Geek Smithology

January 5, 2008

A word on Ratings

Filed under: Announce,Games,Sight,Sound,Taste by Nathan @ 9:14 pm

It would appear that if one wants to review things, there must be some sort of rating attached for quick judgment by a fickle readership. While I of course subscribe to the literary snob idea of writing the review as text and letting the reader make up his or her mind based on a careful reading and analysis, I realize that most people just skim a review for anything funny and/or inflammatory and skip to see what the score is.

So, without further ado, I reveal my rating system, which will heretofore be used to score anything and everything a review in the future. Please note that I review everything “as is” and “how I feel about it at the time.” There is rarely any conscious analysis and comparison against the greats of a particular genre or medium, or even against items of similar ilk.

five star

This means that I loved it. Go out and do whatever it takes to have the experience, even if it means watching Gigli.

four star

I liked it. Do whatever it takes, short of watching Gigli.

three star

It was “okay”. Check it out if the opportunity presents itself, but don’t go out of your way.

two star

I didn’t like it. It’s better than Gigli, but unless you love the genre or not having fun, don’t bother.

one star

I hated it. It probably is Gigli. If you have a dog-eared copy of The 120 Days of Sodom. on your shelf, this might be right up your alley. But don’t forget to pick a safeword…

April 23, 2006

Coca Cola Blak

Filed under: Taste by Nathan @ 4:42 pm

Apparently I’m late to the party, but I just heard about Coke Blak, a coffee flavoured soda.

Thought 1: “This is disgusting”
Thought 2: “Is there anywhere I can find this in Calgary?”

February 26, 2006

Most of what you need to know about salt (but didn’t know to ask)

Filed under: Taste by Nathan @ 8:32 pm

I remember saying somewhere that I would get cynical about food, so I’m going to start with our old friend salt. If you have a bowl of kosher on your counter, this will validate what your family no doubt regards as “that weird salt bowl”; if you have a half full shaker of whatever salt was on sale with some rice “so it doesn’t clump” then read this. For the love of good food, read this.

Q: How important is salt when cooking?

A: Let me put it this way: if a recipe calls for something to be “seasoned”, it means you should put salt and pepper on it. Every recipe calls for something to be seasoned. Even a great chocolate cake recipe will have a pinch of salt in it.

Q: Chocolate cake? Gross! Who wants a salty cake?

A: Nobody wants a salty cake. However, salt (in moderation) has an almost mystical propery to enhance the flavour of (a.k.a. season) a food in which it’s cooked. In a chocolate cake, it will enhance the “chocolate-ness” of the cake. To satisfy your inner Mr. Wizard, add a couple pinches of salt to some scrambled eggs and cook them as normal. Then scramble another batch without any added salt and sprinkle the exact same amount of salt over the top after cooking. Note how the first batch has a full egg taste, while the second just tastes like salt? Now you’re getting it.

Q: Okay, what’s with the bowl of salt?

A: That’s kosher salt. The most important thing about kosher salt is the ingredient list: salt. No nitrates, no iodine, no crap — just salt. The next important thing about kosher salt is that rather than tiny crystals, it has a coarse, flaky texture. This makes it much easier to pick up a pinch and sprinkle it on your food. Kosher salt also sticks to food better (excellent when grilling a steak) and tends to be absorbed better.

Q: Why the hell would you pick up salt, though? Why not a shaker?

A: Because it is much easier to get proper crystal distribution over the surface of a piece of food. If you’re using a shaker there’s a tendency to get a lot of salt in a couple spots, and almost no salt in others. That’s disgusting — good cooking[1] is art. By making seasoning tactile, you get a feel for how much is enough, and nothing connects you with a dish like feeling the ingredients go through your hands.

Q: Okay, if salt is so great, why do they sell unsalted butter?

A: Any good cook wants complete control over the level of seasoning in a dish. If your butter is salted then you have to compensate, rather than starting from a clean base.

Q: Won’t we get sick if there is no iodine in our salt?

A: If you are an organic vegan with no external source for iodine, then maybe. But even then, probably not.

Q: Why isn’t there a salt shaker on the table?

A: Because the food is seasoned perfectly, and doesn’t require any more salt. If you want your food to taste like salt instead of food, then go to McDonald’s and leave me alone.

Q: Is there anything else we should know about salt?

A: Maybe a quick look at some other salts.

First is table salt. I prefer sea salt, and use this in recipes like pancakes because it’s easy to sift and measure. If you do use kosher salt, you should increase the amount required by a third to compensate for the different physical structure.

Second is fleur-de-sel, a sea salt harvested by hand in Brittany. If you want to finish off a perfect tomato salad or a nice piece of lamb with a few crunchy pieces of coarse salt (note that sea salt has a very distinctive flavour and is not nearly as “salty” as table salt), this is what you want to use. At $20 a pound, save it for special dishes and cook with your kosher salt.

Rock salt consists of very large crystals, and often used for decoration. If you want to impress your friends at your next dinner party, a chilled plate of perfect oysters on the half shell riding a bed of rock salt is a good start.

Pickling salt is a very fine grained, very pure salt for creating brines (you know, for when you make your own saurkraut)

Seasoning Salt is a tool of the devil, and will often contain inferior salt, stale spices, and a good dose of MSG. If you like the flavour, mix some kosher salt, celery salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and black pepper together and you’ll have something far superior to anything you can buy in a can.

And that wraps up our whirlwind tour of the salt world. If there’s only one thing you need to take away, it’s this: unless you’re eating canned soup[2], taste the food before you put salt on it. Your taste buds (and your blood pressure) will thank you.

[1] Note, cooking is NOT baking. Baking relies on precise formulas so that chemistry can do it’s magic. We’re not talking about baking. Yet.
[2] Canned soup is formulated in such a way as to offend the fewest people possible. The easiest way to accomplish this to make sure it has no taste.

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