Friday, May 30, 2008

Food Storage Thoughts

What's interesting to me is how many people seem to agree on the 1 gallon of water per person per day thing, but how much variance I've seen in how much food to store. I've got a few books at home about food storage, and I've seen various flyers and so on from friends and family members, all talking about what to store. The problem is, I don't agree with any of them. Yes, I realize I can be a little picky (snobbish?), but even with the "your needs may vary" disclaimer, it seems to me that people have thought up these lists and maybe even stored these items without even considering what to do with them when they end up needing them.

Example: most of these lists include shortening. I haven't stocked shortening for a long time. I might use it once every one, maybe two years. But using one online calculator, it was estimated that I would need 10 pounds of it for me and my family, for a year-long food supply. Let's face it, I'm not going to use it unless I absolutely have to. Maybe what I should be focusing on are foods that I actually enjoy eating, and will actually be happy to use when the time comes.

At first, I despaired a little. All these lists, and none of them seemed even remotely reasonable to me. Where was I going to find one that would match me? Then I realized that such a list could only come from one place: me. What I really needed to be doing was looking at these lists and deciding how they could be updated to fit my needs. What they were really good for was a starting point. So here goes.

This is the calculator that I mentioned before. It asks for the number of family members ages 7 and above, and the number ages 6 and below, and then generates a list for you. I decided to go through the items in the list one by one, and decide what was important to me and what wasn't. This list was generated for 2 adults and one infant/toddler.


Wheat 375 lbs
Flour 62 lbs
Corn Meal 62 lbs
Oats 62 lbs
Rice 125 lbs
Pasta 62 lbs
Total Grains 748 lbs

Right off the bat, it looks like I'm expected to cook a lot of things from scratch. 375 lbs of wheat? What am I going to use that for? Well, I know one guy that cooks whole wheat berries like Scotch oats, and eats them for breakfast. I could also buy a grain mill and grind my own wheat. I'm sure the grain mill was actually the originally-intended idea. Then why flour? As a baker, I can tell you that baking bread from 100% whole wheat tends to result in a dense, heavy loaf. It needs a little white flour to help things out.

I'm a big fan of corn, especially things baked with corn meal. The problem is, corn doesn't have any gluten, so it needs some flour too. Oats can be made into oatmeal, or they can also be baked, but they need flour too. Really, flour is just the binder that pulls it all together. Still, do I need 375 lbs of wheat berries? Why not just buy more flour, including whole wheat flour? Well, the first time open a bag of whole wheat flour that you bought 6 months ago and find out that it's rancid, you'll know why. Whole wheat stores for a long, long time. As soon as it gets ground, the shelf life drops significantly.

Rice and pasta are the things that I'm least worried about knowing how to use. Everyone knows how to cook pasta, and those who have been reading my blog since the early days know that if there's one thing I can cook, it's rice. In fact, I may just drop the wheat amount a little and up the rice to compensate. There's a reason why rice is one of the biggest staples (if not the biggest staple in the world.

As for picking up around 750 lbs of grain... well, that's going to take me a while to stock up. Baby steps.

Fats and Oils

Shortening 10 lbs
Vegetable Oil 5 gal
Mayonaise 5 qts
Salad Dressing 3 qts
Peanut Butter 10 lbs
Total Fats 63 lbs

All you health freaks out there, I want you to shut your traps about fats and oils. Without fats, we would starve. The key is not keeping fats out of our diets, the key is to manage fats sensibly. That said, I have a lot of reservations about this list.

10 lbs of shortening? I'll be surprised if I use half a pound of it over the course of a year. Mayonnaise is pretty much in the same point. I just don't use it. I find most salad dressings disgusting. But the veggie oil I can use. In fact, I would increase the veggie oil to 10 to 15 gallons, especially considering how useful it is for baking. Some people bake with shortening, and I'm happy to let them. Most of my baking formulas that call for fat call for it in liquid form. The peanut butter might be kind of a conservative estimate too. There is not a member of my family that doesn't love a good PB&J sammich. And there are oh-so-many other recipes that peanut butter can fit into.


