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One of you humorously suggested that I write a Dilbert Cookbook. My initial reaction was that a Dilbert Cookbook would make as much sense as Dilbert lingerie. It's simply a bad match. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I would use a cookbook that was designed for a Dilbert sensibility.

For starters, the Dilbert cookbook would be in the form of a website and an app. That gives you a chance to solve the first and biggest problem of all physical cookbooks: the tedious texty interface. If you're reading this, I assume you already have a laptop or an iPad for your kitchen. If you don't, you will.

The Dilbert Cookbook would include lots of optional links to quick video clips explaining every non-obvious step. Dilbert readers tend to be self-taught in a lot of areas, and no one is born already knowing what blanching means. Cooking lingo needs to have links for explanation, so the cookbook acts as both a recipe guide and an optional tutorial as needed. 

A large part of this digital cookbook would be dedicated to the chemistry, physical skills, and gadgetry of cooking. Personally, I'm fascinated by the engineering aspect of cooking, but I get bored when the interesting parts are ruined by all the talk of food.

I'd love to see all of the little rules of cooking assembled in one place, so I could study them in the abstract. For example, at what stage of cooking is it best to add spices, and why? What is the role of moisture in microwaving? How do you keep something warm without drying it out? And how do you get the onion smell off your hands? Time-wise, what is the point of diminishing returns for simmering or marinating? What food can I freeze and thaw without ruining? I assume there are hundreds more of these little rules.

I'd also like to know when I can get away with store-packaged ingredients. Is the garlic from a jar just as tasty as smashing up your own cloves, or does that depend on how long a dish is cooked? In other words, I want a ranking of what sorts of engineering steps with food preparation are more important than others.

I believe that flavor can also be reduced to a set of engineering guidelines. Specifically, I think you could categorize most flavors the way you categorize music, with high notes and low notes. Garlic and onions and pepper feel like low notes to me, whereas lemon and cilantro are like high notes. I've noticed that the best food has a combination of both, just like music. I'll bet an experienced chef could categorize most flavors in a way that would allow you to know if you were breaking any rules, such as cooking with all low notes. And I'll bet the high notes can't be more than say 10% of what you experience, in some subjective sense, without overwhelming the flavor.

Don't get me started on the gadgetry of cooking. I could spend hours learning about the best types of bottle openers, the best sauté pans, and the difference between convection and regular microwaving. When we were shopping for a refrigerator for our new home, I totally geeked out learning about how some fridges circulate air between the freezer and the regular fridge, which is apparently suboptimal for freshness. If you've read this far, you know what I'm talking about. Cooking tools are way cooler than the food itself.

I want my cookbook to show me different views of the task ahead, including a picture of all the ingredients laid out, so I can visualize, and another view of just the pots and pans and measuring cups and whatnot so I can assemble them all in one step instead of continuously running back and forth to cupboards.

How about sorting and filtering recipes? I want a search capability that lets me optimize for timeline, budget, nutrition, special diets, level of cooking difficulty, and estimated clean up time. You aren't really doing your spouse a favor if you cook a wonderful gourmet meal and then expect him or her to be your pot scrubber for the next four hours.

I'd also like to see my recipe steps arranged by timeline, with each dish for the meal overlaid. I made the mistake recently of trying to cook a meal in which everything would need attention at exactly the same time. The Dilbert Cookbook would let you filter against that problem, so each step is properly times. And perhaps the cookbook could act as your stove timer as well, so you have a visual representation of how done things are, on the computer, ahead of the alarm.

I want my Dilbert Cookbook to suggest what meals I can make from the stuff that's already in the fridge. And I want to set preferences for each family member and dinner guest so I only need to look at recipes that everyone will enjoy.

If I'm planning a potluck, it would be great to integrate my Dilbert Cookbook with my e-vite, so guests are constrained to dishes that will be complementary with everyone else, and the right size.

Obviously there are already lots of online recipe websites. None of them were designed with any sense of Dilbert-like efficiency in mind. There's a huge gap between where cookbooks are and where they could be. This is another example of where doing an old thing better (cookbook design) would completely change the experience. In the future, I can imagine each family preparing just one dish per night and using some sort of social website to arrange weeknight potlucks with friends.

 

 
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0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 18, 2010
Smart Phones are stupid!

