Old Mac, New Tricks: Kitchen assistant

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Even if you love to cook, thumbing through a zillion cards and cookbooks for the perfect pasta salad recipe for a dinner party can be frustrating. Combine that disorder with the logistical gymnastics you must perform to figure out what main dish goes with what side dish, how to convert a recipe for two into a recipe for 20, and where to buy ingredients, and you probably want to give up and serve cereal for dinner. Wouldn't it be great if your Mac could help?

You don't need a Power Mac G4 to perform these computerized cooking feats. In this month's installment of "Old Mac, New Tricks," we'll show you how to transform your old Mac into the ultimate recipe-organizing, stove-timing, cooking machine that will bring the fun back into your kitchen.

Step 1: Get Your Hardware Together

Before you can turn your old Mac into a kitchen assistant, you'll need to make sure it has the proper hardware configuration, and you'll need to make it spill-resistant by outfitting it with protective coverings.

Recommended Models While most of the software we recommend in this How-to will run on a 68040 processor, a PowerPC is the best Mac for this job. (Go to the Apple Menu and choose About This Computer to find out what processor you have.) Macs with PowerPC processors include all the Power Macintosh models, some PowerBooks (those with four-digit model numbers, with the exception of the PowerBook 500), and many Performas with four-digit model numbers. To find out what kind of processor your old Mac uses, check out the Apple Spec Database. For this project, PowerBooks work especially well because they take up little space, and you can easily move them around your kitchen without having to keep them plugged in all the time.

Memory, Hard Disk Space, and OS Although you can get away with using only 8MB of RAM in your soon-to-be-transformed Mac, we recommend at least 16MB. And depending on which software you choose for your kitchen Mac, you'll need a minimum of 7MB of free hard drive space.

We recommend running at least Mac OS 7.6 on your kitchen Mac because it is required for most of the software choices in this article. A few of the programs, however, require OS 8.1 or later, so before upgrading, make sure the operating system you want to run is compatible with your Mac model number. Go to http://til.info.apple.com/techinfo.nsf/artnum/n25114 for information on Macs that can run OS 8 and 9, and go to http://til.info.apple.com/techinfo.nsf/artnum/n8970 for information on Macs that can run System 7. You'll also need to make sure you have enough RAM to run the OS you choose. Go to the Apple technical support site and find the OS's minimum system requirements. See " Old Mac, New Tricks: Get That Mac Out of the Attic and Back to Work " for more advice on upgrading your hardware and OS.

Protect Your Mac Now that you're relocating your old computer from the safety of a closet or garage to your kitchen, you'll need to outfit it properly against the elements -- that is, against flying half-melted chocolate and dripping peanut butter. To protect your keyboard, you can buy Fellowes's (800/945-4545) $13 Custom Mail Order Keyguard Kit at your local computer or office supply store. On the enclosed form, fill out the configuration and size of your keyboard, and send it in to Fellowes. They'll send you a transparent custom cover for your keyboard.

To keep your display clean, pick up Meridrew Enterprises' $9.95 2-oz. Klear Screen Starter Kit (800/505-5327, www.klearscreen.com ), which includes lintless cloths and antistatic cleaning fluid specifically for computer monitors.

If you plan on using a PowerBook's TrackPad or a trackball, you might consider picking up an inexpensive external mouse if you don't already have one. (You won't be able to use your TrackPad with slippery fingers.) You can cover the top part of the mouse with plastic wrap to keep it clean. Or, if you have an optical mouse that will work with your Mac, you can wrap the mouse entirely in plastic wrap.

Kitchen Mac Extras Though it's not mandatory, an Internet connection is helpful when you first get started so that you can download recipe software without having to transfer it from another Internet-connected Mac. It will also come in handy later if you want to send recipes to friends via e-mail or look for new recipes on the Web. (See " Old Mac, New Tricks: Get That Mac Out of the Attic and Back to Work " for information on compatible Web browsers and e-mail programs.)

If your kitchen Mac isn't already on a network with the other computers in your house, you may want to consider setting one up. A networked kitchen Mac can be a great boon to your cooking experience -- you'll be able to stream MP3s into your kitchen, share a broadband Internet connection for faster recipe searching on the Web, share files with your other computers, and print your grocery list on your networked printer. (For information about how to set up file sharing and networking, see " Link It Up." For information on sharing an Internet connection, see " Simultaneous Surfing.")

