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    Weird Cooking: Steaming and Poaching in the Dishwasher and Coffee Maker

    There's creative cooking, and then there's creative cooking. The former may be coming up with a new recipe for chicken. The latter requires something more unusual--like, for example, cooking salmon, chicken or vegetables in a coffee maker.

    Industrious chefs have come up with a few creative ways to cook food in coffee makers. The enclosure at the top of the coffee maker can house and steam veggies. Food inside the coffee pot, like a chicken breast, can be slowly poached over the burner. Eggs and other foods can even be boiled inside the coffee pot. And without the pot, the burner can serve as a makeshift grill.

    Photo credit: NPR

    "We tried making the classic coffee maker meal: poached salmon with steamed broccoli and couscous," writes NPR. "The veggies steam up in the basket while the couscous and salmon take turns in the carafe. The salmon looked a little scary while it was poaching. But the whole meal actually turned out pretty tasty. Was it gourmet? No. But it was healthful and quick to prepare — about 20 minutes total. And the cleanup was superfast."

    NPR points out that coffee maker cooking is more energy efficient than using the stove, drawing about 1000 watts versus about 1500 watts, though those numbers obviously vary between appliances. For some people, though, coffee maker cooking isn't about efficiency or finding a quirky alternative to the stove. Jody Anderson, one of the coffee maker's proponents, started developing recipes for her nephew who was in the army. The only appliance he had in his room was a coffee maker, so she came up with ways he could prepare his own meals.

    Anderson now runs the Facebook page Cooking With Your Coffee Maker and just launched a recipe blog.

    "Trying different containers and taking their temperatures to see how hot the water would get and to see if I could raise it became an obsession with me," she writes. " I tried a metal camp cup first. It would hold 2 cups of something, would not break and was easy to wash...The secret is using a lid to hold in the temperature and raise it even more. If you want to fry or bake you will need a sierra cup, and don’t forget the lid."

    And coffee-maker cooking isn't that weird, when you think about it. It has a burner and a container perfectly designed for steaming. But NPR also recently wrote about another creative cooking alternative that's even more out there: dishwasher cooking.

    Natural Machines Sets 3D Food Printing Sights on the Kitchen

    The march towards viable 3D food printing continues on. Earlier this year we wrote about the technology being developed to 3D print space food, which could be great for astronauts in the future. They'd potentially have access to a wider variety of foods, and the printer and ingredients would likely take up less space in transport. Meanwhile, the rest of us down here on the ground will be twiddling our thumbs and eating our normal food. Unless, that is, you're interested in plopping down about $1300 for Natural Machines' upcoming 3D food printer, the Foodini.

    Photo credit: Natural Machines

    Smithsonian Mag writes that Natural Machines has developed a 3D food printer for foods that start off as pastes or doughs. It can also handle pureed ingredients, sauces--some of the printer's completed meals include ravioli, bean burgers, and bread. Naturally, it can print chocolate.

    In the same way 3D printers extrude plastic onto a printing platform, the Natural Machines printer really just squeezes liquid materials into a precise formation. There's no fancy CAD software here. It also doesn't cook its ingredients, though it does have some built-in heating elements to keep ingredients warm during the process. The difference, in this case, is that the printer houses five ingredients capsules for creating its meals, rather than the 1-2 materials most 3D printers currently can print with at once.

    Natural Machines is going through all the work necessary to get its 3D printer approved by the FDA, and the company hopes to build up a community to create and share recipes for the kitchen printer. Those who expect it to automate all their cooking will almost certainly end up disappointed, but that's not really Natural Machines' goal. They want the device to streamline some of cooking's more rote activities--forming dough into a dozen breadsticks, or filling and forming individual ravioli--to encourage more people to eat healthy foods rather than opt for the frozen package. And that might just work.

