Toffee Troubles

What sorts of things can go wrong with toffee making? Will humidity doom a toffee to failure, or could there be something more sinister at work?

My Twitter friend Jennifer asks:


Candy is a delicate creature, unfit to survive creation out of captivity. Only with constant attention, experience, care, and the proper environment will it make it from its early ingredients stage to the confection we all know and love. Candy made for the holidays is even worse, because chances are you only make it once per year. I mean, you may make hundreds of batches at that one time per year, but it'll still be twelve months until your next attempt, so the skills fade.

Okay, I exaggerate. Yes, candy making requires experience and knowledge, but it only seems mysterious because you're trying to make something that, candy lovers claim, tastes so much better than anything else. And toffee, being one of the tastiest of candies, requires a bit more knowledge to ensure it works.

The short answer is "yes," humidity will absolutely affect candy making. I don't believe, however, that humidity was the problem with your toffee. Humidity is more likely to affect the texture of the toffee, taking away the crunch and making it limp or saucy. Also, unless you're adding an acid or some fructose, you're not likely to absorb all that much water.


The general goal with most candies is to create a sugar dissolved in a specific amount of water, with perhaps some other things thrown in for flavor or texture. Candy makers, being extremely clever, have come up with a couple of somewhat indirect ways of determining the ratio of sugar to water. The traditional way is to cause the candy to cool rapidly and see how it behaves, generally in water but I've also seen someone* just flick some at a plate and see what kind of strands it makes. The new fashioned way is to take its temperature.

As you've made this toffee before, it's not likely that temperature is the problem you're having, so I will not go into detail on the various stages of candy making. Yes, I know: it's brilliant how many things are probably not wrong with the toffee, but perhaps I could get to the point? Working on it.

When you have a high enough concentration of sugar in heated water, the sugar is going to want to get together and form crystals. Sometimes this is good, such as with rock candy or fudge. Sometimes this is bad, such as with hard candy or toffee. One method of preventing the crystals in toffee is to mix in a bunch of butter, which is great, but it presents potential problems that frustrate the toffee maker.

Problem one is that butter is a combination of water and oil, which means that you are increasing the water content of the mixture, and some butters will have different oil to water ratios. The water content shouldn't be a problem in and of itself, as you can't reach the right temperature of the solution without getting rid of the appropriate amount of water. On the other hand, if you use a butter with a different amount of water, then you are also using a butter with a different amount of oil, which will certainly throw things off. It's worth mentioning that if you usually use salted butter and used unsalted this time, or vice versa, that could cause the problem as well. So, if you might have changed brands of butter, this could be a cause of trouble.

Problem two is temperature. I know, I know, I wrote that I didn't think that the problem was temperature. I even put it in bold. More specifically, problem two is temperature measurement. Getting to the right temperature ensures that you have the appropriate amount of water in the solution, but it's possible that you might not be getting to the right temperature. If you are using a thermometer instead of the traditional methods, then you need to verify that the thermometer is accurate. To do this, put the thermometer into ice water and see if it reads 32°F / 0°C. Also, put it into boiling water and verify that it reads 212°F / 100°C. If it does, you're probably good. If not, you might not really be getting to the proper temperature, which could be trouble. Unless you're not at sea level, in which case verify what the proper temperature should be for your elevation.

Problem three is heat dissipation. It is vital that the sugar/butter/water solution be heated evenly. This means using a strong but temperature-neutral spoon. Wood is traditional, but I'm sure a serious silicone spoon will be fine. Also, it's recommended to use a burner that's larger than your cooking vessel, to ensure that the sides of the pan do not cool the mixture while the bottom is heating it. Heat imbalances kill candy.

Problem four is agitation. Yes, candy-making can really drive you nuts, but that's not what I mean. I'm talking about stirring. Stir slowly. Add ingredients slowly. If you dump a bunch of almonds into the mixture rather than pouring the toffee over the almonds just before the cooling stage, then be gentle with the mixing. Slowly. No, more slowly than that.

I've heard that adding a bit of salt will make life easier, and I've also heard that adding a bit more water may do the same. The success of these solutions (no pun intended) will depend on the particular toffee recipe you're trying, but are at best risk mitigation. If you have an otherwise good toffee recipe, which I believe you do, then they shouldn't be necessary.