To me the term Smartphone is an oxymoron. Certainly these devices automate daily tasks and make virtual life more convenient for us technology bound people on the go, but smart? Unless of course you are using smart as a verb meaning painful to mind and body, because these phones can literally kill you.

How many people have lost their lives due to talking, texting, twittering, emailing, googling while driving? I was almost one of those statistics, hit by a cell phone junkie driver while riding my bike, where a bike lane would soon be. Texting with friends was much more important than my life it seems.

Smartphones will supplant laptops I am told. Smartphone apps (software applications) are coming by the billions I have read. Smartphones will make people dumb I would say. But I applaud the marketing guys that came up with the Smartphone moniker, delusional consumers certainly want to be smart!

For me it’s all about device unification: email, IM, Skype, LinkedIn, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Yahoo News, Google, my Blog, and my DVR remote. Like Steve Martin in The Jerk, "THAT’S ALL I NEED" to maintain my virtual quality of life. I would be happy to trade in my trusty CrackBerry, iPod, home phone, digital frame, and three TV remotes for one of those handsets. But replace my laptop? NEVER!!!!!!!! Stupidphones will never replace the beloved laptop, not in my lifetime, but they sure are making laptops cheaper!

One of the best graduation ceremony quotes I saw lastyear was from Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, sharing the meaning of life. Watch the whole thing on YouTube but here is my take-away from it:

“You need to live for the future, and the things that you really, really care about. To know that, you’re going to have to turn off your computer and your phone, and discover all that is human around us.”

SmartPhones are not human. Twittering, FaceBooking, Instant Messaging, Texting or Sexting is not human. Online Gaming, Maple Story, World of Warcraft, PokerStars, Second Life is not human. Online lesbian !$%* looks human but my wife insists it is not.

Sometimes my children feel I should apologize for !$%*!$%* up the world: The GINORMOUS national debt, rampant diseases, mediocre (public) education, double digit unemployment, just to name a few. Now I have to ad the dehumanization of society as well. And to my children I say: “EXCUUUUUUSSSSSSSSSSSE MEEEEEEEEE!” (for being human.)

Picture of me after the bike accident: http://wp.me/psH60-hK

D.A.N.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 8, 2010
The music analogy is quite right. One likes repetition that is not so consistent it is boring; theme and variation so to speak. But don't forget about the harmony too. The wrong combination of notes just sounds bad...under most !$%*!$%*!$%*!$ The wrong combination of spices just don't work.....like ketchup and grape jelly. Why don't they work? What is the rule? They don't work for the same reasons discord in music becomes grating very quickly. Our minds like patterns.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 4, 2010
Most, if not all of these have been suggested, but I figure I'll post my list in case they missed any, and also to add weight to their importance:

http://www.cookingforengineers.com/ - Good, but can be better
Harold McGee - "On Food And Cooking" - The definitive "why", but a bit dry
Alton Brown - His books, and his TV show (Good Eats) - Quirky, funny, informative
Shirley Corriher - "Cookwise"
Herve This - "Kitchen Mysteries: Revealing the Science of Cooking"

That being said, there is DEFINITELY a market for your book. If nothing else, all of these prove that there is definitely room for one more, especially if it's done well.

Concentrate on the aspect of "Cooking for absolute novices who can maybe boil water without setting the house on fire", but also focus on the "why".

I'll definitely buy your book.
 
 
May 3, 2010
I absolutely want to buy this cookbook.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 3, 2010
This may have been suggested already, but I'm too busy pretending to work to scroll through all the comments.

I need a real step-by-step guide. Not a list of steps, but a click-through of all the steps. Too many times I get going and I skip over something important, like "Brown the chicken". Then we all get salmonella and I look bad. But a click through, starting with gathering all ingredients, would make it tough to skip.

I especially like the idea of recipe ideas from what I already have in the fridge/cupboard. Now if you could team up with Alton, maybe it could be more of an algorithm than a database search. Some foods/spices interact in certain ways. Use that to come up with new formulas. Think of the new recipes that could get formed.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 2, 2010
Given that Scott is a vegetarian (at least he was last time I came across that kind of information), I wouldn't buy that app. But Cooking for Nerds / Geeks / N00bs / Dweebs / Dorks / <enter appropriate word here> itself is a fabulous idea. I know so many people who can't even cook eggs, let alone potatoes... These people need help!
 
