Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Kitchen Hacks

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  • Lew Stoddart, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    Watch out lest it you end up using it in everything and getting sick of it.

    This describes my situation accurately.

    Another pork-hack: pig heads. Your local butcher probably has them -- they use them to make sausages and such like but will generally part with one for $10-15. Your local PaknSave or New World probably even has them -- these places usually still do their own butchery (unlike Countdown, who truck in shrinkwrapped meat from distribution centres). My Pak sells a head, split in half, for $5. Sometimes you have to ask.

    These have a stupid amount of meat on them. The jowls on a big head each comprise about 1kg, of rich, deeply marbled and striated meat that behaves much like belly. You can also cure it for bacon or what not, or just roast the head whole for a thorough expression of carnivorous badassery. I fed four adults and two children off one last night, and it was GOOD.

    There is a bit of knifework, but this is all well-documented on the internet, and basically "get rid of anything that doesn't look like meat" will see you right. Or a butcher will probably do it for you.

    Then you throw the rest of the head into your biggest pot and make stock, and all is right in the world.


    Wellington, NZ • Since Aug 2010 • 109 posts Report

  • BenWilson, in reply to linger,

    Yup, if the pot is full of oil then it goes to the boiling point of oil, which is much higher.

    But yeah, I agree with your underlying point: for boiling, you should only use the minimum energy input needed to maintain boiling temperature.

    Unless the purpose is the vaporization of the substance. If you want to thicken a sauce, then you might as well crank it up, get it to the right thickness rapidly. Indeed that could be more power efficient, since there’s less wasted energy radiating out of the sides of the pot, just by the time being shorter. Got to stir to avoid burning, though, as the natural convection drops as it thickens, so it needs to be forced. And turning it up will make a huge difference to the time taken. 20 times as much power means the same energy through the pot in 1/20th the time.

    Not sure if thickening happens faster with lid on or off (for the same power setting on the stove). Does anyone know? Gut feeling is that it would not make much difference. The steam is going to get out of the pot either way.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Thrash Cardiom, in reply to BenWilson,

    Thickening happens faster with the lid off. With the lid on you get some condensation forming and falling back into the pot.

    CHB • Since Nov 2006 • 55 posts Report

  • BenWilson, in reply to Thrash Cardiom,

    That's certainly the obvious answer. But I decided to put it to the test. I boiled two lots of water just now for 10 minutes one with the lid, one without, weighed them before and after. With the lid off, 267grams of water boiled off. With the lid on 261 grams came off. Considering the accuracy of my weighing apparatus, that's barely significant. Repeating again with a larger quantity and a longer time. These were in the same pot on the same element with the same setting, and I had water boiling in them beforehand (which I threw out quickly) to fix the temperature of the pot around 100C, and carefully measured the temperature of the water I was putting in, 85C each time.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • BenWilson,

    Second effort. 403g came off from both methods in exactly 15mins. The results were exactly equal, to the gram. Gotta get back to study now, but I think that the obvious answer is looking a whole lot less obvious to me. Most curious.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Tom Semmens,

    Hmmm, goat – which is usually much cheaper – makes an excellent substitute for lamb in casseroles and especially curries. And while I am thinking about slow cooking casseroles, the ultimate hack has to be my crock pot. Biff everything into it you need the night before and take it out of the fridge and put it on in the morning. I make stews, casseroles, chilli con carne, curries, soup (especially soup!) all that sort of thing in mine.

    Oh and you can use your crock pot for porridge to – put tit on low the night before and when you get up you have lovely, soft oats.

    The other two devices I can’t live without are my yogurt maker ($19 from K-Mart) and my egg cooker, which makes perfect boiled eggs every time first thing in the morning with just the flick of a switch.