Why is toffee such a pain, even more so than other candies? It's because toffee is a candy that is also a sauce. It's very similar to an article I wrote last month about the troubles with Alfredo Sauce. Not only do you have the whole "sugar likes to turn into a bunch of crystals" problem that plagues most candies, but you're suspending a bunch of oil in a solution of things that don't really play well with oil. You're expecting the sugar, which is temperamental at best, to keep oil from mixing with water, and we all know how well that's supposed to work out. But treat it with care, and everything should work out okay. If not, let me know and we can work on the other, less likely scenarios.

For those who don't have their own toffee recipe, or if you just want to try a new one, here is a toffee recipe that covers the advice that I mentioned plus a few other items that I didn't.

*- Sue Ashburn, creator of the greatest toffee in existence.

This post was originally hosted at on Januray 8, 2009. This content is not available under a Creative Commons License.

A "New Cut of Beef"?


On my Twitter feed yesterday, Paul H. Ting passed along a link to a Gizmodo report, "Steak Specialists Discover a New Cut of Beef." My initial reaction was that someone used some Tetris skills to see a new way of slicing a cow so that they could pull out some kind of steak that no butcher before had seen. That's the kind of thinking that I like to see from butchers in the 21st Century. No letting previous generations dictate what makes a tasty steak, no! Go forth and think of things in new and exciting ways. That's the way to do it.

On reading the article, I was disappointed to see that they got patents on this method, which disappointed me. I mean, yay on doing new things and all, but really, a patent on a new way of slicing things? I expressed disappointment and moved along, but Ben Ostrowsky did some digging and found a meat-related patent from Tony Mata, the person mentioned in the article who, well, you can read it:

The Vegas Strip is the brainchild of Tony Mata, of industry group Mata & Associates, who approached Nelson and the FAPC for help developing the cut. "Initially, the cut was labeled as undervalued," Mata told the Drovers Cattle Network. "Whenever we can take a muscle and turn it into a steak rather than grinding it or selling it as a roast, we are adding value to the carcass."

I completely breezed over this the first time, but after seeing the patent, I re-read and wondered, "If it were just a special cut, why would you need the help of a University's agriculture department do 'develop the cut'?" The patent in question is for:

Improved restructured meat products are provided which exhibit enhanced texture, tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. The meat products are formed by mixing together brine-treated, essentially gristle free raw meat strips (e.g., beef, poultry, pork or mixtures thereof) in the form of strips and ground beef containing naturally-occurring fat, followed by forming the mixture into steak-like bodies.

In other words, it might not be a cut of beef that was found, it was assembled from bits and pieces here and there. Which, to me, is disappointing. I mean, yay to making full use of the animal and all, but we could have already ground up the meat if we just wanted to use it. All they've done is found a way to make more steak out of it which, in this day and age, is really just an engineering effort than something truly clever. If the steak had some new properties, such as tenderness of a fillet with flavor of a ribeye, then maybe. But for something which, reportedly "The taste, tenderness, and flavor are reportedly akin to a New York Strip or Flat Iron cut," then it's just some more of what we have.

It's not like there's a steak shortage in the country. If we wanted, and I know I'm going to be unpopular in some camps with this statement, but if we wanted to have more New York Strip steaks, then we could just cut smaller strip steaks. We don't always have to have the plate dominated by beef to enjoy our steak. Have, and please excuse the crazy talk, a small steak, and eat some veggies or pasta or something if you're still hungry. Maybe I'm a steak grinch, but seriously, do we need to reconstruct steaks now because we don't have enough steak?

The answer is clearly, "no". The real reason this is of interest is for people who want to raise the worth of a cow carcass by a few more dollars. More steaks equals more money, so let's find some more steaks. To me, that's the wrong reason to try these experiments on food. Make something excellent, and money will come. Make something profitable, and you get a nation of people who don't know how to regulate what they eat in a balanced and healthy manner.

Mind you, we don't know for sure that the cut of beef and the patent are related; maybe I was right the first time. I would love to hear more from the people involved. If I were a better reporter, I'd call people up and ask Particular Questions. Perhaps tomorrow. 

