Alton Brown demonstrates a smart (and cheap!) solution for storing in place those finicky condiment bottles in your refrigerator door. Not all of them have flat tops that let you easily rest them upside down. Of course, we'd want to 3D-print a long-term solution.
For this week's Show and Tell, Will reviews the Sansaire immersion circulator, a kitchen gadget used for sous video cooking. After testing the Sansaire for several months, here's why we think it's a great way to get started with sous vide.
As I drank my second cup of coffee of the day, I enjoyed this video from Reactions shows the many mechanisms by which caffeine enhances our brain activity (and lives). (via Laughing Squid.
If you cook a lot (and you should), you’re probably always looking for ways to make your kitchen more efficient. We can help. Here are ten outside-the-box tricks that will help you save time and money in your culinary pursuits from the comfort of home.
The industrial food process has made eating a little more complicated than it used to be. All kinds of unusual products are used to thicken, flavor and preserve some of our favorite edibles. Today, we’ll spotlight ten ingredients that you might not know you’re eating.
Will and Norm open two mystery mailbags from readers, and the contents are more awesome than they could've imagined. Nope, it's not a puppy. It'll never be a puppy. But definitely a special edition of the Tested mailbag!
Priceonomics has a great long feature about the invention of the AeroPress, our current favorite low-cost single-cup coffee maker. If you've ever bought an AeroPress from its manufacturer, Aerobie, you may have noticed that it's the company's single coffee product among a dozen other "high performance sports toys." That's because Stanford professor Alan Adler, the inventor of the AeroPress, started the company in the 1980s making the famous Aerobie flying disc (which was actually inspired by the Chakram!). Priceonomics' story walks us through Adler's revelation of using air pressure to reduce brew time for a single cup of coffee, and how the AeroPress actually struggled to find fans after its initial release. Today, it's so popular that there are international AeroPress competitions. (And if you liked this story, don't forget to read about the invention of the Chemex as well!)
Earlier this week, we showed you what grinding coffee looked like under the Edgertronic high-speed camera. Though mesmerizing, some of you weren't impressed. So here's a step up: grinding colorful peanut M&Ms under the same camera at different frame rates!
Men and beer have gone together for ages. Beer is crafted by men in factories owned by men, sold to men, and consumed by men.
But women love beer, too. They make up one-quarter of U.S. beer consumption by volume, according to the Beverage Media Group. And the number of women who love beer is slowly growing. The craft brewing industry has allowed them to find new brands and flavors. According to a consumer survey called the Alcoholic Beverage DemandTracker, the percent of women who name beer as their favorite beverage grew from 26 percent in 2012 to 28 percent in 2013. That stat may seem low, but it’s kind of remarkable considering that beer is only ever marketed to men.
And women love brewing too. For a long time, the only way they’ve been able to show it is through small-batch home brewing in their kitchens. Women who have wanted to turn their craft into a career say they’ve had their male counterparts literally laugh in their faces. In the last ten years or so, however, a few female pioneers have pushed their way onto brewery floors to prove that making beer is anything but men’s work.
The idea that beer is a man’s domain would have been ludicrous to anyone alive more than 250 years ago.
The movement of women into the industry has happened incredibly slowly. A male-dominated industry is generally considered to be one that has 25 percent or fewer women. While other men-centric businesses have started accepting women over the years (even mining, for example, was 13 percent women in the U.S. in 2011), the brewing industry doesn’t even bother to track how many women it employs. The generally accepted estimate is that less than 1 percent of all brewers in the U.S. are female. Whitney Burnside, who became the first female head brewer at Pelican Brewery in Oregon in January, says that when it came to her entering the industry, “there was a lot of resistance. I felt like I had to work extra hard to show them that I could do it. I never felt like it was acceptable. Now, even being the head brewer here, I still get the looks and the weird responses.”
It hasn’t always been this way. The idea that beer is a man’s domain would have been ludicrous to anyone alive more than 250 years ago. Before beer was taken over by industry, men had little time or care for crafting brew — they were too busy hunting or farming to waste their hours cooking. After all, making beer isn’t all that different from making dinner. Until the modern-era, women dominated everything that went on in the kitchen.
