Tuesday, April 7, 2009


One of the most important components of classical French cooking is mirepoix. A classic French mirepoix is composed of a 2:1:1 ratio of onions to carrots to celery, meaning that four cups of mirepoix would contain two cups of onions, one cup of carrots and one cup of celery. Some of you may also have heard of the cajun version of mirepoix, called trinity. The ratio is the same, but the carrots have been replaced with green bell peppers.

Mirepoix is used as the basis of a number of dishes, not only in French cooking, but in other cuisines. The ratios may vary a little, and the name may change (or not even exist at all), but the combination of onions, carrots and celery is classic. Recently some stores have even started selling both mirepoix and "cajun-style mirepoix" in the frozen foods aisles, which is convenient. But if you're willing to take the time to cut your own mirepoix and maybe even freeze it yourself, it will likely be cheaper, plus you can have a little better control over the quality.

I'm going to show you a few knife cuts here suitable for home use. You've probably seen all sorts of ways to cut these vegetables, and if you've been to cooking school, these methods are probably not what you were taught. They certainly weren't what I was taught, and if I were working for somebody like Thomas Keller, I wouldn't be using them either. But since I'm just cooking for me and my family, they will suffice.

Let's start with carrots. Go ahead and wash them, but don't bother to peel them. There's no reason to waste good carrot like that. With most carrots I see in grocery stores, you should be able to chop them in half, then cut the smaller half lengthwise into four pieces, and the larger half lengthwise into six pieces.

Go ahead and cut up a few carrots like this. When you have enough, there's a tip you can use to save yourself some time. Spread them out in a line across your cutting board, and start working your way across with your knife, dicing them up into pieces with as uniform a size as you can manage. Remember, accuracy is more important than speed, especially considering the sharp knife that I expect you to be working with.

Let's turn our attention to the celery. This is actually a little more difficult to cut, because it has kind of an awkward shape to it. The key is to bring it down to the same level as the carrots. First, grab a bunch of celery and cut the end off. Don't go crazy with it, you just want to be able to separate the stalks from each other. Don't be getting all wasteful on me.

When it's separated, go ahead and wash it in cold water. There were plenty of places for dirt to hide when it was together, and you need to get rid of it. With that out of the way, go ahead and lay a stalk down and slice off a piece of it length-wise.

With that piece cut away, go ahead and make the next cut. Be careful with these! It's easy to get carried away and go too fast. I've lost track of the number of times that I started to think I was a big-shot chef with ninja knife skills, only to end up slicing myself. Remember, accuracy before speed.

Now you have a bunch of long sticks of celery, ready to be diced just like the carrots. Lay 'em out the same way, and chop 'em up.

Last up, onions. These are actually very easy to cut, but they have their own dangers. You know what I'm talking about: the tears. I can give you a few tips, but when it comes down to it, you really just need to learn to suck it up. Take a step back if you start crying too hard, give it a break, then go back to it. First things first, you need to cut the stem end off.

Be careful not to cut too much of it off, because you actually need some of it to hold the onion together for a moment. Cut the flower end off too. Then go ahead and slice it in half, from end to end, so that you have two halves that are both held together at the stem.

At this point you can go ahead and peel away the papery part and throw it away. You might even want to put the cut sides face-down on the cutting board for a few minutes. Believe it or not, this seems to help dissipate some of the sting. When you're ready, slice the onion on the side, but not all the way to the stem. You still need that holding it all together.

Keep making slices like this at an angle, working your way around the onion. What you're going for are little fingers of onions held together by the stem. Another little tip here: try not to stand directly over the onions when you're cutting them. I think everybody does it, and it just puts you in the line of fire for onion fumes. Stand back a little and you will have fewer tears.

When you've worked your way around, it's time to actually dice the onion. Being careful not to cut your fingers, you want to slice across the cuts that you've already made. This is much easier, because that stem is still holding the onion together.

Keep going until you get almost to the stem. Feel free to cut as close to the stem as you want, but don't cut up the stem itself, I don't think you'd really like it.

Now that you have your vegetables cut up, you have a few options. If you bought way too many vegetables like I did when I was shooting these pictures, you'll probably want to freeze some of them for later use. You'll want some cookie sheets, or if you have a restaurant supply store nearby you can pick up "half-sheet pans", which are basically just commercial-grade cookie sheets.

I like to lay down a sheet of parchment on each sheet pan. You don't have to, but keep this in mind: the frozen veggies will stick to the pan itself a lot easier than to a sheet of parchment. Lay out the veggies on the pan, in as thin a layer as you can get it. If you have a lot of veggies like I did, you can put a cooling rack on top of the veggies, add another pan and repeat, but I wouldn't go more than three sheet pans high. The more you stack, the longer it will take to freeze, and you really do want these veggies to freeze as quickly as possible.

Move the sheet pans into the freezer and leave them there for at least two or three hours. Try not to open the door for the first couple of hours; it just slows down the freezing process. When they're nice and cold, you can move the veggies into a resealable plastic bin or bag, and then directly back into the freezer (once you've written the day's date on them, of course).

