On gifts

Ever been completely stumped for what to give as a gift to friends, family and loved ones? Fear not! I have done a little thinking and figured out the perfect presents to give. No longer shall you wake from a restless sleep, sit bolt upright and scream, “Jenga”.

There are a few criteria which need to be satisfied in order for your gift to qualify as a good gift:

Uniqueness.

Something the receiver would actually want (if you cock this up then it becomes very obvious that you don’t know the recipient that well).

Signalling (showing that you’ve given it some thought, spent some money, or both).

There are some other external criteria depending on the gift type.

Clothing – must be something they can wear whenever they see you so you can say, “oh you’re wearing my socks (see below)”.

Food – must be something that they can consume on their own without feeling like a fat person. This doesn’t mean they can’t devour their present like Michael Moore making love to a heap of Krispy Kremes (Hmm… I wonder when Michael Moore is going to make a film criticising American diets) but they should have the option of keeping it for a while (i.e. won’t perish quickly) or sharing it. Chocolate is a good idea, a kilo of turbot is not, even if it is way better than chocolate – and it is.

Toys – age appropriate, don’t give a 6 year old a dildo – wrong type of toy.

Etc. (mostly common sense).

So this being said let’s figure out the perfect gift. Of course nothing substitutes for actual thought but if you’re just lazy then read on.

Fig. 1

For male friends: black socks. As children we thought of socks as worse than coal but as adults we fully appreciate their awesomeness. Santa’s giving you a hint with Christmas stockings you know – it’s a bleeding giant sock! Black socks are unique, no one else would think of them. All men wear black socks (and are secretly, or openly, happy to get them) and destroy them, or lose one and have to throw the other, at an alarming rate. Finally it shows you’ve thought outside of the box, none of that donation-in-your-name or named-a-star-after-you shit. If you get high quality black socks then you’ll probably be their favourite person in the world for at least a little while. For something a bit more offbeat get them a Frisbee, trust me, they’ll love it. A good Frisbee is even better than the dog to throw it at.

Female friends? Apparently it’s earrings. If they don’t have pierced ears they’re probably going to enjoy the Frisbee anyway so you can just go with that. Perhaps black stockings… who knows? The advantage of earrings over socks is that not all earrings look alike although this is something of a double edged sword as now the onus is on you to choose something tasteful. Fearing this to be well beyond most of you I suggest you bring a female friend with taste (not a weird Indian guy in a denim jacket – true story) to help you choose. Failing that something shiny, girls are like crows (the birds; not to be confused with cows – and that statement probably explains why I’m single).

Mothers was a tricky one, I suggest you get them Harvey Nichols vouchers or offer to cook for them. It’s the little things that show you care that count. DO NOT offer to clean for them. This backfires in two ways, first you get given a lot of cleaning to do, second your mother realises that if cleaning is a satisfactory gift then she really does too much and you do too little.

So there you have it. Unfortunately now that I’ve written this everyone will want to get the same present this invalidating uniqueness. Of course this could mean that no-one else gets socks so you should. To solve this problem I suggest this solution (Fig 2.):

Fig. 2

Gifts are given a rating based on how good they are. 1 is perfect, 0 is something the receiver would rather not have. Socks have a rating of 0.9 and individual 1 is x good at giving gifts and individual 2 is y good at giving gifts.

Due to the nature of gift giving the choices of individuals do not affect each other until both individuals choose socks in which case the gift quality drops by 0.7 (0.45 as everyone knows that men only realise their need for black socks when they need them and 0.25 because you look like a tit). As this table clearly shows there are two Nash equilibria in pure strategies* (assuming x and y are between 0.9 and 0.2) so I recommend you just collaborate with the other gift giver . The most efficient outcome would be if x>y then individual 2 gives socks and if y>x then individual 1 gives socks. Thus I conclude my musings on gifts and socks.

* For mixed strategies individual 1 will give socks with probability p where p=(9-10x)/7

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Internetty Clusters II

It’s like the oysters of a chicken but electronic!

Clockbusters – It’s fun at first and then incredibly frustrating. You have three images representing key features of a film and you simply have to guess which film it is. They’re relatively easy but getting all 50 is more agrivating than watching a Quentin Tarantino film.

Artags – any app that uses geo-tagging creatively will necessarily become popular. I’m hoping to see Quadafi and Sheik Zayed and Stelios peering  looking out of the LSE library windows. Get on this potato while it’s still hot.

La Maison en Petits Cubes


It’s not funny, it’s beautiful. Won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. If the number of capital letters in that last sentence doesn’t persuade you then I can safely say that it is one of the finest films of recent years and it only takes 10 minutes of your time.

