Computers provide such an ideal way to cross-index and store data for quick retrieval, it's not surprising several software companies are utilizing these capabilities to design programs that organize recipes. For a look at five such packages that cooks may use on their personal computers.
Owners of personal computers are probably aware, or won't be surprised to learn, that several software companies are producing programs designed to organize recipes. To explain the concept behind such packages, a recipe for linguini with clam sauce sauce might be cross-indexed by computer so at a later time it can be recalled by searching under such classifications as pasta, clam or Italian entrees. Many of the programs also include features to resize recipes and automatically prepare shopping lists.
One computer salesperson we spoke to claimed any simple database program could be designed to organize recipes. Craig Barzso of Concept Development Associates, designers of Micro Kitchen Companion, disagrees. "It's not as simple as it might seem," Barzso said. "We talked to people in the food industry to find out their needs, then took six months to develop our program. It's designed by cooks, for cooks, rather than designed by computer people, for cooks."
Barzso said his program is "essentially a very special database manager." At the risk of over-simplification, these programs might be described as a combination of the three general categories of software--data base, spread sheet and word processing. They incorporate some of the capabilities of each type program.
A Look at Five Software Programs
The Times Food Department looked at five of these software programs designed for IBM and compatible personal computers. Although all had similarities, each also contained distinctive features. To give a valid evaluation, it would have been necessary to use every program for an extended period. Since time constraints made it impossible, we are opting to discuss some general functions, then describe each program so potential users can determine which would most closely meet their particular needs.
All of the programs require the user to have a basic knowledge of personal computers--an understanding of their machine's disk operating system (DOS), as well as the keyboard and printer functions. The programs reviewed are all menu driven, meaning they are oriented around computer display screens where the user is asked to make choices and simply fills in blanks, rather than being required to remember commands.
Some of the programs have printed manuals, others display this material on screens within the program. Through some reading and experimenting, we were able to try the different functions of each program without too much difficulty.
One prime difference between the programs is that some are strictly designed to organize the users recipes, while others contain existing recipes, ready to be accessed. Personal recipes may be added to all the programs that already contain recipes. Matthew Starobin of At-Your-Service Software, Inc., said his company felt "everyone has enough recipes. What they need is a way to organize them." That's why Recipe Writer was developed without existing recipes.
Of course, inputing recipes takes time, something not everyone has, or is willing to devote to the task. At the other end of the spectrum, Micro Kitchen Companion has 17 titles of compatible recipe disks and Micro Cookbook has 15. These can be built into a single database on a hard disk or used individually. Barzso estimated that the complete Micro Kitchen Companion library would need about five megabytes of storage space on a hard disk.
Conversions Up to 999 Servings
Four of the programs include a conversion feature that resizes recipes. The range differs in each, with one converting up to 99 servings, another up to 299 and the remaining two up to 999. Micro Cookbook's disclaimer that "This quantity adjustment may not be applicable to all recipe ingredients" is echoed by most of the other companies.
Sandra Madsen of Madsen/O'Brien Food Innovations, cited this same reason for why her company decided not to include the feature in Recipe Librarian. Recipe Writer offers a "to-taste" option, where certain ingredients, such as spices, may be marked ahead and will not be figured in the resizing.
The same four programs also offer a shopping list feature. Again these differ--one can compute up to nine recipes and has room for supplementary items; another has the user mark only the recipe ingredients needed and generates the list from this information.
Despite the advantages, computerizing recipes may not be for everyone. But for those still interested, here's a closer look at the software packages we reviewed.
Note: Many of the following software programs have versions available for Apple and other brands of computers. Prices may vary.
Dinner at Eight--The program contains 27 pre-defined categories. Each recipe may be cross-indexed by three of these categories. There are 143 existing recipes, which may be edited. Additional recipes may be added by using a basic formatted screen. There is no limit on the number of ingredients. Directions are typed on a separate screen.
Two compatible recipe disks are available to established users for $15.95 each. Titles: Encore Edition and Weeknight Gourmet. A hard-copy manual is included in the basic package.
The program resizes recipes up to 99 servings. A shopping list function calculates up to seven recipes. Additional features include serving and wine suggestions for each recipe, a menu planning function that handles up to seven recipes, a wine tutorial and glossary of culinary terms.
Order by mail for $49.95, plus $5 shipping and handling from Rubicon Publishing, 2111 Dickson Drive, Suite 30, Austin, Tex. 78704, (800) 622-2210. (A package of the basic program and two compatible disks is available for $79.95.) The basic package is also available locally at Egghead Software.