Beans, dry 75 lbs
Lima Beans 11 lbs
Soy Beans 25 lbs
Split Peas 11 lbs
Lentils 11 lbs
Dry Soup Mix 11 lbs
Total Legumes 144 lbs

I guess I get my pick of dry beans. I don't know if lima beans, soy beans, split peas and lentils are supposed to be dry or canned, but since dry was already listed, I'm going to assume they meant canned. And I will replace those cans with black beans, pinto beans, red kidney beans and refried beans, because those are the beans that I will actually use. Heavy on the black beans. As for dry beans, well, I don't know. Definitely plenty of dried black beans. Maybe some great northerns. I might even add split peas and lentils into the dry list. But I'm thinking before I add anything to the dry list, I'd better come up with some recipes for it that I know I actually like.

Dry soup mix. I don't know about this one. Do they mean boullion? Do they mean those dried packets that have a few seasonings mixed in with mostly beans and lentils? I suppose a few dried packets of soup mix (flavoring only, no beans) wouldn't hurt. But I think I will mostly embrace this arena with dried herbs and spices.


Honey 7 lbs
Sugar 100 lbs
Brown Sugar 7 lbs
Molasses 3 lbs
Corn Syrup 7 lbs
Jams 7 lbs
Fruit Drink, powdered 15 lbs
Flavored Gelatin 3 lbs
Total Sugars 149 lbs

149 pounds of sugars? Good gravy! If I baked muffins every day for a year, I don't think I could go through 100 pounds of sugar! And seriously, 7 pounds of brown sugar seems a little unbalanced compared to that. Drop the sugar by at least 10 pounds and replace with an equal amount of brown sugar. 3 lbs of molasses seems a bit high too. And unless I start making candy on a regular basis, there is no reason for me to have more than a gallon of corn syrup. I will at least double, perhaps triple the amount of jam. Honey will stay about the same, but I may replace a couple of pounds of it with maple syrup.

Fruit drink. Like, what, Kool-Aid? Well, with a cup of sugar per Kool-Aid packet, I think I can see where that massive amount of sugar comes into play. Problem is, I don't drink Kool-Aid. I can't think of any powered drink mix that I do drink, other than TrueLemon, which I will stock up on. My wife is a big fan of Crystal Lite type drink mixes, so maybe some of that for her.

Gelatin. Did you know that Utah is the Jello capital of the world? If you live in Utah or work for the Jello company, you did. Salt Lake City consumes far more Jello per capita than anywhere else, by a long shot. I don't know why this is. I don't make a whole lot of it myself, so I really only eat it when I'm at some gathering where somebody else has brought it. Still, it's cheap, it's easy to make, it's filling, and I've been told that there's always room for it. I'm not opposed to it, and in an emergency situation it could be very handy. I'll increase the gelatin storage to 5 lbs, maybe more. Of course, some of that will be in the form of plain gelatin. Jello isn't the only thing you can make with it.


Dry Milk 150 lbs
Evaporated Milk 30 cans
Other 32 lbs
Total Dairy 187 lbs

"Other"? What in the world does "other" mean? Maybe sweetened condensed milk? I certainly would have added that to the list anyway. If somebody can tell me what else "other" can mean in the milk category, please tell me. As for the rest of this list, this can be kind of tricky. I don't drink milk. I don't like the taste of it by itself, and reconstituted dry milk is disgusting. But it that's what there is to drink, 150 lbs isn't an unreasonable estimate for a year.

Here's the real problem, though. Food storage expires. It's not economical to store a year's supply of food, and then when you don't use it by the expiration date, throw it out and buy another year's supply that you will only ever use in an emergency. You need to rotate through your food storage. That means finding recipes that you can use dry milk in to be able to rotate at least some of it. I don't know if I can rotate through 150 lbs of dry milk in a non-emergency situation. But I'd better try to get through some of it. Still, I'm mostly at a loss here.

Cooking Essentials

Baking Powder 3 lbs
Baking Soda 3 lbs
Yeast 1.5 lbs
Salt 13 lbs
Vinegar 1.5 gal

I'm good with these amounts. I might even add a pound each to the baking powder and soda. Yeast seems reasonable to me, at least if you're planning to bake enough bread to use up all those grains. Salt seems pretty high to me. A lot of people are going to store a lot of other items not on this list, like canned soups and the list. Canned soup always has a lot of sodium. And you can bet the powdered soup mix is chock-full of salt. I might drop the salt to 10 pounds or so, and make sure that at least a few pounds of it is iodized. But I also see no problem with storing a couple of boxes of Kosher or sea salt.

