Kitchen Computer Part 3 - Experimental Interface

Now we have a computer that should keep track of our recipes and time our cooking. Next, I need something to help me with making new recipes. There's a few aspects to this that would help out in day-to-day kitchen use.

First, I need to be able to easily track what I put into an experimental recipe. Too often I'll get into the thick of something, make recipe adjustments, and don't track them. If it's just something for me, that's no problem, but if I'd like to share with the world what I've done, it might be nice to pay attention to what it was.

The second, and perhaps more useful to people who don't have a food web site, is having an easy interface on all of the various things that foodstuffs do when interacting with other foodstuffs. Certain spices will increase yeast activity, and consequently make a better rising loaf of bread. Or, for something more complicated, eggs will interact with foods in a variety of ways with its various proteins, fats, emulsifiers, etc., and they are vital for use in many recipes and are a good option in others. It would be nice to have all of that information within reach, as it were, while making up new recipes.

For the recipe tracking, that's not too difficult. The method with the least impact on workflow would be to have some sort of voice recording setup. Maybe a wireless headset/microphone hooked to the computer, with a button I could hit to tell it to record, so I don't get a lot of dead space. If I can synch information from the clock as well as the miscellaneous thermometers and whatever else I might pile onto this, it should be easy to reconstruct a proper recipe from the information I collect.

For the knowledge base, if I may steal a term from 1990's AI research, it would be interesting to have a choice of food types to prepare, such as a bread, a casserole, or a soufflé. It would then have handy all of the tidbits of information that I might want relevant to that type of food. So, if I were making a pie crust, and I wanted it flakier, it could tell me that a chilled, solid fat worked into the dough in large chunks is what I would want, or if I want to make it sweeter from there, what I could add as well as what the secondary effects would be. Add some sugar, it will sweeten and tenderize.

So I am imagining some sort of iPod-style menu interface, to go with the input device chosen in part 1 of this series. Choose the food type from the menu, and perhaps a food subtype, and so on until you get to a base recipe with solid but generic characteristics, from which you could modify to your needs. Perhaps you need to make a form of the recipe suitable for commercial baking, or perhaps you need something that would work with a savory recipe rather than a sweet one, or perhaps you need a vegan form of the recipe for a young man you're trying to impress.

The hard part of the interface would be constructing it, obviously, but also making a structure flexible enough to easily add new information as it comes along. Moving 'Searing a steak' from the 'increase juiciness (and flavor)' to 'increase flavor (and decrease juiciness)' when you find out all those other cook books were wrong about the reason to sear would be very useful, and you don't want to have to work hard every time new information comes along.

Next, imagine being able to add new information in and share that with other people you know who also have a kitchen computer. So if Jenny down the street discovered that the bulk orange blossom honey they sell at whole foods will kill yeast, so not to use it in bread, she could put it in her computer and you could see a little note about honey that Jenny put in. You wouldn't necessarily want just anyone to be able to give you information, but sharing among a trusted community would make experimenting with recipes much easier.

The other nice aspect of the kitchen computer experimentation interface is that it would make a great teaching tool. You could play around with a recipe on paper, as it were, see what it's supposed to do when you modify it, and them make the recipe. As you do this more, you will learn the information in the database, and not have to rely upon it as much.

Special Note: The Food Geek member Kevin Druff suggests this roll up keyboard as a good one for the kitchen computer, as it's inexpensive, durable, squishes up easily to fit in a drawer, and is dishwasher safe, apparently. Thanks, Kevin!