25 July 2008
Posted in Other
I'm not sure why but for some reason I give the impression that I'm completely uncouth and the quintessential bachelor. Maybe it's because I grew up in Taranaki and spent much of my working life in dairy and construction before moving to the Wellington region to work in IT thus I've developed a true cocky persona. So when I tell people I love to cook they tend to look at me sideways as though I'm taking the mickey.
Truth is cooking is in my blood. My granddad was a chef and a very well respected one at that. He had his own business and even worked the trains back when they had dining carriages. In fact that's where he met my step-nana. My dad makes a mean curry and is a great cook in his own right and of course much of my cooking comes about from mum teaching us as kids. I have yet to have anyone tell me my food was bad although that might be out of not wanting to hurt my feelings.
Over the years I've built up a collection of recipes but they've been somewhat disjointed and haphazardly thrown around the place and so when it came time to put them into a single place on the computer I was on the lookout for software that could help me do this.
I tried OpenOffice's database but that was buggy and I decided to scrap that idea. I've tried Word/Pages documents to no avail and even used spreadsheets. Frankly all these options are pathetic when compared to actual purpose driven applications.
So I've decided to do a series on recipe software and show you how good the software is or isn't as the case may be.
Ease of use
Value for money
Freeware, but you can donate
Mac OS X 10.4+
To start with I will look at one that I am enjoying a lot at the moment called Measuring Cup by Shallot Patch. It is freeware and has a nice clean interface.
Measuring Cup's greatest feature is it's smooth clean interface. While it looks old school in many respects and there are a couple of interface aspects that make it somewhat less "Mac like" it's overall feel is one of simplicity.
The window is split into two sections. The first is the categories or Library and the second changes between a list of recipes or the actual recipe itself depending on what is selected in the Categories pane.
There is however a drawer that provides a bit more information regarding the recipe. Here you can give a description of the recipe as well as add your own photos and even provide nutritional information. The photo feature is a nice little touch but obviously it's never going to look the same as the recipe book so I like to take my own photos.
Adding recipes is a doddle and is what makes this application one of my favourites. When adding a recipe the main window changes to a split view. The top section is the ingredients and the bottom section contains the instructions on mixing and cooking.
One really nice feature is the idea of sub-recipes. To explain this I'll use the example of a lasagne. A lasagne is made of two parts. First there is the main meat part then there is the cheese sauce. You could do two recipes one for the meat part and another for the cheese sauce but it's much nicer having the two accessible from one place. This is where sub-recipes come in. A new tab is created that allows you to write in the recipe for the cheese sauce. You then simply click on the second tab and the second part of the recipe is there without having to search for the cheese sauce recipe.
It's a good idea to use categories as it makes it so much easier to find the recipe you want but Measuring Cup also has a really good search tool that makes finding what you want even easier.
The only feature I would use a lot that is missing is a shopping list and it is a sorely missed feature as you will find out in the later reviews. It's not a nail in the coffin feature, but one that is incredibly handy.
All in all I think Measuring Cup is a fantastic product. It might be very simple in nature but when you're concentrating on making a masterpiece I don't really think you need all the fancy features, you simply need something that shows you what you need and how to mix it and Measuring Cup does a brilliant job.
Ease of use
Value for money
$ 19.95 USD
Mac OS X version 10.3+ or later
Of all the applications I downloaded for this review this was the most useless. In demo mode you can't do anything and as such you have no way to test it out. At least give us the option of adding say 5 recipes to test out the software.
That being said it does have an extensive internal database and some interesting features.
First the interface. Personally I dislike applications that are made to look like the real life version. It generally makes for an interface that looks gaudy and more often than not detracts from what the application sets out to do. In Computer Cuisine's case this holds true. Trying to look like an actual cookbook it looks nice as such but it also makes it look like something coming out of the Windows 95 era. Nothing about this app says "let's get down to business" and instead cries out "look at me, I'm trying to be something I'm not". When I'm cooking I don't care one jot about how the application looks just so long as it allows me to read the recipe. While the recipes are readable the graphics tend to get in the way of the usage.
Once you cut your way through the interface however you do find some interesting little things.
The grocery list is a pretty cool idea. Taking the recipe and setting it as a meal for a day of the week you can now print out a shopping list for the stuff you need for that day. This is nice in theory but is a classic example of NIFE (Nice Idea, Failed Execution) in full swing. Why do you need to set the recipe as a meal for a particular day before you can print out a shopping list for that recipe?
Computer Cuisine has a very handy feature and is in fact what I would consider the only good thing about this application. You can enter a measurement and it will convert to what you need it to. As good as this is it doesn't make this application any better because one really nice feature does not make up for the complete and utter lack of thought to the rest of the application.
