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PANNA: Subscription-based cooking app offers step-by-step videos, great recipes

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PANNA: cooking app for iPhone and iPad

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There are a lot of cooking apps out there, and after a while, a lot of them start to look the same. PANNA, though, a subscription-based app available for the iPhone and iPad, aims to stand out from the pack with step-by-step high-quality video accompanying each recipe. And the recipes themselves are special, too: They come from famous chefs, mixologists, and cookbook authors like Anita Lo, Rick Bayless, Nancy Silverton, Jim Meehan, Christopher Hirsheimer, and Melissa Hamilton, and they're developed exclusively for the app. In addition to the videos, there's a nifty shopping list feature (a must on any cooking app worth its salt) and the ability to ask the chef (or, for a faster response, the PANNA staff) questions about the recipe. And of course, the photographs are nice, too.

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Still, it's important not to lose sight of the purpose of a cooking app (or a good old print cookbook, for that matter). And that is to give cooks recipes that work. The authors of the app say that while they do test their recipes before shooting video, their production process obviates the need for a test kitchen. So, that probably means that there isn't a huge staff of people exhaustively testing, re-testing, and cross-testing recipes across different types and brands of equipment, with different brands of ingredients. But, if chefs do make adjustments to a recipe during the shoot, PANNA says that they make sure to reflect those changes in the written recipe.

Is it borne out in practice? Well, for the most part, yes. Based on our experience with Seamus Mullen's winter market soup recipe, we were quite satisfied with the usability of the features in the app, as well as the accuracy of the recipe itself. And yes, the dish tasted great.

We did notice a few inconsistences between videos and recipes here and there; for example, Chad Sarno of Whole Foods Market insists in his video for smoky veggie chili that it is a 20-minute recipe; however, the recipe itself suggests a more realistic 35 minutes. And in terms of editorial style, there could be more consistency across recipes. But there was nothing major that would keep a cook from completing a recipe successfully.

What about variety? PANNA offers recipes on a bi-monthly basis, and each issue features about 13-15 recipes from a rotating panel of contributors, each accompanied by 10-20 minute videos. The recipes offer a good mix of appetizers, main courses, and desserts, with some cocktails thrown in for good measure, and though many of the recipes come from chefs, they should all be doable for cooks who are comfortable with a knife and basic cooking techniques. Most recipes don't have a laundry list of ingredients, nor do they ask for anything unusual. Some can definitely be on the more time-consuming side, though.

Does the video really add value? We think so. There are some things that just don't (and shouldn't) make it into a recipe because they would take up too much space to describe, like the proper way to butter and flour a cake pan, or how to spread icing on a cake, or even just how to use a peeler correctly. Even things that do sometimes make their way into recipes, like how to seed a pomegranate or prep an avocado, are much easier to understand on video.

If you don't want to watch the entire video for a recipe, you can skip directly to a specific step from the recipe, which we think is a nice feature. But, if you're watching the video and switch over to the recipe, the video player doesn't pick up where you left off if you press play again. This can make it hard to follow along with the video while cooking; after all, sometimes, you just want to see the recipe again.

The videos work best on a Wi-Fi connection; playing over 4G can get laggy or result in a downgrade in quality (understandably). To get around this, there is an option to download the video for each recipe.

If there's one more quibble, it's a minor one. There's a section which lists all of the recipes available, including free and purchased recipes, as well as previews of upcoming issues. While it has some useful filters, including the ability to filter for bookmarked recipes, we think that a search function would be a useful addition, especially once several issues worth of recipes have been downloaded.

Still, minor quibbles aside, the app is well done overall and would be well received by any enthusiastic home cook or a home cook who's ready to improve their techniques. How much does it cost? A year-long gift subscription costs $14.99; additional gifts come in at $9.99. Individual issues cost $4.99. Each subscription comes with access to PANNA's website, which mirrors the purchased content on your device and features additional videos on tips and techniques from the contributors. If you want to try a few recipes and check out a few videos, there some free samples on the site, or you can download the app for the trial issue. Below, we've included a few recipes from the December/January issue.

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