You can also add a printer to your kitchen Mac setup. Although it may take up too much space in your kitchen, a printer might come in handy if you're going to frequently print grocery lists, post the weekly menu on the fridge, or make a personalized cookbook for friends.

Step 2: Choose Your Recipe Software

Now the fun part -- deciding which recipe software you want to use. Although commercial recipe software for the Mac is almost nonexistent, there are many shareware options to choose from. In addition to being inexpensive, most of this shareware runs on older systems -- and shareware developers are often more helpful, in terms of technical support, than a big software publishing house could ever be.

A good recipe-management program should have virtual recipe cards and an index list of recipes, let you search by ingredient, categorize your recipes by course, and print your recipes. An excellent one, however, meets one or more of the following criteria: it allows you to e-mail your recipes to others, rate the finished product, convert measurements from liters to cups (for example, convert the entire recipe's proportions based on how many people you'll be serving), and plan and print meals. We found three recipe-management programs that stood out from the rest. If you have trouble downloading the programs from the developers' Web sites, try VersionTracker.com.

The Computer Cookbook 2.5.5 When you need to serve a different number of people than the original recipe specifies, The Computer Cookbook will be your most-valued tool ($15 downloadable, $20 on CD, www.computercookbook.net ). You can enter the number of people you'll be serving on a recipe card and it will change all the measurements in that recipe accordingly. Although the interface is amateurish and sometimes difficult to navigate, the program can convert serving sizes and that far outweighs its shortcomings. The Computer Cookbook includes 780 basic recipes with registration. It requires 8MB of RAM (16MB recommended), 4MB to 7MB of drive space, and runs on System 7.1 or later. A PowerPC processor is not required.

Computer Cuisine Deluxe 2.5 If you have a 68040 processor or a small monitor, Computer Cuisine Deluxe 2.5 will work well for you ($15 mail-in registration, $20 online registration shareware, http://home.pacbell.net/inaka ). Although the virtual recipe cards are small and you can't see the directions for cooking the recipes without scrolling (which is annoying when your fingers are covered in cookie dough), Computer Cuisine Deluxe has a colorful, well-organized interface and very flexible search capabilities. It also has a useful conversions calculator, an HTML-based manual for quick troubleshooting, and a recipe e-mail function. Perhaps best of all, Computer Cuisine Deluxe comes with 1,001 tasty-looking recipes from a variety of ethnic cuisines -- "Apple Katsup" is a recipe I know I'll have to try. Computer Cuisine Deluxe requires 6MB of RAM (8MB recommended), 13MB of drive space, and runs on System 7.1 or later. A PowerPC processor is not required.

CookWare 7.5.2 The easiest-to-use and most-attractive program for recipe management is CookWare 7.5.2 ($12, www.filemakershareware.com ); it has the best combination of features. Its appealing interface mimics Mac OS X's Aqua and includes many helpful extras such as menu planning and printing, a recipe e-mail function, and links to recipe sites on the Web. CookWare is lacking only in its text-based recipe fields, which do not allow for automatic serving conversions like The Computer Cookbook does. The software includes only 100 recipes, but they are creative and seem well-researched, and you can buy additional recipe packs from the developer's Web site (Set 1 is 750 recipes for $10, and Set 2 is 470 recipes for $5). And, of course, you can type in all of your favorites. CookWare 7.5 requires 16MB of RAM, 6MB of drive space, and runs on OS 7.6 or later. A PowerPC processor is required.

Download Your Software Before downloading any of these programs, make sure your system meets their minimum requirements. Also, remember that the programs' features will be severely limited until you register with the developer, so if you like the program after you try it, send in that check for the full benefit.

Get Your Software to Your Kitchen Mac There are three main ways to move your software onto your kitchen Mac: download it directly from the Web, transfer it from your main Mac via a network or a simple file-sharing connection, use removable media such as a Zip disk or CD-R, or use an external hard drive.

Step 3: Choose Extra Software

There's so much more to do with your kitchen Mac besides managing your recipes. There are shareware programs out there that can help you generate grocery lists, set timers for multiple cooking tasks, and keep track of your wine cellar, and we've chosen some of the best to highlight here. You can get these programs from the developers' Web sites, or download them from VersionTracker.com.

