Friday, October 19, 2012

Let's Talk Food

Well, food and technology at least.  Everyone who knows us, knows how particular we are about food.  Our lives revolve around farms, farmer's markets, buying food, preserving food, and preparing - you guessed it.  It is a rule in our house that no guest is allowed to leave with the slightest room in their tummy (very few have wanted to).  As you can imagine, tracking our recipes is pretty important.  For somewhere around 13 years (or more), we have used computers to manage our vast and growing recipe collection.  Recipe management software gives some amazing benefits, like:
  • Ease of searching and recipe management (you can easily edit, print, share, and categorize your recipes)
  • Backup - you know, you spend years putting together a scrapbook of family recipes, only to have it damaged or destroyed by water, fire, the 3 year old...(not that we would blame anything on Elliott!)
  • Photos - set up the presentation, and take a pic with your favorite (digital) camera
  • Scaling - scale up or down that recipe to the size you want
  • Meal planning - set up which meals you want to make for which days of the week
  • Grocery shopping lists - take your meal plan, and make sure you have all the ingredients with one trip to the grocery store
  • Sharing, whether it be a single recipe, book, or the entire collection
So this is pretty much standard with any recipe management software, but let's take a look at our two favorites, the top two for different computer platforms.  Do you have any experience with others?  Please discuss in Comments, we'd love to learn about new ones.

Windows / PC - Master Cook  $19.99

A pretty good contender, we used this since 1999 or so.  It's pretty cool, but definitely lacks some major features.  Master Cook (from long-time publisher Sierra Software) was one of the first recipe management softwares, and as such has become the defacto standard for file formats to exchange recipes and recipe collections.  Any software should read Master Cook format.

This gives you all the standard features, but where it really shines is:
  • Simple, easy, yet powerful and extensive searching.  You can limit your search to favorite cookbook collections, and between title, ingredients, and directions and notes.
  • Simple import tools, like import from web site (this is a click-and-highlight, so you click "Title", then highlight the recipe title on the web page, then click Ingredients, highlight the ingredients list, etc.)
  • Lots of cookbooks available from big publishers like Cooking Light, Julia Child, and more.
What are the biggest problems?
  • No Macintosh version.  Nowadays this is inexcusable, as it is a large and massively growing market segment (while non-Mac PC sales are in decline, Mac sales are experiencing double-digit growth, year-on-year, for the past few years, already almost at 9%).  MasterCook confirmed to me that they have "other operating systems" on their roadmap, but neither the timing nor which operating system(s) were mentioned.
  • No mobile version.  Even more inexcusable.  Readers of my blog should already be familiar with the mobile market, and of course which 2 OS's dominates that.  Smart Phones have been out for many years, the iPhone alone for 6 years.  Any major software developer should already have been on the iOS platform.
  • Web import leaves something to be desired.  On some web sites it automatically recognizes the format.  Mostly, you are left to a manual import.
  • Backing up your precious recipe collection is left completely up to you - on a platform that doesn't provide a decent backup strategy!
According to Tony Schumacher from MasterCook Support, they do consider the mobile market strategic and are working on mobile versions.  However, no details nor dates are available.  Also, he said, "We have a lot of very exciting features in our product plan. Over the next 1-2 years you will see more development effort than the last 12 years combined. I can tell you that the most important thing to us as we improve the customer experience is keeping our loyal customers and staying true to MasterCook."

Macintosh / Mobile - Paprika

After more than a decade of relying on Master Cook, we were dismayed when we upgraded to Mac and couldn't get it for the Mac!  However, after a few minutes of trying out Paprika, our fear turned to absolute rapture.  Available on Apple iOS and Android platforms as well, Paprika is by far the premier recipe management software.  If you don't need your recipes on your computer, but have a Windows machine, you should just forget about any other option and just take our word.  Especially if you want it available on your mobile device.  Let's look at the different "flavors" of the software (yeah, that's how I roll - get it, "roll?").  But the biggest benefit is you create your own Cloud account, and synch your recipes with your account.  You can then synch any of the devices, so any additions, changes, or deletions propagate across all your Cloud-connected devices.

Truly, the only problem we had with Paprika was that they do not have a Windows version (for those stubborn enough to stick with that OS).  According to Christine Meranda of Hindsight Labs, LLC (the publisher of Paprika), a Windows version may be forthcoming next year.  When that does hit the market, I predict that Master Cook market share will decline.

Macintosh - $19.99

Truly fantastic, the big benefits with this version are:
  • Great, user-friendly interface
  • Web importing is stellar.  Most recipe web sites support a one-click Save.  Others, you have to select the title, ingredients, directions, etc.  There is a built in web browser in the app, that has the recipe saving functionality built into it.
  • All the features above, of course.
  • Import from Master Cook file formats.
Our problems:
  • It is actually harder to drag and drop recipes to categorize them, than to edit them and put them in categories.  This is because when you click to drag, it often opens up the recipe.  No big deal. (Hey, you got to have at least one problem with any given software.)

Mobile - $4.99

We used the iPhone and iPad version of the app, but it is also available for Android.  Synching recipes is seamless and fast.  For example, recipes that we had entered (or transferred from Master Cook) and had no pictures, we could make the dish, snap a pic with the phone that is always at my hip, and synch it back to the Mac.  Check out these amazing features:
  • Tools to aid you: unit conversion, scaling, and timers.  You can set as many timers as you want, no more limited to just your microwave, and the 2 timers on the range top.
  • Tick-off check list - when viewing a recipe's ingredients, you tap an ingredient, and it crosses it off, so you can track which ones you already added.
  • Highlight directions step - tap the step in the directions you are on, it highlights in blue for easy reading.
  • Phone or iPad does not go to sleep while looking at a recipe, great for those tasks that take longer than the 2 minutes you set up for auto lock!
  • Of course, and I can't stress it enough:  Cloud synch!  Synchronizes everything, including meal plans and grocery lists.
  • Backups - you can manually back up all your data as well.  Although, our data is backed up with Time Machine on the Mac it is synched with, so we don't use this feature.
  • Sharing - yes, we were at the farmer's market and telling someone about that Baked Oatmeal favorite of ours.  Tap, share, and voila - picture, text formatting, and all - it is sent as an e-mail.
So if you are looking for a good recipe manager, these are the top two, but I think you can tell which is our favorite.

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