Thursday, June 24, 2010

0 Cool Kitchen Gadgets: Digital Timers -- Ever So Handy For Simultaneous Cooking, Baking, & Recipe Writing :)

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I sometimes like to bring my netbook into the kitchen to use for typing out or modifying recipes. It has a nifty wireless keyboard & mouse that make typing & navigation a whole lot easier. :) (These peripherals are highly necessary because, unlike the built-in touch pad & tiny keys, they aren't as awkward to use, and thus help save mucho time in the recipe writing process itself.)

Often, I like to use digital timers on my netbook in order to keep track of various things going on in the kitchen at once, or to prevent things from burning while I'm typing. ;) This way, I can see and, more importantly, hear (!), the timer(s) while I'm working in the kitchen. They've also been invaluable, time-saving devices as well. These are just some of the reasons why I like virtual, computerized solutions, particularly web-based ones.

One such web-based tool I like is Poturi's Timer, a no-fuss, compact, & easy-to-use widget which can be added to your website or iGoogle dashboard. Its simple & straightforward digital display goes up to 00:99:99 (99 minutes & 99 seconds).

Or, if you'd prefer using a desktop-based solution, another digital timer widget I recommend is the Kitchen Timer Yahoo! Widget. Those of you who use Yahoo! widgets (for your Mac or PC desktop), might like the Kitchen Timer tool. It's simple & easy to use, and you can set the timer up to 4 hours and 1 minute max (i.e., 3 hours in the hour column, 60 minutes in the minutes column, and 60 minutes in the seconds column). There's a play/pause button & a delete button to clear & reset the timer back to zero. This is pretty good option to use if most of your tasks fall within the 3-4 hour completion range.

Other techy-savvy ideas: There are also various countdown widgets that you can install via Spring Box Widgets and other widget sites which provide various time-tracking features as well. They can also typically be installed on your website or desktop, and often extend up to 999 days, 99 hours, 99 minutes, & 99 seconds. For one such example, check out the race day countdown widget on my running blog.

Additionally, there are various smartphone timer apps as well. Since I don't currently possess a mobile smartphone, I can't recommend specific ones. However, I do know that they do exist, and there are lots of apps out there from which to choose.

Alternatively, there are many time management software programs available, in either online or desktop format (full-fledged software programs, widgets, Twitter APIs, etc.), which contain timer functions. These will also probably also do the trick, especially if you find that you need more than just a timer to manage your kitchen-related &/or other daily activities.  After all, time management software is often multi-purpose. :)

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Of course, there are times when you might not always want to bring your laptop/netbook into the kitchen. [Splattering spaghetti sauce, anyone?! ;) ] Or, you might not even own a portable networked device like a laptop/netbook. In that case, there's always the solution of purchasing a separate mechanical or digital device. The variety of timers available for purchase -- online & elsewhere -- appears to be practically limitless. :)

Now, a traditional kitchen timer might be sufficient for when you're making only ONE dish at a time in the kitchen, and need to watch the oven.

However, if you're like me, you might need to keep track of more than one dish at a time: In my own case, there are often multiple activities going on in the kitchen at once -- cooking, baking, recipe writing, dish-washing, cleaning up, putting away food, etc. I do this primarily because I'm trying to finish writing my cookbook as soon as possible. :)

In order for the above process to work as smoothly, quickly, and efficiently as possible, a lot of orchestration & planning is required, particularly with regard to the timing of various activities. There's a lot of "gears in rotation" at once, and if done correctly, the process can go surprisingly well. Thanks to a combination of many years of experience in the kitchen & the timer gadgets I use, I've gotten it down to a fairly precise science. The rotating usage of multiple kitchen appliances, the allocation of countertop space while work is in progress, the movements & steps of the cooking process, etc. You name it, I've learned how to coordinate it. At this point, I feel like a well-oiled machine. :) Of course, when it comes to completely new territory (like my recent tamale-making experience!), it might take a bit longer for me to orchestrate all of the steps, but that's to be expected during the initial stages of a new learning curve. However, as far as the orchestration of the entire recipe creating & making process is concerned, I've mastered the art & science of the mechanism via hard-won experience. :)

For example, I might be simultaneously creating a new recipe and blending a Little Blue Penguin Cocktail in the food processor while simmering some minestrone on the stovetop burner and roasting a rotisserie chicken and some Rockin' Rosemary Potatoes on two different shelves of the oven. :) It's been known to happen before.

Additionally, if you're an exceptionally busy person, like me, you also might be short on time or perhaps just striving to juggle all of your activities without going completely bonkers. ;) Also, there might be cases in which you happen to have multiple cooks in the kitchen at once. :) Delegation of kitchen tasks to fellow chefs & budding "mini-cook" helpers -- young kids are potential chefs in the making! -- certainly helps things go faster as well!

In the above scenarios, the standard kitchen timer probably won't do.

Now, if you're going to go basic & old-school, I guess you could always resort to a combination of the old standbys, that is, if don't mind using multiple timers normally found in different locations around your kitchen & house: Let's see what happens when you set the timers on your stopwatch, your alarm clock, the oven, & the microwave, all at once. ;) Haha! Since most of these devices only allow one alarm setting per device, it'd surely be a bit impractical to rush around the house turning off all your timers, not to mention highly comical for others to watch! LOL. OK, perhaps you could relocate them all into the same room, so you can hear them all when they go off. ;) ), but I doubt that'd be a very calming, convenient, or permanent solution.

However, if you're looking for something a lot more practical & centralized to handle to MULTIPLE, simultaneous kitchen activities, you'll probably want to go with a digital timer, whether virtual or physical. Many allow you to track several tasks at once in a centralized fashion.

This is particularly useful if you happen to have more than 1 oven (usually in a top-bottom configuration), or if you're lucky enough, an additional woodfire burning oven (for pizza, etc.). This way, you can coordinate and keep track of multiple things cooking at once.

Additionally, digital timers are ideal because, not only is there the option for multiple simultaneous countdowns, but they can also be set for times which extend well past an hour. [Most traditional timers are limited to an hour, or in the case of an egg timer, usually 3 minutes or sometimes even up to 60 minutes. ;) ]

One such electronic timer with multiple (i.e., three) countdown settings & timers that go up to 24 hours is the Presto 04212 Electronic Clock/Timer. It's a compact (only 2.5 square inches) & inexpensive device ($10!) that functions as a timer, stopwatch, & calendar. It also comes with an easel stand & magnet clip, which allows for counter top use or placement onto one's fridge. From the reviews, it looks like the magnet isn't very strong, but otherwise, it appears to have gotten good reviews & you can't beat it price-wise. (Of course, a simple solution would be to remove the magnet & replace it with a much stronger one. Most basic bar magnets cost only a few pennies. Or just ignore the magnet altogether, if you don't care about that feature.)

Of course, all of these kitchen timers can be used for purposes outside of the kitchen. They are also excellent time management devices that help set reasonable limits for tasks & also keep one mindful of the passage of time.

I hear they also prevent kitchen fires. ;)

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