Back in the dark ages of 1989, a tech-savvy friend told me this thing called the Internet would "show you live pictures of the highways around town, so you'll know how the traffic is."
Now, of course, we take traffic updates for granted. Imagine if he had said, "You'll have a pocket-sized info-gizmo that will know what ingredients you have, so when you pick a recipe it will tell you what you need to buy. Then you can scan the barcode at the grocery store, and it'll tell you if that's the right thing. Oh, and it will give you driving directions from wherever you are to the nearest store or farmers market."
Wondering what the "info-gizmo" called an iPhone is now capable of, I wandered into the world of food-related apps. A brief survey follows; apps are free unless otherwise noted.
Chances are, if you've seen a cooking website or celebrity TV show, there's an app for it. Since they all have more recipes than you'll cook in several lifetimes, it comes down to your preferences on the interface and features.
Epicurious is one of the most popular, with 28,000 recipes, including the whole collection from the magazines Gourmet and Bon Appetit. As on the website, user comments will help you sort through the numerous options for each dish. The app will also tell you what cookware you'll need and help you build a shopping list.
The Food Network app has all that plus show clips and broadcast schedules. Simply Organic bases recipes on their products and includes coupons and retailer locations. And the Allrecipes.com app has a "dinner spinner" that takes into account how much time you have to prepare the meal.
You can also use Food Substitutes (99 cents) to swap out ingredients and either Convert (99 cents) or Kitchen Calculator ($1.99) to convert recipe measurements.
As a bachelor, my favorite is the Ultimate Recipe Search Tool, which lets you put in whatever ingredient you can't figure out what to do with and find a recipe that includes it. Tonight for dinner at my place: something with stale crackers!
Most of the above apps build shopping lists from the recipes, but there are more specific shopping apps, as well. The coolest is Tap Grocer ($2.99), which lets you track your current inventory. Out of flour? It goes onto the list, then is listed as "in stock" when you buy it.
Working on a recipe? It already knows what you have.With Grocery IQ (99 cents), you can sort items by store aisle and check them as bought by scanning the barcode.
Or maybe you're into farmers markets and local items. iFarmMarket (99 cents) tracks almost 5,000 markets around the country, and both Locavore ($2.99) and Seasons ($1.99) tell you what's in season around your area.
Coupon clippers might enjoy Coupons.com and Cellfire, both of which access coupons from different grocers and brands and also communicate with your grocery store savings cards so you don't even have to print coupons.
And if, like me, you've ever wondered what's up with all the cheeses at the grocer, get Fromage ($2.99) and access descriptions of more than 650 varieties.
To the kitchen! CookIt (99 cents) and CookingTime ($1.99) have recipes and lists, and they will break the meal down into tasks, then add up the total time. Both of those, as well as Gourmet Timer (99 cents), include several different cooking timers.
If you're just starting out, try CookWell ($1.99), with tutorials and meal plans. I checked; it has instructions for hard-boiling an egg.
Start the evening off with one of 350 cocktails from Cocktail Recipes (99 cents) or a glass of an American beer you found at Craft Beer (99 cents). Or if wine is your thing, Nat Decants is the most popular wine app. It claims 380,000 food and wine pairings as well as wine reviews, recipes, articles, glossary terms, and a winery directory. Wine Spectator magazine has its own app, Vintage Chart, which lets you find reviews of wines sorted by region or type. You can even zoom in on a worldwide map to find a particular winery. Getting worn down? Use myStarbucks to trace the shortest path to caffeine, or just head for a happy hour. Happy Hours has more than 100 listings for Memphis.
let's just go out
All the usual restaurant review sites — Urbanspoon, Yelp, Zagat — have their own apps, which basically let you access the websites from your phone. Urbanspoon's claim to fame is their slot machine look-up device: Set your parameters and give the phone a shake to get a result!
Vegetarians should probably try the very popular VegOut ($2.99), which searches for vegetarian- and vegan-friendly places from the Happy Cow database. You can search by location or type and see results on a Google map. And if it's eating local that turns you on, LocalEats (99 cents) proudly claims to not even index chain restaurants. Once you find a place, you may be able to make reservations with OpenTable, which has access to more than 10,000 restaurants. You can check if a restaurant has a table free or use its search function to get reviews. TipCalculator (99 cents) will help you figure the correct tip.
And finally, if you want to use technology to build up your guilt and shame, you can actually count calories at chain and fast food places with either Restaurant Nutrition or Fast Food Calorie Counter (99 cents), both of which go out of their way to say they are judgment-free.