“ With 5,000+ easy-to-follow recipes. Compile your favorite recipes from friends, magazines, the web and other cookbooks in one convenient central place. „
Years ago, I found a really lovely freeware program that allowed me to enter all my favourite recipes, print them out, make shopping lists and even figure out nutritional information per serving, as well as per food item. I was in heaven - it was free, it was easy to use and it gave me everything I needed. But it was DOS based and although when we moved over to Windows it still worked for a while, when we upgraded to XP the program just wouldn't run anymore. After looking around and checking freeware and shareware programs, I decided to purchase this program - MasterCook Deluxe 7.0 because it cost less than US $20 and seemed to have everything my old freeware program had, but in colour, with pictures and running on my new system. Here's what I think of this program.
This is exactly what its title suggests it is supposed to be - a computer program for mastering cooking. The basic idea is that you get a whole lot of recipes with the program, and these are sorted into different types of cookbooks for easy reference. It also includes a meal planner, a shopping list utility, cooking tips and lists of ingredients, with their nutritional values. There's also a favourites area where you can reference all of the recipes you've tried and liked so you don't have to search everywhere in the program to find them again.
Of course, being a computer program, you'll have to install it. This is an extremely easy procedure and putting the CD into your drive should take you from beginning to end without any hitches. It will also install QuickTime so you can watch the instructional movies (but you can opt out of that if you already have it). Finally, it also installs (onto Internet Explorer) a web import bar for your browser - more about this later. It might be helpful to know that this program was originally made by Sierra software but is now owned by ValuSoft, and that this is not the latest version - there are two newer versions available. But let me tell you a bit more about this program, by going through the main screens.
This program has grouped all of its recipes into cleverly titled cookbooks. For example, there's 'Bountiful Breakfasts' and 'Casual Dining' to name just two. When you open one of these cookbooks you'll get a listing of all the recipes that fit that particular category. These are initially listed alphabetically, but you can easily sort them by author or preparation time, as well as other predefined sorts, if you prefer. You can also filter the list of recipes through their predefined list of filters. So, if you only want to see recipes that have 5gr of carbohydrates or less, for example, just choose that and the list will only contain those recipes where the servings contain less than 5gr of carbohydrates.
For any given recipe title there are several things you can do. For instance, once you find a recipe title that interests you, you can click on it and view it with all the ingredients and instructions. You can also get a shopping list for that recipe, add it to your favourites, scale the recipe for more or less diners than the recipe is written for, get a nutritional analysis of the recipe, print it, email it and more. This is all very simple and clear-cut.
This option allows you to find recipes with particular keywords. The search tool is very comprehensive with a choice of 'include' or 'exclude' keywords, which can be filtered to 'all', 'any' and 'as a phrase' choices to help you narrow down the search. Once you've entered the keywords, it will look in all the cookbooks as well as in the instructions and ingredients lists for you. They also have some pre-designated searches you can choose from as well as an expanded search, which allows you to get very particular and specific with what you're looking for.
This is an area where they give you some sample menus for a few interesting meals. Of course, they only give you a few examples of this, and the basic idea is for you to invent your own menus from the recipes in the program. The best part of this is that it can make you a shopping list for a whole menu and not just for one recipe.
There are actually two areas here - one is the shopping list area and the other is the pantry area. What I like about this is that if you have the ingredients for the menu already in your pantry, then the shopping list you print out will only contain the things that you need to buy. You can also not have a menu or recipe shopping list and make a whole new one by typing in the beginning of the item and the program will look for it in the list of ingredients.
The pantry bit is even more fun, since you can list what you have, include the purchase date and use by date as well. Then, if you pick a bunch of ingredients that you have, you can click on the "what can I make" button and the program will give you some suggested recipes.
This is the area where you can get information about certain types of food as well as learn more about cooking - both on a basic level as well as specific to particular food items. It also gives you information about storing items as well as how to choose different foods. This isn't just an alphabetical list, however. There are categories you can sort this area with as well. For instance there are instructional video clips, information on cooking equipment and tools and even a whole category on wines and spirits, to name a few. Personally, I find the information on the different food items to be invaluable, and I often find myself checking things out there - just out of curiosity.