    The McRib as Misdirection

    I hope you've seen that photo going around the Internet this week of a frozen McRib patty posted by a McDonalds' employee to Reddit. It's a reminder that the McRib is an example of McDonalds' marketing brilliance, including the generally accepted conspiracy theory that it comes and goes from the menu based on national pork prices. This in-depth analysis by The Awl in 2011 breaks that theory down and debunks that, as well as franchise owners' insight that the timing of the McRib is planned at least a year in advance. Ian Bogost's object lesson on the sandwich for The Atlantic is just as scathing, exploring how the marking of the McRib makes diners objectify and desire it. Its ephemeral status not only makes it desirable to some, but makes the rest of McDonalds menu more palatable. "The purpose of the McRib is to make the McNugget seem normal."

    Using Ancient Grains to Bake New Bread

    In this short profile, The New Yorker interviews Chad Robertson, co-owner of San Francisco's famous Tartine Bakery about the art of making bread. Robertson talks about trekking through Denmark and Sweden in his search for grains to incorporate into his bread. Ancient grains have different qualities that modern ones bred for mass production and high yield, and are easier to digest. At Tartine, Robertson and his bakers experiment with different ways to incorporate different varieties of wheat into their signature bread, which can take two days to rise.

    Coffee is Least Effective Between 8 and 9 am

    The best time for coffee is not, in fact, the moment you sluggishly drag yourself out of bed. At least, not according to science. Brainfacts writes that the study of chronopharmacology, aka the interaction between drugs and the body's biological rhythms, reveals when we should and shouldn't drink coffee. More specifically, it dictates the best and worst times to inject ourselves with a peppy dose of caffeine. If your first cup of morning joe comes between 8 am and 9 am, you're doing it wrong, at least according to the study of chronopharmacology.

    The body's circadian clock can affect how it responds to drugs, making them more or less effective, altering our tolerance, and so on. Brainfacts writes that light, more than any other environmental stimulus, affects our biological rhythm. That rhythm is controlled by the hypothalamus, which also controls our sleep/wake cycle, hormones, and sugar homeostasis.

    Photo credit: Flickr user shereen84 via Creative Commons

    The hypothalamus' control of the hormone cortisol is the key that ties together our biological rhythm and consumption of coffee. "Drug tolerance is an important subject, especially in the case of caffeine since most of us overuse this drug," writes Brainfacts. "Therefore, if we are drinking caffeine at a time when your cortisol concentration in the blood is at its peak, you probably should not be drinking it. This is because cortisol production is strongly related to your level of alertness and it just so happens that cortisol peaks for your 24 hour rhythm between 8 and 9 AM on average."

    Caffeine will naturally be least effective when cortisol is at its peak, which happens to be right around the time most people drink coffee in the morning.

    In other words, caffeine will naturally be least effective when cortisol is at its peak, which happens to be right around the time most people start chugging their morning pick-me-up. Brainfacts goes on to argue that using a drug when it's needed is a key pharmacological principle, and drinking caffeine when it's least effective means you're more likely to develop a tolerance and need to up your dosage.

    Drinking a cup of coffee when your cortisol levels are low, on the other hand, will give it some more kick. Cortisol levels apparently swing up between noon and 1 pm, and between 5:30 and 6:40 pm. That leaves a couple windows of opportunity--most importantly, between 9:30 am and 11:30 am or so--where caffeine will really be able to do its job.

    One other Brainfacts tip: Since light has a major affect on our biological rhythm and will help cortisol production in the morning, making the morning commute without sunglasses will get the cortisol pumping more quickly. It might not be as stimulating as a cup of coffee, but it's an au naturel way to wake up just a little bit faster.

    PicoBrew Zymatic Is Like an Open Source Coffee Maker for Beer

    Coffee trends have pushed coffee lovers away from their countertop machines and towards French Presses and Aeropresses and Chemexes, slower methods of brewing that tend to produce a better cup. Of course, millions and millions of people still prefer the cheap convenience of a coffee maker. Homebrewing beer, on the other hand, has never been as convenient as turning on Mr. Coffee. It's the kind of hobby people love to put time and energy into. But if you like to press a button to make your coffee, and wish you could do the same thing with beer, a Kickstarter for that just raised $661,026.

    The PicoBrew Zymatic, created by former Microsoft engineer Bill Mitchell, is the coffee maker of home brewing systems. It's a self-contained box full of all the ingredients necessary to brew beer, automated to get brewing with a few buttons presses. It's a lot bigger than a coffee maker--it looks more like an industrial microwave oven--but that's still far smaller than your average brewing system.

