Instructable Wednesday: Wood-Fire Oven

Over at Instructables, you can find out how to make just about anything. I've been collecting a list of interesting food-related projects. This one is: Make pizza with a plasma cutter, a backhoe and a pile of mud! One of the great things about this particular Instructable is how the author, Fritz Bogott, talks about many of the inspirations and deviations that he took while on the path. There is some good use of reclaimed materials, some techniques sustainable and not, and a whole bunch of pictures. To view the detail shots of the photos, you'll need to make an account and sign in. I don't know that I can convince Melanie to let me go ahead and try to make this one, but it seems like a great way to enhance the back yard.

Instructable Wednesday: Food Stencils

Instructable Wednesday is a weekly look at food and cooking related items from the site Instructables, a DIY site with a great community and all sorts of useful tutorials. Today, let's look at the "I ♥ Accuracy" Brownies. It has long been a staple of people who love things everywhere to make a heart that has two bumpy bits at the top and a pointy bit at the bottom. That's all well and good, but what about those of us who are pretty sure that a heart doesn't look like that? Not only is this a handy technique for the anatomically pedantic, but it's also good starting point for making stencils that will work for food. The technique can work with sweet confections such as the brownies, or you could adapt it with flour for bread. Using colored powders or edible spray-paint, you could take this technique to new heights for the stencil-ready foods. Let your imagination run wild. Think of it like silk screening: anything that could go on a t-shirt could go on food. Not that you'd want everything that has gone onto t-shirts to go onto food, but it gives you an idea of the flexibility of the technique.

Craft's How to Make Vinegar

Although text is great, sometimes you just want to see what it takes to make something. In this case, I think it's handy to be able to watch the process of putting together your own vinegar. As the source article suggests, one can order red wine vinegar mother online, or if you have a local brewery supply store, you can likely get it there. LocalHarvest also has a malt vinegar mother if you're more interested in making your vinegar out of beer instead. This is especially handy if you had a party and have a bunch of beer left over in a keg. If you have the space for it, you could make quite the batch. via Craft.

Making Cheese

The closest I've ever come to making my own cheese* is taking some mozzarella curd and putting it in some warm water, and stretching and folding it. I believe this was a Nigella Lawson party idea. It was tasty, but it wasn't anything close to real cheese making. If I were to do it properly, I would go over to Frankhauser's Cheese Page and select the article on Italian Mozzarella, then follow those directions. If I were bored with that, I might even wander around the rest of the pages to learn about other types of cheeses to make, how to butcher and skin a deer, the creation of lemoncello, and several other delicious topics. David Fankhauser, Ph.D., is a Professor of Biology and Chemistry, according to his home page. Aside from the cooking, he is interested in Folk Dances, Flying Squirrels, and Norwalk-like viruses, among other things. This looks to be a great resource for those interested in making foods while learning sciency things about the food you're making. If you're not interested in those things, well, you've apparently wandered here by mistake, and I apologize. For the rest of you, go and learn how to do wonderful things, then do them. That last bit's the tricky one, but the important one, so make the time. via Make. *- On purpose, not just letting the buttermilk go bad.

BaR2D2 Mobile Drink Station and Party Robot

Some of you may know that, during the day, I build robots. And while making a car that can drive itself on city streets is pretty cool, I have to admit that I kind of wish I had my own mobile drink serving/mixing robot. But, with the aid of Instructables, I can now build my own BaR2D2.* The build instructions are very complete. It wanders around a party, it has lots of clever, sound-activated lights, it serves drinks, it has cold beverage and ice storage. Oh, just watch the video: Via BoingBoing Gadgets. Preview photo by Kristie Stephens. *- And, of course, you can also build your own. They don't all necessarily have to go to me.

Broiling pizza at home

BoingBoing, via Kottke, points us to this ooooold article from Serious Eats back in March of 2007 that explores broiling pizza at home using, of all things, Domino's pizza dough. From the initial conversation with Domino's through the process of finding the right way get the oven up to temperature. I won't give away any of the details, but I wonder if one could make a good bread oven using a similar technique. I mean, I'd rather have the wood-fire oven in the backyard, but if I can't quite swing that, then why not do a kitchen hack or two?

