Essential Kitchen Equipment: the iPhone?

I dropped my iPhone in the sink the other day. The sink was empty, save for a single 2-cup measuring cup that was full of water, and guess where the phone landed. Yep, perfect swan dive into the murk. Shorted out, temporarily brought it back to life, but eventually gave up its ghost.

Which is why I’m dubious of any iPhone app that claims to be a kitchen essential. Kitchen essentials are made out of Solingen steel, copper, silicone, or hardwood. Not chips and circuit boards and other hydro-adverse components.

But even though I know in my heart of hearts that electronics in the kitchen can be trouble, I keep finding myself dragging my MacBook or iPhone in there. Which results in a kabuki dance of jumping back and forth from the work space to the safe zone, from the floury counter top or water-filled sink to the corner of the bar where the directions lay.

Time saving? I can find the recipe I want in a blink of an eye, instead of searching through a shelf full of cookbooks, but I’m doing laps around the kitchen during the actual cooking process.

So I think the answer is, it’s a given that modern technology is going to make our iPhones seem like extensions of our arm, something we didn’t know we needed until we started using them, so we can fight it or embrace it.

Some apps like Grocery IQ have become second nature already. We love how it lets us sync the grocery lists, so M. can add stuff the same time I am, on different phones and in different stores. If I’m in the middle of shopping, she can add a couple of things and they pop up on my list, and if she’s shopping for something but I just grabbed it, it disappears from hers.

It also has a very useful barcode scanner with thousands of items in its database. Every now and then it won’t recognize something, but it usually surprises me by calling up a locally produced item.

But the recipe apps … not so much. They all seemed okay, but never managed to impress me. One of them only recognized key words in the ingredients list and not in the title, so searches were always coming up empty. Most of them are poorly organized, so you’re groping your way through their lists to find what you want.

I am very impressed, however, with the new How To Cook Everything app from Mark Bittman, courtesy the folks at Culinate and Wiley Press. Somehow they managed to cram nearly all of MB’s 900 page opus into a $1.99, 23 meg app. I shouldn’t say “cram,” however, because HTCE is intuitively organized with a learning curve of about three seconds. While it seems most apps start with a good idea, then try to figure out how to minimalize everything to fit it onto a phone, the HTCE app looks like it started with the premise that we’re talking about a hand-held device, then adapted the features of the book to this delivery system.

HTCE is in fact not just a recipe app but a guide on how to cook everything, just like the book. There are sections on kitchen basics, how to pick a chef’s knife, food safety and produce selection, and the essential kitchen techniques. The recipes are organized in so many ways that it’s easy to find what you’re looking for, whether you’re searching by ingredient, by MB’s recommendation, or by preparation time.

And the recipes are the most interactive of any iPhone app I’ve ever seen. Let’s take his Fried Chicken Made Easy. On the overview page, there’s a sidebar showing different spice rubs, in case I have the time to play around with this.

The next page is the ingredient list, which has a couple of cool features. If there are ingredient substitutions for this recipe, I can pick the one I want by touching the adjacent button. Then I can export this list to my shopping list, which I can view by grocery store aisle, alphabetically, or sorted by the recipe to which each item belongs. And while it won’t sync to another person’s phone, I can export the list and send as an email.

Also impressive is the way that it handles recipe steps. In describing the steps, if there is a technique that requires further explanation, there’s a link taking you to that page. And whenever anything needs to be timed, there’s an embedded timer for each step. Let’s say you’re boiling the pasta while simmering the sauce. With this app, while you’re reading the directions, you can also have multiple timers running, each labeled telling you what it’s for. If the first timer dings and you can’t remember which step that timer went with, the label clearly shows you.

And because they are embedded and pre-set, you’re not bouncing back and forth between the app and the phone’s built-in timers. That feature alone is worth the price of admission. And what’s funny is, I never used a timer before, because I hate setting them. These are already set, so now I find myself using them when I don’t even need to.

So, I’m hooked. But let’s just wait and see for how long. The next time I’m trying to clean whole wheat flour out of the headphone jack or worse, heading to the Apple Store to replace a phone that just met the disposal up close and personal, we’ll see what song I’m singing.

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4 Responses to Essential Kitchen Equipment: the iPhone?

  1. My daughter was showing me some of the food app on a Nintendo! which blew me away! I am gonna have to check these on my son's IPhone!

  2. ToB: I saw something for the DS the last time we were in BabiesRUs, but I didn't look at it very closely. Will have to give it a second look. Thanks!

  3. Mark says:

    The price just jumped to $5 (was $2 for those who got the early launch announcement), but it's still a steal. Of course, everyone freaks out these days if your app isn't free, but like Jobs said, you might get something for free, but then you're paying yourself minimum wage to use it.

  4. muddywaters says:

    I don't own a cell phone. K and I share a phone. However, the Bittman apps sounds amazing. My laptop is used quite a bit in the kitchen, which is one reason I'm considering purchasing an Ipad at some point. It would be nice to have something lighter and portable on the kitchen counter. It's probably just an accident waiting to happen though.Cook's Illustrated has an application on the Nintendo DS. I haven't check it out, but it sound interesting.

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