I am a devotee of old school cooking —I collect cookbooks like they're baseball cards (and judge friends based on which ones they have piled up in their kitchen), I tear recipes out of magazines and I still write grocery lists on scraps of paper. But the internet has gradually wormed its way into my Luddite cooking ways — because what else are you going to do when you only have five ingredients in the fridge and your recipe file is providing no insight into how to combine them? In situations like that, a cooking app can come straight to the rescue.
That's the beauty of the tech revolution in cooking. Embracing new recipe apps and programs doesn't mean that you have to abandon of all your old-fashioned methods and hand mixers for shiny, new, peculiar thingamajigs. If anything, these apps make being old school even more fun — because they prove that you're up-to-date and with it, even if you still prefer to cream butter and sugar together by hand
Cooking — particularly baking — is typically a hands-on, meditative practice, and you probably don't need an app to teach you how to handle that part of the process. But apps can make prepping, planning, shopping and learning new cooking techniques infinitely easier. They're particularly good for storing complex bits of knowledge, recipe sorting, timing and conversion. So check out these nine cooking and recipe apps, which allow you to harness the power of technology, while still letting you be as old school and flour-covered as you like.
1. Paprika: $3.99
Paprika is the cooking app with the mega-reputation. It claims to be able to help you do basically anything: plan your meals, digitize your shopping list (and sort it by aisle, which is so high-tech that frankly, it freaks me out a little), find recipes from loads of websites, keep track of how much of each ingredient you've got on hand, and sort out recipe timing and measurement. It's formidable, and therefore a bit confusing at first. But once you get used to uploading information and using it for a few things, it'll be worth your while.
2. Look & Cook: Free
Using Look & Cook is like taking a cooking class without stepping outside your kitchen. The app explains specific cooking techniques by using diagrams and videos — perfect for a lazy afternoon spent trying to get that choux pastry or braising absolutely right.
3. Epicurious: Free
If you're a fiend for food magazines, watch out — the Epicurious app may actually replace them all in your heart. The app offers an archive of Epicurious' recipes, numbering over 30,000 in total — and it's got the best timer around, which you can customize for extremely specific dishes and use to coordinate up to forty ingredients. Now you will never again need to open your oven at random while cooking, and risk deflation/your eyebrows being burnt off.
4. Gojee: Free
Gojee gets extra points right off the bat because it also includes cocktail recipes. But beyond that, Gojee helps you find new recipe inspiration by curating the best recipes from blogs and magazines around the world. And you can customize your new recipe feed based on your available ingredients and tastes. You may just want to look at the pretty pictures for a while first, though.
5. Perfect Produce: Free
I'm Australian, so I can spot a ripe mango or pineapple at forty paces. But if somebody presents me with a pumpkin or a radish, I'm clueless. Perfect Produce is ideal for filling those gaps in your knowledge; it's basically an expert greengrocer who is ready to take you through the fruit and veg aisles, lecturing you on seasonality, teaching you how to tell if your produce is ripe, and giving you tips on storing and eating your finds. You will look like a mega-brain talking about the ripeness strategy of your melon at your next party. (Or a nerd.)
6. Escoffier: Free
Escoffier is named after one of the oldest-school cooks there is: Auguste Escoffier, the first celebrity chef in history. And the app created in his honor basically lets you cheat your way into looking like a fancy chef yourself: it's a glossary and guide to the trickiest culinary terms, kitchen equipment, and ingredients, so that you never get confused by a complicated recipe. The culinary terms even come with an audio feature, so you get the pronunciation perfect. Plus, it has a great conversion feature for all manner of measurements. Be prepared to sound like you went to the fanciest cooking school around in 3, 2, 1...
7. ChefTap: Free
ChefTap is for people who've already at least kinda entered the digital age: it's a recipe organizer that can import stuff you've clipped or saved from basically anywhere on the web — particularly Pinterest (of course). But it also syncs across every device you own. You need to upgrade to a pro account if you want to load more than 100 recipes, though. And unfortunately, the recipe app world is still a few years away from developing an easy way to upload your grandmother's scrawled recipes to an iPhone.
8. Substitutions: $1.49
Substitutions is nothing short of a lifesaver. If you have allergies, special dietary requirements or food intolerances — or are cooking for people who do — then this app has got your back: it can find substitutes for almost every ingredient you can think of. As an alcohol-free person married to a dude who can't handle yeast, I think that this is basically the best app ever. Risotto without white wine? Hell yes.
9. Is It Vegan?: Free
Is It Vegan? is as much a shopping app as it is a cooking one – but if you're converting to vegetarianism or veganism, this can help you handle one of the most important (and confusing) parts of the process. The app scans the barcode of a product and immediately tells you if it's vegan, vegetarian or neither. It then gives you a rundown of all the ingredients that it contains. It's a handy thing to have if you suffer uncertainty in the supermarket.
Images: San Jose Library/Flickr, Is It Vegan?, Paprika, Substitutions, ChefTap, Escoffier, Perfect Produce, Gojee, Epicurious, Look & Cook