Smart Cooks Use Basil

Occasionally an app comes along that reminds me why computers are great. Why we (humankind) were so fervent about developing them and putting them to work in every possible situation. It isn’t normally something complex or visually impressive that ushers forth this feeling, but more often a simple example of an app making life easier.

To take a random example, a recipe app that allows you to collate and organise your recipes, that’s wrapped in a beautiful interface, but that requires you to tediously input great swathes of information yourself, is barely scratching the surface of what the iPad can achieve.

This brings us neatly to Basil, a refreshing take on recipe apps that aims to make your life easier!


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No Frills

Before I drown this take on Basil’s design and interface with a tidal wave of my own opinions, I’ll aim to describe it in the most objective manner possible. With Basil, Kyle Baxter has taken a clean, no frills, approach that’s marked by clear and useable interfaces that favour simple iconography.

If you’re a fan of the pretend real-world recipe book, complete with torn paper and chocolate smudges, this is not the app for you.

This interface is cleaner than my kitchen will ever be...

This interface is cleaner than my kitchen will ever be...

Personally, I love it! It’s effortlessly intuitive and easy-to-use, not once did I hesitate to press a button for fear of what it might do, not once was I lost. It’s designed to make cooking easier, and its interface is designed with that at the forefront. I also happen to like the simple green bar that gives the app its character, and love the typography throughout the app.

I would like to personally thank Kyle for making his icon beautiful and green - finally, some variety!

I would like to personally thank Kyle for making his icon beautiful and green - finally, some variety!

Getting Down to Business

The ultimate proof of any recipe app is whether it makes you want to get down to business in the kitchen, sharpen those knives, and cook up a storm. I found that Basil had this exact effect.

I really liked that the ingredients list was permanently displayed next to the instructions, always there for when you need to refer back. While the two column layout for recipes works well to get you the information you need, only subtle scrolling touches are required to move further through the directions.

Being able to favourite recipes is a simple feature, but it’s nicely positioned within the app.

Making Life Easier

There are a couple of features that Basil has implemented that really do help to make your life easier!

The first is something that every other recipe app should immediately implement; automatic timers. I can’t be certain that Basil is the first app to add this feature, but it’s done so neatly and subtly here that I don’t really care.

Any time-based directions (such as ‘bake for 25 minutes’) are turned into buttons which start a timer, removing the need to be fiddling with any other device in the kitchen. Up to this point I have been using Siri to do my timings for me, but the simple integration in Basil could easily change that.

Tap any of the timings and the timer will pop up below!

Tap any of the timings and the timer will pop up below!

If timings in your own added recipes, or those from a website, aren’t showing up as timers, try changing any instructions written as ‘mins’ to ‘minutes’ – that worked for me!

The second feature that I’d like to highlight here is the way Basil is set up to help you add recipes from the web. Finding good recipes online is easier than it’s ever been, but collecting them all together can be a real pain. Basil has given you two simple options for adding new recipes you find online to your collection.

  1. Add recipes from a supported site, with one simple click!
  2. Add recipes from any other site, using Basil’s highlighting system.
Mmmmm... Cake.

Mmmmm... Cake.

Adding recipes from Basil’s supported sites couldn’t be any easier, simply go through the in-built browser (hit the plus button and select Add Recipe From Web), select the site, find the recipe you want and click Save…

You can then add tags if you want to keep things neat and tidy.

These are the sites that are currently supported;

  • allrecipes.com
  • myrecipes.com
  • epicurious.com
  • seriouseats.com
  • bonappetit.com
  • tastykitchen.com
  • foodnetwork.com
  • foodandwine.com
  • chow.com
  • thepioneerwoman.com

If, however, you have found an awesome recipe somewhere else that you’d like to add, simply go to the recipe page and use Basil’s highlighting system to add it. Just highlight each element of the recipe in turn and hit the corresponding button, once you’ve done them all you can then hit Save just as before.

You can also add a Basil bookmarklet to Safari, which allows you to jump straight to the basil browser so you can easily add a recipe.

Here you can see the elements that I've already saved.

Here you can see the elements that I've already saved.

Adding recipes to Basil like this was easy, and they all looked good and organised. I particularly liked the way Basil added sensible tags and the automatic timers to the recipes without having to fuss.

The Old-Fashioned Way

You can also add recipes manually, and Basil tries hard to not make this a bore. It succeeds as far as is possible.

Why would you do this with the whole web at your disposal?

Why would you do this with the whole web at your disposal?

A secret family recipe.

A secret family recipe.

Searching Recipes

Finding recipes and searching your saved recipes are both things that the iPad is beautifully well suited to, and Basil makes good use of it. You can search using Cuisine Type, Meal Type, or Tags – tapping each gives you a drop down menu of all of the options, with the related recipes on the right.

Depending on how organised you are, this could be very useful.

Depending on how organised you are, this could be very useful.

Basil automatically adds tags for your key ingredients!

The big thing to mention when talking about recipe searching in Basil is the full-text search, a great inclusion!

Things I’d Love to See

There are a couple of things that I’d love to see Basil improve on, that would help it really cement its place as a great recipe app.

First off, I’d like to see the timers feature greatly expanded. Currently the timer can get slightly in the way when it pops up, and you can only have one timer going at a time, something that is almost never the case in complicated meals. I’d love to see the timers integrated into the interface in a more clever way, and the ability to set multiple timers – perhaps they could take a clever label from the surrounding instructions.

Also, I’d like to see more options relating to the timers. Currently they go off with two loud dings, but could be easily missed were you busy with something in the kitchen, or if your steak was frying loudly. Some ability to change the length of the timers, and perhaps a feature that would allow them to go off in the background, would be much appreciated.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Basil is currently devoid of images, something that helps it keep the interface so clean. I would be interested to see whether the designer could integrate images of some kind in the next major version of the app, we’re naturally visual beings and looking a pictures of food before we eat it can play a huge part in deciding.

Final Thoughts

Basil is a superb example of an app that’s effortless in its desire to make your life easier. I love the interface and the addition of simple features that make it that much more useful, such as automatic timers and easy grabbing of web recipes.

It’s totally different from an overtly visual app like Appetites, but in a good way. If you’re a food lover who likes to try new things, Basil could be the perfect companion!


Summary

Basil is a superb recipe app that's designed with you in mind. The inclusion of smart timers and easy addition of recipes from the web make this a true contender.

9
  • CJ Dayrit

    Tried the app. It does works well and can be a contender to Paprika. Hopefully they complete the whole series with an iPhone and mac version and cloud backup.

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  • Jan

    I bought this app, and I like it. The only problem is, I wish there was a bookmarklet that I could use on firefox, so that when I am browsing the internet from my computer, it would add it to my basil app on my ipad. Other than that, stellar app!

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