Congratulations on that iPad purchase. Now that you've finished playing Angry Birds, it's time to take that thing into the kitchen and let it do something useful for you.
Here are three indispensable apps that turn your iPad into a supreme source of culinary knowledge.
How to Cook Everything
Maybe it's insane to talk about something being cheap if you have already paid $500 or more for an iPad, but New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman's iPad version of How To Cook Everything is an obscene value at $9.99. Featuring more than 2,000 recipes from his acclaimed cookbook, which carries a list price of $35, the app takes the same simple-is-better approach.
Just like the printed version, it contains large, concisely written sections on techniques, equipment and ingredients. Want to know what four pans are essential for the oven? How long you can store a persimmon? All of these are covered with an intuitive design that lets users navigate quickly between sections.
But all of this is in print. What makes it a great app?
For starters, the recipes can instantly export to a shopping list for you. Thinking about cooking a meal but can't decide? You can flip through the recipes and build a favorites' list. It has built-in social networking functionality for Twitter and Facebook if you want to share what you're cooking with friends.
Perhaps the most useful feature is the on-screen timer that can be set during cooking. A button moves the iPad into a "constant on" mode that prevents the screen from dimming, something handy when your hands are covered in food. If you buy one kitchen app, this is the one.
Bread Baking Basics
This app is derived from Michael Ruhlman's book Ratio, in which he makes a case for learning the fundamentals of cooking rather than being chained to a specific recipe.
"The fact is, there are hundreds of thousands of recipes out there, but few of them help you to be a better cook in any substantial way," he writes. "In fact, they may hurt you as a cook by keeping you chained to recipes. Getting your hands on a ratio is like being given a key to unlock those chains. Ratios free you."
And in this way, Bread Baking Basics ($1.99) is 180 degrees different than almost every other cooking app. It provides users with an outline for making different types of bread without going into the infinite ways it can be customized. That's for you to decide.
After a well-done reference section discussing the basic techniques and ingredients, Ruhlman gives users a three-step process for selecting a type of bread (white, whole wheat, sourdough, etc.), a style (boule, loaf, baguette, pizza dough, etc.) and type of cooking device (sheet pan, Dutch oven, loaf pan, etc.). All of the units are customizable, so ingredients can be measured in ounces, pounds, cups, grams or kilos.
A step-by-step pictorial walks users through the process from measuring to finished loaf. The app is, essentially, a giant, illustrated calculator.
The genius is in how it demystifies breadmaking and dares users to make their own bread on a regular basis.
It probably would be enough for this app to just provide access to the back catalog of Bon Appétit and Gourmet magazine recipes and not do much more. But toss in an excellent user interface and the fact that it's free, and it should be an automatic download for food lovers.
Like other cooking apps, it lets you build shopping lists, organize ingredients and share via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and more. It also lets you mark favorites or, for a $1.99 upgrade, build a complete recipe box.
One of its best features is a set of curated lists by theme that acts as a great idea generator for cooks. Stumped for a dinner idea? Flip through the "Winter Dinners" and there are recipes for ribollita and potato gratin. But where Epicurious is a superior source is that it offers a base of more than 30,000 recipes and then layers in a review system that gives users an idea of how well they've worked.
For example, if you search for "chocolate cake," you'll not only find 539 recipes, but you'll also find that 120 people have given feedback on a chocolate crunch layer cake. Flip through the reviews and you'll see that someone tweaked it with a little mint while another offered suggestions on which types of pans work best.
The app takes advantage of years of feedback on Epicurious.com. It's an unmatched catalog of recipes augmented by a virtual test kitchen of thousands of cooks.