Instructable Wednesday: Sugar Glass

This week's Instructable is on making sugar glass, which is a technique you've most likely seen on those cooking competitions where they're making a sculpture and everything has to be made from an edible material. Sugar glass is also used in the movies and probably on stage when someone needs hitting over the head with a bottle. The author of the Instructable posted a video of this technique… …which, as you can see, has a million and one uses around the home. This particular Instructable, while full of information, admits that it glosses over the process of making a mould for shaping the glass. However, on step 5 he links to another instructable on Two Part Silicone Casting which will give you the information you need for that.

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.

Stephen Colbert did not win Bocuse d'Or

Stephen Colbert, political commentator*, describes how he did not win the Bocuse d'Or. Also, no Newbery. What's with that? In any case, watch the video below: *- And that's all. Certainly not a comedian. Only serious. Yeah.

On FineCooking.com: Sous Vide or Bust

A New article on Fine Cooking's web site is up: Sous Vide or Bust, where I describe the basic basic basics or sous vide cooking and whether all that equipment is necessary. Unlike here, Fine Cooking has some editorial sensibilities, so I didn't feel that it was appropriate to link to the following video on the original article. However, to illustrate what can be done with minimal equipment, I present Kamikaze Cookery with The Perfect Steak. Note that, as you may have guessed with the early part of this paragraph, there's some language in this video, and a little bit of suggestiveness coupled with putting the 'b' in subtle.

Fractal Foods

Fractals are constructs that, when you look closely at them, contain tiny copies of themselves. There are fractals all over nature, and there was a period in the early nineties, around the time of the first Jurassic Park, that fractals and chaos theory were intensely popular. The most popular mathematical fractal, the Mandelbrot set, was featured on t-shirts and posters everywhere, and how quickly your computer could generate one was the Big Nerd equivalent of how quickly your car could go from 0 to 60 MPH.* Note that the audio to the video contains not only a naughty word or two, but extreme geekery in the form of a Jonathan Coulton song. In the world of living creatures, fractals aren't quite as popular. If you met a bear that was a fractal bear, he'd probably look like this:
mandelbear.jpg
and that'd just be weird, right? Vegetables are a little different though; at least a few of them are. People talk about onions having layers like that's something interesting, but the broccoli relatives are the ones that you want to watch out for. If you've ever cut up a broccoli or cauliflower, you've probably noticed that the little stalks are much like the larger bits, at least up until a point. The best representation of a fractal that I've seen in nature is broccoli's cousin, the romanesco. The first time you see one, you tend to think "pointy broccoli." That's because it looks like:
plants_7_bg_082104.jpg
Image courtesy of PD Photo.org under a Creative Commons Public Domain license. which, as you can clearly see, is a pointy broccoli, or something that looks suspiciously like a pointy broccoli. *- The "Magic Eye" or random dot 3D autostereograms were also very popular at that time.** **- Ooh, and fiber optic artwork. People loved that stuff.

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.

FN Crazy

FoodVu is a food site with a definite video bent. They host a number of different styles of short-format, food related video, including instructional and humorous videos. The flagship video series is The FN Crazy Show, which explores what's happening at the Food Network. Not to be confused with FN Dish, which is a Food Network-owned blog that occasionally intersects the television network. The FN Crazy Show follows Food Network shows, people, and trends in a way that shows they really do enjoy aspects of the Food Network, but it's the flaws that make for good copy. There's an underlying plot to the series of videos, generally having to do with a power struggle around the hosting of the series. Speaking of hosting, the show's primary host, Sarah East, is adorable, which is a French word meaning, "adorable." Oh, wait. Those actually look the same written out, don't they. Sigh. The delivery is fast and punchy, much like an older film where they wanted to fit in a lot of dialogue in a short space, and imitated in more modern times by The Hudsucker Proxy, Pushing Daisies, and The Middleman. Given the choice between delivering meaningful insight or making a joke, FN Crazy will go for the joke. That is not a criticism; the show is funny, and there are plenty of commentaries hidden in there, but if you're looking for a video show that's trying to change the fundamentals of inequality in society, this is probably not the one for you. So: I certainly recommend.