    Homebrewers will be able to brew their own recipes with the Zymatic, or replicate other recipes. "After downloading a recipe over Wi-Fi, users simply pre-load the water, malted barley and hops into each specified container before pressing 'brew,'" writes Smithsonian Mag. "A computer system controls the entire process and separate software allows users to monitor the beer’s status from any device. Once the 2 1/2 gallon keg of unfermented beer is ready, it only needs to be cooled and have yeast added to complete the process, which takes about a week. Each component was designed to be modular so that it easily fits in a dishwasher, to boot."

    The PicoBrew Zymatic's development process, shown briefly on the Kickstarter page, is fascinating. Bill Mitchell and his brother, who co-founded PicoBrew, started with Arduinos and off-the-shelf parts. It took a couple years of prototyping before they nailed down the automated brewing process and developed custom control boards to control the process.

    Naturally, the Zymatic isn't cheap. Kickstarter backers who shelled out between $1300 and $1600 guaranteed themselves a home brewer. The money gathered during the Kickstarter will be used to get the brewer into production.

    Futuristic Food Substitutes are Already Here

    Eating–it’s one thing that we all have to do. But science and technology are transforming not just what we eat, but how we eat them. Today, we’ll explore ten different food substitutes that entrepreneurs are pushing forward as the future of eating. Foodies, this isn't for you.

    This is Soylent, and It's Not People

    Soylent is not people, but it is now backed by $1.5 million in Silicon Valley venture capital. If you're unfamiliar with Soylent, it's the recent creation of software engineer Rob Rhinehart, who finds eating, except as a social exercise, a bit of a bother. There's all that buying and cleaning and cooking food and washing dishes and blah blah blah. Who has the time? It would be cheaper, and easier, he reckoned, to create a nutrition sludge containing all of the vitamins and minerals essential to life. So he spent months researching nutrition and came up with the soylent mixture of carbs, protein, fat, and a whole lot of other essentials.

    Image credit: Warner Bros. Home Video

    Soylent's name cheekily draws on the famous Charlton Heston sci-fi film, though it's actually inspired by the soya and lentil concoction from the book Soylent Green was based on. It's flesh-free. And the idea certainly isn't anything new, which Rhinehart has been happy to admit. Single-source food shakes like Ensure and SlimFast have been around for decades. For most people, a liquid diet doesn't really stick. But Rhinehart's been living off of Soylent for months, documenting the results, and he and other testers have been tweaking the formula to be better.

    Now here's the weird thing about Soylent: It's got some people really mad. Take the comment in the Wired story, for example, which calls Soylent "everything that's wrong with the tech industry, in one neat example. Dehumanization, ahistoricism, authoritarianism." That seems extreme. Worst case scenario--assuming no one tries to live off of soylent for years and somehow ends up dying as a result--is that the concoction turns out to be ineffective over the long term. Rhinehart and the people he's working with are hoping to design Soylent as a food that you could completely subsist on, or could combine with a diet of solid foods as well. Current meal replacements don't offer the balance of nutrients necessary to live on forever, which is Soylent's goal.

    If Soylent actually attains that goal, the benefits could be huge. Best case scenario, Rhinehart has created a food substitute that can feed the poor on $5 per day and give people too busy to prepare proper meals a much healthier diet. If it doesn't work as intended, the naysayers have something to gloat about.

    Photo credit: Soylent

    There are, of course, concerns about Soylent from real experts. io9 writes: "We reached out to a handful of nutritional scientists to get their opinions on the product, and they were generally surprised that anyone would want to replace their food with a single mixture. Their opinions of Soylent were overwhelmingly negative. Steve Collins, founder and chairman of Valid Nutrition, a company that manufactures Ready to Use Foods for the prevention and treatment of malnutrition, said, speaking through a colleague, that, except in exceptional circumstances, he felt that trying to replace a diverse diet with a single product was misguided. Susan Roberts, Professor at Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, likened Soylent to already available nutritional shakes. While there might be some benefit to Soylent's low saturated fat content, she said, there are certain risks inherent in a non-food diet. '[T]here are so many unknown chemicals in fruits and vegetables that they will not be able to duplicate in a formula exactly,' she said in an email. She says that, if Soylent is formulated properly, a person could certainly live on it, but she doubts they would experience optimal health. She fears that in the long-term, a food-free diet could open a person up to chronic health issues."