Reduce refrigerator energy usage by 90%

EcoRenovator has a post on how to make a fridge that runs on 100Wh of energy per day. It's links to a PDF by Tom Chalko* that basically shows you how to modify a chest freezer to operate in temperature ranges. The nice thing about the fridge is that, when you open the door, the cold air doesn't readily escape, and thus you save energy. The bad things are: you lose a lot of volume of storage, because for the floor space, the fridge is taller than a chest freezer; also, it's a pain to organize and retrieve things from a chest freezer setup, so the ergonomics aren't there. Still, if your overriding concern is to be good to the environment and to use less energy, this is clearly a relatively easy and effective way to go. via Make. *- Boy, is this an interesting side note. Apparently, Dr. Chalko is very keen on the environment, which you will notice from his web site. Also, doing a minimal amount of digging on Google reveals that there is a paper he's written linking an increase in seismic activity to global warming. Apparently, there is no such correlation, but there was quite the kerfuffle about it. All this does not mean that the refrigerator idea is not a sound one.

Chili Powder

Okay, this should be the final installment of my Chili saga, for a while, but it's an important one. This is your basic, all-purpose* chili powder. No fancy caraway, no dedicated mole to match with it. Just pure chili powder.

Ingredients

  • 6 oz. Dried Chiles, seeded and cut lengthwise into 1-inch wide strips

  • 2.5 oz. Cumin Seeds, whole

  • .25 oz. Garlic Powder

Directions
Toast the chiles over medium heat in a dry pan until they are warm. Set aside to cool. Toast the cumin seeds in a dry pain until the scent of cumin wafts into the kitchen. Put with the chiles to cool.

Put the chiles and cumin into a blender and blend for 2 minutes or until powdered. Let settle and mix with the garlic powder. Use immediately or store for, oh, six months or so.

Notes
If you store the chili powder longer than six months, it will lose flavor. On the other hand, if you find that you've had it for, oh, 8-12 months and it's use that or buy some chili powder, I think removing the cap and smelling what you have will prove to you that it's a better choice than buying in most instances.

The chile mix is really up to you. I tend to lean towards a milder spice combined with whatever happens to be available. I also tend to use between 3 and 6 different types of chile, depending. As a guide, if you dab a bit of the chili powder on your tongue and it's too hot for you, you've probably made it too hot.

In the case of overambitious heat, get another 6 ounces of a very mild chile, and similar proportions of cumin seeds and garlic powder, make a second batch, and combine it with the first. No sense wasting it, and you can always give it as a gift if you don't make enough chili for it to be worthwhile.

*- if your purpose is to make chili.

Making Vinegar

vinegar.jpgThe Ideas in Food folk, Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot, have a regular food science column called "Kitchen Alchemy." The most recent one I've seen is Making Vinegar at Home. As we have discussed, I'm a big fan of making things that people normally don't think they can make, and vinegar definitely qualifies. This is a good companion article to the Good Eats episode on the same subject. Via Make.

Nerding out your Roasting

Thinking back to the old Kitchen Computer idea of yore, one of the important aspects of it is being able to monitor, in depth, the temperature of, well, everything in the chain of the food. So, obviously the food itself should be monitored, the cooking environment, the cooling environment, and the resting environment. This will not only let us know whether the food is done, but how quickly, what path it takes, whether it should be safe to eat or not, and if cooling it down made everything in the fridge go bad. I've explored the topic of temperature control in the past, but I had never found quite the right sensors to use. I've been playing around with the other aspects of the computer interface, such as the microprocessor and the communications, but the temperature sensors were never quite right for me. Fortunately, I am not the only geek in the world, and someone else has done much of the legwork (and, really, all of the work) for tracking these temperatures. Enter the Turkey Tracker, which was live-casting temperature updates for a turkey, the smoker, and the outside environment. There was even a video stream, photos, and everything. This is a project by, according to the list of authors on the blog, Robin Parker, Michael Weinberg, and Chris Chen. The Turkey Tracker Blog has plenty of words describing what's went into the process. What Went Into the Turkey Tracker describes some of the hardware and software, including the ideal, high-temperature thermometers that I'll need to use for my setup (though I may have to have separate probes for low-temperature sensing). There's even a FAQ, that gives answers on cooking and temperature sensing techniques. To see what it all looks like, you can check out this Flickr set about Project Wirebird.* Obviously, I'll be learning much from this example, so that I can build a strong and powerful kitchen computer. There is talk of open-sourcing the code as well as having multiple turkey-trackers next year, so perhaps I'll get in on the fun then. via Make. *- The image I used for the preview of this article was taken from that Flickr Set, and is released under a Creative Commons Attribution, Share-Alike License. So, as with my stuff, feel free to use that image or its source, but be sure to give attribution. Also, if you use that image, be sure to license whatever you use it in similarly.

