The Internet is Killing the Planet?

Yay for infographics!

I’ve never really thought about the internet in this regard but it’s eye opening.

Thanks Wordstream.

Edit: Patrick Mcgoldrick posted this in the comments and I thought it was worth sharing, it’s an infographic of world data centre power usage.

Source: Peer1


Slow Cooked Eggs – They’re eggsellent and I have little to live for

Thanks to the whole Easter dealie I thought I’d show you something cool with eggs.

Water baths and immersion circulators are now used in the majority of high end restaurants (they’re those things they used to have in your biology labs but for cooking). These nifty gadgets allow chefs cook anything at all at a precise temperature. The idea is that if you have water at a stable temperature and drop your food in (in a sealed bag) then the food will rise to that temperature itself and then go no further. Since overcooking is almost exclusively caused by overheating something (and not cooking it for too long) this means that overcooking is no longer an issue. It’s not really much use if it only stops you from overcooking food as you’d hope that a professional chef wouldn’t overcook something anyway (if only) but the really awesome bit is that it can cook say steak to medium rare all the way through or cook at stew at exactly 60⁰C overnight – that’s pretty special.

Anyway I digress. I doubt that anyone has a water bath at home. You can imitate this effect (albeit not overnight) with a saucepan of water and a thermometer. This is quite a lot trickier but I find that if you use a large enough pan of water and the lowest setting on your hob you can usually walk away for 20 minutes (which is enough time to cook meat or fish). If you want to cook meat or fish throw it in a sealable bag, pour in some sort of fat like butter or olive oil, add any herbs or spices you want as they will infuse the meat through the fat, seal it up (try and get as much air out as possible) and place it in the water. Be sure not to let any water into the bag (I usually leave the seal sticking out of the water). And you can rock and roll. This is ridiculously impressive and definitely worth doing if you have high end ingredients (fillet steak) as you can have it perfectly rare all the way through then quickly sear just the outside in a super hot pan with butter (this will take about 30 seconds).

Anyway, it just so happens that if you take eggs and cook them at 62⁰C for about 30 minutes (enough time to cook all the way through) then you get these jellified whites and a yolk with the consistency of whipped cream (but denser). It’s well worth doing at least once and if you’re trying to impress someone then it’s a sure fire winner (providing that someone likes eggs and you can pull it off) as very few people will have experienced this before. The Japanese have been doing this for a while by cooking them in natural water baths and they call them onsen tamago.

I wanted to make a recipe for onsen tamago on Japanese rice porridge that I’d seen a week prior on Top Chef. I have to say it’s not only delicious but incredibly easy. You’ll need yuzu kosho, dashi and umeboshi plums but you can get the plums and dashi from most supermarkets (in the form of paste and stock powder) and yuzu kosho and can be bought from the Japan Centre or can be substituted for wasabi paste mixed with a bit of chilli (which you can also get from most supermarkets).  It’ll take about 20 minutes to make and you can even use leftover rice. If you can’t be bothered to make a slow cooked egg then poach one instead as it’ll work and this dish is best described as a hug for your gastrointestinal tract. If you’re poaching your egg then I don’t possibly see how you can mess it up. Ridiculously tasty with no risk, that’s as awesome as Charlie Sheen.

Oh and if you don’t know how to cook rice then here’s how I do it:

  1. Measure out rice in measuring jug (100ml per person is about right)
  2. Pour rice into your saucepan and wash it two or three times with cold water (this is to stop you poisoning yourself).
  3. Try and pour as much of the water from washing the rice away as possible (don’t worry too much about this).
  4. Measure out the same volume of water as you had rice.
  5. Add water to saucepan.
  6. Put a lid on the saucepan, place it on the hob and bring it to the boil.
  7. Once it’s reached the boil turn your hob down to its lowest heat and leave covered for 10 minutes.
  8. Turn off the heat and stir. It’s ready.

Internetty Clusters!

All the choice cuts from the web in one place.

During the course of my regular web browsing I come across some pretty awesome bits and bobs. I’m going to make an effort to share these with you on a semi-regular basis. The frequency with which I post is mostly dependent on the supply of internetty awesomeness. Many of you will have seen this stuff before (possibly due to me) but hopefully there are a few gems that you haven’t discovered yet.

World Order
This has to be my favourite video on YouTube at the moment. It’s utterly watchable, almost addictively so.

Racist Politician in New Zealand
Watch for the first 3:20, skip the middle and there’s a golden moment right around 7:40.

Missing Cat!
An email dialogue between a secretary and a designer. Well worth reading.