Micro Cookbook--The program can search for recipes by name, a single ingredient, classification, or by one or more ingredients and/or classifications simultaneously. There are about 175 existing recipes included with the basic program, which may be edited. It's possible to add personal recipes using up to four screens, two for listing as many as 15 ingredients and two more for directions. A hard copy manual is included in the basic package.
Fifteen compatible recipe disks are available at $19.95 each. Titles: Soups and salads, appetizers, desserts, daily breads, daily breads for food processors, wok cooking, microwave cooking, food processor cooking, special diets, kids cookery, meatless meals, holiday meals, meals in minutes, breads and spreads and California beef.
The program resizes recipes up to 299 servings. A shopping list function calculates as many as nine recipes and has space for supplementary items. Additional features include glossary screens on terminology and measurements and a screen on substitutions.
Order by mail for $49.95, plus $5 shipping and handling from Pinpoint Publishing, 5865 Doyle St., Emeryville, Calif. 94608, (415) 654-3050. Also available locally at Egghead Software.
The same company also produces a similar program, the Bon Appetit Electronic Cookbook, based on recipes from the magazine. Order by mail for $59.95, plus $5 shipping and handling from the above address. The initial program package includes a free disk with favorite party menus (213 recipes).
The favorite party menus disk and another titled Delicious Time Savers are available for $24.95 each. All the disks for Micro Cookbook and Bon Appetit Electronic Cookbook are interchangeable.
Micro Kitchen Companion--Recipes may be retrieved by using any combination of the 14 pre-defined categories, plus ingredients. The basic program includes the A Taste For All Seasons recipe dish with 92 recipes, which may be edited. Personal recipes may be added by using a series of three screens. As many as 16 ingredients may be input and a separate screen is provided for directions. Recipes can be printed on paper or 4x6-inch index cards. The on-screen manual may be viewed or printed by the user.
Seventeen compatible recipe disks are available. Titles for $14.95 each: America Cooks Chinese, America Cooks Italian, America Cooks American, America Cooks French, America Cooks Mexican, Contemporary Cuisine, Southern Cooking, Cooking with Kids, the Spice Hunter, Calvert's Cedar Street, Dining in Manhattan, Chachie's New Orleans, Dining in San Francisco and Holiday Best. Titles for $24.95: Great Chefs of PBS--Vol. 1, Great Chefs of PBS--Vol. 2, Great Chefs of PBS--Vol. 3 (or the three volume set for $65).
The program resizes recipes up to 999 servings. A shopping list function compiles ingredients that have been pre-marked in recipes. There is also a function for combining up to 24 recipes into a menu.
Order by mail for $39.95, plus $5 shipping and handling from Concept Development Associates, Inc., 45 Cordova St., St. Augustine, Fla. 32084, (800) 525-4653. Also available locally at B. Dalton Software, Etc. stores, Adray's and some independent software stores.
Recipe Librarian--The program has 24 pre-defined categories, one of which may be re-defined by the user. Recipes may be searched by name, number, ingredients or category. There are no existing recipes. Personal recipes are added using a series of screens containing directions. Recipes may have an unlimited number of ingredients and direction length. Six pages of instructions accompany the program.
Additional features include a calculator that permits the user to compute costs or figure how to double a recipe while working on it, and a note pad for jotting down notes the user may want later to save or print. The program also prints cooking symbols such as the degree sign, accented letters and letters from languages other than English.
Order by mail for $99.95 from Madsen/O'Brien Food Innovations, 7701 El Manor Ave., Los Angeles 90045, (213) 478-7835.
Recipe Writer--The program contains up to 255 categories, determined by the user. Each recipe may be cross-indexed using as many as six of these categories. The program does not contain existing recipes. Personal recipes are added using as many as four screens, two for listing up to 20 ingredients and two more for directions. A hard copy manual is included in the basic package.
The program resizes recipes up to 999 servings and has a "to-taste" option for marking ingredients, such as spices, that don't convert in direct proportion to increased yields. A shopping list function compiles up to 14 recipes.
Additional features include a refer function for sub-recipes. An example would be an apple pie recipe which refers to an existing sub-recipe for pie crust. By listing "pie crust" as an ingredient in the main recipe and marking it, the program can automatically print the sub-recipe and includes it in the shopping list.
A bibliography function permits referencing recipes from books, clippings, etc. rather than including the entire recipes. The note pad feature permits keeping notes on special techniques, substitutions, experiments or other information on the recipes.
Order by mail for $49.95, plus $5 shipping and handling from At-Your-Service Software, Inc., 450 Bronxville Road, Bronxville, N.Y. 10708, (914) 337-9030.