Thoughts about food and technology
Thu, 22 Dec 2016 03:41:31 +0000
The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra
Fri, 31 Aug 2007 04:00:20 +0000
Your mother probably told you not to play with your food. But did she tell you not to play your food? As Morgen described on , the members of the
do just that. The morning of each performance, they go shopping at a local produce market and pick out the specimens they think will make the best sounds. Then they set to work creating the instruments for that night’s show—mostly percussion instruments, but also flutes made of carrots, horns made from bell peppers, and all sorts of other weird concoctions. And these guys can really get a groove on (as the video demonstrates). After the show, they serve vegetable soup to the audience—though not, thankfully, made from the actual instruments that were just played! Way cool.
Wallet Fish & Chip Tool
Wed, 29 Aug 2007 04:00:41 +0000
I have a friend who always carries a spoon with her. In fact, just to make sure it doesn’t get lost or forgotten, she drilled a hole in the end and keeps it attached to her belt loop with a carabiner. When I asked her about it, she told me there are just too many situations in which one might want to have a spoon, and it never hurts to be prepared. (Plastic spoons, apparently, just don’t do the trick.) I respect that—although I don’t carry a spoon around myself, you’ll seldom see me without my Swiss army knife and my purple pen.
In that vein, I present the Wallet Fish & Chip Tool. If fish & chips is your thing, and if you can’t bear the thought of eating them with your fingers or with plastic cutlery, you might want to pack one of these babies. You get a stainless steel card the size of a credit card with the knife and fork (mostly) punched out; just pop the tabs and away you go. It’s available from such purveyors as , , and ; you can even buy them in bulk, personalized with your company’s logo. Cost is less than £8 each.
This tool is just one of a series of gadgets, all stamped from a single small sheet of stainless steel: toothpicks, bottle opener, comb, ice scraper, cufflinks, mirror, and so on. You can even get a set of lock picks, though how that’s legal for non-locksmiths, I’m not sure.
Although this design appeals to my geeky sensibilities, I do start to wonder about a few things. First, once you’ve broken the tabs to remove the Fish & Chip Tools from the card, I’m not sure how you’re supposed to store them. (Surely they’re not intended for a single use, are they?) Second, I presume you’ll want to be careful to remove these from your wallet before getting on an airplane; I know I wouldn’t want to have to explain this to a security screener. And although any one wallet tool wouldn’t be too heavy, I’d hate to carry a wallet with half a dozen stainless steel cards—however useful they may be, a massively bulging wallet sort of defeats the purpose.
Gaggenau BL 253 Lift Oven
Tue, 14 Aug 2007 11:34:56 +0000
I’ll say this about Gaggenau’s new
design: it looks cool. At the touch of a button, the bottom of the oven descends to enable you to add or remove items—a clever solution to the problem I’ve frequently encountered of the oven door getting in the way, particularly in cramped kitchens. This design could plausibly prevent some charred forearms, and in that sense I think it’s marvelous. Plus, you know, many bonus points for the geek factor.
Since this oven isn’t actually shipping yet and I haven’t seen one in person, I can’t say how great the real-life experience of using it will be. But a couple of things give me pause.
First, there’s this statement: “Since heat rises, the heat remains in the oven cavity, resulting in minimal energy loss during the lift operation.” I’m not sure I find that entirely convincing—but I suppose it depends where the heat is coming from. This oven has 11 heating methods, presumably some of which involve the heat coming from below. In those cases, I have a hard time seeing how this oven would lose less heat when the bottom is completely extended than a conventional oven with the door open. Notwithstanding the fact that heat rises, that hot air has to be contained somehow, and three walls would seem to do a better job of that than one. Still, when the heat is coming from above or from the sides, I can imagine this design would work quite well.
Second, the picture shows rolls being placed directly on the floured bottom surface of the oven—not on a baking sheet or rack of any kind. OK, great that you don’t have to clean one more thing, but…won’t that surface get, you know, hot? Won’t that be sort of hard to work with, particularly when you’re doing multiple batches of baking? Of course, you don’t have to bake directly on that bottom (ceramic) surface. Grill shelves, baking trays, and grill trays are available as accessories. You can attach these optional shelves at various heights (on those two round metal supports in the back), and up to two of them can fit at once (so you can bake on two separate racks at once, or grill something on an upper wire grill shelf while using a lower tray to catch drippings). But still…I have to wonder if this will be as convenient to use as all the technology suggests.
The Pasta Pot
Thu, 09 Aug 2007 13:00:36 +0000
Contrary to what every cookbook instructs, I’ve frequently cooked pasta in the following unorthodox manner: put the dry pasta and just enough water in the pot, turn on the heat, and turn it off when the liquid is all absorbed. In other words, somewhat like the way you cook rice (though uncovered). No draining, no getting a colander dirty. Add the rest of your ingredients (think: cheese) in the same pot, cook a while longer, and your meal is done.
