Lauren Goode

Food for Thought: Apps That Indulge Your Inner “Top Chef”

This week, Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season. It’s time to eat, drink and be merry.

Okay, who are we kidding: It’s time to frantically cook, worry about what drinks to serve, and feel utterly stressed out, whether you’re a top chef or clueless in the kitchen.

Fortunately, some helpful tools lie right in your pocket. There are literally thousands of food and wine apps available for both iOS and Google Android devices. Many are free, though some cost 99 cents or more.

I’ve been testing about a half dozen notable drink and recipe apps for the past week — and I’m not even in charge of cooking a turkey. These range from an app that pairs wine with food to an app that collects your favorite recipes on Pinterest to one that turns your iPad into a virtual beaker for kitchen measurements.

I started with wine apps. Blush by ShopTouch is ideal for those who might not know a ton about selecting wines. It’s free, and is currently available only on iPhone. It aggregates review and ratings data for each bottle, and points consumers in the direction of the nearest wine store.

After asking whether I was looking for a wine for dining, a gift, or a social occasion, Blush guided me through a five-step question process about what I’d be eating, whether I preferred spicy or mild foods, and even how I like my coffee. Then it asked for my price range. From there, it suggested a few wines.

The app also has a bar-code scanner for scanning wine labels. For me Blush’s scanner worked best in a well-lit wine shop. It didn’t work at all when I scanned a bottle of wine in a dark restaurant.

Blush tells you which wines work best with certain meals and social occasions.

Occasionally, the scanned or searched results brought up the correct winemaker, but not necessarily the correct grape varietal or year. And Blush’s suggestion tool can be rigid. For example, when I indicated I was eating fish, the app only recommend white wines and didn’t offer a few reds as an alternative.

But ShopTouch says it will be making some improvements to the app in the next few weeks, and will add more holiday wine recommendations.

For more advanced wine connoisseurs, Wine Spectator’s subscription-based WineRatings+ is an excellent app. It lists 275,000 wine ratings, compared with Blush’s database of 56,000 wines. It’s iPhone-specific, though there is a mobile-friendly version that can be viewed on smartphone browsers.

My Recipe Book lets you import recipes from other food Web sites.

The app is a free download, and some of the content is free, but people who want access to the full features of the app will have to pay $3 a month.

WineRatings+ has an education tab that includes helpful videos on how to pull a cork or how to taste red wines, so you don’t look like a poor imitator of “Sideways.” Its WS360 tab lists relevant wine articles, such as holiday pairing tips and the recent news story about Amazon launching Amazon Wine.

WineRatings+ was helpful in that it provided in-depth, trustworthy information about specific wines, but it wasn’t the app that was going to quickly answer, “Which wine should I serve with the cheese plate?” And this content-focused app doesn’t tell you where to buy the wines.

When it comes to finding and compiling recipes, few people rely on just one book or Web site (sorry, Julia Child). So I checked out My Recipe Book, a new, $1.99 app for iPad that lets you collect multiple recipes from around the Web. It’s made by a company called Cross Forward Consulting.

Kitchen Aid Kit Pro comes with a virtual beaker.

At the top of the app, there’s a “Sites” button that will let you view a dozen different Web portals, like Martha Stewart, Allrecipes and Epicurious, all from within the app, so you don’t have to leave the app and view these in a separate Web browser. From there, you can either “Easy Import” or “Custom Import” recipes.

I was able to easily import Libby’s Pumpkin Pie recipe directly into the app’s recipe book. I could also custom import a toffee bar recipe from Pinterest, although in that case there wasn’t a lot of text data available for the recipe. Photo-happy foodies can add their own pictures to My Recipe Book.

And My Recipe Book will let you save and view recipes offline, so when I took my Wi-Fi-only iPad mini to the grocery story, I still had access to the saved recipes.

I used My Recipe Book alongside Kitchen Aid’s Kit Pro, also available on iPad. This $1.99 app has a virtual beaker that can help you turn any glass into a measuring cup. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher at first, but there are helpful how-tos placed throughout the app.

Following instructions, I placed one of my kitchen glasses next to the iPad mini and, using my fingers, stretched the on-screen beaker to match the size of my physical glass. (Since you can’t really adjust the circumference of the virtual beaker, you’re sort of eyeballing the glass size.)

Food on the Table adds leftover recipes to its Cookbook around the holidays.

It told me how large the glass was, based on cups, ounces, or another metric of my choice. At the top of the app there is a variety of recipe items, like cranberries, cream or flour, along with the corresponding calories per unit.

The app is beautifully designed, but I think it’s probably easier to just use a physical measuring cup. Plus, holding up a glass filled with liquids and other foods next to the iPad just felt like a recipe for disaster.

For all those post-holiday casseroles and turkey slivers that make up the artful, Tupperware-and-Saran-Wrap sculpture inside your fridge, there’s an app that suggests recipes for leftovers.

Food on the Table, a free iPhone and Android app, is well-known for its meal planning assistance. Around the holidays, the app adds leftover recipes to its Cookbook database. I was able to easily find — and share via email — a bow-tie pasta recipe that uses chunks of leftover turkey. Food on the Table says that up to seven additional recipes will be listed this week.

I was late to discover this app, which has been around for a couple years, but it also made grocery list making so easy that I’d likely continue using it.

With a little help from apps like these, you might feel like the next Food Network star instead of a frazzled host this holiday season.

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