Why do our taste buds crave the flavor of rooster sauce? Reactions--a YouTube channel produced by the American Chemical Society--breaks down the chemical ingredients of the popular condiment to explain how it affects our brains. Perfect timing to celebrate the ending of the great Sriracha crisis of late 2013, after the California Department of Public Health halted shipments of Sriracha from its Southern California factory for 30 days. But did you know that there are plenty of rooster sauce alternatives in supermarkets? That's one taste test we'd love to do.
In case you didn't believe us when we first told you that putting your wine through a blender makes it taste better. "Dr. Gavin Sacks of Cornell University's Viticulture and Enology Program translates popular wine jargon such as "breathing," "corked," and "wine tears" into chemistry you can understand. He also explains some tricks you can use to experience the versatility of wine."
Time for another Tested mailbag opening! Friend of the site Steve Lin dropped off an actual bag of awesomeness, and we were not prepared for the numerous treats within. Fans of weird international Pocky and Kit Kat flavors should brace themselves.
Todd Carmichael of La Colombe and the TV show Dangerous Grounds, won the North Eastern division of the US Brewers Cup last week using this new technique, which combines a full immersion brew with a double filter technique that lets him explicitly control brew time without water lingering in the bed. I'm going to have to try this. (via @elisehogan)
3D Systems introduced their ChefJet line of food 3D printers at CES 2014, which will be the first kitchen-ready food printer when it's released later this year. We learn about how the ChefJet works and what kinds of food and shapes it can make, and then taste test some geometric sugar candy and chocolates created by the printer.
On the final day of Tested Christmas, Will shares some of his favorite books from this year. They range from dessert cookbooks to a comprehensive guide to modern tools to a mysterious meta-book that's unlike any we've ever seen. Put them on your list for reading in the new year!
Why don't most parents let their kids drink coffee? The first, most obvious answer is that caffeine is addictive. Overcaffeinated kids will be bouncing off the walls and staying awake at night, and letting them drink coffee is a likely way for them to get hooked. Soda, though, is also caffeinated, and a common beverage for kids in the US. Smithsonian Mag offers a different theory about why coffee's off limits: a persistent belief that coffee stunts the growth of children.
Smithsonian Mag writes: “'It’s ‘common knowledge,’ so to speak—but a lot of common knowledge doesn’t turn out to be true,' says Mark Pendergrast, the author of Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. 'To my knowledge, no one has ever turned up evidence that drinking coffee has any effect on how much children grow.' "
No study has ever lent credence to the theory that coffee harms the development of children, though Smithsonian Mag points out that no study has ever exposed children to years worth' of coffee, either. "There has, however, been research into the long-term effects of caffeine on children, and no damning evidence has turned up," they add. "One study followed 81 adolescents for a six-year period, and found no correlation between daily caffeine intake and bone growth or density. Theoretically, the closest thing we do have to evidence that caffeine affects growth is a series of studies on adults, which show that increased consumption of caffeinated beverages lead to the body absorbing slightly less calcium, which is necessary for bone growth. However, the effect is negligible: The calcium in a mere tablespoon of milk, it’s estimated, is enough to offset the caffeine in eight ounces of coffee."
So where did this idea come from? What spawned the belief that coffee will stunt the growth of children, while it's perfectly fine for adults? The idea may have originated with advertising created by C.W. Post, who founded Post Foods in the late 1800s. The company is still a popular cereal maker. Post created a grain-based drink, called Postum, that was popular until the 1960s. It was only discontinued in 1967, but some longtime fans have brought the drink back, billing it as "a healthy coffee alternative for those who have dietary and health restrictions. Postum is caffeine free and won’t cause the sleeplessness, high blood pressure or digestive problems that are often linked to coffee and tea."
To push people to drink Postum with their breakfast instead of coffee, Post created a series of ad campaigns talking about coffee's harmful effects. Some ads called it "nerve poison." Other specifically discussed children, claiming it made them sluggards and robs them of the milk they need in their diet. One ad credited a "world famous Research Institute" for a study that conclusively proved coffee made children stupid. "Less than 16% of those who drank coffee attained good marks!" it exclaimed.
Somehow, Postum didn't stick around, but its ads must have worked their way into the public consciousness. Coffee doesn't stunt growth or make kids fail school. Still, you may not want them to drink it; there's still the no sleeping, bouncing off the walls issue to consider.
For the second day of Tested Christmas, Will shares a gadget that he finds immensely useful for cooking--a Thermapen thermometer. This is the same professional tool used by chefs in commercial kitchens to instantly read the temperature of anything you're cooking. Will explains why that's useful and why the Thermapen is worth its price!
