The Digital Kitchen: High-tech appliances and online recipes are reshaping the way we cook

You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again: The Internet has changed our lives. And now it’s bringing this digital revolution to your kitchen. You may soon be able to call your oven from the office and instruct it to get started on dinner. Instead of being limited to recipes in cookbooks and those accumulated from family and friends, you can now jump online and search an innumerable quantity of recipes and handy cooking techniques.

If you think this sounds terrific but are a bit overwhelmed with the details, read on. Whether you’re looking to convert your recipe collection to digital format in a searchable database on your computer or are just interested in how the Internet can help expand your resources, we have the information you need.

The digital revolution

Remember when having a microwave was a treat? Nowadays they are commonplace, but not so long ago microwaves revolutionized the way we cook. The Internet and the infiltration of digital technology into everything we do have placed us on the brink of an even bigger revolution. In a special supplement to CE Vision Magazine published in 2004, the Consumer Electronics Association cited “hybrid white goods” as one of five technologies to watch in 2005. Hybrid white goods in this case means traditionally white kitchen appliances that are converging with other technologies in some brilliant new ways.

What exactly do these hybrid white goods have in store for us? Imagine this: You are at the grocery store and can’t remember if you need more eggs. So you use your Internet-enabled cell phone to call your Internet-enabled refrigerator and ask it to check for you. How is this possible? The refrigerator is able to “read” items inside it by scanning a product’s RFID, or radio frequency identification chip, which is expected to replace the bar code on most consumer products in the next decade or so. And because both your refrigerator and cell phone are connected to the Internet, they are able to communicate.

If this sounds too far-fetched to be true, think again. LG Electronics ( is leading the way with its line of high-tech appliances. Take, for example, the TV refrigerator, $2,999 to $3,149, which features a 13.1-inch cable-ready LCD – liquid crystal display – on which you can watch television and listen to music. It even comes with a remote control. But the possibilities don’t have to stop at the refrigerator.

In LG’s vision of a networked home, the refrigerator will serve as the central hub that connects all the home’s appliances, which will eventually be connected to the Internet. This includes ovens that can be temperature-controlled to store food all day and then begin cooking on your command via cell phone. Your counters could even chip in by “reading” the RFID chips of items you set on them and then verbally suggesting a few recipes that will match the ingredients you’ve chosen.

Reality check

Although it’s true that the technology exists to make these products a reality, we’re still a ways off from calling the fridge to check on things back home. Megan Bittle of RSI Kitchen & Bath in Rock Hill said her store doesn’t carry LG Electronics appliances but that she has seen the company’s offerings at trade shows. In her opinion, the Internet-enabled appliances are still not ready for mass consumer acceptance. They’re just too expensive right now and are considered more of a luxury than a necessity.

Tim Kavanaugh, director of merchandising at LG Electronics, said he thinks price was one of the biggest reasons the company pulled its Internet refrigerator from the U.S. market for now. It was being offered for $8,999. “At that price point, you’re not selling a lot,” Cavanaugh said. The company was finding that a lot of people who had the Internet refrigerator used the fridge’s TV function as much as the Internet function, so it focused its attention on the TV refrigerator, which has a little more appeal for the mass market.

Price points are sure to drop eventually, but it’s still very early in the game. “[These products] are just really cracking the market right now,” said Jerry Kopman of Kitchens & Baths by Kopman. According to Kavanaugh, as the cost of components comes down, making the retail price for these products more reasonable, and as people generally begin to accept these new technologies more, products like the Internet refrigerator will be reintroduced and are more likely to succeed. But this isn’t expected to happen until 2007 or later.

Of course, there are appliances that offer other useful technological advances. The DishDrawer from Fisher & Paykel is a dishwasher that is made up of two drawer-like compartments that function independently of each other. Because the DishDrawer runs on a computer system, it is capable of more effectively managing the length of wash cycles based on when the dishes are clean and not just an arbitrary cycle time. And Dacor has just announced its new line of Millennia wall ovens that can calculate the time, temperature and cooking mode for many foods and can store almost 100 recipe settings.

Recipe roundup

Smart appliances that make life’s everyday tasks easier are terrific, but they’re really only half of the equation when it comes to what we can accomplish in the kitchen. Digital technology has also made it easier to work with recipes. Whereas some smart appliances may not be quite ready to go mainstream yet, converting the hard copies of your recipes to digital format or surfing the Internet for new dinner ideas is something you can easily do now.

There are many reasons why people are looking online for help in the recipe department. One of the biggest ones is organization. One local mother of two told us that being organized is very important to her. The Internet and its related technology have helped her organize her recipe collection, simplifying her cooking processes and helping her get a meal on the table for her family almost every night.

Others are looking to the computer to help figure such things as portion control. Holly Hickman of St. Charles has been a chef for seven years and decided just recently to take the plunge and convert her hard-copy recipes to digital format on her brand-new laptop. She routinely cooks for large groups in her position at First United Methodist Church, and she wanted a tool to help her do the math when she needs to greatly increase or decrease recipes’ number of servings.

