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Cooking with Software
by Laura Holmes
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 4.6

Picture this: you're hungry and there's no pizza place within 100 miles, so you decide to cook. But you lack imagination and need culinary inspiration in the form of recipes. You search your computer for the neatly cataloged recipe files.

Stop right there. Despite my love of technology, it's never crossed my mind to use my computer to organize recipes. In fact, before I took on this assignment, I always thought people who used cooking software were those Martha-Stewart-loving, can't-go-to-bed-with-dirty-dishes-in-the-sink types.

Since I fall into the other category of (hungry, normal) people, I was skeptical when asked to review two CD-ROM recipe programs: the original MasterCook Deluxe and Mangia. I was supposed to review Sheila Lukins' All Around the World Recipe Collections as well, but when I still couldn't open the damn thing after four tries and with technical help, I gave up. (All three are produced by the same company, Sierra Home.)

MasterCook Deluxe

The basic features that cooking software programs provide are recipes and recipe conversions; nutritional info; and the ability to create your own recipes, cookbooks and shopping lists. How each program presents the information is another story.

MasterCook was a breeze to open and load. However, the recipe layout was cluttered. It did have interesting files, including The Bartender's Guide, Meat Lover's Cookbook and Famous American Chefs. The quality of the recipes overall was mixed. (Many meat recipes were from national meat councils, and recipes from Famous American Chefs came from not-all-that-famous chefs.) On the whole, the mix of recipes was good. Prep instructions were numbered and clearly written; also included for each recipe were number of servings, prep time; recipe source and nutritional info. Some recipes gave wine pairing suggestions, most didn't.

MasterCook's most fun feature was the shopping list - imagine walking into a grocery store with a typed list organized by section! This is truly visionary for someone like me, who scribbles lists on envelope backs and old bills. The shopping list is actually generated from a recipe, and the program breaks things down by amount, ingredient and location of ingredient in the store. MasterCook even has a Wine Inventory List, where you can keep track of all the white zin sitting in the 'frig. One downfall: the search option has too much info and requires typing info into five fields.

Mangia

Mangia, the program with the motto "Save time and money in the kitchen," didn't prove to be a time saver, and I still don't know how you save money with it. In fact, I have quite a few bones to pick with Mangia. First, the standard recipe layout is horrible: very cluttered and too much info. Thank goodness there are nine layouts to choose from -- otherwise you'd never find the damn recipe. Also, a poorly written recipe intro and recipe ratings based on, among other things, tartness, cholesterol level and, my favorite, "fanciness." And there's nothing to make it visually interesting. With Mangia, you can organize recipes by region (US, Chinese, French, and Italian, for example) or by seasons or courses, or not at all.

Recipe quality was okay; just don't go looking for anything cutting-edge. Mangia has a shopping list feature too, but once again the layout is very poor. It also doesn't delete multiple entries. (If, say, you needed marshmallows for two dishes, marshmallows would appear twice on the list.) The one feature of Mangia you might use if you had a few weeks off is the Pantry function, which helps you track inventory in your cupboards and compares that to what you need for the recipe before you go shopping. I don't know about you, but I don't want a computer to remind me that I have no food in the house.

I've discovered that cooking software can be helpful under the following circumstances: a) the software was a gift from your mother-in-law; b) you have a lot - I mean a lot - of free time on your hands; and c) you like to torture yourself. My advice? Stick to cookbooks and writing on the back of envelopes. It's much faster and much more satisfying.

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