The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My Favorite (Mostly Free) Cooking Apps for the iPhone

I'm not exactly a Luddite, but I'm also not one for jumping at every new technological gimmick that hits the market. That's why it took me awhile to acquire a smart phone. I was perfectly content with my old stupid phone. It made phone calls. What more did I need? My wife finally dragged me into the 21st century when she got an iPhone a couple of years ago. I started playing with it and within hours I was at the phone store buying one of my own. Among the big selling points for me was all the cooking apps with which I could junk it up. And there are hundreds of them.

Cheap bast.....errrr.....thrifty person that I am, I tend to gravitate toward the freebies, but there a few worth purchasing. Here are a few of the apps I've tried.

Naturally, I have some Italian-specific apps. The best of these is Mario Batali Cooks! At $9.99, it's also the most expensive. Mario had a big hand in the creation of the app, which contains lots of his favorite recipes from all over Italy along with some great instructions on technique. Lots of video and still photography, food and wine pairings, a glossary of terms, and much more. It's a keeper.

My other favorite Italian food personality, Giada de Laurentiis, also has an app. It's a freebie, but you kind of get what you pay for. Don't get me wrong, Giada is a nice app. There's just not much to it. A handful of recipes, a few short video tips, and Giada's Twitter feed. Oh, and a cute pronunciation guide in which my dearest Italian goddess mispronounces “asiago.” For some odd reason, she says “ah-SAH-gee-oh.” Tried the app and, sad to say, dumped it.

Fabio Viviani has a nice app. Called Let's Cook, it's a big sucker. It's free, but make sure you're on a wi-fi or you'll devastate your data minutes downloading it. Like Mario's app, it's got lots of step-by-step video instructions and a ton of static recipes that are very intuitive and easy to follow. Fabio imparts some helpful cooking and entertaining tips, and there are menu suggestions and wine pairings and other neat features, too. I use it a good bit.

I'm a subscriber to La Cucina Italiana magazine, and their basic La Cucina Italiana US app is free. It's not the most comprehensive app I've ever seen, but I refer to it from time to time. You can search recipes by course, by prep time, by cooking method, or by season. You can store your favorites and set up your menu. There's also a shopping list and a timer. It's worth the phone space.

Two other Italian apps that I have on my phone are iCuoco and one that displays as Flavour, but is actually Il Cucchiaio d'Argento or “The Silver Spoon.” iCuoco is free Il Cucchiaio d'Argento is $1.99. Both are excellent apps with lots of recipes and helpful features. But both are written in Italian, so don't go there unless you can read Italian or are in possession of a good translator program. I'm always amazed when I read through the reviews to find so many clueless individuals who are angry or upset because they downloaded the app and discovered that something called Il Cucchiaio d'Argento was all in Italian! Gee. Ya think?

On the general cooking front, I'm also a dedicated reader of Cook's Illustrated. They've got an app. The freebie is pretty limited. It's got a fair number of good open recipes in various categories, but you have to be a subscriber to access the “members only” recipes. Same thing with the “taste test” section. One or two open testings in each category with a “members only” section at the bottom. This one's also got a place to archive your favorites and a shopping list feature. It's still on my phone, but not one of my “go to” apps.

I've got four “go to” apps: Big Oven, Dinner Spinner, Epicurious, and The Betty Crocker Cookbook. If you can't find it with one of these, it's not going to be found.

The Betty Crocker Cookbook is a freebie with more than 13,000 recipes that come fully loaded in the app. If you know what you want to make, you can search by recipe. If you just want to see what you can come up with using ingredients you have on hand, you can do that, too. There's a recipe box to store your favorites and a shopping list feature. You can sync your recipes and grocery lists across different devices. You can e-mail them to friends, and you can even access coupons.

Epicurious is another great app. It, too, has loads of recipes available and it allows you to save your favorites and create a shopping list. One of my favorite aspects of Epicurious is its timeliness. As I'm writing right now, it's Spring and Easter is a couple of weeks away. When I open Epicurious, the home page displays Easter, Passover, and Spring recipes right up front. And there are recipes for kids, low- fat recipes, low-carb recipes, low-cal recipes and recipes designed for people who can “cook like a pro” as well as for those who “can barely cook.” The app itself is free and there's an in-app option that allows you to sync your recipe box for $1.99.

The Dinner Spinner is a winner. The free version does a lot, the $2.99 version does a little more. With the freebie, you can search among more than 40,000 recipes. You can search by ingredient and you can search by nutrition. You can bookmark your favorites, create shopping lists, e-mail recipes to friends, and share them on Facebook and Twitter. There's a built-in grocery scanner that lets you scan barcodes and searches for recipes that use the scanned items. The “spinner” feature is a lot of fun. There are three tiers; dish type, ingredients, and ready in. Select, for instance, “main dish” from the first tier, “beef” from the second, and “slow cooker” from the third, and the app brings up a huge selection of slow cooker beef recipes.

An app that comes highly recommended by almost everybody is Big Oven. It's a free app with access to over 250,000 recipes. You can search recipes by keyword, course, or ingredient, and you can browse popular recipe collections. If you need to be inspired, the app lets you enter up to ten ingredients from your fridge or pantry to get meal ideas. You can scale recipes, convert English to metric, and share your recipes by e-mail, Twitter, or Pinterest. There's also a menu planner for special occasions and everyday meals. I guess that's why it's had more than seven million downloads.

One of my most indispensable cooking apps is free and doesn't contain a single recipe. Published by Portable Knowledge, LLC, it's called Cooking, and it is a treasure trove of culinary knowledge. I can't begin to describe how useful this app truly is. Want to know how many slices of bacon you'll need to crumble to get a half-cup? Look in the “Yields and Tips” section. Don't have any chicken broth on hand? Find out how many bouillon cubes or how many teaspoons of granules or dried poultry seasoning you'll need in the “Substitutions” section. What's a “chinoise?” Look it up in “Terms.” Ever wonder what the volume of a Number 10 can is? Twelve cups. It's in the “Commercial Can Sizes” subcategory under “Measurements.” And if you need to know what to do when cooking at high altitudes, Cooking has you covered. It's a great little app.

Equally indispensable is a free app from the Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy folks, published by Futura Group. The Escoffier Cook's Companion will knock your socks off. Touted as “The ultimate Cook's Companion for the kitchen,” it really lives up to the hype with a range of tools that include a measurement converter, a compendium of ingredients, a glossary of culinary terms, a comprehensive list of kitchen equipment, and a versatile kitchen timer. The converter is easy to use, the glossary is fun and informative, and the compendia (yes, that's the proper plural of “compendium”) are awesome. I love the timer feature, though, because you can have more than one going at a time. If you're preparing three different dishes, you can set up three separate timers. Very handy.

I also have something on my phone called Kitchen Dial. It's a quick and easy converter that let's you select a metric or English amount and convert it to its other equivalent. Select “ounces,” dial it to 1 ½ , then select milliliters on the other dial, and you get 44.4. Saves me a lot of calculation time. It's a little more comprehensive than the Escoffier converter.

I've got some recipe scalers and food cost converters on my phone, too. In fact, I had to separate all my cooking apps into two folders on my home screen because they wouldn't all fit into one.

As I said, there are a mind-numbing number of cooking apps available. I just entered “cooking” into the App Store search box and got 3,541 results. “Italian cooking” racks up 815. “Recipes” will net 4,100 and “kitchen” will get you 1,272. I think you'll like the dozen that I've covered here, especially my four “go to” apps and my two “utility” apps. Look 'em over and see what you think.

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