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I loved to cook. My favorite magazine was Cook's Illustrated. I loved the science, the technique and the taste. And I loved recipes. When I studied Microsoft Access at the local community college, I developed a database that would not only store all of my recipes and allow me to make up a week's menu in advance, it would also prepare a shopping list for the entire week. And this was back in the dark ages when no commercially available software did shopping lists.

Eventually I found Living Cookbook. I turned my best friend on to it and we each spent days organizing and inputting our pantries into the Cookbook. Then, we could plan menus and the computer would figure out what we had on hand and what we would need to buy. That worked well for me, for about a week. I found that inputting my grocery shopping was just a silly, time-consuming exercise. (I don't know if my friend continues to do it at her house.) But I liked the fact that I could add recipes to the Living Cookbook and it would automatically calculate the nutritional value. And it made downloading recipes from websites a breeze.

Bookshelves with cookbooks
I was heartbroken when I switched to a Mac and learned I couldn't take my Living Cookbook with me. After playing around with trial versions of different software, I settled on MacGourmet.

But I still use the recipes that I have, over the years, copied into Word or Pages and organized by type and keep in file folders. I can print them out as needed and they can get splashed on or torn or even singed and it is never a problem.

I still make out grocery lists by hand. I type them into the computer from a list that begins on notepaper afixed to the refrigerator. I have found no comfortable or intuitive way to automate or computerize the recipe/cooking/shopping experience. Although I have downloaded a Grocery Pro app for my iPhone, I still haven't ever remembered to use it.

So when I read that Random House was creating enhanced eCookbooks for iBookstore, my love of technology and cooking meant that I simply had to check them out.

Random House has been developing a new breed of enhanced ebooks for the Apple ecosystem since late last year. The publisher has released six iBooks Author cookbooks in the last seven months and has 15 more planned by the end of year. These digital cooking guides go beyond the standard ebook and allow for interactive conversion charts, shopping lists, and photo galleries.

iBooks is the avenue of choice when it comes to producing enhanced ebooks that feature a variety of interactive elements. Most bookstores don’t have the right tools in place and Random House is exclusively dealing with Apple to sell its entire line of cookbooks.

I was anxious to see if the new enhanced, interactive cookbooks could be the answer to my dusty bookshelves, with their stained recipe books or the pages of printed recipes that still show up like bad pennies long after I am sure they have been trashed.

So I went shopping for enhanced eCookbooks and found a couple that are below the divider doodle.

Book Cover of Try This At Home
Try This at Home
by Richard Blais & Tom Colicchio
Price: $15.99
Published:Feb 26, 2013
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Seller: Random House Digital, Inc. (Books)
Print Length: 288 Pages
Language: English
Version: 1.0

Once I realized that this chef was recommending home use of dry ice as well as pressure cookers I knew that I would probably never sample any of the recipes, and fortunately that is not my purpose. I looked at this as an enhanced ebook with interactive features, as the publisher, Random House, claimed it to be.

It is pretty, and has pretty pictures just like a real cookbook. So far there is not any real difference between it and a paper book.

Click on image to enlarge

Nice illustrations. If you tap on the little image of the sandwich at the top of the recipe you get recipe notes from the chef. If you tap on the image of the chef speaking you will get one of those silly bits of the chef speaking about something that is not important enough to include in the recipe or the notes. And there is a feature that allows you to enlarge the recipe so that you can better see it while you cook:

Click on image to enlarge

The problem I would have with that, as a cook, is that the size of the image is such that I would have to tap the iPad to turn the pages as I cook. Being the type of cook that I am (read klutz), I would fear to put my iPad anywhere near a cooking surface. Or anywhere near liquids that could spill or splash or drip from a spoon. But that is just me, YMMV.

The interactive features are, at best, limited, although the app will provide a grocery list and all you have to do is tap on the recipes you want included which is very handy indeed. The app also allows live access to the author's twitter feed, and if following celebrity chefs on twitter is something you are into, this will no doubt be considered a plus. For me, not so much.

Overall, this cookbook was a major disappointment. In part because I have always been terrified of pressure cookers and am not really interested in playing with dry ice. I don't even know where I would buy it if I wanted to try some of the recipes. Home Depot? Stater Bros?

