My wife and I love cooking, but we stink at kitchen management. Recipe management, grocery shopping, and meal planning aren’t our forte. As such, we would often reach dinner time realizing that we had no idea what to cook and didn’t have much in the pantry, so we’d end up going out for dinner. Again.
Enter Paprika, available as separate purchases for iPhone ($4.99), iPad ($4.99), and Mac ($19.99). It deftly stores recipes, maintains a shopping list, and can help you plan meals. While it doesn’t actually make us dinner, Paprika has become an essential member of our household.
The first thing you’ll notice about Paprika is how well it’s designed. It’s iOS 7 style at its best: great typography surrounded by lots of white space, making for an interface that’s clean and easy to read. A sidebar features buttons that display four sections: Recipes, Browser for finding recipes online, Groceries for building grocery lists, and Meals for planning menus.
If you cook mostly from online recipes, adding them to Paprika is fast and fun. Tap the Web browser and enter your terms into the search bar. Hindsight Labs, Paprika’s developer, designed it to work with a number of cooking sites, including About.com, AllRecipes, Bon Appétit, Cook’s Illustrated, and Food Network. To find recipes, Paprika performs a custom Google search that’s restricted to the sites it supports. Tap a recipe to view it, and then tap Save Recipe to add it to your saved recipes. Paprika does the work of arranging recipe ingredients, directions, and metadata in the right places, but also gives you a chance to edit the details. Once it looks right, tap Create Recipe.
If you’re browsing in one of Paprika’s supported recipe sites and come across a recipe you’d like to add, you can do so by copying its URL and switching over to Paprika, which detects the URL and asks if you want to add it to your saved recipes.
But what if your recipes aren’t on a compatible Web site, or they’re not online at all? What if, like TidBITS publisher Adam Engst, you have years of paper recipes haphazardly written down or printed out and stored in binders? Or if, like many people, you have dozens of paper cookbooks, from which you cook on a regular basis?
In this case, you have two basic options. If you have the iPhone or iPad version and a Bluetooth keyboard, you can type recipes in manually. This is easier in the Mac version, if you anticipate a lot of data entry. How long it takes to enter a recipe depends on how much detail you need and how fast you type. Entering a handful of recipes takes only a few minutes, but if you have dozens you want to enter, you could instead try BigOven’s RecipeScan transcription service. It offers 3 transcriptions for free, and if you’re happy with the results, you can get 25 more with an annual BigOven Pro subscription for $19.99; additional transcriptions cost $0.99 each, or as little as $0.59 if you buy in bulk.
To work with your saved recipes, tap Recipes in the sidebar. Here you can view and sort your saved recipes. Tap one to view its ingredients and directions. Helpfully, Paprika keeps the screen from going to sleep while you’re viewing a recipe, so you don’t have to keep waking your device up while cooking. Paprika also features handy tools to aid in preparation, such as multiple timers and scaling options, and you can pin multiple recipes to switch between them quickly.
If I’m preparing a recipe for the first time, I like to study it on the iPad’s larger screen before I start. Then, once I’m working, I refer back to Paprika on the iPhone to remind myself of what’s next. An iPhone in my pocket is safer from damage than an iPad sitting on a counter, but when I do need the iPad, we have a separate prep table in the middle of our kitchen that I rest it on. If you’d rather work from an iPad, many stores have inexpensive tablet stands that will fit the bill and protect your delicate devices from spills and splashes. Or just use a plexiglass cookbook holder.
Storing your recipes in Paprika doesn’t just make cooking easier; it also helps with shopping. Whenever you have a recipe open, tap the shopping cart icon, and add the ingredients to your grocery list, deselecting ingredients you already have.
For us, the grocery list feature alone is worth the price of admission, since we both shop at different times, and are constantly failing to get items that the other person needs for a recipe. To address that problem, Paprika includes its own syncing service, so you can share an account with other members of your family, or with housemates. Add items to the grocery list and they’ll appear instantly on everyone else’s devices, making it even easier to add something while your partner is at the store. You can also print a list from any of the apps if you don’t want to juggle your iPad or iPhone in the grocery store, but you’ll then have to check items off manually in Paprika later.
Paprika’s grocery list is one of the best of its kind I’ve seen in iOS. It’s built on a database of items, so you can enter just a few characters and select what you want, and Paprika intelligently sorts groceries by aisle. You can’t edit the aisles, and they may not match what’s in your store, but I still find the grouping helpful. If you don’t, you can turn off aisle grouping in settings.
The grocery list interface is split into three sections: All, Bought, and To Buy. At first, I found this annoying, because why would I want to see items I’ve already bought? The reason is that you can see your past shopping list items and uncheck them, to move them back to the To Buy list. Most of us buy many of the same items each week, and with this approach, there’s no need to type “milk” every week. Just go back through your past items and uncheck what you need.
For staples, Paprika maintains a list of items in your pantry. Tap Pantry at the bottom of the grocery list, and you can add items to your pantry. The downside is that you can track only items predefined by the developers, it doesn’t keep track of quantities, and you have to manage the whole thing manually — it’s perhaps the weakest part of Paprika. However, the upside of entering your pantry items is that when you add a recipe or menu to your grocery list, Paprika automatically checks off those items so you don’t buy them unnecessarily.
While being able to build a grocery list is great, Paprika has additional features for those who plan even further ahead. Tap Meals in the sidebar to bring up a calendar, which you can view either by week or month. Tap the plus button, and you can add a recipe, note, or menu for a certain date, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks.
What’s a menu? It’s a grouping of recipes for a particular meal, just like in the real world. While in the Meals view, tap Menus at the bottom. Name your menu, then select stored recipes to add to it. So, for example, if you want to serve eggplant parmesan (with its associated spaghetti sauce recipe) and roasted fennel for a big Sunday dinner, you can combine them into a menu. Another tap adds the entire meal to your planner for Sunday.
Once you’ve built a meal plan or a menu, you can add it to your grocery list. That enables you to plan an entire week (or month) of meals in advance and have your grocery list created automatically. Imagine how helpful that would be for maintaining a diet! You can also print out a monthly calendar of meal plans to post on your fridge. The Mac version also allows you to print just a weekly meal plan.
Paprika is by far the best kitchen app I’ve ever used, and I recommend it highly. But with separate iPhone, iPad, and Mac versions, there’s a question as to which version or versions should you get. If I could have only one, I’d get the iPhone version, since my iPhone is always in my pocket, and the shared grocery list feature is brilliant. But the iPad version is easier to read, and if you plan to use Paprika in the kitchen while cooking, it offers a hands-free reference. An iPad mini might be the best compromise. The Mac version is the odd man out, since it’s both the most expensive and the least likely to be useful while shopping or in the kitchen; the main reason to get it is if you need to enter a lot of recipes from notecards or cookbooks.