    And if you have access to a handy cow, nab some of her fresh milk and make your own cheese next time you make a cheese cake. You won't ever go back once you do.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report

  • Ross Mason,

    I think you might be doing the wrong experiment. Once the pot is boiling - which I assume you meant when you said you boiled the pot for 10 minutes - the pot temperature, lid and anything the steam touches on the pot will be 100 deg and thus bugger all water condenses. This means that all excess steam generated won't stay in the pot. Thus your result of bugger all difference in what was boiled off.

    So if you just want to boil of the water and make something thicker, then it doesn't matter in your experiment. But if you want to gently reduce the stuff in the pot, then leave the lid off.

    I think you might like to consider how much power is required to just keep the pot at 100 deg. One with the lid on, two with the lid off.

    I'll punt for the lid on needing less power.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report

  • BenWilson,

    The experiment was to answer “which way boils off the water faster for the same power setting – lid on or off?”. The result was that in the small sample, it made no difference. Which contradicts the folk wisdom that it comes off faster with the lid off because the rising steam is unimpeded and no condensing water is dripping back in.

    I could see arguments both ways, so figured an experiment would tell me if the difference was significant either way. My own punt was on there being no difference, despite the folk wisdom. Good to see you have an argument to support that, it was pretty much the same as my thinking.

    I think we already settled that the lid on uses a lot less power to maintain a temperature, so long as that is all you want to do. I said that from the start.

    But if you want to gently reduce the stuff in the pot, then leave the lid off.

    Yes, you can get a lower temperature in the pot with the lid off. For maximum gentleness, don’t even turn the stove on. The water will eventually evaporate out. If you want it to render off faster, there’s no difference in time, but the lid on might save you a lot of mess. Would it mean more or less stirring needed? Hmmm. Will have to think about that. Gut feeling is that the natural convection in the pot with the lid on will be greater, so less stirring would be needed. I can see this clearly through the lid, the boiling water with the lid on is bubbling much harder than with it off, spread out much more around the pot too, rather than concentrated on the hot parts of the element.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Gareth,

    Obviously there's a gap in the market for a kitchen physics blog...

    Bucolic in the backblocks… • Since Jan 2008 • 269 posts Report

  • Anthony Behrens Esq,

    I hope this isn’t too late…but here’s my Alison Holst hack…

    In a vain attempt to ward off the impending armagedon, we’ve turned what was once an eighth-of-an-acre of lawn into what is fast becoming a Palmy fruitopia.
    Here’s the list: Blueberries, red, black and white currants, raspberries, blackberries, rhubarb, the outrageously un-PC black boy peach and an un-named peach with white flesh…we’ll call it our White Boy Peach shall we? There are fiejoas, mandarins, lemons and a new lime tree (yes you can grow good citrus in Manawatu)…and then there’s the crab apple tree…for my crab apple pie recipe read here

    Bitter Sweet

    Manawatu • Since Nov 2012 • 19 posts Report

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to BenWilson,

    What you are discussing is like the standard chemical process of reflux.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report

  • BenWilson, in reply to Gareth,

    Obviously there’s a gap in the market for a kitchen physics blog…

    As a subbranch of kitchen science, it's probably the lesser science. Chemistry would be the more important part of it. I wish I knew more.

    I'll probably not be talking the physics any more, exam was yesterday. From now, it's going to be all about the differential equations at work in the kitchen. The only one I've studied that's relevant is about the laws of cooling, which is only a 2 dimensional problem, not interesting. If anyone can think of a phenomenon in the kitchen that's a function of 3 variables, preferably with time being one of them, let me know. I'll give you phase diagram you can work out all sorts of irrelevant shit from. It'll be a modern art masterpiece (by which I mean ugly).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Nora Leggs, in reply to BenWilson,

    Chemistry would be the more important part of it. I wish I knew more.

    Never fear.... Harold McGee has blazed a wonderful path already. Had his book On Food and Cooking from the library years ago.... it's huge and fascinating. Haven't been back for the updated version, which is probably even larger.

