make composite

My $75 DIY Sous Vide build make was just published in Volume 25 of Make Magazine, the premier publication for hackers, modders and DIYers and food geeks the world over.  I re-wrote the instructions for the build, adding detailed photos and tips for construction.  The folks at Make did a phenomenal job laying out and illustrating the article!

View a preview of the magazine article online

View the project page on Make

View the original $75 DIY Sous Vide article

Bonus! The nice folks at Boing Boing linked to the project on Make.

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calculating the speed of light with cheese in a microwave

If you’ve been playing along at home, you know that I’m a teeny-tiny bit obsessed with the soon-to-be-released, 2400-page Modernist Cuisine book.  Well, my excitement skyrocketed last week when I had the rare privilege to peek at a few hundred [digital] pages of the book, guided by author, CEO and hero of geeks everywhere, Dr. Nathan Myhrvold.  I was honored by the invitation, which I can only assume was prompted by a prank phone call from the Make A Wish Foundation on my behalf.

Among the seemingly endless pages of stunning photographs, captivating history and practical instruction, the book is sprinkled with fascinating tidbits like this one.  Did you know that you can measure the speed of light using your microwave and a few slices of Kraft Singles?

From the section “Cooking in Modern Ovens”:

You can measure the speed of light by melting cheese, chocolate or even marshmallows in your microwave.  Microwave cooking leaves patterns of melting on soft, smooth surfaces that correspond to roughly half the wavelength of a microwave.  These patterns are caused by the way the microwaves crisscross in the oven chamber and either combine their energies or cancel one another out.

Here’s how to replicate the experiment at home.

  1. Cover a flat plate, platter or cardboard disc with soft cheese slices.
  2. Place the plate in the microwave.  If your microwave has a turntable, disable it, or remove the turntable platter and place the plate on an inverted ramekin to bypass the turntable motor.
  3. Heat on low power until it has melted in several spots.
  4. Measure the distance, in millimeters, between the centers of any two melt spots.  Double that number to get the wavelength. 
  5. Multiply the wavelength by the frequency, in MHz, of your microwave (listed on the back).  For example, if your microwave is 2.45GHz (typical), you’d multiply by 2,450,000.  [We multiply by MHz instead of GHz to fudge in a factor of 1000, which is the conversion from millimeters to meters.]
  6. Compare your value to the generally accepted value of 299,792,458 meters per second

The value I calculated was 306,019,200, which is is only off from the actual value by 2%.  Not bad for fake cheese! 

Between now and the release of the book in March, I’ll be highlighting a few more geeky food tricks from the book.  In the meantime, you can find more information at http://modernistcuisine.com/.  If you’re ready to pull the trigger, the book is available for pre-order on Amazon.com.

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pacojet-style frozen dessert
If you’ve ever been in an upscale restaurant and ordered a sorbet or ice cream with a consistency that seemed to defy the laws of physics, it was probably made in a Pacojet.  This $4000 machine is a staple in many restaurant and hotel kitchens for its ability to produce exceptionally smooth and creamy desserts and savory dishes.  However, if I’m going to drop four grand on a kitchen machine, it damned well better take voice commands and wear a skimpy outfit.

My method uses dry ice for instant freezing and Xanthan Gum, a popular soy-based gluten substitute, as a thickener for a more velvety texture.  In addition, I’ve added a small amount of Versawhip, which creates a subtle but stable foam, giving the finished product the unexpected lightness usually associated with mousses.  You can substitute the sorbet base of your choice, following the same basic steps.

Makes: about 6 cups
Total kitchen time: 10 minutes

Shopping list:

  • 20 oz. canned pineapple (crushed, slices, or chunks), including juice
  • 6 oz. fresh raspberries
  • 1 oz. (a small shot) St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur (optional)
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. Xanthan gum (also available in the baking aisle at better grocery stores. Look for the Bob’s Red Mill label)
  • 1/2 tsp. Versawhip
  • 1 lb. dry ice, crushed into 1/2” or smaller chunks
  1. Combine the pineapple (including juice), raspberries, St. Germain and sugar in the bowl of a large food processor.  Process for one minute or until smooth.
  2. Add the Xanthan gum and Versawhip and process until combined.
  3. With the food processor running, add the dry ice and continue processing another 1-2 minutes, or until the sound of the dry ice cracking has stopped.
  4. Remove from the food processor and serve, or store in the freezer.  Can be made 2 days in advance.

It is true that the Pacojet doesn’t require any added thickeners to achieve its magic consistency.  However, it does require you to freeze your sorbet mix at –20C for 24 hours before churning.  I’d love to do a blind taste test comparison between this method and the Pacojet. As soon as I trip over a pile of cash, I’ll let you know how the test turns out.

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