    What's a Chicken Nugget Made of? Not Much Protein

    If a chicken nugget was 19 percent protein, would you still call it chicken? That's a question you'll have to answer if you look into the research of Richard D. deShazo, MD, a professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. "“I was floored. I was astounded,” deShazo said to The Atlantic, describing his reaction after he looked at a chicken nugget under a microscope. The contents of the nugget did, technically, come from chicken. But if you consider chicken meat, well, the two nuggets deShazo checked out don't exactly qualify.

    Photo credit: Flickr user sebleedelisle via Creative Commons

    The Atlantic writes "The nugget from the first restaurant (breading not included) was approximately 50 percent muscle. The other half was primarily fat, with some blood vessels and nerve, as well as "generous quantities of epithelium [from skin of visceral organs] and associated supportive tissue." That broke down overall to 56 percent fat, 25 percent carbohydrates, and 19 percent protein.

    "The nugget from the second restaurant was 40 percent skeletal muscle, as well as "generous quantities of fat and other tissue, including connective tissue and bone." That was 58 percent fat, 24 percent carbs, and 18 percent protein."

    To some, the chicken nugget is a relatively pure fast food item--it's white meat, solid protein, with a not-totally-terrible batter around it. And at some fast food places, especially ones like Chick-fil-a that focus on chicken, that's probably true. Though deShazo didn't reveal the fast food places he tested from, one is likely McDonalds. He intended his research to be a reminder that "Chicken nuggets available at national fast food chains...remain a poor source of protein and are high in fat."

    Image credit: University of Mississippi

    The National Chicken Council (if only we had a National Chicken Nugget Council to turn to) argued that a test of two nuggets is hardly reflective of the millions (billions?) of chicken nuggets served at fast food restaurants every year. That's true. Just keep in mind there's a good chance you're chomping into some cartilage, intestinal tissue, bone fragments, and skeletal tissue when you take a bite out of a nug.

    How Japanese Fake Food is Made

    Fake food in window displays isn't just a practical counterpart to menus at Japanese restaurants, it's also a revered and lucrative business that's considered an art form. This brief AFP video explores the culture of food displays in Japan, showing the making of wax models of tempura and lettuce (most fake food is now plastic). Learn more about the history of fake food displays on these travel blogs.

    The Fanciest McDonald's Meal

    I'm fascinated by the fast food industry's methodical design and preparation of its food products, like how a simple change in a restaurant chain's menu could affect the nationwide supply and demand of a particular ingredient. Despite what you think about the quality of the food on McDonald's menu, there's a lot of thought and experimentation that goes into designing each item. (Something poked fun at in the Breaking Bad season 5 episode "Madrigal".) The creation of the McWrap, for example, was a two-year process spearheaded by McDonald's executive chef and head of culinary innovation. Yes, culinary innovation. McDonald's employs experienced chefs and dietitians in its kitchen labs, and they're occasionally given the opportunity to flex their culinary skills at events like this New York City chef's gala. On the menu: french fry gnocchi, slow-cooked beef (the same in McD's hamburger patties) with blueberry pomegranate sauce, and a pumpkin spice donut using biscuit mix.

    Testing the Puffing Gun and Unexpected Food Explosions

    Puffing guns were invented over 100 years ago as a way to explosively puff foods like cereal. It's why we have Corn Pops. At a kitchen laboratory in New York, Dave Arnold and his team of molecular gastronomists are reviving the puffing gun, experimenting with ones used by street food vendors in Asia. The results are a tad unpredictable.