Olives as Ingredient

Olive tree

In the US, olives are often thought of as a snack food, to be eaten on their own. Of course, by most, olives in the US are thought to be either green with red centers or black, coming out of a can or a jar, mostly flavorless, and never having seen a pit. But even setting those aside, it's rare to see olives outside of a few dishes: a couple types of pasta sauce, the occasional bread, or a tapenade.

On Twitter, I recently said that, "Olives, good olives, should be a much more common component in cooking." Because every time I run across an olive in a dish, I'm always pleasantly surprised, and it doesn't happen all that often. There's a place a few blocks from me that makes really good empanadas, and the La Traditional has olives. Even with all the use of extra-virigin olive oil for cooking, people don't think, "Hey, let's just add some olives in for even more of that great flavor."

So, here are some guidelines:

  • Only good olives;
  • Don't overuse kalamata; they are very salty;
  • It works really well with meat. You can work it into any sort of ground meat preparation such as hamburgers, meatloaf, meatballs, sausage, whatever;
  • Olives give a huge savory boost. It is loaded with umami;
  • Pastas work well with olives; Puttanesca and Puttanesca Bianca are the prime examples;
  • Speaking of, Puttanesca Bianca is amazing. Try that some time;
  • Stews;
  • Mixing the 'stews' and 'meat' recommendation, I think olives judiciously applied to a Chili would be very, very good
  • Savory pies.

And so on. I will work to incorporate olives into more of my cooking. 

A new kind of coffee blend

Hand pour bar at the Mudhouse

I was chatting with my friend Dan at the Mudhouse, one of Charlottesville's coffee Institutions, the other day. A thought had occurred to me which seemed a bit obvious in retrospect, and as Dan is the person I know who is Most Serious About Coffee, I ask him about all my crazy coffee thoughts.

In this case, I was asking about hand-pour coffee. The question was whether people separate out the various parts of the brewing process and try them separately, so that, for example, you have three cups of coffee instead of one. The first cup represents the first 1/3 of the water that goes through the coffee grounds, the second the second 1/3, and the last the third 1/3. Dan told me that he hadn't done that with the hand pour, but it was part of his training program on espresso for new baristas. Then he gave me a sample.

The first part of the espresso shot tastes like every espresso you'll get in Italy, because italian espresso uses about 1/6 to 1/20 the water that you'll get from just about anywhere in the U.S. It's packed full of flavor, not really any bitterness. The second and third thirds don't have much flavor at all, but they do carry most of the body of the espresso, and I'm not entirely sure what makes up the body of espresso, so I'm going to have to do some research. Note to self. I'm pretty sure it's not collagen, though.

Right now, in artisanal coffee circles, hand-pour coffee is one of the darling techniques, because it allows for a lot of control and you can get a coffee cup full of flavor and nuance in a way that is different from all of the other techniques. It's not a replacement for other coffee brewing methods, naturally, it's just a way of tasting coffee very differently from what you'd get in, say, a French Press. It's especially good for single origin coffees, where you want to know all the nuances of a particular bean.

To hand-pour coffee, you essentially have a filter with ground coffee above a cup. You pour some hot water over the ground coffee, and coffee fills the cup. Very simple method, lots of things to do to get it right.

Here's what I can imagine: divide the hand-pour process into 10 equal pours. Call the resulting parts of the coffee "slices 1 to 10". If some were really, really serious about coffee experimentation, I could see that person saying "For this bean, you want to use slices 2-4, 7, and 9. For that blend, 1-3, 5-8" and so on. Take out the parts of the extraction that don't work for that bean to enhance or reduce whatever aspects aren't right. Of course, just like my explanation of the hand-pour process, if something like that would work it would be much more involved to get it right. 

Even more so, a very fast, very meticulous, essentially crazy person might brew slices of different single-origin coffees and blend them together into a single super cup. Such a coffee would either be: a) indistinguishable from other coffees; or b) the most amazing coffee ever. Either way, it would be terribly expensive to do right. Still, fun to imagine.

Mother's Day

DSC 1126

It's Mother's Day: the day when most Americans take their first step towards cooking for others. Traditionally, this is when a child decides that Mom, one of the two most important people in their life and probably the one most responsible for feeding you up until this point, is going to get breakfast in bed.