The amount of vinegar seems really small to me. Vinegar isn't just used for cooking, it's also used for cleaning and a variety of other tasks. I would say at least a gallon of white distilled vinegar, and another gallon or two of vinegars that you actually intend to consume. My list includes balsamic, red wine vinegar and white wine vinegar.


Water 42 gal
Bleach 3 gal

Obviously, this is a 2-week supply, not a whole year. And it looks like I was pretty close on my estimates. As for the bleach, I'm sure it's on there for water purification. People, before you go out and buy bleach or any other water purification device, learn how to use it. It's not difficult to add too much bleach, and too much bleach can kill you.

That was it for that site's calculator. Obviously, if we stick to this list and nothing else, then when that year comes and you have nothing to eat but your food supply, it won't be long before you get sick of it. Be on the lookout for other things, like canned fruits and veggies, to add to the list. I'm the type of person who will also have plenty of dried chiles and so on. Canned broth or stock will make life much easier and happier for you, but only if you know what to do with it.

I've made a few comments on this starter list. Now it's time for me to refine it further. Of course, we can't just go out and buy all these things on one paycheck. It's going to take a while to get our food storage up to where it needs to be. We've already got a food storage of course, but nowhere near a year. We just need to think about things as we buy them, and decide whether it's something that seems like a good idea, or actually is a good idea.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

By the Time I Get to Phoenix

Toronto didn't happen this week. I got sent to Phoenix instead, which my boss described as being "almost the same city". Actually, as disappointed as I am that I didn't get to visit the Great White North, I'm still pretty happy with this week's assignment. I've always liked Phoenix. But then again, every time I've ever been here before, it's been either November or December. The difference in temperature is immediately obvious, but does not detract from my enjoyment.

About a month ago I had a student tell me that Salt Lake City was the cleanest city he'd ever been in. While I agree that it certainly is cleaner than, say, Edison, New Jersey, I'm also guessing that he'd never been in Phoenix. Never before have I seen a city that is so neat, clean and organized. Other than the travesty of Grand Avenue, Phoenix is laid out in a grid format that makes Salt Lake look like it was patterned after the streets of Boston. It's difficult even for me to get lost in Phoenix.

My hotel is within walking distance of the training center, even in the blazing Phoenix sun. In fact, it's within walking distance of several restaurants and, as near as I can tell, even a couple of hospitals (United Healthcare and some Catholic thing). The optimist in me believes that these things (sun + food + hospital) are not related. There's also a Staples and a Walgreens on my block.

I'm two blocks from Central Ave, and glad that I don't have to drive on it. They're putting in light rail there, and while I'm excited to see it finished, I'm not excited to deal with it during construction. It reminds me a lot of what Main Street in Salt Lake looked like when they were putting in light rail there. Actually, a lot of Phoenix reminds me of Salt Lake. The grid, the light rail, the desert. Of course, you won't be finding hard liquor in the grocery store in Salt Lake, but that's a minor difference.

There have been other coincidences. When I flew into New Hampshire recently, I discovered that I was in the middle of the primary democratic elections. I then found my way into Ohio, during the primaries. I did manage to miss the primaries in Maryland by a month, but this morning I discovered that President Bush was planning to share Phoenix with me today. I hate politics. Why must politics stalk me like this?

Anyway, Phoenix has been otherwise enjoyable. I seem to have a good bunch of students this week, and thanks to the holiday yesterday, class is only 4 days long. Maybe I'll go out and look for a nice restaurant, just to throw my boss off. Then again, maybe that's just what he would expect. I need to stay ahead of him.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Alton Brown does Hotel Oatmeal

I don't usually click on YouTube videos that people send to me (in fact, I almost always ignore them entirely), but when somebody that never sends me one sends me one, I figure I'd better look. And it's a good thing I did.

