NIGELLA QUICK COLLECTION
As one would expect from Nigella Lawson, this app is sleek by design and rife with flirtation. In addition to innuendo-laden how-to videos, the Quick Collection boasts clear and simple recipes to be prepared, well, quickly.
You can search or browse dishes - Coq au Riesling, Baklava Muffins, Curry in a Hurry - by cookbook or theme, such as Easy Entertaining, Food Moods and What's in your Fridge. Only 10 of 70 recipes here are new, which means the value for money isn't great if you already own Nigella's books.
But fans of the Domestic Goddess will probably love this app anyway. The recipes are concise and easy to follow, especially with the help of the voice-control function that saved my iPhone from messy fingers. Voice notes from Nigella are laced through cooking steps, but some seem rather redundant: "Make sure everything is cooked through before you eat," Nigella said on the last step of her Scallops and Chorizo dish. Er, thanks Nigella. ( View in iTunes)
JAMIE OLIVER'S 20 MINUTE MEALS
If you're a beginner in search of friendly technique videos - from chopping an onion to making a salad - this may be the app for you. You can search or browse recipes, organized in cookbook fashion by dish: Easy Pasta, Quick Curries, etc. Recipes are divided by instructions and step-by-step photos and, unlike Nigella's app, they were created specially for the iPhone.
Cooking with 20 Minute Meals felt idiot-proof. I tapped through the steps to a truly delicious Asparagus and Pesto Risotto, and turned the phone sideways when I wanted to hear Jamie's reassuring voice or follow the instructional photos.
Ingredient measurements are repeated under each step, a handy trick that saves you from having to switch back to the ingredient list (which also includes a rundown of all the equipment you'll need for each recipe). The toggle for recipe size is especially useful.
Over all, this is a helpful and well-designed app, but again more of an extension of Jamie's brand than a necessary cooking device. ( View in iTunes)
MARTHA'S EVERYDAY FOOD
At first glance, this app underwhelms: There are no videos, and you can only search recipes - not browse - so if you're looking for random inspiration you won't find it here. Also, the grocery-store finder seems redundant for users familiar with iPhone mapping devices.
But after searching for main-dish options, I was overwhelmed by the number of recipes I wanted to try: Cornish Game Hens with Apricot Sauce, Spinach Stuffed Flank Steak, Bay-Leaf Crusted Pork Roast. There were enticing variations on the basics I planned to cook. You also get a daily dose of Martha Stewart delivered to your phone when she serves up a dinner idea via text.
Cooking from this app was similar to referencing a cookbook or website: Just scroll through text. But unlike Nigella's and Jamie's apps, Martha's steps are not divided or clickable. Another annoying feature: built-in ads, which are too easy to click on.
However, if it's quantity you're after, and not the fancy tricks and videos of the other celebrity-chef apps, this one offers good value for under a dollar. ( View in iTunes)
MARK BITTMAN'S HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING
Mark Bittman - the New York Times food columnist who hobnobs with Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow - translated his classic 1,046-page cookbook of the same name into an app. The appeal remains: no-nonsense recipes that work, for everything you ever wanted to cook.
Like Martha, Mr. Bittman held back on extravagant add-ons. But what this tool lacks in creativity it makes up in good organization, a plethora of tips about kitchen basics (understanding pots and pans, broiling meat, etc.), and impressive search and filter capabilities.
Best of all, though, is the built-in cooking timers. When I made the buttermilk panna cotta, I set the timers to tell me when the gelatin had set in the cream, and when the cream was ready to be cooked.
While this comprehensive app sets out the basics and nearly every essential recipe (with multiple variations), I missed the food photos that the others apps do very well. ( View in iTunes)
Why buy them?
Celebrity chefs Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Martha Stewart and Mark Bittman have neatly packaged themselves and their recipes in app form, and these micro-cookbooks are not cheap on the scale of app prices. So why pay for a cooking app when you can simply lug your laptop into the kitchen and search recipes for nothing?
The greatest advantage of cooking apps is that they allow you to search spontaneously for recipes and inspiration. anywhere you use your phone - while waiting in the doctor's office, say, or at the grocery store after seeing which fruits and vegetables look freshest.
They can make food prep easier with a convenient shopping list function. With the tap of a finger, you add all the ingredients for your recipe (or multiple recipes) to a shopping list, which is automatically sorted by grocery aisle and can be e-mailed to whoever is helping prepare the meal.
But unless you are keen on exploring the app version of a particular chef, there are always free cooking apps such as Epicurious. They generally aren't as well designed as their celebrity-chef counterparts, but they do give you some of the benefits of cooking by iPhone.
If you're wary of bringing your phone into the kitchen, or of helping celebrity chefs build their brands, stick to your laptop or cookbooks.
Special to The Globe and Mail