But the biggest disappointment was in the enhanced interactive features. What I want in an interactive cookbook is one that will talk to me. I want to use simple commands, like "Read Ingredients," and have a Siri read me the list of ingredients. And I want it to stop when I say "Stop" and resume reading on command. My car can do this. Why can't a cookbook?

Instead, what I get in Try This at Home as an audio feature, is the chef making brief, superfluous comments on some of the recipes. And while Mario Batali offers some video as well as audio, it is frustrating for an entirely different reason.


Book cover of Molto Batali's book Simple Family Meals from My Home to Yours
Molto Batali: Simple Family Meals from My Home to Yours
by Mario Batali
Price: $2.99
Published:Oct 23, 2012
Publisher: Ecco
Seller: HarperCollins
Print Length: 336 Pages
Language: English
Version: 2.0

The good things about this ebook include the recipes. They are fairly simple Italian recipes, some of which I may even try. They do not call for exotic ingredients or cooking techniques. And this book was only $2.99 compared to the $15.99 price tag of the other cookbook I tried. At $2.99 it is a good deal if for no other reason than the recipes.

Organized by month, this collection is attractively presented with more pretty pictures of food and ingredients. It includes a very handy tap on glossary of terms and some of the recipes include a picture of a cluster of grapes. If you tap on the grapes, a wine recommendation pops up. That is a cute feature.

Click on image to enlarge

This book does not include a grocery shopping list, nor is there live access to the twitter feed of its celebrity author, but there is a link so that you can find it. A link to his website is also included.

And there is video. I was so excited, thinking that maybe he would demonstrate a technique, or some sort of cheese, or herb. But no. Every video was of him sitting in a chair in front of a concrete wall talking. He talks about why a family meal is a big deal to him. About why braising and roasting are appropriate when preparing a large meal. Such a missed opportunity. A video of a talking, seated person. Come on. At least have him stand up in a gorgeous professional kitchen. Give me a little cooking porn.

Yes, I wanted more from these enhanced ebooks. It seems that there is so much more that could be done with an interactive cookbook that wasn't included in either book. Yes, it is nice having a grocery list that automatically combines the recipes for you. The audio video features could become valuable assets if the content was worth watching or listening to.

But at least it is a start. A cookbook offers so many ways to enhance the cooking experience that much more could still be done in this genre.


Okay, now for the fun part.

I love election nights more than I loved cooking. Why else would I be posting this here instead of on some cooking website? And cookbook enhancers could learn a lot from the NBC Publishing.

Election Night: A Television History 1948-2012.
by Stephen Battaglio
Price: $9.99
Published:Nov 06, 2012
Publisher: NBC Publishing
Seller: NBC Publishing
Print Length: 220 Pages
Language: English

In this enhanced ebook, Stephen Battaglio digs deep into the NBC archives for radio and television broadcasts of past elections. What makes this book so much fun is how it brings the history alive through the broadcast media. We get to see, not just a picture of Truman holding the newspaper that declared Dewey the victor, but we get to see Truman parody the erroneous election night forecast of radio pundit H.V. Kaltenborn on the night before his inauguration.

This book is a treasure trove of past broadcasts that will remind any election night junkie of the excitement of election nights past. Filled with anecdotes of campaigns and broadcast journalism it is well worth the $9.99. If only for the images of the campaign buttons of past eras.

Click on image to enlarge

And film, not of the debates, or the Checkers speech, but of the concession speech of Richard Nixon and the statement of John Kennedy following the vote count. NBC that year introduced its 501 computer (made by its then parent, RCA) that would correctly predict Kennedy's win. The photo of the computer on the cover of RCA's annual report is included.

Click on image to enlarge

Here is an interview with the author on NBC's The Today Show of October 31, 2012:

This is the kind of book that will remind you of much that you had forgotten or had never known. And it is the kind of book that makes good use of mixed media. There are film, video and radio clips in this book. And they make the broadcast history of presidential elections a richer and more interactive experience than any paper bound book could.

Although an enhanced book that deals with the broadcast media is going to have richer resources to draw on, any enhanced interactive book should have similar bells and whistles within the field with which it deals. Cookbooks should have video, if they must have video, that demonstrates techniques as well as shopping lists. But more important, in order to be interactive it should interact with the user.

And that means more than a live twitter feed.

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