Spokesfood

We've all been a bit uncomfortable with the idea of food trying to sell itself to us. I mean, there's nothing wrong with tigers, toucans, rabbits, and leprechauns trying to sell cereal; that's just sound financial sense for them. Even cows trying to sell chicken sandwiches, while rude, is not all that weird. No, the difficulties are the crazy foods that think that their only purpose in life is to be eaten. One example is from a recent Partially Clips strip, which I believe captures the dilemma perfectly. Another example in fiction is the Dish of the Day from the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, although that one wasn't trying to sell out others of its kind. And who can forget Charlton Heston proudly proclaiming the contents of Soylent Green? Still, it's not only fictional food characters. There are real food characters. Well, food characters for real food. The greatest example of this is from Hostess, the pie and pastry folk. Even aside from the "I am tasty so you should eat versions of me" factor, let's look at the naming scheme: Happy Ho ho? Twinkie the Kid? It's odd that you don't see them on TV any more. The practice hasn't stopped, either. My friend Tracy reminds me of the Frosted Mini-Wheats that are running on TV now, whose only purpose in life is to provide delicious nutrition for the youngsters in school and such. The most flagrant of the spokesfood, however, is the M&M candy. Because they know they're delicious, and they are stuck in a world that wants to eat them. Sometimes it's understood: and sometimes it's explicit: "That's just disturbing."

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.

Coke Floats, part 2

Okay, so waaaaay back a long time ago I wrote this post about the floating properties of Diet Coke and Coca-Cola. The gist is that Diet Coke is supposed to float in water, and regular Coke is supposed to sink, but I got some different results. After that, I did some back and forth with another site (Science and Food-ucation) about why I got weird results. Eventually I rebooted the site and lost the comments, so half of the conversation was gone. It's been a pretty popular entry, though, and for some reason I would get the least literate of comments on just the one post. I couldn't really figure out why. This evening, though, it all came together. A man whom we shall call Jared* wrote to me to say that he has performed the experiment many times and that the results are consistently in the "Coke sinks, diet coke floats" realm, which is not entirely what I recorded. He suggested that perhaps I had an air bubble under my can, and that was causing the floating. He went on to tell me that whenever he teaches this for his science class… …And that's when I realized. Of course! This is a relatively standard experiment in a science class. It has cola, which kids relate to, and is inexpensive to acquire the materials. Also, once you're done, you can drink the subjects of the experiment, which is not nearly as common as aspiring mad scientists might hope. So what happens is that these kids get a science lesson about Diet Coke floating, and perhaps a bit of homework to find out more. They run to The google and type Diet coke floats and come back with the 5th result from the top saying "However, it should be pointed out that, despite the introductory picture for this quick note, Coke does not sink while Diet Coke floats." The kids are all like "Whaaaaa?" and rush to tell me that I suck.** So, mystery one is cleared up. Mystery two is pretty close to being solved by the likelihood of an air bubble trapped under the can, so I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a couple of cans of Coke, a big transparent container, and a video camera. The result is: And yes, I know the video kind of sucks, but I am not afraid to suck, so there. *- For that is his name. **- Incidentally, that should be a lesson for you kids. It won't be, but it should. All it took was a reasonably well thought out discussion to get me to re-examine the experiment. Those of you who suggested that I was a big liar, well, I pretty much ignored you.

High Voltage Cookin'

Make Magazine's blog tells us all about Raphael and Max who have set up a Jacob's Ladder*, staple of Mad Scientists everywhere, and they discover which foods cook… well, not better, but at least more easily with some high-voltage electricity. I say not better because there's a comment about it smelling like burnt hair, and you really don't have a lot of control over electricity, so repeatability is going to be tricky. On the other hand, it's unbelievably cool and dangerous. If someone tries to be all macho with their flambé, you can show them this trick and make them feel weak and timid. Seriously, high-voltage electrical projects are dangerous, so if you try this, learn about the appropriate precautions and take them. You'll likely hurt yourself or others, but nothing's really safe in life, is it? *- Not the movie

Banned Science Fiction Author Sells Prunes

Okay, this is actually a little old, but there's this great commercial of Ray Bradbury, author of many classic science fictions stories such as Fahrenheit 451, personally appearing on a commercial for prunes. Speaking of Fahrenheit 451, many people presume that the point of the book is the censorship of books due to governmental control. Not so, says the author. Apparently he was actually making the point that television was going to kill off the book, which is why he predicted giant televisions that cover entire walls. Can you imagine? A television the size of a wall? Some people are just crazy. In any case, the people who do ban Fahrenheit 451 from schools and libraries do it because they think that the book is about, well, burning books. That is always a fine source of irony when someone does an article about it. I think it would be fun for people to come up with other great author / shilling for the man combinations in the comments. Either imagined situations or links to actual commercials. Bonus points for it being food related. Via Boing Boing.