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Upgrade your cooking skills? There's an app for that.

Evan Kleiman pie tips, Mario Batali's Italian recipes, a master cocktail course from two New York mixologists and more apps from The Times' S. Irene Virbila.

December 15, 2012|By S. Irene Virbila | Los Angeles Times Restaurant Critic
  • The Easy as Pie app features Evan Kleiman and can be downloaded on an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad.
The Easy as Pie app features Evan Kleiman and can be downloaded on an iPhone,… (Easy as Pie )

You can use your iPhone or iPad to watch movies, listen to music, text and surf the Internet. But special, surprisingly inexpensive apps make them nifty environments for learning or upgrading cooking skills.

I've bought or borrowed quite a few culinary apps — some terrific, some boring, some duds. The best are full-on apps, with hours of video included. Others are more like enhanced books, but even those include tricks such as dumping all the ingredients for a recipe into a shopping basket with the click of a button. Or setting a timer as you begin each step. Glossaries, basics, maps, special tips: all included.

The amount of content shoved into one app varies, though. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything app presents an astonishing 2,000 recipes from his bestselling cookbooks, with new content added frequently, while Baking With Dorie focuses on 25 recipes in great depth and with myriad detailed videos.

The iPad's larger screen is ideally suited for learning techniques via video (unfortunately, although there are a few apps that have been adapted for Androids, the selection is not nearly as wide). I would love to see an app version of Paula Wolfert's masterful "Moroccan Cooking," complete with video on making warka (the dough used in bistila), bouncing a ball of dough off the pan. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Despite the usual snarky comments that anything more than $1.99 is too expensive, these apps by and large are a bargain compared with a traditional cookbook, especially considering that you're pretty much buying a personal tutor to get you through the rough spots. And they're entirely portable.

ITunesU also offers a rare opportunity to sit in on classes in molecular gastronomy and the science of food at Harvard University. It's an amazing time if you have the discipline to learn on your own.

Here are half a dozen of the best culinary apps I've found.

Easy as Pie featuring Evan Kleiman

I love this app from Evan Kleiman of KCRW-FM's "Good Food." From the first view of Kleiman sprinkling flour on a board or gleefully smashing up graham crackers with her rolling pin for a crust, you know you're in the hands of someone who loves to bake pies. And as your pie coach, she's going to take the scary away and put the fun back into baking, holding your hand all the way. No strict school marm, she offers up the elements — crust, filling, topping — which you can put together any way you like.

With pie baking, it's not enough to just read through a recipe: You need to see the motion of rolling out a crust, say, or cutting butter into flour and play it back again and again until you've got it. That's the beauty of short videos. So, if you've always dreamed of making banana cream pie, high hat apple pie (which Kleiman considers the über pie) or a svelte lemon curd meringue, here's your chance. She really does make it seem easy as pie through 20 recipes. If you didn't have the chance to learn pie baking at your grandmother's knee, this is the next best thing.

For iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, $2.99, from Clear-Media, 109 MB.

Baking With Dorie

That would be Dorie Greenspan, who has written a slew of cookbooks and baking books and is now proprietor of Beurre et Sel, a cookie bakery in New York. Gorgeously produced, this app is a primer on baking from one of our best bakers. The videos zoom in close, so you can see the exact texture of the dough or how she rolls out puff pastry. Re-watching each step is easy. Follow her through each recipe before you begin and the steps will stick in your mind.

Each recipe includes buttons that open to info on tools, how to measure out flour, whatever's relevant. The format, photography and concept of this app break new ground. Use it like a traditional cookbook, follow step-by-step with video instructions or zoom in on a detailed overview of each of the 25 recipes. I only wish that Greenspan had chosen fewer middle-of-the-road recipes. I'm not going to make cinnamon squares or pumpkin muffins or granola grabbers (though someone else might). I'd love to see her do a French baking app that includes not only the tarte Tatin she demonstrates in this app but also goes on to much more — macarons, financier, éclairs, etc.

For iPad, $7.99, from Culinate, 492 MB. Individual recipe lessons, $.99.

Mario Batali Cooks!

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