Kitchen Computer Part 2 - Timing is everything

At this point in the series, we have a basic computer setup with recipes and a series of thermometers. Not a bad start, but we need more.

I had some friends visiting this past week, and I wanted to cook a nice dinner meal for them. Since I don't see them often, I figured I'd go all out and make it as thoroughly home-made as I could. There was a berry pie, some gyros, hummus, tzatziki sauce, and, as a special request, some mushroom-stuffed mushrooms. Although I made the pie the night before, the rest I was making the day of (though I could have made the hummus and tzatziki sauce the night before as well, I was kind of tired at the time).

What's this have to do with the kitchen computer, some of you ask? Get to the point, others of you demand? Okay, fine. Dinner started at 7 PM, and I wanted everything to come out on time. So I worked backwards, and figured out how long everything would take to do. The gyro meat was going to take up the oven, and so would the mushrooms, but hey, the gyro meat needs to cool for right around the amount of time the mushrooms need to cook, so I can put those in at the end, almost as if I had planned it that way. That sort of thing. Getting everything done so that it was both ready and still warm was ideal, though I am certain the Barefoot Contessa would have 20 easy tricks for keeping things or reheating or whatever. However, I am not the Barefoot Contessa, I am The Food Geek, so I wrote on all of the recipes exactly when I needed to start each step in order to get it all done exactly at seven. Don't think my girlfriend didn't give me a loving-but-strange look when she saw that. It's tough being a geek sometimes, but not really that tough.

It worked really well. Still, if the meal had been slightly more complex, I would have had problems. I only really have two timers, and one of those is a thermometer. Plus, had I become distracted, I might have missed a start time, because those weren't set to timers. But, I thought, The Kitchen Computer could save me here!

At its simplest, I would set up as many timers as necessary. I would give some variability to the timers to let you do the "Cook for 40-50 minutes depending on your oven, elevation, and karma" recipes. It could give a warning beep at the beginning to let you check for doneness, then continue on if it's not ready. Wouldn't be a bad idea to allow you to connect it to a thermometer as well, though usually you need either temperature or time, but still. If you're cooking a new type of recipe, you might want to be able to tell, at a glance, roughly how long something will take to cook. There's another reason, that I'll tell about you later on.

Of course, naming the timers would be nice. I could link them to the recipes easily enough, but I'm getting the nagging feeling that I'm going to want a keyboard. And maybe some sort of mouse or trackpad. Hmm. There's probably a good, rugged keyboard out there somewhere, but I think I'll work to make the interface be happy without a keyboard-mouse combo as much as possible, especially for day-to-day tasks.

The basic timers are in, but I still want to leverage the power of the computer to make my life easier, so we need a timeline. Yup, I want to be able to have the computer tell me when I need to start all my dishes and various phases. I would give it an eating time, then give it the recipes, and it should be able to work out the rest. This means that the recipes will have to know where the various cooling and resting phases happen with respect to the rest of the recipe, and I'll want to keep an eye on things to make sure I don't go crazy with putting in too many times into the recipes and making it bulky and never used. But if I have to make bread, then there are several resting periods in the middle of the recipe, a cooking portion, and a cooling portion at the end. If the computer doesn't know where these go, then it'll overlap everywhere.

After it sets up the timeline, it'll need to track the time to make sure I'm on schedule. So I'll want to tell the computer when I've finished any given phase moved to the next. Also, if a bit of meat or somesuch is taking longer cook than expected, the computer will see that and adjust the timing of the items farther down the line. It would know where the slack in the schedule would be, so it could also tell you if dinner is going to be a bit late or not. That way, hungry guests can know for sure how long they have to wait, and whether they should stuff themselves on your tasty, tasty appetizers or just get drunk on the beverages you have strewn about the party for their enjoyment.

I think this will be a great addition to the Kitchen Computer, as long as I pay attention to the areas that would be over-optimized. Keep it easy to use, try to avoid having too many input devices, and don't make it too hard to key in your recipes.