Review: iCookbook turns your Windows 8 laptop or tablet into a gorgeous cookbook
At a Glance
There are few things more appetizing than gorgeous, high-resolution photos of delicious food. Cookbook editors have known this for years, and the modern cookbook is bursting with full-page glossy photos showcasing the recipes. iCookbook is a $5 cooking app for Windows 8 that takes this aesthetic and brings it to life with thousands of photos, each leading to a beautifully typeset recipe.
Windows 8's Modern UI is all about tiles, and iCookbook uses them to good advantage. Every recipe is represented by a tile bearing a photo and caption, but they're not all the same size: The main screen is subdivided into several categories, each with a large centerpiece tile and three smaller tiles below. These categories let you browse recipes by dish, ingredient, theme, cuisine, occasion, and brand.
If one of the images on the main screen catches your fancy, just click to open the full recipe. But if you'd like to drill deeper into a category, you can click its header and find yourself in a submenu with vertical tiles, one per subcategory. So click Dish, and you get Appetizers & Snacks, Beverages, Breakfasts & Brunches, and many more. Click a subcategory, and you'll find yourself in a screen full of alphabetically sorted tiles, each for a recipe in that subcategory. There are often more recipes in a subcategory than can fit on the screen, so you can scroll to see more – horizontally. In fact, all scrolling in iCookbook is horizontal. This can be strange and distracting at first, but such is the way of the Modern UI.
With thousands of recipes available, search is a must-have feature. At first I just tried typing, expecting a search bar to pop up with my first keystroke, like it does in the Windows Start Screen and Windows Store. When that didn't happen, I brought up the Windows 8 Charms bar and clicked the Search icon. That did the trick, and I was able to quickly search for recipes.
When you pull up an individual recipe in iCookbook, you get a larger version of its photo first. It starts off blurry, becoming sharp after a few seconds. Next to the photo, you'll find important information about the recipe, such as its level of difficulty, how many people it serves, how many calories are in a serving, how long it takes to cook, and its average rating (you can also set your own rating for the recipe). Some of these values are underlined, which means you can click them for further information. For example, you can click a recipe's calorie information to get a full breakdown of nutritional values. This is great information, but unfortunately, you can only use some of it for filtering: There's no way to search for all cookie recipes that are marked as "Easy," for example. There’s also no way to adjust quantities (turn a 9-person recipe into a 2-person one).
Right by the recipe information you'll find a list of ingredients and notes, often with branded ingredients (2 envelopes FLEISCHMANN'S RapidRise Yeastand so on). Some of the more complex recipes, such as Apple Cinnamon Rolls, have complex ingredients with recipes of their own, such as Apple Filling or Cinnamon-Sugar Topping. These say "(recipe follows)", but there's nowhere to click, and no way to actually get to that ingredient's recipe. Even manually searching for "Apple Filling" didn't bring up that recipe, instead yielding a long list of apple cakes. The vendor is working on a solution for this.
Fortunately, not all recipes are this complex, and many are self-contained, so you just need a single recipe to make the dish. Once you find such a recipe, you can scroll (horizontally) through each step as you work through the recipe. Steps are displayed with large, bold typography, each ending with a small "What's next" note so you know what's coming. The large typography means you can set down your Windows 8 laptop or tablet somewhere in the kitchen and glance at it every now and then while cooking without having to put it in harm's way.
ICookbook was fast and responsive in my testing, with search results, categories, and individual recipes all coming up instantly. Animations were smooth, except for the home screen, which had a jumpy, stuttering transition every time I brought it up. If you're looking for some culinary inspiration and love photos of food, this is a great app to try out.
Note: The Download button on the Product Information page takes you to the Windows Store, where you can download the latest version of the software.