It looks like Alton Brown has been playing with hotel cookery too. Specifically, he's been playing with oatmeal, which was my first foray. His version is somewhat different from mine, but it does have some similarities.

First off, he uses standard oatmeal packets, the very same ones that had become my goal to avoid, largely because of their excessive sweetness. Then he adds a packet of honey, and since it apparently wasn't sweet enough for him, he adds some jam. This is all added directly to the carafe, rather than just using the carafe to heat water like I do. He then adds an herbal tea (he uses orange in the video) to the water reservoir, along with the water.

It's a fine method, but in my ever so humble opinion, it has flaws. The biggest one is having to clean the carafe. I suppose you could leave it for housekeeping, but if you do, you'd better make sure you leave a big enough tip to compensate. There's also the issue of using the reservoir. Mr Brown loves his coffee, but I can't stand it. Unfortunately, many of the coffee makers I've seen in hotel rooms seem to have been used to double-brew coffee, meaning they brew it once with one set of beans, and then use the resulting coffee to brew a new batch with a new set of beans. If Feasting on Asphault is any indication, Alton is apt to do such a thing himself (he apparently likes his coffee extra-strong). He make like a hint of coffee in his oatmeal, but I would rather avoid it altogether.

And geez, AB. Excessively-sweet prepackaged oatmeal plus honey PLUS jam? I'm guessing you're the type of southerner who likes his iced tea extra sweet. Besides, have you ever looked at the ingredients on the side of a honey packet? The last one I looked at was more high fructose corn syrup than honey. I don't know whether Alton or I travels more, but I can tell you I spend a lot of time in airports as well. In fact, I find myself at the Cincinnatti airport a lot, since it's a Delta hub. And since Delta prefers me to fly on their connection partners rather than their own planes, I find myself in Terminal C a lot. One of the stores there sells mini-bottles of "straight kentucky honey", plenty small enough to fit into my quart-size plastic bag for TSA review, but still large enough to last me a couple of trips.

"Jeez, Mr. Brown, for a guy on TV you don't know very much." - Chuck, Chops Ahoy (EA1F07)

Okay, so he knows a few things. But he's really gotta learn to explore his world a little better, even including airport gift shops. That whole honey packet thing, that's just not right. There are better ways to do things. In all fairness though, that herbal tea thing was brilliant. It was so good, it should have been mine.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Water Storage Thoughts

A lot of Utahns spend a lot of time thinking about food storage. There has been a lot of press lately about various emergency situations, and a lot of people have been caught unawares. In a worst case scenario, the house or other building that stores the food may become unsafe or impossible to enter (to say the least), making the food storage inside worthless. Still, there are other situations where food storage is important. When I was laid off last year, we spent about six weeks without me bringing in a paycheck. My wife was still employed, and her meagar paycheck combined with my severance pay and any money we had stored in savings kept us afloat, but we managed to stretch things quite a bit with the food storage that we had built up. It doesn't take a natural disaster for food storage to become important.

There is a recommendation that where possible and legal, each family should store a year's worth of food, and at least two weeks worth of clean water. I don't know what the recommendation is for actual amount of food, but the water estimate is at least a gallon per person per day.

Where they came up with that number, I don't know. I've heard that everyone should drink X cups of water per day, and I've also heard that the X amounts of water per day recommendation is largely unfounded. Even so, a gallon seems like a lot. If you consider that the water might also be used for things like washing and so on in an emergency, it suddenly seems like a woefully inadequate amount. Either way, the whole gallon per person per day thing is still better than anything than I can come up with, so I'm going to go with it until I see something better.

How does one handle water storage? Our last attempt involved cheaply-purchased gallon jugs of water from the grocery store. Unfortunately, storage space was limited where we were, and the little water we had was "out of sight, out of mind". When storing consumables, even water, rotation is important. Even water jugs from the grocery store have expiration dates (typically about a year from the purchase time). When we remembered the water, it seemed strange to tap into our water supply for a drink instead of just getting it from the tap. And tap water doesn't seem to taste that great when stored for long periods of time. It seemed to be a poor solution.

