14 July 2013

Trying out the "How to Cook Everything" app

Last week Apple celebrated the fifth anniversary of its app store by giving away five utilities and five games. One of the utilities was an app called "How to Cook Everything". It is the official digital version of the well-known cookbook by Mark Bittman. I've wanted this app since I saw it reviewed on iPad Today, so of course I snatched it up last week to save myself the $10.

This isn't a full-on app review because I'm not good at doing those. However, I did want to mention a few things about the app since I tried a recipe from it today and since I also happened to have a copy of the physical book "How to Cook Everything: The Basics" on hand.

STOP THE PRESSES! I just discovered as I was looking up the links I wanted to add to this post that the app I saw reviewed on iPad Today was "How to Cook Everything: Cooking Basics", which is the digital version on the book I have on hand. The app I downloaded corresponds to his original book. I'm tempted to splash out $7.99 to get this version because it has video cooking classes, where the app I have does not. OK, carry on.

The recipe I tried today was Simplest Whole Roast Chicken, Six Ways. Many of the recipes in the app are configured this way. You get the very basic method for roasting the chicken and then you get six flavor variations. This is great for me because I usually don't have all the ingredients for a specific recipe. With this arrangement I have the cooking method separated out and can look at the variations to get some ideas of other flavor combinations that will work. I'm not an intuitive cook so this is the type of help I need.

I noticed that there are some differences between the simple roast chicken recipe in the physical book and the one in the app. In the app it calls for fresh herbs, but in the book Bittman also gives the equivalent amount of dried herbs you could use. In the app he talks about roasting the bird in a cast iron skillet, but in the book it says it needs to be in a pan on a rack. There are a few more differences like this that could make a difference in how your bird turns out.  I didn't look at the book version until I had already cooked my chicken by the directions in the app.

One of the features that elevates the app and makes it more than just a PDF of the original book is the embedded timer. When the recipe tells you to, say, flip the burger after five minutes, you can click the link and start a five-minute timer. You can then go on to another recipe in the app and get that started. You can even have multiple timers going at once, each with the name of the recipe and what step you are on so you know what to go back to when the bell rings. This is great for me because I have a lousy sense of time so I have to set timers for practically everything I cook.

As of this posting, the "How to Cook Everything" app is still being offered for free. I would say grab it while you can. Besides the timers, there are hand-drawn illustrations of various techniques like chopping, weekly featured recipes, and shopping lists you can email to yourself or someone else. You also get the written commentary from the author, something that is missing from other cooking apps that didn't start out as cookbooks. It feels like the physical cookbooks I grew up with but improved by the addition of technology. I plan to make sure M has a copy when she moves out on her own.

By the way, the chicken was delicious.

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