I know these comments sound bad but the fact that you can't actually test out recipe creation until you've forked out your money, you can't print a shopping list until you've first placed it into a diary planner, and the interface makes reading at a glance difficult I would wholeheartedly recommend taking a wide berth around this application. I don't know if it's because it's a FileMaker database and the limitations are a result of something that FileMaker doesn't allow properly, or if this is just the result of very poor thought, but this application doesn't satisfy my needs at all and my needs for recipe software are pretty simple.
Ease of use
Value for money
$ 39.95 USD
Mac OS X 10.3+
Digital Fried Chicken
While I would say this is another of those apps whose interface takes away from the task at hand, unlike the atrocity that is Computer Cuisine, the interface of Cookware Deluxe doesn't make it difficult to read properly.
What Cookware Deluxe lacks in interface thought it more than makes up with in other features.
Take for example the creation of recipes. This is so awesomely done that why no one thought of it before is beyond me. Say you come across a recipe on the net and you think that sounds good I'd like to add that to my repertoire. All you have to do is select the ingredients and drag those from the webpage to the Ingredients section of the recipe. Voila all nicely displayed. The same for the instructions. So instead of writing out and taking maybe 5 to 10 minutes to write out the recipe you've taken roughly 2 minutes. If there's a photo of the recipe on the webpage simply drag that into the photo box. This method alone makes Cookware Deluxe a neat application.
Unlike Computer Cuisine you don't need to add a recipe to a planner before you can create a shopping list for the recipe. If you like to buy your food fresh before cooking it makes sense to have the shopping list done for each recipe as opposed to each week. While I couldn't seem to get the shopping list function to work in the demo version there's enough there to warrant an assumption that the shopping list feature works for each recipe, in fact that's exactly how the website says it works.
All in all I really like Cookware Deluxe. It might be a little too steep at $39.95(US) and it's interface is very Windows inspired (it is available for Windows as well), it does have enough neat features to warrant a look into.
At the top end of the list we have MacGourmet. MacGourmet could be classed as the Delicious Library for recipes. It has a nice clean Aqua interface making it very Mac-like and actually nicer to use than the rest.
While MacGourmet offers nothing new over the other apps it does have a nicer way of doing things.
MacGourmet's interface is very much like Mail's with a categories list on the left in the now familiar iTunes style blue pane. The recipes appear like mail appears and once clicked shows up in a Preview Pane in much the same way e-mails do when clicked on. It's nice, it's simple, and it means you don't really have to learn a new interface.
The shopping list feature is also the best with MacGourmet. Simply drag the recipe to the Shopping List section on the left and it will automatically read the ingredients and produce a shopping list that you can then printout or dump to iPod and head off to the supermarket. It seems like a simple thing to have a shopping list but you can't imagine how handy this feature is.
So you've collected a few recipes or you've just created the perfect dish and you decide that you want the world to taste your efforts. MacGourmet's website publish tool is very handy. You can either publish to .Mac or to your own site hosted elsewhere or you can even post to your blog on Blogger, Blojsom, Movable Type, and TypePad. To checkout an example view my cookbook here:
Similar to Cookware Deluxe's drag and drop editing MacGourmet has Clippings which allows you to select text from a site and clip it to make it into a recipe. It requires a bit of editing to get it set up but it works very well.
One neat little touch is Chef View which is a simple zoomed view of the recipe so that you can read at a glance instead of adjusting your vision for the normal text. This might not seem like a big deal but it reduces eye strain and resulting tiredness.
MacGourmet also has a wine list which allows you to take notice of wines and add notes about flavours and even allows you to have images of the label on the bottle. Personally I would like to see a section that tells you what foods the wine would go well with as I'm nowhere near cultured enough to know stuff like this. It is a cool feature though.
Of all the applications on review MacGourmet is by far the most feature packed of the lot. It's the second most expensive but the one that is clearly the most value for money. I fully recommend this application for all budding chefs out there.
The two best recipe management applications are the two that are clearly Mac only products. Measuring Cup and MacGourmet are mind blowingly well thought out. I would promote MacGourmet as the clear winner but if you are just wanting something to keep your recipes arranged then Measuring Cup is perfect for you and definitely the cheapest (cost=free!).
MacGourmet would do well to add something like Measuring Cup's sub-recipe feature and Measuring Cup would do well to implement a shopping list feature but both these apps are my favourite and I give them first equal ranking.
In second comes Cookware Deluxe. It is the most expensive, doesn't have the feature set of MacGourmet, and it's interface has clearly been designed with Windows in mind but it is a good solid app and I recommend it as well.
In a distant third that is so far behind you'd need the Hubble Telescope to see it, comes Computer Cuisine. This app is so appalling that I wouldn't even recommend this to my worst enemy. The fact the demo doesn't allow you to add entries therefore actually test this app is a major joke. To add insult to injury it's interface is rubbish and the fact that you can't create a shopping list unless you first add the recipe to a daily planner this application gets no stars from me. Avoid like the plague unless you are a sucker for punishment.