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Instant Recall

April 28, 1988|JOAN DRAKE | Times Staff Writer

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.

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