    How American Refrigerators Got So Big

    The modern American refrigerator looks very little like the classic refrigerator of the 1950s. The rounded edges that evoked 1950s automobiles are gone. The colors are different--white refrigerators are more textured, stainless steel and even black refrigerators are common, but there's little sign of the 1950s' pastel color spectrum. And then there's size: Today's refrigerators could swallow their grandparent appliances whole.

    Why are they so big? Why are American refrigerators so much larger than refrigerators in other countries (except for Canada), where energy efficiency is prioritized over storage? According to The Atlantic, one factor is the history of "cold chains," supply chains that developed over the course of the 20th century to deliver cold goods over long distances. It all started with selling ice; when ice became a commodity, it had to be transported, and people became accustomed to having it in their homes. That led to iceboxes and, eventually, refrigerators.

    Photo credit: Flickr user estarsid via Creative Commons

    But why did they get so much bigger? And when? In 1980, refrigerators held an average of 19.6 cubic feet. In 2012, that number was 22.5. European refrigerators average something like 9.7 cubic feet. The Atlantic argues that the growth of efficient cold chains in the United States pushed us towards larger refrigerators: "

    "As cold chains became longer and more complex, having a big refrigerator became increasingly important for taking advantage of the opportunity that this new infrastructure brought. 'Proper refrigeration is today an ever increasing necessity,' wrote the Frigidaire refrigerator company in a cookbook it distributed to housewives in 1929."

    Until the 1950s, long-distance transportation was a weak link in cold chains. But we developed trucks with refrigeration. Later came refrigerated shipping containers, which enabled us to preserve goods and move them across the globe. Enabling access to a wider variety of foods encouraged keeping those foods longer.

    American households typically go shopping about once a week, necessitating a large refrigerator to hold enough food. Apparently we've been cold-obsessed ever since the invention of the icebox--the Atlantic quotes British travel writer Winifred James, from 1914: "Who ever heard of an American without an icebox? ... It is his country’s emblem. It asserts his nationality as conclusively as the Stars and Stripes afloat from his roof-tree, besides being much more useful in keeping his butter cool."

    Refrigerators are getting bigger in China. And even the largest household refrigerators in America are small compared to commercial refrigerators and freezers. The downside to our huge refrigerators is that they use huge amounts of energy; the upside, the Atlantic points out, is how much food is saved rather than wasted. Continuing improvements in energy efficiency will, hopefully, outpace the growth of our our fridges.

    Sixth Grader to Brew Beer in Space

    11-year old Michal Bodzianowski is a winner of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education's Student Space flight Experiments Program, which gives him the opportunity to send an experiment to the International Space Station. His project explores the brewing of beer in microgravity--alcohol which wouldn't be used as a beverage in space. Bodzianowski envisions that alcohol potentially being useful for treating wounds or cleaning water in the case of an emergency.

    The Best Travel Mug Today

    If you're looking for a new insulated travel mug and want a high-quality replacement, the Zojirushi Stainless Mug has the best balance of heat retention and versatility. It kept coffee at least 10 degrees hotter after 8 hours than the next travel mug down on our list—just enough to make the difference between drinkable and lukewarm. Though it's at the higher end of the price spectrum, its well-designed exterior, one-handed usability and easy-to-use locking mechanism make it well worth it for something you’ll likely use on a regular basis. Plus, it will never, ever spill in your bag.

    The Zojirushi is undoubtedly the best overall travel mug, but it is a bit on the skinny side. If fitting snuggly in your car or bike cup holder is a top priority, get the $20 OXO Good Grips LiquiSeal Travel Mug. It will only keep your drink at an ideal temperature for 1-2 hours, but that’s enough if you plan on just sipping while you commute.

    We also have a bottle brush recommendation for when you need to clean the gunk out from time to time.

    Who’s This For?

    There are literally thousands of bottles, mugs, thermoses, sippy cups and other devices out there meant to transport your hot liquids from one place to another. Most of them fall into one of two camps: products that are meant for you to drink from while commuting, and those that are meant mostly for transportation that you drink or pour from later, at the comfort of your desk. A large majority of the travel bottles/mugs on the market are aimed toward the everyday office commuter, though some are heavier duty and geared toward those who like to camp or hike. We leaned toward the former group because it’s better to have the option to drink on the go than to not have it. That said, we think our choice of the Zojirushi Stainless Mug would also work for campers/hikers due to its exceptional heat retention capabilities.

