Road Testing Food Apps for Thanksgiving

5 years ago

Everything's coming up food apps this week before Thanksgiving, and I recently bought an iPad, so -- voila -- the first post in a periodic series looking at Food & Drink Tech.

I've been eager to play with apps that can do what neither #teaminternet nor #teamcookbook is capable of -- especially ones that can make my cooking more interesting and less stressful. I'm only on the hook for a couple of dishes this holiday, so I was also looking to learn something new, since I won't be time-chopped.

$4.99 was the most I was prepared to pay, which knocked several contenders, including the gorgeous-looking new Food 52, Baking With Dorie, the sure-to-be-amusing Mario Batali Cooks! and Mark Bittman's well-rated How to Cook Everything off the table. (I nearly misread the price tag for the Culinary Institute of America's app as $4.99. It costs forty-nine ninety-nine and for that price I better receive a CIA diploma along with it.) I checked out six apps this week; below, my thoughts (along with which device I was on and how much it cost).

TURKEY TIME MANAGER: Chow's Thanksgiving Dinner Coach

iPhone (only), free

Satisfied With: This app steers you through T-Day dinner. From a shopping list that lets you cross off items when you put them in your cart to a minute-by-minute, page-by-page accounting for your prep time and oven space (you can choose to start Wednesday or Thursday, even), this is a holiday saver for first-timers, nonplanners and the Thanksgiving-intimidated.

Hungry For: You'll cook what Chow tells you to cook (though you can exclude dishes), and you'll like it -- there are NO recipe options. I'd love an iPad edition, and tutorials. The dream app would contain real-time timers that remind you of where you should be in the cooking process, let you tell it where you're behind, and serve you up some of Chow's excellent fakes and fixes to catch up.

LOVE IN A CRUST: Evan Kleiman's Easy as Pie

iPad, $4.99

Satisfied With: Where the heck was this during my NaBloPieMo last November? Evan's the host of KCRW's Good Food radio show, and a pie fanatic like me. Each recipe comes with truly beautiful, enormous images and Evan's lilting voice (hear her dreamy exhale of the word "meringue" -- that's a pie superfan right there). The video steps are thorough, strong on technique, and in 100% real time, just what pie beginners really need. The recipe collection includes sweet and savory, traditional and not-so-much (apple-butternut-bacon pie with a candied walnut crumble topping).

Hungry For: Browsing through the categories (specialty pies, pudding pies, Evan's favorites, crusts, and toppings) is definitely meringue for the eyeballs -- but when I'm trying to find her butternut bacon recipe, I have to remember the category or swizzle my index finger across a lot of screenage to find it again. A recipe index and searchability by name, ingredients and pie expertise level -- plus the ability to organize and mark favorites -- would be great.


iPad, $4.99

Satisfied With: I love that it's mostly food bloggers curating this app, including BlogHer Publishing Network members La Fuji Mama, The Paupered Chef and What's Gaby Cooking. (Note that BlogHer has no relation with the creators of the app.) The bloggers created diverse and mostly appealing recipes (coconut Israeli couscous, a "deadly" chocolate almond toffee that I'm totally making this weekend), though a few seem a little too simple, at least for me. Each dish includes a video step-by-step tutorial -- a game-changer for beginning cooks -- and a pre-download audio intro by the blogger, so you can know before buying if you are OK with the ingredients and the time commitment.

Hungry For: I want to see more bloggers I love in this app please, stat. You can buy themed recipe packs as well as individual recipes -- but I'd like to see more variety, topical organization, and searchability to the offerings; I don't want to have to poke at each recipe to find, say, something vegan.

HANDS FREE(ISH): iCookbook

iPad, $4.99

Satisfied with: Voice activated paging! The future is now! This app is really well organized -- you can search and filter the very large, easy-to-read-while cooking recipes by ratings, various ingredients and themes. Adding a recipe is intuitive, and I love that you can sort the shopping list by ingredient or recipe, delete items once they're in your cart, and print it. It's also got timers and indices of conversions and substitutions.

Hungry for: The voice activation can be a little sluggish, especially near ambient (read: kitchen) noise. I found myself yelling, "Next. NEXT. NEXT, you bastards!" a few times during the frenzy phase of a recipe. More frustrating was the recipe collection -- they are all provided by brands; some are just fine, but most are pretty mainstream and so not my cup of tea. If I could buy a different recipe pack or import my own, I'd be much more interested. Unlike many similarly priced apps, there are no step-by-step video tutorials, and just a few tutorial videos of any kind. Also, this app just isn't pretty to look at. And I guess I care about that now.


iPad, $4.99

Satisfied With: Paprika isn't anyone's recipe collection but your own -- it lets you grab recipes from the 100 or so sites the app currently supports via an internal browser (or via email, or a bookmarklet) and cloud syncs them. Once you've entered recipes, you can add them to a meal planner, build a shopping list, email them to friends, and create your own notes. It's got timers and a cool ingredient scaler, excellent searchability and the ability to create your own categories. If the site you like isn't supported, the app generates an email request to the Paprika team to add it. You can also add recipes yourself manually and import them from other recipe apps.

Hungry For: If a site is not within the 100 sites they currently support, there are tools to cut and paste the recipe in, but it's a huge, multi-step drag, and it's going to take a very long time to find everything I have scattered across the interwebs in one place and do the data entry. I'd like a better understanding of which food sites are supported and how to get my favorites in there. It's also not intuitive -- I had to go to Paprika's help site to understand the basic actions to really use the tools. In-app help and navigation, please!

THE GLOSSY MAG: Gourmet Live

iPad, Free

Gourmet Live is more like a magazine in app format (with optional exclusive recipes and recipe organization) than a true cooking instruction app -- which makes sense, as it's the online incarnation of the venerable late print mag, Gourmet. I loved the double Thanksgiving issue for culture writing like A White House Holiday Menu, Circa 1889 (I am such a sucker for food history) and A Guide to Competitive Feasting on Thanksgiving by editor (and BlogHer Publishing Network blogger) Kelly Senyei.

(And if all this Thanksgiving cooking tech is too much for you, BlogHer and Gourmet Live have teamed up on a food Road Trip -- this month, our bloggers share their favorite restaurants across the U.S. to savor Thanksgiving dinner without dirtying a pan.)

What food apps do you like? Or are you strictly cookbooks and internets?

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