleiman considers the über pie), or a svelte lemon curd meringue, here's your chance. She really does make it seem easy as pie through 20 recipes.
For iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, $2.99, from Clear-Media, 109 MB.
Baking With Dorie
That would be Dorie Greenspan, who has written a slew of cooking and baking books and is now proprietor of Beurre et Sel, a cookie bakery in New York. Gorgeously produced, this app is a primer on baking from one of our best bakers. The videos zoom in so you can see the exact texture of the dough or how she rolls out puff pastry. I only wish Greenspan had chosen fewer middle-of-the-road recipes. I'm not going to make cinnamon squares or pumpkin muffins or granola grabbers (though someone else might). I'd love to see her do a French baking app that includes not only the tarte Tatin she demonstrates in this app but also goes on to much more - macarons, financier, eclairs, etc.
For iPad, $7.99, from CulinApp, 492 MB. Individual recipe lessons, 99 cents.
Mario Batali Cooks!
Mario Batali gets serious (and uncharacteristically concise) with this app introducing his favorite Italian dishes. Calm and authoritative, he walks you through each recipe with a short video, with written step-by-step instructions below. None of the dishes is very complicated. Ingredients are readily available. And most dishes are quick to make. The selection may not jazz accomplished Italian cooks, but here are expert renditions of classics such as arancine, cacio e pepe, grilled tuna, and saltimbocca. You can search for recipes by region, course, season, quick meals, etc. Mario Batali Cooks! is a well-designed app, with no glitches. It's a great basic Italian cooking class from a star chef, but certainly not a definitive regional cookbook. The Veneto is represented by shaved fennel salad, sauteed greens and tricolore salad. No seafood! What's up with that?
For iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Android. $9.99, from High Fine Labs Inc., 34.8 MB.
Bread Baking Basics With Michael Ruhlman
Stuck someplace where you can't find good bread? Whip out your iPhone and get a recipe and the how-to from chef's chef Michael Ruhlman, a longtime collaborator of Thomas Keller's, and author of several highly regarded cookbooks. This app works in a unique way, generating recipes based on what you want to make and how your kitchen is equipped. Tap "Preferences" and select how you want to mix the dough (with a mixer or by hand) and how you want your units displayed (grams, ounces, cups). Choose the kind of bread you want to make and how many loaves, and up pops an illustrated recipe for fabulous bread: a simple country loaf, ciabatta, sourdough baguette, pizza dough, and also recipes for no-knead bread, which, if you haven't tried it, is the easiest way to bake bread.
For iPhone, iPad, and Kindle Fire, $1.99, from Ruhlman Enterprises, 12 MB.
How to Cook Everything
This is kind of amazing. One little app (more like an enhanced e-book) holds all of Mark Bittman's massive cookbook. Now, if you find yourself marooned on a Greek island, with this app you can learn to cook a whole fish, or braise squid, or try a chocolate souffle in the middle of the night. Here, in one place, are about 2,000 recipes from the New York Times food columnist. And he adds or highlights content weekly to feature seasonal recipes. Recipes are concise and clear, with extensive sections on techniques, ingredients, equipment, and a how-to section with detailed drawings. No videos, and very few photographs.
For iPhone, $4.99, and iPad, $9.99, from Culinate, 27.8 MB.
This may be my favorite among these apps. A master cocktail course from two of New York's finest mixologists, Jim Meehan (PDT) and Joseph Schwartz (Little Branch), Speakeasy Cocktails offers concise and incisive information regarding top bartenders' tools and techniques, plus fun, quirky videos for those mixologist tricks hard to fathom from a book. I learned how to flame an orange, make a lemon twist, and garnish an egg-white-topped drink.
Start with the seven master drinks and then move on to cocktails based on each spirit, divided into "rediscovered classics" and "new standards." This is everything the amateur mixologist needs to know to delve into handcrafted cocktails - the best gear, how to stock your bar, how to make ice. $9.99 may seem steep for an app, but at most bars, that won't even buy you a cocktail. Plus, the app includes a world map of the best secret cocktail lounges. Brilliant.
For iPhone and iPad, $9.99, from Open Air Publishing, 386 MB; how-to guide and recipes also available individually, $4.99.