I didn’t invent this technique as a way of advancing the culinary arts. I started doing it partly just to see what would happen, but mostly because I was lazy. And, for my applications, it worked just fine, with the proviso that one must stir the pasta frequently and watch that evaporation carefully—if you don’t turn off the heat just before the last of the water is gone, the pasta sticks to the pot, which is not what you want. But the bottom line is that I felt I was saving myself a bit of effort and, as far as I could tell, the end result tasted every bit as good as pasta cooked the conventional way. Maybe even better. Yes, I know that a certain amount of starch that would otherwise have gone down the drain went back into the pasta, but I haven’t been able to detect any negative impact from that starch on the pasta’s taste.
Well, it seems that great minds think alike. No less a chef than Alain Ducasse (yes, French, of course) has developed a “new” and revolutionary way of cooking pasta, which is essentially just to do everything in a single pot without any draining. He calls this technique . And, OK, I’m oversimplifying a bit. Using Ducasse’s method, you’d typically start by briefly sweating some aromatics or greens in the pot, then adding your dry pasta and sautéeing for a few minutes, and finally pouring in some stock or other flavorful liquid and cooking, uncovered, until the liquid is gone.
I have no quarrel at all with the method, of course, since it validates what I was already doing all along. But what I do have trouble with is a new piece of Alessi cookware designed expressly for Ducasse: the (eponymous) . It’s this, you know, stainless steel container that sits on your stove and holds ingredients while they cook. It has a removable cover, and a melamine trivet on which you can place it when it’s not on your stove. The only thing that makes the design unique is that its handle doubles as a spoon rest (spoon included). And for this, the retail price is $238. Naturally, they’re currently sold out, but you can be put on a waiting list.
If you have money to burn and style is the most important consideration, hey, knock yourself out. I’m sure it’s as good an all-around pot as you’ll find anywhere else. But you can employ the Pasta Pot method just as well with any $30 pot, too. With the money you save, you can buy yourself an appetizer at one of Ducasse’s restaurants.
To read what another Big Name in Cooking had to say about pasta, see .
Wed, 08 Aug 2007 13:00:47 +0000
on Truffles for Breakfast, I recently paid a visit to , the only store in Paris devoted exclusively to
and its various accouterments. When the owner asked if we’d like to sample some absinthes, we eagerly agreed. He poured a bit in a glass, put a slotted spoon on top, placed a sugar cube on the spoon, and then positioned the glass carefully under one of the spigots of a device like this one.
Although such gadgets are generally called “absinthe fountains,” that term is a bit misleading. In fact, you fill them with ice water and use them to dilute your absinthe. Turning on the spigot, or robinette (various models have anywhere from one to four), allows the water to flow, but only one drop at a time. Yes, this is a type of fountain designed expressly to drip! The idea is that the water must fall slowly enough to dissolve the entire sugar cube by the time your drink has reached the desired level—typically a 4:1 or 5:1 ratio of water to absinthe.
Vert d’Absinthe sells the fountains here in Paris; you can also buy them online from such sources as
and , as well as (naturally) eBay. They’re pricey, and of course you’ll pay more if you’re getting an antique model from the early 1900s than for a modern reproduction. But they automate what is otherwise the rather tedious job of drizzling out ice water from a pitcher at a slow and steady rate for several minutes per glass.
Garlic Genius: Merely Clever
Wed, 11 Apr 2007 12:00:18 +0000
We use a lot of garlic in this family, and while mincing (the old-fashioned way, with a knife) is my preference, Morgen likes the convenience of a garlic press. But she doesn’t like cleaning the garlic press, and the fact that it tends to leave a good bit of the clove behind means you miss out on some of that great flavor. Several months ago, we got a Williams-Sonoma catalog in the mail, and as usual I pored over it carefully, making a mental list of all the latest kitchen gadgets I absolutely need. One item immediately popped out as a great birthday present for my wife: the , a $40 device that supposedly creates perfectly minced garlic with just a few twists. No mess, no tedious chopping. And, of course, it would be a nicely self-serving gift, because I’d get just as much use out of it as she would.
Alas, on the day I went to order, Williams-Sonoma was out of stock (and it was an Internet-only product, so I couldn’t just go to the local retail store). Luckily, I found . Morgen loved the present, and we were excited to try it out.
Let me cut to the chase: From an engineering standpoint, the Garlic Genius is extremely clever. It does indeed cut garlic into nearly perfect cubes, about 3 mm on a side, as you twist the top of the cylinder. But from a usability standpoint, it’s not so hot. For one thing, the twisting action takes a considerable amount of force, and it gets harder to turn the farther you go. It also takes a lot of turns to get through just a couple of garlic cloves, because the device’s screw threads are narrowly spaced. And, since you’re not only applying effort to turn the top but pressure to keep your grip on it, your hand is likely to get pretty sore. (Another , but with a different casing, at least has knobs on the top to help you keep your grip.) A better design would have been one that, like a can opener, makes good use of hand geometry to provide leverage.
Then there’s cleaning. If you thought a garlic press was a pain to clean, that’s nothing. This device comes apart (not that easily) into quite a few pieces, each with its own nooks and crannies. Cleaning all the little garlic bits out of all these parts, and then reassembling the unit, is not pleasant.
Is it, on the whole, less hassle than just using a knife? Maybe, depending on your knife skills and how highly you value uniformity of size in your minced garlic. But on the whole it was a bit of a disappointment. It’s not really a garlic genius—it’s merely clever.
Brushed Stainless-Steel Cream Whipper
Wed, 22 Nov 2006 14:00:56 +0000
When it comes to whipped cream—one of my all-time favorite edible substances—I’ve always been a purist. Freshly whipped cream (sweetened with a bit of sugar, and with maybe just a hint of vanilla) tastes best to me, and I’ve never considered the process of sticking a mixer into a bowl of cold cream to be complicated or onerous. However, I admit that around the holidays, I do keep a can of spray-on whipped cream on hand, just as a backup. I further admit that spraying whipped cream onto your pie, pancakes, or whatever, is kind of fun. It’s just that I don’t dig all the additives put into those cans, and wonder just how many months ago the dairy component may have come out of a cow.
Now, for a mere $90 (plus an extra $11 for a package of nitrous oxide cartridges)—ingredients not included—I can have my cake and eat it too, nicely smothered in freshly whipped cream that didn’t require me to turn on a mixer or dirty a bowl. There are plenty of these gadgets on the market, but the Williams-Sonoma
must be among the classiest (and most expensive). Oh yes, I want one.
New Thermapen Models
Mon, 20 Nov 2006 14:00:20 +0000
Over the years,
has repeatedly heaped praise upon the Thermapen, a digital thermometer known for its speed, accuracy, generous probe length, and convenient folding design. Recent episodes of Good Eats have shown
using the same thermometer, so clearly it is a device to be reckoned with. Every serious cook should have an instant-read thermometer, especially at Thanksgiving, when the internal temperature of a roasting turkey is the only reliable way to know when it’s done. Those in the know consider Thermapen to be the crème de la crème of such devices.
For the last several months, ever since the company introduced their , I’ve been seriously itching to own one of these babies, but have been put off by the $85 price tag—as good as they surely are, I know I can buy half a dozen average thermometers for the same price. Now, however, an even newer design just might put me over the edge. The
feature the same overall shape and features of earlier models, but now offer a wide array of plug-in probes. The super-thin needle probes promise to measure the internal temperature of your roast or steak in as little as a second. You can choose a thicker probe for tougher meats, a plastic “airline-safe” probe (which sort of blows my mind), or specialized probes for measuring the temperatures of liquids, gases, flat surfaces, and more.
Although the wide variety of probes suggests this could be the last digital thermometer you’ll ever need, there are still choices to be made. First, you must choose between the model 3 (which has a resolution of 1°) and the model 7 (with a 0.1° resolution). Then you have to choose whether you want a version that displays in Fahrenheit or Celsius—annoyingly, for those of us who must use both systems, these thermometers lack the usual control for switching between scales. And finally, you must select one or more probes. The thermometers themselves are $79 (model 3) or $98 (model 7); probes range from $24 to $52. So you’re looking at a serious investment. Plus, you know that the week after you buy one, they’ll come out with a color you like better (today, models 3 and 7 come only in white, whereas other models come in a wide range of colors). All in all, I wonder if the Thermapen isn’t becoming the iPod of kitchen gear. No matter how great any model appears to be, you’ll always have to keep upgrading to stay in style.
Three-Tiered Oven Rack
Fri, 17 Nov 2006 14:00:23 +0000
When cooking for a crowd—especially if the meal involves lots of different baked dishes, as it typically does at Thanksgiving—those of use with just one oven often run into a problem. There’s just not enough space in there for a turkey, an extra casserole of stuffing, some candied sweet potatoes, and perhaps that pie you should have baked yesterday. And yet, we sure do want everything to be done at the same time! I liked this solution from Williams-Sonoma very much: a . It’s designed to take up just half the width of an average oven but add three racks, each of which comfortably fits a large casserole or baking dish. Just $22, but because it’s available only through their catalog and over the Internet, order today if you want it to arrive by Thanksgiving!
The Food Loop Lace
Thu, 16 Nov 2006 14:00:03 +0000
Back in September I wrote about the , a handy silicone thingy you can use to tie your turkey drumsticks together before roasting (among many other uses). But I noted that you’d still have to close up the cavity that holds the stuffing somehow—a rather tedious job that usually involves a lacing kit.
Turns out the good folks who make the Food Loop were already working on that problem. Their latest offering is the Food Loop Lace, a strand of tough, heat-resistant silicone that features a large metal needle on one end. Use this to sew up your turkey and you can dispense with string and pins altogether. It’s also washable and reusable.
carries them for $10, but their Web site shows them out of stock until December 19—much too late for Thanksgiving and even iffy for Christmas. However, they’re in stock at , though you’ll have to pay $17.