Hickman also commented on how much easier it is to share recipes when they’re in digital format on a computer. “People always ask me for recipes, and it’s much easier to just push a button than write for 10 minutes on a recipe card,” she said. And when she’s in the kitchen, instead of printing out copies of a recipe for her helpers, she can just take in her laptop and have people work from the recipes there.

Ease and simplicity are probably the most common reasons people are making the switch. Not only does e-mail make it easy to share recipes with others, but the Internet also makes it a breeze to find new recipes and cooking information. Sites such as Epicurious ( are very popular for their vast searchable recipe collections, cooking techniques and tips and even such features as My Recipe Box for site members. Hickman is also a fan of All Recipes (, which she uses for basic recipes that are easy on the pocketbook. This is important to her as a chef for a nonprofit organization.

Another tool you might find useful as you begin your digital recipe collection is recipe software. There are many products that help you store, search and manage your recipes, such as The Living Cookbook from Radium Technologies. You can download a trial version of the software and use it 25 times before you have to either discontinue using it or pay the $30 registration fee. The software comes with 900 recipes to help you get started and offers useful features such as a nutrition calculator, meal planning and shopping lists, help with backing up the recipe database and a cooking reference library. For the same price, Betty Crocker offers a similar product called Cook’n with Betty Crocker. You’ll get over 1,000 Betty Crocker recipes on CD along with menu planning, shopping lists, search capabilities and easy sharing and organization tools. There are many similar product options out there. Look around until you find one that suits you.

Add your own old favorites

Once you establish a system for storing and searching digital recipes, you can begin adding new recipes and converting your hard-copy recipes. There are several ways to do this. The most obvious is to simply type a recipe into your recipe software using a formatted screen that will allow you to search for the recipe later by recipe title or ingredients. Most recipe software also makes it easy to copy recipes directly from the Internet by cutting and then pasting the contents of the recipe in a clipboard where you can format the new recipe and place it in a file so that it looks like all the other recipes in the database.

Another option is to scan in the hard copies of the recipes you want to convert. The catch here is that this is only possible with typewritten hard copies; most scanners can’t convert handwritten recipes over to digital format. If you’re looking for a way to preserve those cherished hand-written recipes, you can do so by typing in the recipe by hand and then scanning an image of the handwritten recipe. Once the image of the recipe is on your computer, you can use your recipe software to attach the image to the recipe you typed in. Then when you pull up the recipe later, it will appear with the image of the handwritten version, saving it for sentimental value.

Once you’ve entered your recipes, you can group them into “cookbooks” by category or type of event. This is helpful if you want to cull recipe ideas for an upcoming party, for example. In most recipe software, each recipe view gives a picture of the finished product, ingredient list and comments. You can even click on each ingredient to learn nutritional facts.

Cookbook conundrum

One of the most common difficulties people run into when converting their hard-copy recipes is figuring out what to do with all their cookbooks. There has to be a better way to sift through the information in those cookbooks than just flipping through the pages or looking at the index. It’s tough to remember in which book and on what page you found that terrific salmon salad.

Scanning is still always an option, but this might be more work than it’s worth. It’s one thing to scan in reasonable number of typewritten recipe cards and another thing to scan all your favorite recipes from that tall stack of cookbooks you’ve accumulated. A better option might be to contact the cookbook publishers to see if they can help. Many publishers offer CD versions of cookbook collections.

Another idea is to use your computer or digital recipe software to help flag and locate cookbook recipes. By entering the cookbook name and page number for a favorite dish, you can easily retrieve this information later on. That way you’re still using the cookbooks but eliminating the time it takes to search for specific recipes.

Something old, something new

With so many new recipes at our fingertips and the promise of smart appliances on the horizon, digital technology is changing not only the way we cook but also the way we eat. We no longer have to rely on the recipes we have on hand or those we can collect from family and friends. We are more apt to try new things because finding new options has never been easier. But every beginning signals an ending, and some might wonder how all this technology will affect the legacy of food traditions. What about the story behind each recipe? Will we eventually all be using homogenized versions of recipes anyone can access with the click of a button?

Although it’s certainly possible that heirloom handwritten recipes will become rarer, it’s unlikely that the tradition of passing recipes from generation to generation will be lost altogether. We are just now really seeing this technology work its way into our everyday lives; it will probably be awhile before we see a dramatic shift in the way the majority of people use recipes. Hickman said she was born 20 years too early to really want to put everything on the PC. And some recipes just seem too special to store in any other manner than their original form.

Technology usually helps make everyday tasks easier, but it can sometimes take a while to adapt to new ways of doing things. And everyone will have a different way of approaching the digital revolution in our kitchens. Maybe your digital kitchen solution will be a mix of old and new technology. Maybe you will keep your hard-copy recipe collection as is but still use the wonderful resources online. Many recipe sites even make it easy to print out a recipe on an index card that you can easily tuck into your recipe box. It’s really up to you. You can utilize the new technology as little or as much as you wish.

Whether you’re ready to fully embrace these new trends or prefer to test the waters one toe at a time, one thing is certain: The digital revolution has made its way into the kitchen. Cooking will never be quite the same again.