Being an incurable foodie and techie, I of course have been grabbing cooking apps for my iPad. Some apps are little more than shameless money grabs or self promotions. Others are poorly constructed technically or have little quality content.
The exception, far and away, is Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything application. This is perhaps the best cooking resource I own. Some readers may recognize Bittman as the author of the books How to Cook Everything, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Recipes for Conscious Eating and a number of others. He is also a writer for The New York Times.
So, what do I like about the app? Well, for starters, the recipes. If it didn't have clear well designed, easy to follow recipes I wouldn't care how well written an app it is. From simple recipes like how to cook Corned Beef to more complex recipes like a classic Bolognese Style Meat Sauce, in How to Cook Everything the instructions are clear, easy, and well explained. Index sections for browsing include not only the expected Soups, Salads (one of Bittman's specialties, apparently), Beans, Meats, etc., but also a complete section on Kitchen Basics, covering equipment, appliances, and ingredients. The section on knives includes basic knife skills, as well as how to sharpen and store them.
But it doesn't stop there.
Being a computer app, How to Cook Everything has features that no paper cookbook can muster. For example, in the Lasagne recipe, one of the ingredients is Béchamel Sauce. The words are underlined, indicating that this is a link to the recipe. Touch the words on your screen, and the recipe for Béchamel shows up. Touch the "Back" button and you go back to the Lasagne recipe.
In the Béchamel Sauce recipe, like many others, there is a choice. In this case, for "30 grams butter or extra virgin olive oil" with circles beside the choices. Butter is the highlighted ingredient, but if you want to use olive oil, just touch the circle beside that ingredient. Two things will happen. First, "extra virgin olive oil" will become highlighted, and if necessary the measure will change. Second, if you are building a shopping list, all you need to do is touch the blue shopping cart above the ingredients and they are added to your list. But here is where it gets good! If you choose olive oil, then that is what gets added to the shopping list. If you choose butter, then the shopping list will show butter. If you are planning a meal, you can go through all of the recipes and add the ingredients from each of the to the grocery list. One enhancement I would like to see, though, relates to when you add ingredients to the shopping list from a recipe that contains another recipe, like above. As it works now, How to Cook Everything simply warns that the ingredients from the second recipe are not added to the grocery list. I would really prefer a pop-up with selection buttons to let me choose to maybe add the ingredients for the Béchamel Sauce, but not the homemade pasta. As it works, I need to click and add the ingredients from each sub-recipe manually.
Staying on shopping lists for a moment, it is worth noting that if the same ingredient is chosen in multiple recipes, then the total amount needed is shown rather than multiple occurrences of the ingredient. Once all of the recipes are added to a grocery list, you can go through and edit the list to remove items you have in your pantry or change quantities.
Once you are cooking the recipe, if there is an instruction like "Cook for three minutes" with a clock icon, touching the amount of time will open a timer dialogue for you. You can have multiple timers running simultaneously. When one of them goes off, a dialogue will pop up allowing you to halt the timer, add time if you think it is necessary, or show the recipe where you started the timer. And it tells you on the timer which step you were at when you set the timer.
As you go along, you can bookmark steps in a recipe so that you know where you are at any time. Bookmarks have a couple of advantages. First and most obvious is that you can turn away to stir a pot or help your grandson play Angry Birds, and return to see where you were at. Also, you can skip between recipes on the fly. Think of bookmarks like the ribbon in your old Joy of Cooking, only you can have as many as you want and they keep themselves sorted out. A button on the bottom of the screen shows Bookmarks and Timers. Touch it and you can instantly go to one of your bookmarks or open the dialogue on one of your times, or you can delete them if you want. With practice, bookmarks and timers can keep you on track in the kitchen.
Those are the main techie bells and whistles, but How to Cook Everything has a lot more to offer. Most if not all recipes have a section on Techniques following the instructions that show basic techniques like "preparing Onions" or "Crushing and Peeling Garlic". Most recipes also contain a tab that gives Variations, for instance how to make Pesto with arugula instead of basil or different options for Chicken Soup. They also have a Related Content tab that may give information on ingredients, or additions to the recipe. And they have a Notes tab where you can make your own notes.
Some other useful features include the ability to show metric ingredients, change text size. or prevent the screen from timing out in mid-preparation. And for the social media types, you can even Tweet or post on Facebook directly from the app!
All in all, How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman is by far the most well thought out and robust iPad cooking app I have found so far.