Brewing your own root beer

One of my favorite things to do is to make things that people don't normally think to make. If you only know of something as a bottle or a can in a grocery store, then it's entirely likely that you need to try making it at home at least once, to see what it really tastes like. One of the things I'd like to make is some root beer. Not particularly because I've always wanted to make my own root beer, but mostly because a) non-industrialized root beer is really quite tasty, and b) RS Brewing's blog, the Champagne of Blogs has a detailed step-by-step of how to make your own root beer. Woo! The great thing about this setup is that it does not involve a pre-made syrup, but rather has you make your own flavored water and carbonate it. The downside is that it does not involve yeast for the carbonation, so it's not entirely traditional. If you read down into the comments, you can see where some people suggest that yeast would be okay. Of course, it's a short step from this to making any kind of soda/cola/pop/whatever you want. Perhaps some tasty citrus-flavored concoction. Mmmm. via Make.

Roasting Coffee the Popcorn Way

Remember when I said I had to stop myself from posting anything that comes across khymos.org and Ideas in Food? Apparently Make is one of those, as well, at least for their food related posts.* However, in this case, a casual exchange on twitter prompts this one.
Ihnatko: 'I've just ordered a hot-air popcorn popper on Amazon. Yes, I am indeed living the dream…' thefoodgeek: 'Are you modding it to roast coffee beans, or is this just for popcorn?' snitty: 'You can do *what* with a popcorn popper? Do you have a link? Also, is the modification reversible?'
At the time, I just forwarded a link to an old engadget article about seriously modding a popcorn popper. It's a good read, but then I ran across this article on Make about an airpopper coffee roaster, with included video, and it is so much easier. No modding, available inexpensively though yard sales or eBay. Go to it! You can pay for the popper with about 3lbs, based on the price estimates in the video. Plus, your coffee will taste better. Less money, better coffee. *- To be fair, I have scooped a few of the more mainstream sites with a couple of these, so I apparently have my finger on the heartbeat of the something something blah blah.

LimoncelloQuest

There is something good to be said for focus. Technically The Food Geek dot com has a focus, and that is food, but food is a huge topic. Huuuuuge. There are those that are even more focused, and the one I ran across today is LimoncelloQuest. Since returning from Italy, I have been planning on making some Limoncello. For those who aren't familiar, Limoncello is a liqueur that is generally homemade around Italy, though it is available for purchase. You take some lemon peel, soak it in grain alcohol for a while, mix in some simple syrup, and you have yourself something tasty. Simple. As those who follow cooking enough know, simple things are the hardest to do. Any small mistake features largely in the final product, because there are so few things covering for it. The tagline of LimoncelloQuest is "A personal pilgrimage to create the perfect Limoncello". The site owner is taking every variable and, well, varying them. Organic vs. standard lemons, adding juice or no, whether to and how often to filter the grain alcohol, how long to let everything rest, all of that. LimoncelloQuest is not only great for those who are interested in finding out how to make great Limoncello, but it's great for anyone who has a personal quest for perfection, and wants to see how someone else manages that quest.

Making your own hard cider

There's this site called instructables. Its purpose in life is to have step-by-step instructions of doing just about everything, all generated by users, with the ability to comment and so on. A lot of these projects are electronics, or carpentry, or steampunk, or what-have-you. Cool stuff, but not useful for thefoodgeek.com. However, instructables recently held the Hungry Scientist Contest intending, I think, to give me all sorts of crazy things to link to whenever I'm feeling lazy. In this case, they gave me one of the front runners, Home Brew Hard Cider from Scratch. This takes about 20lbs of apples and turns it into fizzy, tasty, alcoholic cider. There's juicing, there's pasteurization, there's brewer's yeast, there's special valves to keep the wrong critters from colonizing your cider. It's got it all. If you don't have a juicer, you could do like JohnnyT and build your own cider press from things you have laying about. I'm not sure all of those materials are food safe, but people are adventurous.