Kitchen Timer 2.0b6 If you add only one extra cooking program to your kitchen assistant, make it Kitchen Timer 2.0b6 ($5, http://homepage.mac.com/fmr_software/ ). You can set timers for each of the burners on your stove separately -- and your oven -- as well as for other domestic tasks, such as the end of your washer and dryer cycles. The greatest thing about Kitchen Timer is that you can set custom timers for foods you cook often. Kitchen Timer requires 4MB of RAM, 2MB of drive space, and runs on OS 8.1 or later. A PowerPC processor is required.

Diet Sleuth 3.1.2 A personal health logbook that helps you keep track of the foods you eat every day, Diet Sleuth 3.1.2 (3.5 mice.) calculates the elements of your diet, such as fat, carbohydrates, cholesterol, fiber, and calcium ($35, www.blackcatsystems.com/software/diet.html ). At the end of the day, record your daily food intake by choosing what you ate from Diet Sleuth's comprehensive list. You'll get a pie chart showing the nutritional value of your diet. The program also lets you enter custom foods and their nutritional information. Diet Sleuth requires 6MB of RAM, 4MB of drive space, and runs on Mac OS 8.1. A PowerPC processor is not required.

Grocery Helper 2.1 From the maker of Kitchen Timer, Grocery Helper 2.1 helps you create and manage multiple grocery lists ($5, http://homepage.mac.com/fmr_software/ ), making it the perfect tool for those who shop at various food stores or specialty shops. You can make a master list of items you frequently buy and add them to any grocery list. Print the grocery list, and take it with you to the store. It requires 3MB of RAM, 1MB of drive space, QuickTime 3.0 or later, and runs on OS 8.6 or later. A PowerPC processor is required.

BarWare 5.0 The libations component of CookWare is BarWare, which lets you search 775 drink recipes for various liquors, garnishes, and mixers ($5, www.FileMakerShareware.com/ ). It also includes an instructional bar guide, a bar dictionary, and a printing feature. BarWare requires 16MB of RAM, 3.9MB of disk space, and runs on OS 7.6 or later. A PowerPC processor is required.

Virtual Wine Cellar 3.0 If you're a wine enthusiast with your own collection, then Virtual Wine Cellar 3.0 is the perfect Mac program for you ($20, www.rootsolutions.de/ ). This nifty shareware app keeps track of every bottle, lets you import a picture of the bottle's label, and even alerts you when your wine has reached maturity. On top of that, you can calculate the value of your wine cellar and individual bottles. Virtual Wine Cellar requires 8MB of RAM, 6MB of drive space, and runs on OS 8.1 or later. A PowerPC processor is required.

Step 4: Collect and Enter Your Recipes

Your old Mac is now ready for culinary duty in the kitchen. You can either use the recipes included with your recipe software or enter your own. Try entering about ten of your favorites for now, so you can make sure you like the recipe-management software you chose. Otherwise, you may waste your time with tedious data entry.

You can also add recipes to your database program from the thousands available for free on the Web. Unfortunately, you'll likely have to enter them manually, as there isn't an easy way to import them. Still, the sheer variety and number of recipes available may convince you that the grunt work is worth it. There are several sites worth exploring, including www.epicurious.com, www.cookinglight.com, www.recipesource.com, and www.allrecipes.com.

The Last Word

Now that your kitchen Mac is in working order and ready to go, you can make meals without venturing near your disorganized, hard-to-navigate cookbook shelf. You'll be surprised at how simple it is to find what you're looking for, and you can spend your time doing the fun stuff -- cooking.

Macworld Associate Editor JENNIFER BERGER owns about ten thick cookbooks and collects recipes everywhere she goes. It's no wonder she needs a kitchen Mac.

Using The Computer Cookbook, you can type measurements separately from ingredients, so serving numbers can be easily converted.Computer Cuisine Deluxe comes with 1,001 creative recipes to try, including this one for Apple Katsup.CookWare's polished interface makes recipes easy to search for and read.You can set separate timers for all four stove burners and your oven with Kitchen Timer.Diet Sleuth helps you stay on top of your food goals with a pie chart that breaks down your daily consumption of nutritional elements such as protein, fat, and calcium.Grocery Helper lets you create custom shopping lists.With BarWare, you can search for cocktail recipes based on the ingredients you've got on hand.You can track each bottle of wine in your collection with Virtual Wine Cellar.
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