I have a new solution in mind. Our local grocery store sells 5-gallon jugs of filtered water, as seen at office water coolers. Three jugs per person easily achieves the "at least a gallon per person per day for 14 days" goal. In the case of our 3-person family, we should be able to get by with only nine jugs. To dispense the water, we would of course need a water cooler-type dispenser. The main requirement here would be that the cooler can still operate with no power. If there was power, then the water could be chilled. I don't know how much such a thing would cost, but I'm sure it's out there, and I'm hoping its price doesn't put it outside of our means.

Rotation is still an issue. Our local grocery store also provides reasonably cheap refills for said 5-gallon jugs, assuming we don't just buy our own water filter to refill it ourselves. We have even more of an incentive to use this water than before, because the town that we've just moved to isn't known for its high water quality. In fact, Magna water is known throughout the region for its poor taste. Having a water cooler nearby gives us a way to rotate through the water, and keep from having to buy bottled water to avoid the taste of our tap water. I figure if we toss another jug or two in for a buffer zone, we should be able to rotate through our water supply without a problem.

Obviously, this is not a solution we have implemented yet. We need to look into water coolers that meet our small requirements, so if anybody has a recommendation, it would be appreciated. We also need to pick up the water jugs. It's not reasonable for us to buy it all at once. But we can buy one or two a week until we're up to our full requirements. Does this seem like a reasonable idea to you guys?

I have some thoughts on food storage too, but this is a long enough post for now. I'll write up some food storage thoughts later. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Using Forte Agent in Linux

I'm going to catch a lot of flack for this, I'm sure. But I'm going to post it anyway. Maybe it'll help out some other poor Linux user in a similar situation.

I've been browsing the newsgroups for years. I first subscribed to way back in the early 90s, and while I don't read that particular group anymore, I still spend a fair amount of time in the newsgroups. It wasn't long before I picked up a program called Forte Free Agent, and eventually I decided I used it enough to justify buying a registered copy. That was back in the 1.x days. I've kept up my registration since, and despite my move to Linux, I still use Agent. I'm a little strange in the Linux world in that I don't mind paying for software that I actually use, particularly when it's a reasonable price.

You see, there are no newsreaders that don't suck, in any platform. Agent just happens to suck the least. I tried out a Linux-based Agent clone called Pan at some point, and it was nothing short of horrific. Okay, in all fairness, it really was a decent piece of software, regardless of platform. But it pales in comparison to Agent.

Agent isn't technically supported in Linux, but it is reported to work quite nicely for many users, such as myself. There are just a couple of tricks to keep in mind if you want to use it with WinE.

Launching Agent

Agent will install just fine through the regular WinE interface, and run properly the first time. The second time you try to open it, you might get an error that says "The share directory does not exist." This is probably because you tried to run it like this:

cd ~/.wine/drive_c/Program\ Files/Agent
wine agent.exe &

Try this instead:

cd ~/.wine/drive_c/Program\ Files/Agent
wine ./agent.exe &

I don't know why the dot slash helps, but I found it on Google a few years ago, and it seems to help me out.


Yes, you can browse the newsgroups securly over SSL. This is often referred to as NNTPS, and is supported by a variety of news servers, such as Giganews (yes, I pay extra for a decent news service too).

Unfortunately, Agent doesn't seem to handle SSL too well in Linux. In fact, I've been having difficulty getting another usenet program, nzbperl, to handle SSL. I don't know what the problem is, but I do know it doesn't work so well. Unencrypted NNTP still works fine.

Launching Images

Back in my Windows days, if I came across a message with an attachment in it (mostly images, and no, not THAT kind of image), I would just hit 'L' to launch the viewer. This doesn't work so well in Linux, because of the way that Agent passes the filename to be launched. WinE tells its applications that / (the root directory in Linux) is the same as Z:\, which is almost enough... but it still passes a filename to the viewer that looks like "C:\Windows\temp\someimage.png". Since Linux apps don't know what to do with drive letters, this command fails.