    The type of person who would buy one of these things is one who likes to make his or her own hot drink at home to take with them throughout the day—perhaps because of stingy office mates, or perhaps because of the horrible quality coffee and tea out in the world. You usually want the coffee to stay hot at least through the duration of your commute, if not for several hours after you arrive at the office. You want the mug to be easy-to-use in the car or at your desk and so leakproof that you could toss it into your bag or briefcase without worrying about ruining your gadgets.

    There’s one kind of person who insulated travel mugs are not for: hardcore coffee snobs.

    The Enduring Design of the Chemex Coffee Maker

    If you haven't paid attention to the history of the Chemex coffee maker, you may be surprised to learn that it celebrated its 72nd birthday in 2013. The Chemex was invented way back in 1941 by Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, who left Germany in the 1930s and invented dozens of products in the United States that prioritized design over features. The Chemex is the perfect example: It's a sleek, curved glass container which requires little more than a filter to make a cup of coffee. The Chemex has endured for most of a century, when countless other coffee makers have come and gone.

    Photo credit: Hagley Museum and Library

    The Chemex was Schlumbohm's greatest invention, or at least his most popular. But this retrospective from Collectors Weekly reveals how many great ideas Schlumbohm had, and how skilled he was as a designer. All of his creations followed the same formula: Making an existing product better through simple and elegant design.

    "Though the Chemex was his most successful invention by far, Schlumbohm tinkered with other ordinary objects long after the coffeemaker’s success," writes Collectors Weekly. "Some of Schlumbohm’s cleverest contraptions included the Instant Ice container, which chilled liquids quickly using brine; the Cinderella, a conical trash pail with disposable wax-paper linings; and the Minnehaha, a device that mixed and aerated drinks by forcing liquid through hundreds of tiny perforations. Schlumbohm also patented a stylish hot-water kettle made entirely of glass, a disposable aluminum frying pan, and a cigarette holder tipped with a miniature Chemex-shaped fitting that held a tiny filter, years before the tobacco industry adopted them."

    Not only did Schlumbohm design his products with a flair for 20th century modernism, he did his own marketing and advertising, too. A LIFE magazine profile from 1949 said he had a real formula for his success: "20% was recognizing a problem that needed solving, 40% was coming up with a patentable solution, 30% was good design, and 10% was merchandising. [LIFE] wrote of Schlumbohm, 'He is the kind who perceives a problem and logically sets about finding a solution that will be efficient, handsome and profitable. Dr. Schlumbohm does all his own selling, writes his own advertisements, direction leaflets and brochures and even types his own patent applications—one draft only, since he refuses to make a mistake.' "

    None of Schlumbohm's other inventions have endured like the Chemex, and some never made it into production.

    Beyond Meat's Not-Chicken Strips May Revolutionize Meat Substitutes

    "Human beings eat 183 billion pounds of chicken every year, and just about nobody thinks that the way we grow and process these living creatures is sustainable," writes chef and Food Network host Alton Brown. "In 1997, humanity consumed 235 million tons of meat, and we’re on track for 400 million tons in 2030."

    That's a lot of meat. And a lot of chickens crammed into gigantic farms, cows producing massive clouds of methane. As Brown writes, this farming and production isn't environmentally sustainable in the long term. Currently, most meat eaters aren't willing to give up chicken breasts and steaks for synthetic meats and vegetable substitutes. But in his feature for Wired magazine, Brown writes about how that may change thanks to a company called Beyond Meat.

    Photo credit: Beyond Meat

    Beyond Meat is producing a processed chicken substitute, but the end result isn't a sludge of chemicals pushed out of a nozzle like Play-Doh. It's something different, which aims to reproduce the texture of chicken in addition to its flavor.

    "The extruder...uses steam, pressure, and cold water to knead and knit the proteins and plant fibers in the Beyond Meat mixture into a specific physical arrangement...This is what separates Beyond Meat’s chicken analog from Tofurky."

    Alton Brown knows what chicken tastes like, but his initial reaction to Beyond Meat's product hints that the company may be close to something chicken eaters across the world would consider a viable substitute. "Fresh out of the extruder, a strip of Beyond Meat not-chicken is warm but not hot, striated like meat, and to the touch feels animal in origin," he writes. "My mind races to place the musculature … to identify the anatomical source. The closest thing I can come up with is cooked chicken breast, which I suppose is the whole point. I tear it and watch the break, the way the material separates. It’s more like meat than anything I’ve ever seen that wasn’t meat. Looking closely I can see a repeating pattern, like a subtle honeycomb, that reminds me a bit of tripe. I close my eyes and smell, but since the strip hasn’t received any flavoring at this point, I detect only subtle hints of soy. I take a bite. While the unflavored product tastes distinctly vegetal and still has a bit of what I’d call tofu-bounce, a hint of the spongy, the tear is … meaty."

    The texture of meat is what's truly difficult to reproduce. As Brown explains, we've spent thousands of years as omnivores developing the ability to eat and recognize meats. Meat is muscle, and the fibers of different muscles move and interact in different ways. That's why we can tell the difference between the texture of chicken and the texture of steak, and why it's impossible to ever replace real meat with something made out of tofu. Flavor is the easy part.

    World Maker Faire 2013: Pour Steady Coffee Brewing Robot

    Meet the Pour Steady, a two-axis programmable robot that can make five cups of pour over -style coffee at the same time. We chat with the makers of Pour Steady to learn the precise steps this robot takes to make each cup, and give coffee a proper taste test!

    Adam Savage's Eventful Day at the Schmemmys

    Adam recounts his long and eventful day at this year's Creative Arts Emmys, where he just had to get something out of his system. You have been warned, this is a story not for the faint of stomach! (Still Untitled: The Adam Savage project will be back in two weeks.)

    Measuring Flavor Extraction for the Perfect Cup of Coffee

    As we've shown in the past, your coffee brewing method of choice--be it the Able Kone or the Aeropress or another piece of technology--has a direct impact on how your coffee turns out. But brewing the coffee is the last step, and everything before that is important, too. The kind of coffee you buy. The way you grind it. The temperature of the water. And, of course, the ratio of coffee to water; it all matters, and even the perfect Aeropress brew could come out bitter and foul without the proper process.

    The Atlantic recently published a thorough, fairly beginner-friendly guide to making the perfect cup of coffee. It mostly focuses on the process leading up to brewing, leaving that final method up to you. The guide starts with the "golden ratio," which is meant to supply the perfect combination of water and coffee grinds for a perfect cup. And this is perfection as judged by the masses--it's based on studies from the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

    "The key is to start with the Golden Ratio of 17.42 units of water to 1 unit of coffee," says the guide. "The ratio will get you into that optimal zone, plus it is unit-less, which means you can use grams, ounces, pounds, stones, even tons if that's your thing."

    There are two key terms to know here if you're ready to get scientific about your coffee: Percentage Extraction and Percentage of Total Dissolved Solids. The guide elaborates: "The Percentage Extraction is the amount of coffee particles extracted from the original dry grounds. The Percentage of Total Dissolved Solids is the percentage of coffee solids actually in your cup of coffee (commonly known as 'brew strength'). When you correlate these, the result is a Coffee Brewing Control Chart, with a target area in the center that highlights the optimal brew strength and extraction percentage."

    Some fancy technology comes into play when you get into measuring Total Dissolved Solids: a refractometer, to be specific. Pairing that refractometer with a piece of software called ExtractMoJo allows you to measure the extraction of solids from your coffee grounds. According to the Brewing Control Chart mentioned above, perfection sits between 18 and 22 percent. That's where optimal flavor lies.

    Getting that flavor, it turns out, is simple as the right ratio of water, a refractometer, and a $150 piece of software. Actually, it's not that simple--you'll need a good coffee grinder, good coffee beans, water between 195 and 202 degrees Fahrenheit, and a whole lot of practice with your chosen brewing method. But at least The Atlantic's guide makes it all a little bit easier.