This is the area where you can save the recipes, menus, meal plans, shopping lists, tips and searches you like the best. When you've added something in any of these areas to your favourites, when you want one of them, you can go directly to this option and find them very quickly, without having to search or try to remember what you liked. This is a very useful tool that I'm very pleased they added. I mean, sometimes there are items I just forget how to spell (I'm dyslexic) and putting them into my favourites means I don't have to guess over and over again.
The above is a basic overview of this program, but I should mention a few more things. For instance, navigating through this program is extremely easy. There are icons on the right that direct you to all the different options you can use, and they're coloured when the option is available. At the bottom is a menu bar with all of the above categories, as well as a 'home' icon to take you to the beginning of the program as well as back and forward buttons, which work much like the back and forward buttons on your browser. Of course, at the top are the menus lists, much like any other program.
The other thing I want to tell you about is the web import bar, I mentioned above. This is used when you find recipes on the Internet and want to import them into your personal MasterCook program. This is probably the best part of this program. When you find a recipe on the internet, simply press on this import bar and you get options for highlighting text in the browser and defining the text as to its relevance. So, when I found a recipe for Leek-Tomato Quinoa on epicurious.com, I first highlighted the title, then clicked on the title option in the import bar. Then I highlighted the ingredients and after the ingredients option in the bar. When I had finished highlighting and clicking, I could then edit any of the text before importing it into my program. When you're satisfied with the information for the recipe, click first on "add recipe to list". Then you can look for more recipes to add to the lists. When you've finished, you simply click on the list option in the import bar, and then click on "save to MasterCook". When you've done this, the program will open and you'll be asked what cookbook you want to put it into, hit OK and you've just added a new recipe to your home computer program!
Now this sounds pretty good, doesn't it? So I bet you're all wondering why it is that I'm giving this program only three stars and have decided not to recommend it. Well, there is a very big problem with this program. The problem is when you want to manually add a recipe or edit any recipe to this program without importing it from the Internet. I have tried and tried to get this to work to no avail. Every time I try to add a recipe or edit an existing one, the program crashes. Since I purchased this program I've been in constant touch with ValuSoft's technical support and nothing they suggested has fixed this problem. I even tried going to the MasterCook on-line forum to get a solution, and again, nothing helped. Finally, I got my computer upgraded and thought that I could reinstall the program and it would work properly. Sorry, no go - the thing still crashes when I try to add or edit a recipe. So why review the product? Because it may just be my computer, since apparently many people are very happy with this program.
Of course, one could by-pass this by putting all your recipes onto a web page and then importing them, but what a roundabout way of doing things is that? You can, however add ingredients without the program crashing, which is at least something. But if you can't put those ingredients into a recipe of your own, or substitute them for an existing recipe, what good does that do you?
Finally, since my daughter started Weight Watchers, I was hoping I could take these recipes and figure out how many points each of the servings are (through their nutritional calculations), and then include the point values in the notes of the recipe. Without the ability to add or edit recipes, you can't do that. And since this was the main reason I purchased this program - and I'm willing to bet many of you would feel the same - I feel that for the most part, I wasted my money. Of course, if you don't want or need that, and think you can live with just using the database that comes with the program and add only via the Internet, then perhaps this program would be good for you. To tell you the truth, there are still things I like about this program and I'm seriously thinking of buying their latest version - well, just maybe.
Thanks for reading!
Davida Chazan © May, 2006
You can buy this through Amazon.co.uk via their marketplace from £12.99 or directly from ValuSoft for US $9.99.
The web page for this program is http://valusoft.com/products/mastercook7.html, which will give you all the computer requirements and specifications for this program.
They also sell the newer version 9.0 for US $19.99 and the URL for that program is http://valusoft.com/products/mastercook.html
The on-line forum for this program (all versions) can be found at http://mastercook_cupboard.tripod.com/