For a lot of us, the holiday season means a lot more cooking at home, which can mean havoc in the kitchen. But for those of us who bring our laptops, smart phones and tablets into the kitchen, we know tech can simplify some of the tasks of home cooking. Here are eight tech tools, tricks and apps to ease the stress one recipe at a time.
1. The Smoking Gun
Craving mesquite-smoked chocolate, applewood-tinged butter, or just a kitchen free of smog? The Smoking Gun from PolyScience ($99.95) is a handheld food smoker
The best part is that it doesn't rely on heat to impart the flavors, so it can be used on foods that would otherwise melt or burn. Just add flavored wood chips to the device, attach the tube to a bag containing your target, and you're ready to go. Demo videos and ingredient suggestions (dried herbs and flowers!) available on the PolyScience site.
2. iPad App - Epicurious (Free on the iTunes store)
Perhaps one of the most popular recipe apps on the iTunes store, CondeNast's Epicurious is my go-to source for meal planning. It has the best variety of search options, allowing you to sort recipes by course, type of cuisine, dietary needs, main ingredient and more.
The app includes a massive database of recipes from CondeNast magus like Bon Appetit and Gourmet, plus chefs and cookbooks, along with member-submitted recipes. It also includes a section for drinks and cocktails. Plus, it's free! If you don't have it yet, get it.
3. The iPad Hanger Hack
While there are a handful of options available for propping up or otherwise securing an iPad in the kitchen, until now I've been pretty paranoid about it falling or being knocked over. But this solution by Tumbleweed Labs is the answer to my prayers, and it's so fantasically simple I wonder why no one has thought of it before now. For $3, the cost of a plate hanger set, a nail and a hook, my iPad can hang securely and steadily from a kitchen cabinet door, well out of the way of food splashes and my clumsy elbow.
4. iPad App - How to Cook Everything ($4.99 on iTunes)
How to Cook Everything features the straightforward and simple recipes of food writer Mark Bittman's cookbook of the same name. In addition to the nearly 2000 recipes, each entry has reference tutorials and built-in timers with each step. It also boasts a very convenient and flexible shopping list generator.
5. Cricut Cake Printer
Remember Homaro Cantu's printable food and edible menus? The 2.0ification of food printers has arrived in the form of the Cricut Cake, courtesy of Martha Stewart and Provocraft, makers of machines that die-cut custom paper shapes for scrapbooking.
The Cricut Cake neatly fondant, gum paste, frosting sheets and dough into pretty much any shape you can imagine (think: layered character portraits, fancy fonts, intricate lace, etc) for some fantastically decorated cakes.
This machine is definitely an investment at $399.99, with each cake-specific cartridge ringing up at $69.99 (it does also work with any standard Cricut cartridge), but if you're serious about fondant cake decorating it may be the answer to your prayers. And this holiday, they're on sale for $229.99.
6. iPad App - Ratio ($4.99 on iTunes)
The ultimate app for improvisational and experimental chefs (and everyone else), Ratio helps you "calculate amounts of ingredients in all the fundamental culinary preparations".
Enter in some numbers, and the app will give you a pie chart of ingredient proportions, letting you easily make substitutions and figure your own measurements, such as number of eggs instead of total amount of egg material.
It's endorsed by Alton Brown as "a secret decoder ring that frees you from the tyranny of recipes", so you know it must be good.
7. Breakfast Sandwich maker
If you're tiring of toast every morning but don't want to deal with a lot of breakfast cooking cleanup, the Breakfast Sandwich maker by Back to Basics ($52.00, on sale for $29.63) might be just what you need, especially if you're hosting a houseful of people for the holidays.
Its slots are wide enough to handle bagels and croissants, and a warming pan on its side can poach two eggs while your bread product is cooking. Voila, instant breakfast sandwich, without all the hassle of getting in your car and driving to a fast food place.
8. Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator
"There's a lot of engineering in there," boasts the site for the Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator ($23-40).
Basing its design on Bernoulli's Principle ("as the speed of a moving fluid increases, the pressure within the fluid decreases"), this little cylinder is an essential tool for any wine lover. As wine is poured through, it "creates an increase in the wine's velocity and a decrease in its pressure...[drawing] in air which is mixed with wine for perfect aeration."
Perfect aeration means releasing aromas and flavors and softening tannins and acids, which means a better wine-drinking experience for everyone. Having personally used the Vinturi, I can vouch that it works much better than decanting, and in a fraction of the time - only as long as it takes to pour the glass. Ahh, physics!