The Searzall is an interesting kitchen gadget that we first heard about from chef Dave Chang when we went with him to NASA's kitchens in Houston. Chang, the founder of New York-based Momofuku Group, is a friend and business partner of David Arnold, the Chief Technologist at the French Culinary Institute in NYC. Tested readers may recognize him as the food scientist we visited back in September to learn about puffing gun cooking technology. And more recently, you may have heard us talking about Arnold in our Sous Vide Immersion Circulator test, recommending his blog as an excellent resource for sous vide cooking tips and insights. Well, one of Arnold's biggest insights is what resulted in the invention of the Searzall, and it's something we got wrong in our sous vide video.
Sous vide, if you recall, is the process of cooking food in a controlled-temperature water bath, using a vacuum sealer to protect your meat from the liquid. What you get from sous vide is your food cooked to exactly the temperature you want to kill bacteria and make it safe to eat, but not overcooking it. Steak that comes out of the vacuum-sealed bag can be perfectly medium-rare and ready to eat, but it lacks the seared crust that you would get from the heat of a broiler or grill (the enzymatic browning of proteins and sugars, also known as the Maillard reaction). In professional kitchens, chefs "finish" a steak by putting it on a cast iron skillet or in a broiler, and a new preferred method is actually cryo-frying the meat to get that delicious crust.
A popular alternative for home cooking, which is what we've been doing in our sous vide videos, is using a propane or butane blowtorch to finish the meat. The same kind of gas torch used to caramelize the top of creme brulee (which is actually not the Maillard reaction). In our video, we talked about holding the torch upright when finishing the steak to avoid dripping any uncombusted fuel onto the meat, which we said was what causes a sulfur-like "torch-taste." But as it turns out, Dave Arnold and a flavor chemist at UC Davis discovered that it wasn't leaking fuel that was causing the taste. As Arnold explained to me on the phone earlier this week, he tested finishing meat using Modernist Cuisine recommend MAPP gas, which burns faster and at a higher temperature than propane and butane. And after using a gas chromatograph to study the effects of torching meat with different fuels, Arnold concluded that torch-taste may actually be caused by these blowtorches putting too high of a direct heat on the meat.
That's how he and his lab team came to create the Searzall, which is an attachment that converts the narrow flame of a blowtorch into a large patch of radiant heat. It turns the torch into a hand-held broiler. Heat from the torch flame is captured inside the bulb's ceramic insulation, and then released through two layers of high-conduction nichrome mesh (the same alloy used in reprap 3D printer heating elements). To sear something like a steak, it uses the same amount of gas as a direct torch flame, taking just a little more time. Said Arnold, "A torch is just putting coloration on something. You can't actually put a crust on meat with a torch, and a lot of people pull too far back. It's too damn hot, it's not moderated enough, and it's a direct blowing flame. The entire flame of a torch is under three-quarters inch in diameter, and it's directed in a blasting column. The Searzall takes that flame and spreads it out into a three-inch diameter." And when held about an inch over sous vided ribeye, searing that crust takes between one to two minutes per side.
If steak isn't your dish, Arnold listed a bunch of other uses for the Searzall, including finishing fish and scallops, making grilled cheese, and even reheating pizza. When you have a portable broiler, everything starts looking like it could use a good searing. Sushi chefs, for example, can use it quickly cook crispy salmon skin without ruining the raw fish.
One caveat that Arnold admits is that Searzall takes a little while to cool down after extended searing. That's why he designed a wire safety cage around the cone, and has specific recommendations for what kind of fuel, torch, and fuel cylinder to use with it. Propane is preferred (MAPP definitely not recommended), with a Bernzomatic TS8000 torch, and a 16.4oz fuel cylinder. The larger cylinder (14.1oz is the more common size) is for physical stability, so you don't risk the Searzall tipping over. That's something he learned after loaning 20 prototypes to chef friends. And while feedback has been positive, Arnold isn't expecting to see his invention replace commercial broilers or deep fryers in Michelin star kitchens. It's about finding the right tool for the right job, and learning where the Searzall makes sense, like at a catered event.
Or my home kitchen. Searzall reached its Kickstarter goal yesterday, so Arnold and his team have the resources to work with an overseas manufacturer for production. They're targeting next summer for shipping units, and backers can reserve one for $65.