 
May 2, 2010
I think what you are looking for is the Honeywell H316 Kitchen computer. :-)
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 2, 2010
I want to see Wally's cookbook:

1. Poke plastic in center of tray with fork.
2. Heat 2-4 minutes.
3. Peel back plastic.
4. Enjoy!

 
 
Apr 30, 2010
This sounds like a great idea, but I have another addition to make: when I look up recipes on, say, the Food Network website, their hosts and chefs have a tendency to use ingredients that are a little hard to find in most people's normal hometown grocery store. For example, I saw a burger recipe that had you mixing in a north African lamb sausage with the ground beef. Probably delicious but I spent an entire day calling around to various meat markets and none of them carried it. I'd love to see a recipe site that identified rare, specialty, or just hard to find ingredients as such and gave you either tips on where to find them or work arounds.
 
 
Apr 30, 2010
I can't imagine that Dilbert would make anything that tastes good. He'd just burn things and put ketchup on them (Tomeato is delicious--it tastes like ketchup!!!). I am a very creative person and am really good at cooking. I can look at a recipe and see if I think it will taste good. Alton Brown's recipes never sound good to me and I think that his lack of skill is hilarious.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 30, 2010
America's Test Kitchen (PBS show). They have your know-how. Part of the Cooks Illustrated family.
 
 
Apr 30, 2010
Scott

You need Harold McGee's "the science and lore of the kitchen"

http://www.amazon.com/Food-Cooking-Harold-McGee/dp/0684843285

The seminal tome on why you do certain things while cooking with the actual science explained. TV poseurs like Alton Brown got their information from him.

This has been my "cooking for geeky engineers" cookbook for a while
 
 
Apr 30, 2010
Sounds like this: http://www.cookingforengineers.com/
 
 
Apr 30, 2010
I just got the cooking geek tingle! By the way, I did once stumble upon a site called "Cooking for Engineers" it is worth a search.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 30, 2010
I imagine that, given Scott's sensibilities, it will be vegetarian; as long as it has lots of vegan dishes, I totally heart the idea.
 
 
Apr 30, 2010
I like the idea. I always saw cooking as a parallel discipline with computer programming. You take requirements (What's for dinner? I don't want___), abstract concepts (flavor, ingredients, etc), apply accepted design patterns (recipes), and end up with a tangible result (Chicken a-la-king). In a bind, you outsource (restaurant anyone?). If you team up with Alton Brown of Good Eats to develop it, you would get instant culinary cred, and it would be a smash hit!
 
 
Apr 30, 2010
You don't want a cook book. You want a Cooking Strategy Guide
 
 
Apr 30, 2010
Wjat you seem to be suggesting is a cookbook that appeals to geeks. Seriously, how many ways are they to cook Hot Pockets?
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 30, 2010
I love cooking. I also love Indian food, and cooking it, with all those sizzling spices. However, I ALWAYS get over-ambitious, and attempt to cook one or two main courses, plus a rice dish, Bombay Potatoes (do I need to start calling them Mumbai Potatoes now?), onion bahjees, and poppadoms all at once. Each of these is a complex multi-step procedure, usually involving frying up some spices for 1 minute, then adding a few more and frying for 2 minutes, add some meat and fry for 5, then add something else and simmer for 10...

Of course, being a geek, I put all the steps and timings into a spreadsheet, and attempt to optimise the procedure so that I only need to do one thing at a time, and the food will all be ready simultaneously. Preparing, chopping, and measuring every ingredient before I start helps too. Invariably, though, I still end up running around the kitchen like a blue-arsed fly, with cumin seeds exploding off a frying pan, a sauce that should be simmering boiling over, the oil I'm going to deep fry the bahjees in smoking badly, and the meal arrives 20 minutes late (so something, somewhere, has been cooked longer than the optimum time devised by the recipe).

I doubt anything, even the Dilbert CookWebSite, could make this process run smoothly. But it would help.

Meanwhile, I have an absurd level of respect for the chefs who can do this for a restaurant of 40 or 50 people - I struggle to cook for 4.
 
 
Apr 30, 2010
I'd use this.
not sure i'd pay for it, but i'd definitley use it

would also be cool if you have a timeline template app that allowed people to upload their recipies in the timeline format
 
 
 
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