Easy and inexpensive steam distillation of essence

I have this strange dream of having an apothecary's shop in my kitchen, or so it would appear. I want to find the best way of distilling food down to its essence, then having it ready at a moment's notice to enhance a bit of food or drink. It's odd, really, because I don't use that many spices while I'm cooking right now, as I tend to try to focus on the base nature of the food rather than trying to gussy it up. Still, the dream persists, and I'll play with it as time goes on, and perhaps adjust my cooking style to the number of extracts, essences, oils, and powders that I can accumulate. In any case, Sean Michael Ragan has written a handy piece about using a standard bit of cooking equipment, the pot with integrated steam basket, plus a "schoolhouse" style lamp, to make your own simple steam distillation system. It really is an Alton Brown style conglomeration of simple parts for a very good purpose.

[2008-05-05] Improvised radial alembic for DIY steam distillation: "I would add that this is not my idea, originally, although I may have been the first to recognize the unique shape of the so-called 'schoolhouse' lamp globe as highly amenable for impromptu condenser service, since it comes with a readymade 'drip tip' where condensate can accumulate. My version […] requires a stainless steel pot with an integral strainer (constructed such that there is some distance between the pot bottom and the strainer bottom when the strainer is in place), a 'schoolhouse' style glass lamp globe which is of greater diameter than the pot, and a stainless steel or glass receiving vessel."

(Via Make.)

The Traveler's Lunchbox - Project Vanilla

Making your own vanilla extract appeals to me tremendously. I must do this.

The Traveler's Lunchbox - Project Vanilla: "There are probably easier ways to do it, where you just use a set ratio of beans to alcohol and let it sit until ready. The beauty of this method, however, is that a) aside from the very beginning, you're only sticking used beans in there (which feels delightfully frugal), b) your extract will continue to improve as you keep adding new beans, and c) once you get the ball rolling, as long as you keep using vanilla beans in your kitchen you'll have an unending supply of extract on hand too. Pretty nifty, no?"

chadzilla: making vodka pills in 24 hours

chadzilla: making vodka pills in 24 hours: "Recently, Chef Fabian was experimenting further with the Adria/Torreblanca technique of making 'vodka pills.' I use this word to describe the process of making liquid-filled candies by pouring flavored alcohol syrups into cornstarch and letting it set until a hard outer shell forms. The process is simple, but requires great attention to certain details and a clean approach."

The general idea is to make a soft, syrup-filled candy that is primarily based on a distilled spirit. The process takes a full day, and the end product doesn't have much shelf life, so it would be keen for a party, for example. I would probably lean towards a more flavorful spirit such as bourbon, but that might be a bit strong for some guests. If you read through to the comments, there is a, um, energetic discussion (mustn't say 'spirited') about different spirits to use, possible ways to increase durability and shelf life, and how to measure.

(Via Make.)

Make your own chewing gum

One of the things I like doing best when I cook is making something that normally people buy. Sure, making the greatest Macaroni and Cheese is really cool, but making my own Chili Powder is being one step closer to godhood. Along those lines, I love the idea of the make your own gum kit. You get the basic materials, heat, mix, add some flavor, and Bob's your uncle. What would be better, though, is finding a good source for chicle gum base (or, for that matter, any gum base). Then I could just make my own gum, without all that messy working with a kit thing. But where can I find chicle gum base? TIC gums seems a good source for some serious gum bases, but no chicle gums, and these seem to be the sorts of additives that are great for mass production of food, but aren't so useful for the home cook. And that's where you get into the need for a kit. Play around with the pre-packaged, ready-to-assemble stuff, then work hard to find the basic ingredients if it seems at all worthwhile. I just like being able to go to my local market and grab the necessary ingredients and supplement it with what I already have. It works for a lot of foods, but I'm not sure if it'll work well with gum. However, if anyone knows anything worth knowing on the subject of gum and gum making, please post here.

LEGO Chocolate Printer

LEGO Chocolate ExtruderInstructables has a great entry on a homemade 3D Chocolate Printer, made from LEGOs (with some custom work). Its very rough at the moment, and the maximum geometry is limited by the fact that there isn't yet a way to work in support structures, but it's a great start. There are some movies on the site of the device working, as well as step-by-step pictures of its construction (in the Instructables way).