Hackertyper – it transforms the strokes of your keys into what appears to be matrix style hacking code. It’s fairly dull on its own but when you take into account the number of people that look at your computer in the library purely out of boredom or while searching for one of their own you can have a lot more fun.
P.S. try tapping “alt” three times.

Can you credibly call yourself a cook?

The kit list of a real cook

It’s hard to define the exact difference between a person who can cook and an actual cook. For instance how many times a week would one have to cook from scratch? If we said say 3 times a week then this might seem fine but there are three immediate problems with this:
1) It’s a bit arbitrary isn’t it?
2) What if there are other factors that should be accounted for e.g. they work really long hours but cook dinner on the weekends
3) What do we call someone skilled in cooking who cooks less frequently than this, they’re certainly more than someone who can cook.

For this reason I think it’d be easier if I listed some of the properties required of a cook so we can say who, at least, could be a cook. So today I’m going to run through a list of equipment that every person who calls themselves a cook ought to (or at least intends) to own. If you call yourself a cook and lack any of these then you might want to take a good long look in the mirror. Worry not those who turn out to be people who cook, by defining cooks you’ll know exactly what needs to be done to become one.

Note that this list shows who’s not a cook, not who is. If you have all the equipment then you could be a cook and are more likely to be but not that you are for sure.

N.B. This is a list designed around my European cooking background so I might be missing something vital for say Korean cooking. I apologise if this is the case and if you want something added to the list present your case in the comments.

So without further ado I bring you a list of equipment that every cook owns:

1) A good knife – this is by far the most important. One of the most effective indicators that someone is not in fact a cook is that their knives are all either blunt or tiny. You just need one knife to be a cook but the condition is that it’s functional. So it has to be sharp enough to slice soft vegetables without bludgeoning them and the blade should be at least 18cm. You can buy a Victorionox knife at £20 (so there’s no excuse) but if you want a knife that’ll last you a more than a few years then go for Wusthoff or Henckels. If you have loads of cash then I recommend MAC (unfortunately not widely available in the UK) or Tojiro Senkou, they’re magnificent. I can’t stress enough that you don’t need masses of rubbish knives, you just need one good knife.

2) Two saucepans and one frying pan – These are pretty much the bare minimum for when you actually do the cooking. Having more than this will make your life infinitely easier. I recommend having a decently sized saucepan too as they come in handy for, well, bigger recipes. If you have crap hobs then get heavy bottomed pans as they’ll distribute the heat more evenly and you’re less likely to burn parts of your food. Even if you don’t then still get heavy bottomed pans as they’re just better and kinda necessary if you want to make more heat sensitive dishes like custard.

3) Chopping Board – Chopping on plates isn’t cool and it never will be (like corduroy).

4) Whisk – you can technically whip cream with a spoon but you can’t beat egg whites so it’s a must.

5) Sieve or Strainer – if you’re not making dishes that require a strainer at some point (i.e. potatoes or veg or pasta or sauces which have to be strained) then you are most certainly not a cook. The finer the mesh in a sieve the better but at the same time the harder it is to clean.

6) Mixing Bowl – most recipes are too large to mix in regular bowls so you’ll need one of these.

7) Baking Tray/Dish – you more or less can’t bake without one and you definitely can’t roast without one.

8) Weighing Scales – if you want to make desserts you’ll need one of these.

9) One of Blender, Food Processor, Mortar & Pestle or Spice Grinder – realistically it should be one of the first two but I realise that in certain cuisines blenders aren’t needed but in those same cuisines mortar and pestles or spice grinders are often just as useful.

Other cool stuff that you might want to get:
Grater – For cheese and rosti.
Chinois (a super fine sieve) – I love mine, absolutely vital for high end cooking.
Ramekins – for Crème brûlée, soufflés, individual portions or presentation.
Pastry Cutters – you can use these on more than just pastry.
Tart Tins – having a decent quality loose bottom tart tin will revolutionise your tart production.
Muffin Tins – for mini tarts, cupcakes, savarins and muffins.
Cake Tin – for bigger ones of those things I just said.
Thermometer – for accurate cooking of heat sensitive dishes and checking if your meat is cooked (they’re actually really useful in preventing overcooking of roasts).
Potato Ricer/Mouli Legume – because mashers leave chunks.
Mandolin – unless you’re amazing with a knife you’ll need one for really thin/fine chopping.

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.
http://27bslash6.com/missy.html

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.
http://www.flashbynight.com/drench/

This hypnotic video shows all that’s possible with Lego

Coca Cola Happiness Machine: