I was attracted to the basic concept of this book: an analytic approach to cooking that includes the whys and wherefores, not just the whats. But, for the record, I would like to clarify that as a software engineer I would call myself a “nerd” rather than a “geek”. The word “nerd” derives from the word “drink” spelled backwards. The nerds were the ones who stayed back at the dorm and studied while everyone else went out and got hammered. Geeks, on the other hand, have no special technical or intellectual gifts. They’re just inept – socially and physically uncoordinated, messing up even the simplest tasks.
The first two chapters of this book are targeted towards geeks – people who have never stepped foot inside a kitchen and don’t have any concept of nutrition. The author uses programming code as metaphors for basic cooking concepts. Now who could possibly be this in-the-dark about cooking, and find computer code enlightening as metaphor? They would have to be male. No girl grows up without any exposure to the kitchen. So the target audience is apparently the stereotypical male programmer sitting behind a keyboard 18 hours a day living on pizza and soda pop. I thought these were creatures of the 1980s and now extinct – either dead from the all-pizza diet or evolved into healthier eating, while younger programmers were not spoiled by homemaker mothers into total kitchen ignorance. Perhaps I’m wrong. Are you still out there??
The book gets much better after the first two chapters, which – in the author’s defense – he does say you can skip if you are experienced in the kitchen.
I was surfing around the Web last week and came across a picture of English muffins cooking in a cast iron skillet. I’m always interested in recipes that make special use of cast iron, and I didn’t realize until I saw this picture that English muffins were made in a skillet. I like English muffins and I’m getting a little tired of popovers for breakfast, so I thought I’d look up the recipe.
Well, it turns out there are a million different recipes for English muffins, and they vary widely. Some are rolled out and cut like biscuits into circles. Some use a wet batter that is poured into crumpet rings. Some are baked in an oven rather than cooked on a skillet – either partially or completely. Some are cooked in a covered skillet (news flash: that is baking, not skillet cooking).
Judging from reviewer comments, most of the recipes lacked the large holes and sourdough flavor characteristic of English muffins. A few tried to correct this problem by the addition of vinegar for the sour flavor, and baking soda just before cooking to create holes. That sounded like artifice to me so I continued my research, and eventually discovered the authentic source of that characteristic taste and texture. I tested my theory with a recipe of my own creation, and the result was fantastic. Here is my recipe – with pictures!
Homemade English muffin with natural nooks and crannies.
Homemade English muffin, nooks and crannies filled with butter.
My previous post on the chemistry of cast iron seasoning focused on fat polymerization – the transformation of an oil into a hard, slick glaze. After I posted that, someone sent me some links that talked about two other elements in cast iron seasoning: carbon and magnetite.
Carbon is the black stuff that’s left after something is burned. A certain amount of carbon gets bound up in the polymerized fat when food is cooked in the pan. This may darken the pan, but does it make it more nonstick? Some say it does, though I don’t see the mechanism.
More interesting to me is the third element: magnetite.
In a previous post, I illustrated how I cleaned and reseasoned an antique cast iron popover pan. This was my first attempt, and my seasoning technique was somewhat haphazard because I couldn’t find consistent, science-based advice. I used a combination of organic avocado oil and strained drippings from organic bacon. This worked pretty well on the popover pan, which doesn’t have a polished surface. But the smooth inner surface of a skillet showed an unevenness of color and texture, and the seasoning wasn’t hard enough. It was too easily marred by cooking utensils or scraping against oven racks.
I wanted to understand the chemistry behind seasoning so I’d know how to fix this, but there is nothing that addresses this issue directly. A Web page on cast iron posted by someone similarly obsessed with the science gave me two crucial clues, the phrases “polymerized fat” and “drying oil”. From there I was able to find the relevant scientific literature and put the pieces together.
The pictures below are both of the same antique cast iron skillet. The “before” close-up on the left is from a picture of the skillet in my previous blog post on making German Pancakes. I stripped the pan with oven cleaner and reseasoned it based on my new understanding. The “after” close-up on the right shows the result.
In a previous post, I wrote about how I was able to use a learning remote from Universal Remote Control (the URC-WR7) to set up a Bose Wave Radio as the audio for my TV, cable box, and Blu-ray player. At the time I hadn’t fully configured everything. Now that I have, I want to share a few more things I discovered:
The secret to learning from the Time-Warner Cable remote, which at first appears not to work
What to do if you want to access more device features than the WR7 has buttons
Tips on using the punch-through and macro features
I have a Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000 that I bought when I bought my new Thinkpad with built-in Bluetooth. At the time I was running 64-bit Vista and all was well. Then I upgraded to 64-bit Windows 7, and suddenly the mouse started constantly losing connection.
There was no detectable pattern. It would work fine for a while, and then start disconnecting all the time for no apparently reason. Sometimes it would not wake up after sleeping, but sometimes it would quit while I was using it. At first I got it going again by removing the mouse from the list of Bluetooth devices and then adding it back in. That took too much time. Then, by accident, I discovered that I could wake it up by opening my Bluetooth settings and toggling the checkbox “Allow Bluetooth devices to find this computer”. If it was off I’d turn it on, if it was on I’d turn it off. That was faster, but still a pain.
I searched the internet and found many similar complaints, but no solutions. Several sites suggested upgrading your Bluetooth drivers. There’s no new driver for the Microsoft mouse, but I updated the Thinkpad Bluetooth drivers. No joy. Then the other day the mouse started quitting on me every few minutes and in desperation I searched again. This time I found the answer. There are two separate settings that need to be changed.
The picture on my new 40″ Samsung LCD HDTV is amazing, but the sound, not so much. So I plugged the audio output of the television into the auxilliary jack for my Bose Wave Radio (model AWRCC1). Much better! But then I encountered a new problem. When the TV audio is external, the TV remote can’t control it. Luckily the radio has a remote (otherwise I’d have to walk across the room to mute the TV when the phone rings), but I’d rather have the TV volume on the same remote as the rest of the TV controls.
First I tried to set the auxilliary button on my Time-Warner Cable remote to the Bose radio. The cable remote instructions list these codes for Bose audio equipment: 070, 170, 224, 374, 409, 460, 532. I tried them all, but none of them worked. So then I tried the scanning method, holding down the channel button until the radio turns off. But it never turned off.
I did an internet search on controlling Bose devices with universal remotes and found a plethora of contradictory information, none of which solved my problem. So I called Bose customer support. Their products may be pricey, but they sure have good customer support. I got someone on the phone immediately, and he was knowledgeable. He explained the problem instantly and gave me the solution.
As part of my recent purge of nonstick cookware, I acquired my very first cast iron skillet – a vintage large-logo Griswold. I removed all the old crud with oven cleaner and then reseasoned it. Rust was minimal, so I was able to scrub it off with steel wool. (For more on cleaning and seasoning cast iron, see my previous post.)
I’ve been interested in recipes that use the skillet’s unique properties: nonstick, stove to oven, even heating, and good heat retention. So I decided to make a German Pancake – also known as a Dutch Baby – stuffed with apples. I looked at several recipes and then came up with my own spin on it. I’d never had a German Pancake before so I didn’t know what to expect. I was amazed when I took my first bite. It was exquisitely delicious. Here’s the recipe.
My fascination with popovers began with a new cookbook I purchased just before Christmas. This led to a search for the perfect popover pan, which turned out to be antique Griswold cast iron. That, in turn, led to intensive research on how to restore an old cast iron pan covered with rust and crud. I succeeded, as you can see in the picture below. In this post I’ll describe how to restore a cast iron pan, and then use it to make perfect popovers.