Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Friday, February 09, 2007

Recharge your Batteries

Check out these rather nifty NiMH rechargeable batteries from USBCell that have built in USB hubs allowing them to be charged through a computer rather than a conventional charger. They come in AA size and have a 1300 mah rating.

These batteries make perfect sense for someone like me who does a lot of photography and a lot of traveling. I can already charge my BlackBerry and my cell-phone through my laptop and anything that allows me to ditch another charger is a bit of all right in my book.

The downside is that one might have to carry a portable USB hub around, but most people I know do that anyway and now you can think of it also as a universal charger!

I got four of these babies a couple of weeks ago and so far they’re doing just fine. The batteries, at $19.95 a pair at Adorama, are slightly more expensive than conventional rechargeable batteries but then you don't have to buy a charger so they actually save you money. They take about 5 hours to charge for the first time but charge rapidly for subsequent uses. In my completely unscientific tests (on a Canon Elan-7E SLR and a Canon 580EX flash unit) lasted about as long and performed about as well as regular NiMH batteries.

Pictured: USBCell AA 1300mah NiMH Rechargable Batteries

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Art of the Omelette

In my Pantheon of superstar foods, the omelette has pride of place in the front row. It can be street food in India, an elegant supper at a French bistro, a hearty lunch in Spain and stuffed to overflowing at an American brunch. It can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner and when you need something to soak up the excesses of a night on the town, the omelette can hang right in there with the fried chicken and the cold pizza.

According to the
Larousse Gastronomique (Robuchon, J., et al (ed), 2001, Clarkson Potter, New York, P.808), "the word [omelette] comes from the French "lamelle" (thin strip) because of its flat shape; previously it was known as alumelle and then alumette, and finally amelette." (So the Indian pronunciation is actually pretty close to the French original!) The French have been making omelettes since the 16th century and the pinnacle of their painstaking effort is the classic recipe known as L'Omelette aux Champignons - Omelette stuffed with Mushrooms.

Making a French omelette is a lot like making tea or making rice. It is very easy to make but very difficult to make well. And just like tea or rice, when an omelette is good it is sublime, when it’s bad, there are few worse abominations on the face of the planet.

I know because I had the misfortune of eating a particularly bad version a couple of days ago, which is what prompted this post. Here are a few critical things to keep in mind when making an omelette. Follow these simple rules of thumb and you will have French bistro quality omelettes - guaranteed.

First, the stuffing. If the omelette is to have a stuffing, make sure you cook it
before you make the omelette. The residual heat of the omelette will reheat the stuffing but if the omelette gets cold while you're making the stuffing, it's all over. For a mushroom stuffing, stick to the middle of the road - you don't want white button mushrooms which are pretty flavorless and get soggy but you don't want shitakes either which will overwhelm the flavor of the eggs. Creminis, in my experience, work best - they will stand up to the eggs with just enough earthy flavors to compliment them. Salt the mushrooms while they are sautéing to draw out the water - you don't want that moisture running out when the stuffing is in the omelette!

Now for the main event -
  • Make sure that the eggs are at room temperature. Eggs straight out of the fridge tend to coagulate and don't mix as well when beaten, leading to dense and heavy omelettes.
  • Speaking of beating, the eggs should get a thorough one. Beat the eggs for at least 10 minutes. Don't be shy (or lazy) - I've gone so far as to use a mixer on the eggs but if you have any experience in hand mixing a latte, you can do this with a fork. The more air you can incorporate into the eggs the lighter and fluffier they will be.
  • This one is optional, but instead of just adding milk, try adding a teaspoon or so of cream to the proceedings too (for three eggs. Adjust the amount of cream for fewer or more eggs). Also add a teaspoon or so or water.
  • This one is not optional - use butter as a cooking medium! Not vegetable oil, not olive oil (not even the good stuff) - butter. Say it with me - butter!
  • Cook the omelette slow and low. Well, ok - medium to medium low. But you don't want to crank the heat 'cause that will only burn the outside before the omelette cooks through.
  • This leads us to – non-stick skillets. This is one of the very few recipes where I would recommend using a non-stick skillet over a regular one. Since you don't need to fire up the afterburners, the safety issues with non-stick pans can be overlooked. You can slide the omelette off more easily, the calorie counters can use a little less butter and since non-stick pans generally don't sear very well, you get a nice even golden color on the omelette.
  • And finally, do not cook the omelette all the way through in the pan. Residual cooking will continue after you take the eggs off the heat and you must account for this. If the eggs are completely cooked in the pan, the by the time they get to the table, they will be overdone, dry and stringy. The trick is to take the skillet off the heat when the edges of the omelette have set but the center is still slightly moist and runny. Fold in the stuffing, thus giving that a little time to warm up too. Plate.
Now, there's a good egg, what!