Simplistically Addictive Game
You have to click the six colours on the right hand side and attempt to fill the entire board with one colour within 30 moves.

This hypnotic video shows all that’s possible with Lego

Coca Cola Happiness Machine:

Is Sherlock Holmes inherently flawed?

Will is on the case.

With the new series of the BBC’s Sherlock drama about to air and the sequel to Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes in the works it’s high time I shared my views on the classic character. I think his stories are inherently flawed from the ground up.

Sherlock Holmes sets up an interesting dichotomy: we can either solve the mystery before he does or we can’t. Ok so that’s not a very interesting dichotomy, in fact it’s a tautology but it gets better, honest. If we manage to guess the culprit before he does then we feel momentarily proud but slightly deflated as Sherlock has been outwitted by, well, me – and I’m from Leeds (where being inbred makes you lucky enough to know who your father is). The only option the writers are left with is to make all of the cases so ridiculously difficult for the reader to solve that only Sherlock knows who dunnit. Often we see this achieved by Sherlock revealing information that was entirely omitted from the story up until then or making ridiculous deductions which he couldn’t conceivably make unless he wrote the story… oh wait.

So what’s the point? Isn’t the whole concept of a mystery that there’s a conceivable solution? I’ll address that in a minute. Now I’ll ask why do you watch Sherlock or Sherlock Holmes or House for that matter? It’s because of the character. In every instance the best part of each of those shows or films is watching Sherlock (or House) engaging with the other characters. Almost all of the derived enjoyment stems from watching Sherlock belittle the other characters by making them look irredeemably stupid. Next time you watch consider whether you really care about the case itself. I know the chief criticism of House is that it’s formulaic and the response that House fans give is that no one cares about the diagnoses; they just want to watch the characters. If no one wants to watch the cases then why are they included and why not just have Sherlock in some sort of Big Brother House?

We can now answer my earlier question of why we have a mystery which the reader can’t solve. If Sherlock was a character in a drama without any mystery he’d just be a massive tit. The reason he’s allowed to act the way he does is because he’s brilliant. If he didn’t solve the mysteries then he’d just be a druggie with a superiority complex (or in the case of the BBC’s Sherlock a person with a superiority complex). So in order to enjoy watching the Sherlock character we have to respect his genius but that means that we have to sit through mysteries that we have no way of solving and don’t really enjoy (and this is usually over half of the show/film). It takes a talented writer to make Sherlock an interesting character but perhaps their efforts would be better spent on a character that doesn’t require quite so much fluff. I’m just saying that maybe, just maybe, the premise of a Sherlock character is as damaged as the character himself (or at least as he’s meant to be, fucking BBC).

A soufflé of fresh air

All the tips for making a soufflé you’ll ever need. Contrary to popular belief they’re really very easy and quite impressive if you get them right. All you need is some ramekins, a whisk, an oven and two bowls.

At the restaurant their dessert speciality was the soufflé. Over my time there I was taught all of the tricks that you need to know to make the perfect soufflé. With these even the most incompetent cook can make a professional standard soufflé. I’ll be focusing on dessert soufflés but these tips can be applied to savoury soufflés as well but I don’t see why you’d bother really (I suppose if you were going for a 1970s themed dinner that wasn’t particularly impressive then you could make a cheese soufflé).

First let’s go over a little soufflé theory. There will be three basic parts to your soufflé:
1. The base – flavour country this will be where you put your rhubarb/peach/chocolate or whatever. It’s effectively intense compote.
2. The egg whites – you need to whisk these to stiff peaks to make the soufflé.
3. Sugar

If you have a recipe then follow it but as a general rule you need to whisk your eggs with your sugar until stiff peaks form. If you have 100g of egg white then I recommend 40g of sugar as a guideline. Once you’ve done this you can add your base and mix them together. If you’re using 100g of egg white then you can afford almost 100g of base – you can add as much as you want depending on taste really. People will make a big fuss about being exact and while I’d say the novice needs to do this it’s not really important when it comes to quantity of base (within reasonable levels).

Once you’ve done that you can bake. Other cooks will tell you that you need a super-hot oven but in my experience an oven at 170°C does the trick and higher temperatures will yield a grainy soufflé. The soufflé will rise gradually and then brown at the top. Once the top is brown it’s generally a good indication that it’s done.

I’ve separated these out into the order that you’ll be making the soufflé. You don’t have to use them all, pick whichever you want but hopefully this will be a comprehensive guide on how to cook great soufflés.

