Thursday, October 29, 2009

Recipe Software - Cook'n by DVO

Earlier in this blog, I referenced my "recipe database." A few of you have asked for me to tell you more about this database. I can only assume that you, like me, are looking for a way to make your recipes accessible, retrievable, and yet also archived for safety. This blog entry addresses the database I use, and quickly discusses some pros and cons.

After years -- years! -- of experimenting with ways to archive recipes in a use-able fashion, and after wishing someone would write custom software for the home cook, I finally stumbled upon something that I've been relatively happy with -- Cook'n by DVO Enterprises. 

I have been using this software for about five years now. There are many features I do not use and probably some I have never even accessed. But the main features that I use have really helped streamline my menu planning, primarily because it allows me to search by ingredient. For example, if I have four pounds of eggplant to use up in the fridge, I run a search for "eggplant" and am presented with every recipe in the database that includes that word -- appetizers, casseroles, pasta dishes -- everything. Even better, if I have eggplant and basil just a few days from turning, I can narrow my search to look just for recipes that contain both "eggplant" and "basil."

It's wonderful.

Let me tell you a bit about how I began my search for a recipe database. Don't worry, this will be quick, and is only provided to help explain what I was looking for in a piece of software, and why I am largely happy with what I found.

Normal people buy and reference print-versions of cookbooks. I am normal, but I find cookbooks to have a lot of shortcomings, and I say that as someone who owns well over 100 of them. Print cookbooks have aesthetic shortcomings, like needing to find shelf space for storage; there are cerebral shortcomings because if you want to find a particular recipe, you need to remember which book it came from; but largely, there is a big practical shortcoming in that cookbooks can help guide you through creating a shopping list, but, they can't really help you use up what you already have in the kitchen. As a subscriber to a farm box (and as an impulse food buyer), it is this reverse-access feature that is really very necessary -- I want to find recipes that feature the ingredients I want to use, and not be forced to settle on whatever recipe I find that happens to have ingredients I have on hand.

So I started my recipe collection with a goal towards this reverse-access feature. I would hand-type recipes into a very long Word document. (Disclaimer: I type quickly, so any kind of data entry isn't an automatic negative for me.) Using Word was user-friendly because I could print the recipes out, 3-hole punch them, and then sort them into binders by category. Hand-typing them into Word was also better than simply photocopying the recipes because I could also use a simple "search" command to look for individual ingredients.

Eventually, these Word documents became too long to be useful, and too high-risk in terms of storage -- all my recipes, and hundreds of hours of work, were in these few documents. I could make copies all I wanted, but Word tends to make large files, and really, using Word wasn't the solution.

What I really wanted was a powerful indexing system -- something we might now call "tagging," but tags hadn't been invented yet. What I wanted was for a cookbook index to be broken up by individual ingredients, not by primary ingredients that then may or may not get inserted into the title of the recipe and therefore indexed.

By the 2000s, cooking had been elevated so much in the general public that people finally found it profitable to write custom software for home cooks. When I looked at software several years ago, the highest customer reviews were linked to a product called Cook'n, which is released by DVO Enterprises. I started with this software, and use it still to this day. After several years of use, this is my quick and dirty pros/cons list on this software, in case you want to consider if for your own use.

Disclaimer: I am using an older version of Cook'n. They recently released their latest version. (I confirmed today that it is compatible with Vista, XP and with 7.) Hopefully, this latest version has ironed out some of the kinks in my Cons list.

  • Ability to build your own "chapters" or groupings for recipes so that they can be lumped into categories that make sense to you
  • Ability to search through recipes by individual ingredient, or even a combination of several ingredients
  • Small, family-owned business so customer support is generally quick and friendly
  • Predictive text helps you fill out a line of ingredients by using just a few letters, which saves on typing
  • Menu planning that lets you build menus for the week, for the month, for the year, or for several years!
  • Other ancillary features (that I don't use) help analyze nutritional content of your menus. This might be helpful to some, but I have generally found that these formulas are based on packaged foods, so the nutritional content analysis is wrong for people cooking from fresher sources.
  • A nice math feature that lets you automatically convert the recipe from its original portion size to any quantity larger or smaller
  • Lets you add photos of the dishes to your recipe, if you want
  • Simple to back-up -- takes just a few seconds
  • Don't like a recipe? Delete it from the database and you'll never accidentally make that dish again 
  • Someone asks you for a copy of the recipe, you can email it to them directly from the database software! Very cool -- no cutting and pasting
  • Go paperless - load the software on to your laptop, take the laptop to your kitchen, and your recipes are all right there in front of you 
  • This is proprietary software. All of my eggs are in the Cook'n basket. If they ever decide to sell out, shut down, or otherwise stop supporting their software, I will be very very out of luck.
  • They still have bugs that they don't seem to trust their users on. One of the primary ones is that the software is set up to request updates, but my copy has never been able to connect to the internet in order to get these updates. I have reported the problem, and they insist that this fault is user-error.
  • They have stopped supporting old editions of the software and will not sell just a "patch" to their new edition. Therefore, to get the latest fixes, you have to buy the full version of the software.
  • Clunky-looking software, clunky-looking website.
  • You do have to hand-enter each and every recipe, with the exception of e-cookbooks that you can buy pre-loaded into your software.
  • Inability to alphabetize entries within chapters
  • No spell check
If you are interested in using an actual database tailored for recipes, you may consider investing in one of the several database out there, including Cook'n by DVO Enterprises (turn sound off before going to the DVO site, if accessing from work). 

If you choose Cook'n, tell them the Donut Army sent you! (They have no idea who I am, or that I am writing this blog, but I like the idea of a handful of people telling them that they were sent by the Donut Army.)

1 comment:

Holly Tompkins said...

Very interesting. I'm on the early curve of my cooking journey. What I've been doing is copy the recipes that are "winners" after I try them into a spiral bound notebook. Not very scalable and I end up cooking the same things over and over...