    Auckland • Since Dec 2011 • 2700 posts Report

  • BenWilson, in reply to Nora Leggs,

    Choice. Instantly I learned something - I was trying to think how biology would be particularly relevant. Of course! Bacteria! There's the link immediately to the differential equations! Population growth models vs cooling models. When will it reach a temperature such that it's safe to put in the fridge? Considering that the main reason not to put hot things in the fridge is not because of damage to the food itself, but because you raise the temperature in the fridge and reduce it's ability to inhibit bacterial growth in the other food in there.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Ross Mason,

    So...our final Kitchen Hack is:

    Boil the water faster with the lid on and save money!

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report

  • Thrash Cardiom,

    Cooking For Geeks is a fun kitchen hack book. It's full of wee hacks, tips, and tricks and does go into the physics and chemistry of cooking to a degree. Available through O'Reilly.

    CHB • Since Nov 2006 • 55 posts Report

  • Russell Brown,

    Oh lord. Now I have to pick two winners from all this awesomeness.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22850 posts Report

  • BenWilson, in reply to Ross Mason,

    Boil the water faster with the lid on and save money!

    Glass lids mean you don't have to open it to see, too. Save money and time, and prevent casual steam burns!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Oh lord. Now I have to pick two winners from all this awesomeness.

    Just in, my latest discovery and absolute delight,Kale
    I am going to grow this natural pest resistant munchie. Until the cows come home 'cos then they would eat it. ;)

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report

  • Hebe, in reply to Sofie Bribiesca,

    Kale is oddly sweet when it is juiced with other veges. It's a superfood too.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2899 posts Report

  • Hebe,

    Tonight I remembered my most basic kitchenhack of all; so obvious round here that I forgot it. A decent frying pan is the cornerstone of our kitchen: heavy base, large, stainless steel with a metal handle and a lid. It can bake everything from cakes to lasagne, cook just about everything on the stove-top, can go on the barbie, logburner.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2899 posts Report

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Hebe,

    Kale is oddly sweet when it is juiced with other veges. It’s a superfood too.

    Quite nutty I find. lil' lime infused olive oil (from my friend Trev of Taipa) drizzled over after steamed and a grind of salt and pepper is a meal all in one.Try raw and thinly sliced into walnuts and apple with sultanas and red onion. Add dressing of choice and eat. Also with a side of blue vein cheese is another option I am playing with. Boundless!

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report

  • BenWilson, in reply to Hebe,

    I'm curious why people love heavy fry pans. I can only see one pro, which is that it's got a consistent temperature. Everything else is con. It's hard to move around, takes longer to warm up and cool down, is a bugger to clean. Also, I've not really noticed a terrible difference in the consistency with a light pan unless you actually want it to have a difference, which I sometimes do. I sometimes want one side to be hotter than the other. And I definitely like to be able to lift it with one hand and serve things out of it with the other, and to be able to put it in in the drying rack without worrying it might tip the entire load of dishes on the floor.

    I'm sure I'm missing something, they're so universally liked. But all my memories involve struggling with them. Burning hot handles. Burning things badly because they don't cool quickly when you lift them, and lifting them is difficult. Scrubbing them at the end of the dishes. Making a mess because you have to lift the things out of them rather than lifting the pan above the plate and just sliding things out.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report

  • Hebe, in reply to Sofie Bribiesca,

    Kale loves bacon and good sausages! And extra-virgin olive oil. I like the idea of lime very much Sofie. Cavolo nero is my favourite, though I'll happily go with Red Russian or plain old curly green. It does seem to improve with a few frosts, happily for southerners.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2899 posts Report

  • Amy Gale,

    Seasonality hack: cooked kale can be substituted into any recipe that calls for cooked spinach. I particularly recommend "kaleakopita".

    Late-to-the-farmer's-market hack: every spinach recipe - raw or cooked - is a silverbeet (chard) recipe waiting to happen, and vice versa.

    tha Ith • Since May 2007 • 471 posts Report

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