Last week, Monster Kitchen premiered on the Food Network, featuring yours truly! In case you missed it, the show is now available to watch online!
[Note: you’ll have to click play twice, and ignore the annoying popup – sorry, the video is hosted elsewhere]
If you were lucky, your eighth grade science teacher demonstrated the surprising effect of plugging a pickle into a household power outlet. The pickle glows bright orange for a few seconds, then starts to smoke and smell like burning. The phenomenon is caused by the electricity exciting the sodium (salt) in the pickle, causing it to emit light.
I wondered what other foods I could get to glow, so I tested pickled asparagus, limes, grapefruit, apples, hot dogs, sauerkraut, bacon, ketchup and soy sauce. Keep reading to see the results.
The pickle worked like a charm, of course. Pickles are brined in a high-sodium solution until the salt is distributed throughout the interior of the pickle. When I turned the power on, the pickle flickered and hissed a very menacing hiss, giving off the same orange glow as the sodium lights that line most city streets.
I was hopeful for the acidic foods like pickled asparagus, lime and grapefruit. Although those foods don’t have very high sodium, for some reason I assumed that they’d still produce a similar reaction. I was wrong. The high voltage did heat up all of those foods in short order, but they barely produced a spark. Apples, however, neither got hot nor sparked at all. The next time I need to shield myself from a lightning strike, I’ll hide under a pile of Red Delicious.
I did get some sodium activity from hot dogs and sauerkraut, but it wasn’t quite as dramatic as the fireworks display from the pickle. The bacon also produced very few sparks, but interestingly, it began to cook after only a few seconds of power. The bacon fat sizzled and smoked and after a minute or two, the bacon started to take on a cooked appearance. Given that the ends near the wire connections were singed and black, I decided not to make taste testing a part of this experiment. However, if I found myself trapped in the basement with only an extension cord and a week’s supply of uncooked bacon, I’m confident that I could MacGyver my way through breakfast.
Given that the saltiest foods appeared to produce the best results, I reached for two of the highest-sodium condiments in my pantry: ketchup and soy sauce. The ketchup lit up instantly, bubbling and smoking while it zapped away. After a moment, I could smell the caramelization of the sugars in the ketchup –it was the same aroma you get from frying tomato paste. Next, I dipped the wires into a bowl of soy sauce and flipped the switch. If you had any doubt about how much sodium is in soy sauce, let the video above set the record straight. More than any other food I tested, the soy sauce produced a startling reaction.
So what was the point of electrocuting my food? We use electricity in all sorts of ways to indirectly heat our food: electric stovetops, ovens, crock pots, toasters… all of those devices heat up metal coils which radiate or conduct heat to the outer surface of food. Passing electrical current through food heats it internally, warming the food itself instead of warming a heating coil. This technique could potentially allow us to precisely control the internal temperature of food for sous vide-like cooking without the water bath or the time spent waiting for heat to travel from the outside of the food to the core. It also has the potential to create surprising new flavors, or caramelize foods in new ways. It’s also just really fucking cool to play with.
Note: This experiment is easy enough to recreate if you take a few safety precautions. If you don’t already know what those precautions are, though, I wouldn’t recommend that you give this a try – you’ll probably die in a very painful and embarrassing way.
Pea butter is one of the primary reasons I was compelled to put a laboratory centrifuge in my house. It is an iridescent, velvety substance produced in miniscule quantities by spinning peas at high G-forces. It’s also one of the most vivid flavors I’ve ever tasted, and I needed to make it at home.
The existence of pea butter was unearthed by the Modernist Cuisine team, using a centrifuge the size of a washing machine. My cooking compadre, Jethro, was the first kid on the block with a home-sized centrifuge (if you’re single, or have a basement) and did a great write-up on his pea butter experience back in February. Jethro whipped frozen peas into a powder, then centrifuged them for 5 hours. Contrary to his technique, I found that I was able to extract roughly the same yield of pea butter by blending thawed peas into a liquid and spinning it for 3 hours. I believe the reason is due to Brownian Motion (see the explanation on the eGullet Centrifuges thread).
I also decided to try the same technique with corn. Corn and peas are both wet and chewy, they both contain starch, and they’re both really sweet. After 3 hours of spinning at 1500Gs, I couldn’t detect a corn “butter”, per se, but I did get a thick, milky corn liquid that was extremely flavorful and rife for culinary applications.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be hunting for ways to use these centrifuged components. Check back for recipes that will spin you right-round.
I recently had the incredible opportunity to visit master bladesmith Bob Kramer’s knife making workshop in Olympia, WA. Bob’s culinary knives are the most coveted in the world, fetching thousands of dollars each. Although Bob’s lends his name to a production line of Shun knives sold by Sur La Table, this workshop is where he crafts his one-of-a-kind masterpieces that are sought after by chefs and steel fetishists everywhere.
Part of the allure of Bob’s knives is the elaborate Damascus pattern he achieves in the blade by pounding together layers of different types of steel. Much like making puff pastry, Bob flattens and folds the steel layers on themselves, pounding them with power hammers, until they are fractions of a millimeter thick, with up to 10,000 layers in the width of the blade.
In the video below, Bob gave us a demo of making a Damascus slab out of a length of steel cable. If you like surf-rock metalworking montages, you’re gonna love this. Many thanks to Bob Kramer for the tour, and for expert knife sharpener Bob Tate for making this kick-ass tour happen.
This turned out to be one of the more dangerous machines I’ve ever built. The goal was to make a cotton candy machine out of parts I had lying around. The finished product was an aggressive, 1/2 horsepower, 4000°F beast of a machine that lasted long enough to prove itself before dying of awesomeness.
If you want to build a cotton candy machine at home, all you need is:
- A tin can, like a tuna or dog food can
- A drill with a very small drill bit
- A motor (ex, your drill, an old CD player, a blender)
- A heat source, such as a propane torch, a lighter, or the coils from an old toaster
- A bucket to catch the cotton candy, or alternately a sheet of paper to wrap around the assembly
Follow the steps in the video to see just how easy this machine is to build. Oh, and don’t forget… safety first. My favorite part of this project was setting up a blast shield in front of the camera before we turned on the machine.
Special thanks to Victor (@sphing) for filming!
Deep frying your Thanksgiving turkey is popular for a reason – it happens to be the same reason that Lipitor is popular, but that’s beside the point. Unfortunately, every year, 10 million* Americans start house fires from attempting to fry their bird. And in addition to the arson hazard, deep frying a turkey requires a ton of oil, which, let’s face it, you’re not going to filter and reuse.
Luckily, the folks at Char-Broil have created The Big Easy Oil-Less Infrared Turkey Deep Fryer, and were kind enough to loan me a unit for testing. This cooker looks and works just like a conventional turkey fryer, except it uses no oil. Instead, a ring of gas burners heat up the inside of the cooking chamber, roasting your meat evenly and allowing the fat to drip down, with no risk of flame-ups.
Rather than test the machine with a turkey, though, I thought I’d try out a few other dishes. Check out my video review after the jump.
The nice folks at Polyscience were kind enough to loan me their new SousVide Professional heating immersion circulator. This is the first circulator that they have designed specifically for sous vide cooking, and it performs exquisitely.
After a few weeks of intense use, I found the temperature accuracy to be precise (eggs are a great test!) and the stability to be very reliable. The powerful circulating motor is a little noisy, as you can hear in the background of the video above, and I often wished it had a low-speed setting – instead, there is a valve you can adjust to regulate flow.
The video below displays the results of a heating and temperature stability test I ran. The machine is heating three gallons of water to 65.5C with no lid on the water bath. The video is sped up by 20x so you aren’t bored to tears (and because a watched pot never
boils becomes delightfully tepid).
It doesn’t matter how old you are – there’s still a little kid inside you who just loves roasting marshmallows over a campfire. However, if a campfire is a impractical for your next dinner party, try this simple trick: use your fondue set for tableside s’mores. [Caution: locate your nearest fire extinguisher before attempting, and don’t serve alongside that bottle of 90 proof Brandy.]
To make your s’mores a bit classier, try using premium chocolate (sorry Hershey’s, it’s not me, it’s you). I prefer Seattle-based Theo Chocolate’s Coconut Curry and Fig, Fennel & Almond, though there are hundreds of exotic flavors out there that will easily earn you your Open Flame Artisan Pastry Making merit badge.
If you love chocolate dipped foods, but aren’t quite ready to turn your fondue set inside out, Berries.com offers a variety of chocolate dipped fruits, cake pops and other sweets ready to ship right to your doorstep. And, for the real smores faithful, they even offer chocolate covered smores sandwiches!
If you haven’t noticed, flavored salts are becoming wildly popular. On a recent trip to Whole Foods, I spotted an aisle-end display with no fewer than a dozen varieties: some infused with spices, some mined or harvested from exotic locales, and some smoked. Smoked salts – salts that have taken on the flavor of a particular burnt wood – are an excellent way to add a deep, campfire flavor to dishes. I use them all the time in dry rubs, and as a substitute for the flavor you get from actually cooking over wood. In this video I’m using hickory chips, but another popular option is to flavor your salt with by smoking the wood from old wine barrels. Needless to say, you’ll save a ton of cash on specialty salts, which, of course, you’ll need to import all those ancient wine barrels from Bordeaux!
If you couldn’t tell, I’ve been slightly obsessed with molecular gastronomy (“modernist cuisine” if you’ve read the Nathan Myhrvold interview). Unfortunately, I’m a long way off from having centrifuges, rotary evaporators and tanks of liquid nitrogen lying around my
lab kitchen. Luckily, some of the geekiest cooking techniques work very well with home kitchen substitutes, and dry ice sorbet is the perfect example. Eric Rivera first introduced me to this technique during one of our periodic food experimentation meetings. Depending on the sugar content of the sorbet base and the type of mixer attachment, you can produce anything from fluffy, soft, taffy-like sorbets like this one to desserts with the consistency of Dippin-Dots. Last night I added lime zest, lime juice and a shot of tequila to the sorbet base, then topped the result with lime salt for the coldest, sweetest smoothest margarita sorbet you’ve ever tasted!
Note: Whenever you’re working with dry ice, WEAR THICK GLOVES. Having sensation in your appendages is a good thing.
Note Two: In the video, I say to bring the sorbet base to a boil. Further testing has shown that’s really not necessary. A simmer is usually sufficient for the sugar and water to be completely combined.
In case you missed the AllRecipes.com live day-before-Thanksgiving webcast, here’s the clip of me making Broiled Honey Glazed Spiced Figs. This was my first time cooking live on camera, but the folks at AllRecipes were fun and wonderful. Jump to about 11 minutes in to see the nervous look on Amy’s face when I pull out my kitchen torch.
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s time to start planning the fate of your leftovers. Personally, I love a great turkey sandwich after a busy morning of shopping (online, of course) for Black Friday deals. But what’s a turkey sandwich without mayo? In this recipe, we use a very olive-y oil to give our mayo a wonderful, rich flavor – something our day-old turkey would appreciate.
Makes: about 2.5 cups
Total kitchen time: 10 minutes
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tbsp. of water
- 2 tbsp. of fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tsp. of plain white vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- 2/3 of a cup of extra virgin olive oil
- Combine all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor or blender. Pulse a few times until combined.
- Using the “drizzle holes” on the top of your food processor, or by pouring slowly into your blender, incorporate the olive oil while mixing on low speed. Depending on the size of your egg yolks, you may not need to use all of the olive oil. If the mayo is too thin, add more oil. If it is too thick, add a little water.
That’s it! Now you’ve got a delicious spread for your Thanksgiving leftovers, or a dip for your crudités!
Making your own butter is simple and rewarding – nothing tastes quite as good as homemade. Just put heavy cream in your blender or food processor for about 10 minutes, or until the butterfat separates from the buttermilk (mine took a little less than 10 minutes). Once you’re there, you’ve got fresh unsalted butter. But why on earth would you stop now? Jazz it up with thyme, sage, honey, cayenne pepper, or, as the video shows, add some chopped porcini mushrooms and black truffle salt.
Oh, and whenever you’re working with small appliances, be sure to wear your geek glasses for protection