The flavour of the base needs to be strong as it’s going to be diluted. Bear in mind that if you use sugar to make your base (many bases are very close to coulis) your soufflé will be quite sweet as it will combine with the sugar used with the egg whites. Consider something sour to balance it out a bit like lemon juice in the base or a less sweet ice cream or coulis when you serve it.

The consistency should be roughly that of a coulis or compote. It should be about as thick as ketchup (but denser). There’s no shame in using cornflour to thicken your base, it’ll make the soufflé more stable. If you’re cooking your base then it’ll be much runnier before it cools so allow for that. I cook my fruit in stock syrup (equal parts water and sugar) then blend them with a bit of cornflour until they have a consistency like that of yoghurt. Once they’ve cooled then they’re ready to use, reserve for later.

N.B. Cornflour thickens when heated so don’t add loads then stick it on the heat. Add it gradually. Cornflour also has a tendency to create lumps especially when added to something hot so in a separate cup or bowl mix the quantity of cornflour you want to add with some of the liquid (with a ratio of about three parts liquid to one part cornflour) then add it to the rest. This is a great tip for gravy or other sauces too.

All of this can be done prior to cooking to make your life easier. You can separate the eggs beforehand, sugar’s not so important and I highly recommend you make your base ahead of time.

In order to get airier whites follow one of the three following options before whisking:
     1. Use week old (or older) eggs.
     2. Add some of acid such as cream of tartar or lemon juice. Just a few drops will do.
     3. Whisk the eggs in a copper bowl.
Don’t combine these options as they all counteract each other’s effects, just pick one.
Your eggs should also be at room temperature. 

Grease kills bubbles and will prevent you from having fluffy whites so make sure everything is clean.

If you want professional looking soufflés this next step is important. Whisk some butter in a bowl then liberally (using a brush or kitchen towel) coat the inside of the ramekins with it. Next get some sugar (icing sugar works too) or bread crumbs (we used spiced bread crumbs at the restaurant) and pour them into the buttery ramekin. Take this ramekin and rotate it as you pour your crumbs/sugar into the next ramekin. This will mean that the inside of your ramekin is now coated. Repeat with all of the ramekins and then tap them out onto a hard surface (this is messy without kitchen towel) to dislodge any extra crumbs or sugar.

Mix your sugar and egg whites. Whisk (electric is fine) until they form stiff peaks. This takes ages if you do it by hand.

Mixing the Base and the Whites:
Take a maurice (a.k.a. “the rubber spatula” pictured right) and scoop 1/3rd of your whites into the base (doesn’t have to be exact). By running the Maurice around the outside of the bowl and tilting the bowl towards you you’ll gradually mix the two without getting rid of the air. Resist the temptation to mix. Once that’s done pour it back into the remaining whites and do the same until it’s homogeneous. Taste it, that’s fairly close to how your soufflé will taste.
Note that if you lack a Maurice then a large metal spoon is also fine.

Make sure you pre-heat your oven.

Pour your mix into the pre-prepared ramekins and overfill them so that the mixture piles up over the brim. Take a long object with a flat side – card or the back of a knife or a palette knife would be perfect – place the flat side on the ramekin rim and scrape across knocking the extra mix back into the bowl with the rest. Do this in both directions and you should have a perfectly level soufflé top.

Now grab a piece of kitchen towel run it around the rim so that you can see the rim and it’s clean. This will allow your soufflé to rise into a perfect cylinder.

Once it’s brown on the top and risen an inch and a half you’re done. Only the top will be brown unless you’re using bread crumbs, the sides will still be pale.

You can open and close the oven door without them collapsing and you can make loud noises. There’s a small risk of them deflating but i’ve never seen it happen before.

Be quick, soufflés wait for no man.

Don’t just serve them plain. I like to have a scoop of ice cream on a spoon, thrust it into the top of the soufflé and then serve it like that. Coulis or custard is quite common but really you can add anything at this point. Dusting with icing sugar is also a nice cosmetic touch.

Post your successes and failures in the comments section and feel free to ask for any additional advice.

The best show in the world?

Over the years I’ve invested myself in a number of TV shows and while most were a decent watch, I’ve never really felt that I would be comfortable settling down with any of them. The day I found Come Dine With Me this all changed. Come Dine With Me is simply the perfect show. If ever you were looking for a TV show that had everything then look no further.