Naturally, breakfast will be a disaster. You've never cooked before, or possibly not unsupervised. Perhaps not since you tried this last year. Maybe it'll be an easy goal of cereal and milk, which may get all soggy while the flowers are plucked from the neighbor's garden and arranged just so. Or maybe you'll have gone with toast, blackened, or possibly something like eggs and bacon, depending on how daring you are and whether you can reach the stove. Presuming the fire alarm doesn't go off, you surprise mom in bed with what is probably high on the worst-tasting meal she's ever eaten, and it's still one of the best things you could have done.

Remember this impulse. Remember that the most important thing you can do for someone you love is to cook them a meal. Keep this urge. Don't only develop the skills to cook well, but use food and cooking as a means of conveying caring and not just as a method of transporting flavor and calories. if you do that, then you will understand the most important thing to know about food.

Cook for someone you love.

Happy Mother's Day.

Hospital Food

Imagine scrambled eggs. Now imagine them in the shape of a hockey puck. As near as you can tell, they may be reconstituted, and they may be microwaved. They definitely did not have any fat or salt added to them for the cooking process. This is the image that I have of hospital food, because it was what I had to eat while recovering from surgery many years ago.

Hospital food, by and large, is terrible. In the US and Canada definitely, and I suspect in many other places as well. There's a video below about hospital food in Canada, and it goes into the whys and how that particular hospital is changing things. (Thanks Jodi for the link)


There is, I suspect, a deeper reason for the lack of attention (and money) paid to hospital food, and that's because there's a belief that, from a healing perspective, food is less important than medicine. Food, to many, is about avoiding bad things, and is about nutritional content and calorie count and the like. If you can keep those quantifiable things vaguely in line, then whatever you eat is just as good as anything else.

Personally, I don't believe that's the case. Aside from our inability to really understand what's happening with the interaction between food and our bodies except in the case of a few small factors (cholesterol, fat, vitamins, fiber, etc), we really don't know how food works. Even ignoring that, there's a bigger issue, which is how we feel.

When you're home and you get the flu, what do you want? Comfort food. Most likely, you want chicken soup, especially if you're raised in certain cultures. Maybe the details of the kind of food differ, but when you are feeling poorly, one of the things that makes you feel better is good food. It's not just fuel, it sets the tone for the day. It gives you motivation and energy. In cognitive terms, if you can use the sense memories around food to bring back memories of comforting times, then your brain will be primed more for comfort than for pain. You might, might, even heal faster. At the very least, you won't suffer as much while you are recovering.

If the best the food can offer is bringing up memories of either other trips to the hospital or maybe an airline trip in coach class, then neither of those associations are going to help.

Another issue, one that honestly I'm surprised to hear is a thing, is that hospitals aren't paying attention to food allergies. If someone is gluten intolerant, and you feed them something wheat-y, then we're not talking about psychological effects, but genuine physiological harm. That's beyond the realm of misguided and into the range of seriously negligent.

Incidentally, there are some hospitals, I'm told, that have really good food. Not just "Good for hospital food" food, but honest-to-goodness good food. Here is a short list of hospitals with good food that my Twitter followers sent me:

  • Candler Memorial Hospital in Savannah GA apparently had fantastic hamburgers (via Michael)
  • Hopital in York, ME (via Matt)
  • Hospitals, mostly in NYC, that have Bikur Cholim Services (via Sarah)


Let them eat cake

The story (mostly false) goes that Marie Antoinette, shortly before becoming a foot shorter, was talking with an advisor. The advisor told her that the peasants had no bread, and she responded, "Let them eat cake!" Ignoring the historical accuracy of the quote or the players, the language and its relation to food is what I'm interested in. (History? Pah!)

A more accurate quote is closer to, "The peasants don't have baguettes*," and, "So let them eat brioche!" The thing is, back when the phrase was popularly introduced in the English Language, there wasn't really an appreciation of the many kinds of french breads that exist as there are today. And, truth be told, I suspect a great many people still don't have a full enough appreciation of the different bread types, so it's not like a more accurate translation is going to work its way into the mainstream.

Still, a guy can dream.

*- Okay, okay. Baguette is a shape, and the actual type of bread is the lean bread known as "le pain." However, "pain" being a very distinct word in English that nobody uses for bread, it would completely confuse people. Frankly, I'm very close to banning this phrase in English or maybe altogether. There are just too many problems with it.

