I sing the praises of the magic lunchbox!

A few weeks ago, Amazon notified me that an item on my wishlist was on sale—the Hotlogic Mini Personal Portable Oven. I had wishlisted it some time before after seeing it mentioned on some technology blog or other. It sounded interesting enough to me that I thought it might be worth a try, but had never gotten around to it, because it was a little pricey to buy on a whim.

But then Amazon had it on sale for about half price, which put it well within the realm of affordability. So I followed my whim and ordered it, even though I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d do with it. But to my surprise, it’s turned out to be one of the most useful tools I’ve gotten in the last year or so.

There’s nothing fancy about the Hotlogic Mini. It’s basically a plug-in hot-plate inside the same sort of foil-lined hotbox that pizza delivery people use to keep their pies warm on the way to the customer. But such a simple device can prove amazingly useful.

The Hotlogic is a temperature-regulated slow-cooker, like a waterless sous-vide. It’s capable of warming up to about 218 degrees, cooking food to at least a sanitary 165 degrees all the way through. It can be used for cooking raw food to perfection, or perfectly heating frozen dinners without the weird effects of microwave radiation. It’s portable, and most importantly, it’s convenient.

My main use for mine is having hot lunches at work. I bring it with a frozen dinner inside and plug it in at my cubicle when I arrive at work, and by lunchtime my dinner is piping hot. I’ve taken to calling it my magic lunchbox, because it produces a warm, tasty, and economical meal just like magic—with no need even to leave my cubicle to eat. This is particularly nice because at the moment the kitchenette for my work floor is under construction, so I’d have to go up or down a level to nuke something. And the other alternative would be to venture out to a restaurant, where I’d have to spend a lot more than I would on a $3 or $4 frozen dinner—and our temperatures were very much below freezing for the last little while, so that’s an unattractive alternative for a number of reasons.

Last week, I brought extra frozen dinners to work and stuck them in the break room freezer, then swapped a new one into the oven when I ate lunch. The last couple hours of my shift are usually pretty quiet, so I had ample free time to eat supper at my cubicle as well before I went home, so I didn’t have to worry about what to cook when I got there.

And, really, it’s great. No matter what the dinner, a few hours and it’s perfectly done, and will stay warm until I’m ready to eat it. I’ve even cooked a whole Trader Joe’s family-size lasagna in it. It’s particularly good for lasagna, pizza mac and cheese, and frozen dinners in general. It’s not as good for things that need high heat to make a crust, like pizza rolls, or for bread (leave a slice in in too long and half of it is soggy while the other half is melba toast). But for stuff where you just need to make it warm, it’s amazing.

I haven’t had as much of a chance to try it out on raw food, though I did cook a bacon-wrapped steak fillet the first day I got it. But maybe one of these weekends I’ll snag some chicken breasts and try out some of the recipes that came with it.

And it’s also useful for keeping things warm. When I ordered a bunch of food from Long John Silver, I put in the deep-fried twinkies I had ordered for dessert while I ate the rest of dinner, and an hour later they were still as perfectly toasty warm and fresh as when I’d carried them out of the restaurant.

If you could use an easy way to have frozen dinners warmed up and waiting for you at the time of your choosing, the Hotlogic is definitely the way to go. There’s even a larger family size available, if you have the need for cooking bigger meals. I couldn’t believe how much more useful this thing turned out than I was expecting it to be.