With images, I found an easy workaround. Create a file in ~/.wine/drive_c/ called eog.exe (the .exe part isn't necessary, but I thought it was a nice touch) with the following three lines:

IMG=$(echo $1 | sed -e 's/\\/\//g' -e "s/c:/\/home\/$USER\/.wine\/drive_c/i")
/usr/bin/eog $IMG

Set the execute bit...

chmod +x ~/.wine/drive_c/eog.exe

...and add it as the default file type for images. The error will still pop up, but the Eye of Gnome image viewer will open the image successfully. Feel free to substitute your own image viewer as necessary if you don't like the Eye of Gnome. Also, this is a quick and dirty script that doesn't handle spaces in filenames very well. But in general, it does seem to work pretty well.

I don't use Agent to its full extent, so I'm sure there are other oddities out there. These are the only three that I've come across. Let me know if you find any others.


I don't know why I didn't think of this. Maybe it's just late. The following code should handle files with spaces in their names just fine:

IMG=$(echo $* | sed -e 's/\\/\//g' -e "s/c:/\/home\/$USER\/.wine\/drive_c/i")
/usr/bin/eog "$IMG"

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Chicago Lifts Foie Gras Ban

An interesting item found its way into my news reader this morning. Yesterday the city of Chicago lifted its foie gras ban, by a vote of 37 to 6. The ban was in place for a couple of years before city officials realized what gourmets all over the country were thinking: it was just ridiculous.

Why did they put the ban into place? I would bet that most Americans don't even know what foie gras is, and why it's so controversal. Allow me a moment to inform you. I'm told it literally translates to "fat liver", an accurate name considering that it's nothing more than the fattened liver of a goose, or more commonly these days, a duck. The traditional methods used to fatten that liver are what are under attack, and understandably so.

For those of you who may be squeemish about animal treatment, this is a good time to stop reading.

The centuries-old method of producing foie gras generally involved restraining the bird, sometimes by locking all but its head in a box too small to move in, and even nailing its feet to the bottom of that box. The grower would then force-feed the bird, who's liver would fatten as it had no opportunity to work off the excess calories. Come to think of it, it reminds me of my past life in the tech support world, minus the nailed feet.

To say that this method isn't really common anymore would be an understatement. In fact, I don't think it's even been legal for a long time (citation needed). Certainly, quality growers in the United States decry such abuse and have opted for far more humane methods. Birds now are free to roam around, and when feeding time comes, I've been told that most birds actually look forward to stuffing themselves beyond belief. Reminds me of being in cooking school, except for the part about being free to roam around.

Whether or not this still qualifies as humane is left to the consumer. Personally, I think it's far more humane than, say, your average chicken farm. Why not attack chicken farms instead? Let's face it, delightful as it may be, foie gras is still a niche market. It's an easy target with far less legal power to fight back than, say, KFC. If somebody were to fight against animal cruelty, there's much less risk in picking on the little guys, twisting facts into misinformation for their own self-righteous purposes. In truth, it's the same tactic the big guys would probably use if they had to, but it's apparently okay with smaller special-interest groups, because they're doing it all in the name of humanity.

Anyway, I'm okay with Chicago lifting the ban. My wife and I are planning on heading out there towards the end of summer for a friend's wedding. We're hoping we can save enough money to dine at Alinea while we're out there. Maybe if we're lucky, Grant Achatz will have added foie gras to his tasting menu.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Tinkering with Hotel Cheesecakes

I decided to play with my hotel cheesecakes again this week. This time I had some new equipment in my arsenal, and a couple of new ideas for proper cooking.

I've started carrying various cooking utensils with me. Most are either plastic or rubber, with the exception of my Oxo mini-whisk. I also have a small rubber spatula, some plastic measuring spoons, and a small stack of silicone muffin cups. Most of these were purchased with the intent of not getting into trouble with the TSA. The muffin cups were supposed to save me from having to buy new paper cups all the time. When I opened the package, I discovered they had the added bonus of being more stable, so that they don't collapse from the weight of their own filling when unsupported.

My last experiment involved using just the yolk, rather than a whole egg. This succeeded in lowering the water content which was making the batter too loose, but it unfortunately lowered it too much. The resulting cheesecakes bore more resemblance to over-cooked scrambled eggs. Obviously, I needed to loosen up the batter again. I had considered using heavy cream, but the idea of sour cream appealed to me. It's a common cheesecake ingredient which I had scarcely considered before. I was also short on sugar packets this trip, but had managed to pick up a tiny bottle of Kentucky honey at the Cincinnatti airport. Perhaps an invert sugar would help, as well as providing an interesting flavor profile.