The Premise of the show is simple; 4 random people that have never met volunteer to hold dinner parties for each other during the course of one week. Each night after the party, in their taxis home, the guests secretly rate the dinner with a score out of ten. After each night the scores are combined to get a total for each person. The host with the highest score at the end of the week wins the prize of £1000. Simple right? Wrong, each show offers us a host (get it?) of human emotions to feast (I can’t stop myself) upon. In almost all shows we see guests trading saccharin pleasantries but as soon as they’re away from the other diners they bare their teeth. It’s almost surprising not to see the guests bitching about each other as soon as they get a moment to themselves. The people selected each week aren’t even that odd. It doesn’t feel like channel 4 has done a wife swap on us here and just stuck absolute freaks in a house. These are normal people but more often that not they manage to fall out. Put £1000 into the mix and watch everyone show their true colours.

The scores they give at the end of each night generally sum up how meretricious the guests are; more than often are the words, “A great night, couldn’t fault it. I award them a 7” uttered.  What always puzzles me though is how they don’t want the others to know what they think of them yet they are willing to voice their opinions on television. This show possesses the drama of Big Brother but with regular people, without the social stigma plus it’s educational.

Dave Lamb narrates the show adding sarky jibes whenever necessary (which is all too often). When someone makes fried shrimp with “Marie Rose” sauce (a subtle blend of ketchup and mayonnaise) from a can then I think I’d feel quite hard done if I didn’t have Dave Lamb there to openly criticise them in front of the nation.

This show is actually incredibly educational. It’s not just the cooking; this show critically examines human psychology and even goes so far as to explore the different cultures present within the British Isles. In terms of cooking this show is better than any other; there are recipes which are simple, recipes which are complex and recipes which are just right. On top of that the diners actually give decent reviews instead of us having to assume that everything that Jamie Oliver cooks tastes good (it doesn’t). So within the program you can find recipes which suit any occasion be it braised pork belly with gnocchi, pea cream, crushed peas with mint and a madeira sauce (that’s actually one of my own, I’m saving it for if I ever go on the show) or tuna, kidney beans and mayo mixed in a bowl with some chopped onion (recipes available on the channel 4 website). It’s quite nice to watch tv cooks that don’t say, “pukka” in a stupid Essex boy accent before smothering their food in olive oil too. Other than the cooking you can pick up some good tips about dinner parties from watching the show (don’t assume your guests have taste being a key concept). Sometimes it’s just funny to watch them mess up, I often find myself going “tsk, you don’t use extra virgin olive oil in a pistachio and olive oil cake, rookie mistake”. Of course it’s much funnier when they serve a banana sliced lengthwise and give each guest tableside UHT whipped cream out of a can (classy) or when one of the guests serves raw food and makes some of the others throw up.

The four dinner parties are set over four episodes (an episode for each party if it wasn’t obvious). With the first episode you feel just as new to the whole situation as the four diners do. By the fourth episode I promise you’ll feel as if you were there. In short each episode is an emotional rollercoaster. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and at times I’ve found myself screaming at the telly “what do you mean you’ve never eaten scallops?! You’re a F****** professional chef! Your mother should have had an abortion!”… I sometimes get a bit too involved.

Once in a while the show hosts a Celebrity Come Dine With Me which is educational in its own right; you discover several new celebrities that you didn’t realise existed (Helen Lederer, David Quantick and Rowland Rivron to name a few). Aside from this the celebrity specials are essentially the same as the regular episodes except you might be slightly more interested in seeing Peter Stringfellow’s apartment than Steve Clift from Doncaster’s.

I know the show has a predominantly female following and I know what most men reading this article are thinking, “My mum watches this show while doing the ironing, I’m watching Top Gear”. Well thing about it this way lads; when (aside from doing the ironing) when does your mum watch the TV? She doesn’t right (perhaps except for the news at breakfast) so why is Come Dine With Me the only show she watches? The answer is simple; it’s the best. Between cooking for you, cleaning, ironing and doing the washing her only real relief is watching this show. So not only should you watch this show but thank it for the sanity of your mother. For those of you whose mothers don’t watch this show then your mother’s next birthday present is sorted… and your dad’s.

Before Come Dine With Me came into my life the only thing that could cheer me up after a long day was Spongebob Squarepants, or maybe High School Musical at a push, but at 19 I felt I was perhaps getting too old for that. The response that I give to someone when they say they’ve never seen it is comparable to one I might give to someone that had just told me they were dying or came from Leeds; a look of pure pity. Just go watch the show, nuff said.

Redundant Introduction

I don’t need to tell you how to read blogs but I’ll do it anyway to sate my control freak tendencies. I’m going to post a string of ridiculously useless, generally non-sequitur articles most of which will be about food, film, philosophy (and by this I hope to answer questions such as “what is mashed potato?” or “Socks?”), fashion or a combination of the above. Skim then read if something catches your eye.