Thanksgiving is next Thursday and some of you out there are inevitably faced with the challenge of producing the most celebrated meal of the (U.S.) year.
Fortunately, there are a number of cooking apps in the iTunes App Store to choose from that can help you pull the meal together if you have an iOS device. While your pristine touch screen might get a little smudged in the process--or not--I think you'll appreciate the easy navigation and added tools in each of this week's cooking apps.
This week's iOS app collection is all about cooking. The first app helps you year-round with ideas for cooking, but also has great holiday-themed recipes. The second is a more advanced app for those who spend a lot of time trying recipes in the kitchen. The third comes from New York Times columnist Mark Bittman's bestselling cookbook "How to Cook Everything," and might be the best of the bunch for those new to the kitchen.
Allrecipes.com Dinner Spinner Pro ($2.99) gives you fun and easy access to the user-generated recipes on this popular cooking Web site. The primary focus of this cooking app is the Dinner Spinner, which gives you a slot-machine-style interface that helps you search for--or just stumble upon--new meal possibilities by rotating horizontal spinners to choose a recipe by meal type, ingredient, or cook time. You also can shake your phone to get a random recipe. While the main point of the app is to help you come up with ideas for dinner based on the ingredients you have, you can also search for recipes and find plenty of options that are appropriate for Thanksgiving dinner.
Even when you're not planning a holiday dinner, the interface gimmick works surprisingly well, especially with some fixed criteria (like, say, you know you have turkey and less than 45 minutes), and you can flip through all the matching recipes, with photos, star ratings, and short summaries. If you don't want to use the spinner, you can just browse featured recipes. Touch a recipe for more information, including a full ingredient list, cooking instructions, nutritional information, and user reviews from AllRecipes.com, and you can save any recipe to your favorites for later viewing.
The Dinner Spinner isn't perfect--for example, the categories rely on the occasionally spotty accuracy of user-generated data--but this app has shown steady improvement since its arrival in the App Store. Other similar paid apps may have deeper functionality, but the Dinner Spinner gives you a lot of features, and a huge searchable database of recipes.
iCookBook ($4.99) is a more advanced cooking app that offers more than 2,000 recipes and a bunch of handy tools for when it's time to prepare a big meal. The interface features buttons across the bottom for browsing recipes; viewing your recipe box (where saved recipes are stored); a Meal Builder, where you can drag and drop recipes; and a Store where you can browse both free and paid recipe packs based on various themes and events. The app also has tools like timers, a shopping list tool, and replacement ingredients lists.
What makes this recipe app a strong option for those more serious about cooking year-round are the easy browsing features and the drag-and-drop interface. You can enter search terms to create filters that narrow your search by specific meats or ingredients you already have, for example. Once you find a recipe you like, you can touch and drag it to the Meal Builder and then add sides as you find them. Once a meal is planned out, you can touch a specific recipe, then touch the plus sign in the upper right to print it out using AirPrint, or you can send the ingredients to your shopping list so you know exactly what to buy at the store. All of these features work together very smoothly, making it easy to organize all the working parts of getting a big meal planned.
It's important to note that the default list of recipes will not get you everything you need for Thanksgiving dinner, which makes this app a little hard to recommend for the casual cook looking for an app for this specific holiday. In fact, the only way to get traditional Thanksgiving recipes is to purchase the Thanksgiving pack from the in-app store for $2.99--not very appealing if you just spent $4.99 to buy the app.
Still, if you're serious about finding new recipes from a cooking app with a huge list of options (with new free recipes every month), solid preparation directions, and integrated cooking tools, this app is a great choice. But because of the price and additional cost of the Thanksgiving pack, casual cooks may want to choose one of the other apps in this collection.
How to Cook Everything ($4.99) is a great cooking app for both beginners and seasoned cooks alike, offering tons of recipes and even several techniques that help you learn to cook like a pro. Based on New York Times columnist Mark Bittman's bestselling cookbook of that name, this app features a straightforward interface with big buttons for browsing recipes and learning kitchen basics. You also can browse lists of Bittman's favorites, most popular recipes, featured concoctions, and "Quick Dinners" for when you need to get a meal ready fast. It also has buttons across the bottom for searches, viewing your favorite recipes (once collected), and a shopping-list tool.
Unlike iCookBook, How to Cook Everything doesn't ask you for any more money to see the Thanksgiving recipes. A simple search for turkey will give you a ton of options for all types of turkey recipes (including one highly rated recipe that shows you how to make a Thanksgiving turkey, gravy, and stuffing). Even better (specifically for those fairly new to cooking), you can browse through cooking techniques to learn baking basics, essential cutting techniques, and and so on. Each recipe offers related articles that include cooking techniques for your recipe as well.
Overall, How To Cook Everything is an excellent choice for the Thanksgiving holiday, particularly if you're not already a kitchen veteran. But even experienced cooks will appreciate the intuitive interface, popular recipe lists, and easy-to-use tools that let you focus on the cooking project at hand.