I started with about a tablespoon of honey and 4 oz of softened cream cheese in a paper bowl. I mixed them together with the spatula, adding in about a tablespoon of sour cream. When it seemed liquid enough, I switched to the mini whisk and added the egg yolk. When it was nice and smooth, I poured it into two silicone muffin cups, foolishly ignoring the fill lines that the manufacturer had so graciously provided for me.

This microwave had a manual knob with no power control or turn carosel, so I knew I had to be careful. I cooked them in bursts of 15 to 20 seconds, manually switching their places with each burst. After 3 or 4 bursts I got brave and did a 30 second burst. The cheesecakes, which were undoubtedly slightly aerated from the whisking, had started to rise over the tops of the muffin cups. I put them in the hotel mini-fridge to cool and waited till morning.

The next morning's taste test revealed what I expected: an overcooked, grainy center. Interestingly, the outside was slightly undercooked, mostly silky smooth with the occassional graininess. This, I surmised, was because I hadn't given them time to cool properly by themselves. The shock of the icebox had stopped the carry-over cooking, and possibly forced some of the proteins to prematurly coagulate. The flavor was decent, but a little bitter from the honey. Also important, I noticed that even though I was nuking these at 100% power, the over-coagulation was not nearly as bad as with earlier attempts with lower power. I decided that the added mass (cooking two at once instead of just one) had a part to play here.

I had one more night to experiment with the other 4 oz. I added a tablespoon and a half to it, along with two packets of sugar to counter the slight bitterness of the honey. After mixing with the spatula, I added in two tablespoons of sour cream, mixed a little more, and then switched to the whisk. I added in my egg yolk, and just for kicks, a packet of True Lemon powder. Honey lemon is a pretty classic flavor profile, right?

Because of the extra sour cream, I had enough batter to fill three muffin cups right to their fill lines. I hoped the extra mass would help even more, but I had another trick up my sleeve. I added a cup of ice water to the center of the microwave, and placed the filled muffin cups in a triangle around it. Water has a very high specific heat, meaning it has to absorb a lot of energy just to raise it even one degree farenheight. My hope was that ice water would absorb even more of the microwaves in the oven, effectively limiting the power attacking the water molecules inside the cheesecake. I was careful not to overfill the water cup, just in case it absorbed enough energy to actually boil.

I went with 20 to 25 second bursts this time, each time rotating the cups with each other manually counter-clockwise one position. It took 6 or 7 bursts before I noticed that the centers of the cheesecakes had sunken in slightly, and the sides were starting to climb the muffin cups. They were overdone, I just didn't know by how much. I let them cool for about 45 minutes by themselves and then moved them to the mini-fridge.

In the morning, I tried all three. They all ended up pretty much the same, just slightly overcooked and grainy in the center, but almost perfectly cooked on the outside. I'm thinking that had I ditched the last burst of cooking time, they might have been perfect. The flavor was better, not too sweet, but not bitter either. I wish I had added a second packet of True Lemon. There was a slight hint, and I think just a little more and the flavor would be perfect. I noticed something else interesting though. The edges of the cheesecakes seemed to have pulled slightly away from the cups, and from the looks of it, I'm wondering if it's not because of steam from the cup. Would hot water have been a better way to go about it? How about a cup of hot water in the center to provide steam, and a couple of cups of ice water elsewhere to soak up excess energy?

I'm a few steps closer to hotel cheesecake perfection. Extracting the first two cheesecakes from their cups was a pain because of how rigid the cups were. I had already decided to try putting paper cups inside the silicone ones next trip, but now I'm reconsidering. Perhaps if I swiped some pats of butter from the breakfast bar, and brought a small brush with me to paint it to the sides of the cups. Since I'll be using butter for the crust after I get the filling figured out anyway, maybe it's not too far of a stretch.

From what I hear, my next class is tentatively scheduled in Toronto. Will Canadian cream cheese behave differently? They do have cream cheese, don't they? Will I even have a microwave in my hotel room? Or will I be so totally entranced with Toronto that I don't even bother with hotel cookery? Only time will tell.