Well, it's better late than never. I was supposed to write this review back when eChef actually sponsored Immediate Regret, but some other things kept me a little too busy (Have you gone and voted for my Demo reel yet? Help me break the Top 50!)
Anyway, I'll tell you what you need to do. Go to echefsoftware.com and buy two copies of eChef. One for you, and one for your mom. And not just because Pacman is the official sponsor (check the logo!) Once your mom has a copy, then you should have the rest of your culinary life covered.
Essentially, eChef is just as Andrew described it. It's iTunes for recipes. You load in all the ingredients, directions, and a picture of the final product. Where the convenience of this software comes in is in the abundance of meta data that you can add. Difficulty, preparation time, genre, time of day for which it is appropriate... just about anything you'd need to know about a given recipe. And of course, like any good software, you can add custom categories and use this data to filter your results.
This means that when I wake up on a Sunday after a night of "spirited" enjoyment, I can sort by difficulty, filter for my custom category "Hangover", and voila!
I have the perfect match for my current situation. Why I bothered entering "Ramen Noodles" into eChef is a mystery we'll have to address at another time.
But the real genius of the software is in two other features.
First of all - sharing. Gone are the days of writing down recipes by hand or even printing out lists of directions from the web. If you want to share a recipe with another person, eChef has a convenient "Email" button that can be used with ease. You can also import recipes in eChef's own .eat format or MasterChef .mx2, and export in .eat, .rtf, html, iPod notes and Outlook notes. I don't even know what iPod notes are, but this software can export to it. This is where the part about buying a copy for your mom comes in. Once she enters in all of her recipes into her copy of eChef, all of those childhood favorites are just an email away. And if you don't get your mom a copy, there are eChef Google Groups where you can find new eats.
The second feature that really sells this software for me is the ability to create a shopping list. Any given day of the week, if I'm going to cook then I have to go to the store and buy the specific ingredients I need. I may have some of the spices, but otherwise my pantry consists of some bread and Ramen. I don't plan anything.
Well with eChef, you just drag the recipes you're going to cook for the week into your "Shopping List" (think Playlist in iTunes) and eChef compiles and categorizes all of the ingredients you'll need to buy. Now you have a shopping list you can print off, and instead of wandering back and forth between the meats and the vegetables, you know everything you need to grab in each department as you go down your list. Not only that, but if you have recipes that contain the same ingredients it combines the quantities. That way you won't find yourself buying a can of beet juice only to find that ten items further down your list you need another two cans of the same thing. (You don't buy beet juice?)
As far a the downsides go, it's really more a wishlist than anything. The biggest problem I have is with the data entry portion. This is of no way a fault of the software or UI, I'm just lazy. Entering ingredients and directions takes time, and I prefer to use my time elsewhere (you know... Animating and talking to my unemployment buddy Ross on the phone). Ultimately, the benefits outweigh this, but what would be really nice is if eChef had an online database of recipes to search, or could automatically parse pages over at Food.net. Another wish list item would be to pull down an average price for grocery list items from some source online. That way I could keep within a particular budget as I made my weekly shopping list.
All in all, this product is well worth the $40 price tag if you're even mildy interested in cooking your own meals. Anytime your a reviewer's negative thoughts (if they can even be called negative) is a list of ways to plus a product as opposed to complaints about what's already there, you know you've got a good thing on your hands.
And if you can get your mom to do all the data entry for you, I'd say that's worth the price of another copy for her (think Christmas people!).
Have a good week!