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Cooking with your phone

They may not be capable of actually boiling an egg (yet), but smartphones are becoming increasingly useful for cooking and food shopping. More and more often these days, I find that it’s my phone, not a cookbook, sitting on the counter-top as I make dinner.

Below are some of the apps that play the largest role in my day-to-day cooking and meal planning, along with a few that I just think are cool. I use an iPhone, so I haven’t checked out the Android apps.

Please feel free to leave your own favorite apps (or any other thoughts about how technology has changed the way you work in the kitchen) in the comments.

My favorite food apps (in order of most- to least-often used):

Grocery IQ: I don’t make paper grocery lists anymore, and this free app helps me to keep on top of my kitchen supply needs as they arise. I keep it pretty basic, but this app includes a lot of potentially useful features. You can scan the barcode of an empty carton in your pantry to add that specific product to your list. You can find coupons to print and you can keep separate lists for different stores. For me, the appeal is a lot more basic–I like that items disappear as I check them off my list.

Epicurious and AllRecipes: These are two recipe apps that I use on a regular basis. Both are free and ad-supported, so expect some advertisements. The search functions of both apps allow you to access these vast databases of recipes and reviews, and both have great browsing features that help when you’re stumped for what to plan for dinner on a Wednesday night. AllRecipes has a fun “dinner spinner” feature that allows you to “spin” different categories (time, main ingredient, category) to search for recipes. I managed to stump the spinner by asking for beef-based beverages that can be made in 20 minutes or less.

Martha’s Everyday Food – This is my B-team recipe app. It costs 99 cents, but it’s worth it because I have not bought a copy of Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine since purchasing this app. It’s a little annoying to have to look at a big splashy picture of Martha for about five seconds every time you load this app, but the content lives up to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia’s high standards for quality and aesthetics. These are good, quick recipes.

Fooducate – This free app was created by a technology executive who wanted better information on how to buy healthy food for his kids. You can scan the bar code of any food item with your phone’s camera and get its Fooducate “grade,” based on its nutrient content and how well it lives up to any health claims made by its manufacturer. The app will then offer alternative products that score better under its system. Honestly, I was a little puzzled that my Earth’s Best Organic Sweet Potatoes baby food got a “B,” while several other organic sweet potato purees got a “B+,” but it’s fun to scan items to see how they stack up to Fooducate’s standards. I found myself searching for the junkiest food in my cupboard to test–that would be Snyder’s of Hanover Hot Buffalo Wing Pretzel Pieces, which got a D+.  The app includes the Fooducate blog, which will scare you out of ever feeding your kids anything remotely sweet.

How to Cook Everything – This is the iPhone version of Mark Bittman’s best-selling cookbook. It includes more than 2,000 recipes, and the app makes it really fun and easy to browse and search. There are even little timers built in for specific steps of recipes. The bottom line: This book retails for $35. The app is $4.99.

Locavore – This is an inventive way to combine information freely available on a few different websites to educate people about what foods are in season now in their area and where the nearest farmers’ market is, but I don’t find it useful enough to merit the $2.99 price tag. The social media component that allows users to publicly brag about “eating local” doesn’t seem to have been used in the past year.

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