Rainy Day BBQ

Original Recipe By: Fort Worth Star-Telegram 1968. We make this probably once or so per year, and it's great for parties as long as you don't think doubling the amount of meat won't significantly affect cooking time (whoops!). The secret is in the plum/prune baby food. Totally not proper barbecue, but still awfully tasty.


  •  4-5 lbs. beef brisket 


  •  1 T. celery seed 
  •  1 t. garlic powder 
  •  1 t. onion salt 
  •  1 ½ t. salt 
  •  2 T. Worcestershire sauce 
  •  2 t. ground pepper 
  •  2 T. liquid smoke 
  •  1 t. lemon juice 

Barbecue Sauce:

  • ½ C. catsup
  • ¼ C. wine vinegar
  • 1 small jar plum baby food
  • ½ C. brown sugar
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 t. freshly ground black pepper 


  1. Mix marinade ingredients together and marinate brisket in tightly covered glass casserole for 12 hours in the refrigerator.
  2. Combine the barbecue sauce ingredients and bring to a boil in saucepan, stirring constantly.  After mixture boils, continue to simmer for 7 min. 
  3. Cook brisket in 275 degree oven in a pan tightly covered with aluminum foil for 3 hours.  Remove pan for oven and pour off liquid. Cover brisket with ½ of the barbecue sauce and recover. 
  4. Return to oven for 30 min. 
  5. To serve:  Slice brisket with sharp knife on the bias.  Serve with extra sauce. 

Breeding for convenience

When we changed from being strictly hunter/gatherers to becoming farmers, we decided that the natural world was not enough to support our needs, and we decided to focusing on making food more convenient for us. At first, it was probably mostly being more conveniently located, and ensuring that those items in the convenient location have the best chance for survival and growth. As time went on, though, we gained the skills and knowledge to modify what we grew to have different traits. Some of this was from selecting the seeds of various plants that we liked the best, and continuing to select seeds from later generations that more accurately matched our desires. In other cases, we would take a natural process of cross breeding, as happens with grasses, and diversify grains into things like corn and wheat. Both useful, both grasses, both very different.

When the advent of high-speed trucking, shipping, and freight-hauling hit its peak, food growers realized that they could expand their market by selecting some traits, such as ability to withstand damage, over others, such as flavor. The big example in this case is the tomato, which went from a delicious fruit/vegetable thing to becoming a tasteless bit of watery ornamentation that goes on top of a sandwich. When convenience is chosen over flavor, the food suffers.

This is not to say that convenience and flavor are mutually exclusive, or that with enough work, we can't create a series of tomatoes that can survive shipping *and* have all sorts of different, and good, flavors. However, each additional variable adds a lot of extra complexity, and it becomes less profitable to bundle it all into one. This is why year-long, grocery store tomatoes are not likely to be as good as locally-grown, farm fresh tomatoes without being much more expensive. Worse, that's likely to remain the case for many, many years, if it ever changes at all.

I also think of this whenever I eat a fresh concord grape. They are packed with all the flavor in the world, but their seeds and skin leave a little to be desired. Seedless grapes, on the other hand, are really easy to eat, but have a flavor best described as, "insipid".

So be cautious of the compromise you make when choosing your food. Putting forth a little extra effort, or waiting until the right time, will almost always give you significantly better flavor than choosing the convenience route. Which is not to say that you can never choose convenience, just know what you are giving up.

The Baseline

Mosaic of FoodI just got back from a couple of weeks in Italy. Yes, I know you feel bad for me, having to spend literally weeks in Italy, but I assure you that I soldiered through it bravely. As a food writer in Italy, there are plenty of thoughts and conversations about how good the food is. The interesting thing is, though, that it's not that you'll necessarily have the best meal of your life in Italy. I mean, you might, there is certainly the possibility, but the greatest food in Italy is not necessarily going to be better than the greatest food in the US, France, or Japan, for example. 

