TNT Newsletter for September 14, 2006
The other encyclopedia, an easy banana hack, all about rice cookers, onions made easy, how to become a salmon expert, and your next kitchen project.
Hi there Readers,
Maybe summer BBQs inspired you, or you're seeing your gardens start to slow down, or salmon season has you on edge, but kitchens seem to be on everyone's mind these days. I've been seeing smart kitchen hacks and modifications, getting tips on how to make easy food for late-night workathons, and chatting it up with Sol Katz, one of the authors of a truly astonishing reference work about FOOD with a capital F-O-O-D.
Of course it makes sense that Makers would be Foodies, too; both disciplines are all about quality materials, classic skills interpreted in new ways, innovation, inspiration, and, often, community. (It's way more fun to share recipes and hacks with like-minded tinkerers, whether they're elbow-deep in flour or in aluminum shavings.) As more and more chefs introduce technology into the kitchen (check out some of the press for high-tech restaurant Alinea in Chicago), I hope to see even more Maker-Foodie mashups. In this case, too many cooks can't spoil the broth.
Reviewed by Arwen O'Reilly Griffith
I was lucky enough to take a look at Sol Katz and William Weaver's amazing resource, The Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. A three-volume compendium of everything you could ever want to know about the history of food and its effect on human culture, the book is a must-read (well, a must-browse, at any rate).
It's arranged like a typical encyclopedia, with articles in alphabetical order: Volume 1 starts with "Acceptance and Rejection of Food" and moves through "Chicken Soup" and "Food as Weapon of War" all the way to "Food Politics." Volume 2 starts with the "History of Food Production" and ends with "Nuts," covering "Gelatin," "Classic Spice Combinations," and "Leaf Vegetables" along the way. Volume 3 goes from "Oats" to "Zorastrainism," but doesn't forget to cover "Poisoning" (including a section on royal food tasters), "Seabirds and Their Eggs," and "Utensils."
The book covers everything from food biographies to the basics of food preparation, the effects of agriculture on cultural change, and the connection between spirituality, diet, and luxury. Katz and Weaver have an amazing team of article authors and you can open the book at random and still be spellbound, whether the entry is on military rations, nouvelle cuisine, ethnobotany, or world wine consumption patterns.
Don't be frightened by the $420 price tag; many libraries have reference copies, and used editions can be found on Amazon for as low as $80. Whether you're a cook or just someone who eats, this is a resource worth knowing about.
Reviewed by Sarah and Daniel Drucker
The banana ring hack was born out of the chaos of a new apartment. After our first grocery trip, the kitchen counter was a mess and there was nowhere to put the produce. But there was a box of shower curtain rings on the bathroom floor.
We used a hinged, circular ring that snaps closed. Slide the open ring between the stems at the top of a bunch of bananas, and close it around any accessible bar or hook where it can swing freely, so the bananas will ripen evenly. If the ring is closed all the way, you should be able to yank a banana off the bunch without undoing anything.
Reviewed by Ross Orr
The image of geeks surviving on colas and cold pizza is not completely myth. When you're really cranking on a cool project, who can spare the processor cycles to cook?
Well, the genius of this classic rice maker is a thermostatic switch, set to cut the power once all the liquid has boiled. Measure ingredients, push the lever, and get right back to hacking, with no risk of burning the house down. Asian households have used them for decades to make foolproof rice; fancier models even click over to keep-warm mode when then done. But the undocumented tip is this: You can also dump in veggies, spices, meat, and so on, to balance your carbs with other nutrients. And for breakfast, try it with oatmeal. It's cheap, tasty home cooking that runs as a background process.
Reviewed by Hugo Pipping
Ever wondered how to hack an onion? Here's one answer...
Reviewed by Jesse Hensel
Growing up fishing for salmon with my dad in Alaska, I took for granted a lot of knowledge that many people don't seem to have. Here are a few tips:
When buying salmon, make sure that the flesh is firm and bright. Nothing compares to fresh wild Alaskan salmon, but if fresh fish is not available, buy fish that is still frozen rather than fish that has been thawed out and put on display. Frozen salmon should always be packed in a way that separates air from the flesh to avoid freezer burn. High quality salmon is more expensive per pound, but has a higher omega-3 fatty acid content and should be served in smaller portions.
The classic salmon recipe calls for poaching with dill and capers. This is a great way to make a wonderful piece of fish mediocre by sapping rather than cultivating its flavor. I believe that grilling is the best method for cooking salmon, but in less pleasant weather broiling and baking are good substitutes. Filets of salmon should be placed skin side down on the cooking surface. My father often places the fish on a layer of foil to keep the skin from sticking to the grill or burning, but I enjoy it when the skin crisps up.
Salmon is almost always overcooked in restaurants. To tell when salmon is done, slide a utensil between the layers of muscle and gently rotate; ideally the whole layer will flake off. As salmon cooks, the color changes from bright to creamy pink. Appropriately cooked salmon will be a uniform color and melt in the mouth. Different areas of the same filet may cook at different rates, so it may be necessary to remove thinner areas of the filet from the heat so they will not overcook while the thicker parts continue cooking. This might be detrimental to presentation, but the flavor and mouth feel will be worth it.
Reviewed by Arwen O'Reilly Griffith
I was at a friend's house the other day, and noticed a cool modification to her kitchen counter. A hole was cut into it, maybe 3" in diameter, directly over the trash can. When she was done slicing up some cheese, she just brushed the rind and wrapping into the hole. (This could also work well with a compost bucket below.) Simple and brilliant!