From my perspective, Italian food (in Italy) has two things going for it: 1) It is very compatible with my American-raised palate, and 2) the minimum expectation for when food tastes acceptable is significantly higher than in the US. This means that getting a cup of espresso is going to mean that you get something very tasty and drinkable, not a big cup of bitter. This means that going to a random cheap pizza place means you get something that is at least comparable to the top 20% of most US pizzerias, as opposed to, say, a Domino's, Papa John's, or Little Caesar's. This means that, if you go somewhere for a random bowl of pasta, you're not going to get plan noodles drowned in industrial-grade tomato sauce.

Oh, sure, you can find places that have terrible food. There are, after all, at least two McDonald's in Rome. But in the bell-curve of restaurant quality, the hump is going to lean heavily towards the right-hand side of the graph. 

The Fois Gras Debate


California passed a fois gras Ban in 2004, which goes into effect on July 1. Naturally, a lot of chefs think this is a bad idea. Given the types of people I follow on Twitter, I heard about the reaction to the ban before the ban itself. So what's the deal?

The people against fois gras point to the force-feeding of a goose, which gives a goose more food than it needs, so that its liver will become fattier. Okay, we are a humane society who doesn't want to hurt animals unnecessarily. It's hard to argue that point. Except that the chefs are pointing out that a vast majority of poultry and meat in the US market are being raised in horrific circumstances, such as animals living their lives covered in their own filth and unable to move around, but that's perfectly legal and much more wrong than the fois. And there we have the interesting bit.

Neither group wants to hurt animals. We all have our own tolerance for the harm to animals vs. the need/desire for food. On the vegan side, there is no tolerance for harm to animals. For everyone else, there is a compromise. The most important factors in that compromise will likely indicate which side of the fois gras ban any given person will fall on.

For the legislators, the desire is to ensure that as many people as possible get a chance to buy meat at a low price.* For the chefs, the goal is to make the sacrifice of any given animal mean as much as possible, so they will focus on things that make the quality and taste of the meat as good as possible. Legislators see the compromise as something for the greater good, and chefs see the compromise as one of respect for the animal.

Personally, I side with the chefs. I understand the legislators' desires, but I think that we are sincerely unbalanced in our approach to how much meat we need to eat at any given meal, and the shear number of animals that are harmed by industrial farming far outweighs the few geese that are force fed. Even if force feeding were as bad as many of the practices of the large-scale poultry, beef, and pork raising industries, which I am not conceding, there are so few geese/ducks that are affected that maybe we should consider looking at a problem with larger reach first.

Of course, the reach is part of the issue. A change to, say, the practices of the mainstream chicken ranches would affect not only all the chickens, but all of the people who buy chickens, which means that it's fraught with peril, both to the people they would affect as well as the people who might vote for them. After all, being the legislator who tripled the price of chicken isn't going to make you a popular person when the next voting cycle comes around. A ban on fois gras makes it clear that you are for animal rights without doing anything that will affect enough people who would vote against you, so it's fairly safe.

Image of the goose copyright AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by anemoneprojectors (back soon??!).

*- Of course, there may be an underlying reason for that desire, such as a company or industry with that goal has given the legislator a fat sack of cash, and the legislator really likes cash. However, the underlying reason is not the focus here.

Tobasco Reserve

Every now and then, someone offers to send me something for free. Sometimes I accept; sometimes I do not. Sometimes I review it; sometimes I do not. Sometimes I like it; sometimes I do not. This is one of the cases where I accepted the item and decided to review it.
What is it?

Fancy Tobasco Sauce. Perhaps the fanciest of Tobasco sauce. 2011 Tobasco Brand Family Reserve Pepper Sauce from the McIlhenny Co. It's available at Amazon for just shy of $25, and the item description calls it a collector's item. Why?

Well, first of all it's small batch. Second, it's aged. Third, it's blended with premium ingredients. Oh, and the peppers were aged as well. The finest peppers.

Also, it has a wax seal and a little medal. So that's cool.

Now what you should be asking me is, "Brian, now that you've tried it, is this Tobasco Brand Family Reserve Pepper Sauce really worth $25? I mean, it does have a medal that goes around the bottle." To which I say, "Wellllllll… maybe. Probably not. But maybe."

I enjoy Tobasco sauce and other hot pepper sauces. I have even made my own, which is fun and tasty. However, I am not a Tobasco fanatic. There are those who pick a sauce, Tobasco or otherwise, and put it on everything. Everything edible. Probably a couple of other things, but most won't admit to that. Some of these people live a life of Tobasco-centered joy. If you need to buy a gift for one of these people, I would absolutely buy this gift. It's Tobasco-y, it's limited edition, it has slightly fancier bottling, and it comes in a box that makes it easy to wrap. How can you lose?

If you are thinking of buying this for yourself, and you are a Tobasconaut as described above, then I'm afraid I can't help you. I just don't have a refined enough Tobasco palate to be able to adequately judge the awesomeness or lameness of this sauce. Find another review, and check that.

If you are a casual pepper sauce eater, then I would not advise spending the $25 on a bottle of this. Go with the chipotle version, or the habañero version, or Sriracha, or one of the many many small-batch brands of hot sauce. Or make your own. All good choices. But spending $25 on this will not give you such a difference in flavor that a casual hot-sauce consumer would notice. You can get a lot of hot sauce for $25. But several of the other options instead.

Oh, and about that medal: don't leave it on the bottle. If you leave it on, every time you put hot sauce on your food, the medal will fall into said food. It's happened to me three times. Now that I've taken a picture of the thing, I am getting rid of it forever. If you, um, collect hot sauce bottles, set the medal aside and save it for when you've finished with the bottle. It will look nice on the shelf. Well, as nice as a bottle of hot sauce on your shelf is going to look, I suppose.

Soylent Gelatin

Soylent gelatin reports in a headline calculated to get a lot of interest that "Next-Generation Gelatin Could be Derived from Humans Instead of Animals." For those who know how gelatin is made, the image that pops up is disturbing, indeed. After all, gelatin is generally derived by slowly cooking out the connective tissue from collagen-heavy parts of animals or, to put too fine a point on it, they boil down hooves of animals. So immediately one thinks of a pot filled with hands and feet or something equally ridiculous. After all, hands aren't particularly collagen-rich. It'd take far too many hands.

So, when you get past the headline into the article, you find that what's happening is that scientists have found one or more handy gene sequences that creates collagen, and they've grafted these genes onto the DNA of yeast, which can just pump out the collagen as long as there's food to eat and nobody tries to make bread or beer out of them.

So now we're at the interesting bits. Gene sequences are the same in a bunch of different species. Humans share a tremendous amount of DNA with mice, for example. The sequences used may or may not be available in other animals, and possible even the sequences exist in animals that we eat. So, if someone spent the money to discover that these sequences exists in not only humans but cows as well, is this less disgusting?

From the scientists perspective, genes are becoming better understood and more usable. After all, DNA is for creating proteins. DNA unzips to create RNA, and RNA bonds with molecules in the cell to generate a protein. Here's a video that describes the process:

In a really large system, like a person or a bacterium, it's hard to understand everything that is going on because there are so many things happening at once, and they're all linked. But for making proteins, it's relatively simple, as these things go. So scientists aren't necessarily super-concerned about where they found the genes, because they're just making proteins. If you were cloning dinosaurs and wanted to mix in some frog DNA, then you'd have more to worry about because the system is so complex you might get velociraptors that can change sex and have babies that will kill everyone in the theme park or something.

The end product is still going to have to be tested to ensure it's non-toxic and nutritionally similar to conventionally-derived gelatin before it's ever sold as something that could be ingested. It's still pretty weird, though, so I expect that we will not see this in food products initially. You're not going to get to choose between the regular Jell-O and the non-human Jell-O, at least to start with. Instead, it'll likely go into medical applications first, where there's already so many crazy science-things going on that one more weird application isn't going to make much of a difference. A few years later, once that's settled in and become normal, they'll start rolling out the Gummi people.

Cooking Moods

Hopefully, if you are a fan of The Food Geek, you are also a fan of cooking. So I would like to get an idea of how you like to cook.

Do you like to cook all of the time, most of the time, or some of the time, or rarely?

When you do really want to cook, is it just to cook whatever, or do you get into mood to cook a specific dish or style?

Do you tend to try a dish once, or do you like to keep trying the dish until you've perfected it (for varying definitions of 'perfect')?

What was the last thing you wanted to cook? How did it turn out?

Answer in the comments, on twitter, email, phone call, or whatever.