It's up to you whether you want to store them separately, or mix together the ratios yourself for freezer storage. Personally, I like to keep them separate. It offers me a little more freedom if I end up needing, say, a cup of carrot puree. I can't think of any reason offhand why I would need such a thing, but stranger things have happened.

I have another post written that makes excellent use of this mirepoix, but I have no photos to accompany it. Stay tuned, and as soon as I have photos I will post them.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Geek/Maker Calendar

I don't know if anybody else has noticed, but Make seems to be posting a lot of "Maker Birthdays" lately. I thought it might be fun to put together a calendar with as many days as possible filled with not only birthdays of makers, but also birthdays of other notable geeks, and various other noteworthy days for geeks. I know I'm stretching it on a few of these, but hopefully not too far.

My list so far is not comprehensive, but I'm running low on ideas. I thought I'd open it to my geekier readers, to see if we can fill the comments on this post with other geek days. I have Wikipedia links where available, and links elsewhere otherwise. I'm trying to remain as unbiased as possible, which is why you see certain names on the list that I'm not necessarily a fan of. Please try to be unbiased too. Here's what I have so far:

Jan 1864: George Washington Carver - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_Carver
Jan 1942: Brian Kernighan - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Kernighan
Jan 1, 1894: Satyendra Nath Bose - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bose-Einstein_condensation
Jan 2, 1920: Isaac Asimov - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Asimov
Jan 3, 1892: J.R.R. Tolkien - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._R._R._Tolkien
Jan 4, 1643: Isaac Newton - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton
Jan 4, 1809: Louis Braille - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Braille
Jan 5, 1940: FM Radio first demonstrated to the FCC - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_5
Jan 8, 1942: Stephen Hawking - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_hawking
Jan 21, 1953: Paul Allen - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Allen
Feb 4, 1943: Ken Thompson - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Thompson
Feb 5, 1943: Nolan Bushnell - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nolan_Bushnell
Feb 8, 1828: Jules Verne - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jules_Verne
Feb 11, 1847: Thomas Edison - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_edison
Feb 18, 1745: Alessandro Volta - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alessandro_Volta
Feb 24, 1955: Steve Jobs - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_jobs
Mar 3, 1847: Alexander Graham Bell - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Graham_Bell
Mar 11, 1952: Douglas Adams - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Adams
Mar 13, 1733: Joseph Priestley - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Priestley
Mar 14, 1879: Albert Einstein - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein
Mar 14 : Pi Day
Mar 16, 1953: Richard Stallman - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Stallman
Mar 17, 1948: William Gibson - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Gibson
Mar 24 : Ada Lovelace Day - http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2009/03/today_is_ada_lovelace_day_celebrati.html
Mar 31, 1811: Robert Bunsen - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Bunsen
Apr 16, 1867: Wilbur Wright - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright_brothers
May 11, 1918: Richard Feynman - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Feynman
Jun 6, 1954: Tim O'Reilly - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_O%27Reilly
Jun 8, 1955: Tim Berners-Lee - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee
Jun 19, 1623: Blaise Pascal - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blaise_Pascal
Jun 23, 1912: Alan Turing - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_turing
Jun 26, 1824: William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Thomson,_1st_Baron_Kelvin
Jul 10, 1856: Nikola Tesla - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla
Jul 17, 1971: Cory Doctorow - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cory_Doctorow
Jul 20, 1969: Apollo 11 lands on the moon
Jul 30, 1863: Henry Ford - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_ford
Jul 30, 1962: Alton Brown - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alton_brown
Aug 8, 1901: Ernest Lawrence - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._O._Lawrence
Aug 11, 1950: Steve Wozniak - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Wozniak
Aug 12, 1887: Erwin Schrodinger - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erwin_Schr%C3%B6dinger
Aug 19, 1871: Orville Wright - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright_brothers
Aug 19, 1906: Philo Farnsworth - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philo_Farnsworth
Aug 20, 1970: John Carmack - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Carmack
Sep 9, 1941: Dennis Ritchie - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Ritchie
Sep 24, 1954: Larry Wall - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Wall
Oct 7, 1885: Niels Bohr - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niels_Bohr
Oct 17, 1984: Randall Munroe - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randall_Munroe
Oct 28, 1955: Bill Gates - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_gates
Oct 31, 1959: Neal Stephenson - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neal_Stephenson
Nov 7, 1867: Marie Curie - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Curie
Nov 8, 1954: Bill Joy - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Joy
Dec 9, 1906: Grace Hooper - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Hopper
Dec 10, 1815: Ada Lovelace - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ada_lovelace
Dec 24, 1818: James Prescott Joule - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Prescott_Joule
Dec 26, 1791: Charles Babbage - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Babbage
Dec 26, 1937: John Conway - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_H._Conway
Dec 27, 1822: Louis Pasteur - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Pasteur
Dec 28, 1969: Linus Torvalds - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linus_Torvalds
Dec 29, 1800: Charles Goodyear - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Goodyear

I have a few other names that I've come up with that either I don't have birthdays for, or am not sure if they warrant being on the list.

E.G. Kingsford (Kingsford Charcoal)
Jul 22, 1968: Alan Cox - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Cox
Damian Conway - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damian_Conway
Dave Bradley (CTRL-ALT-DEL) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bradley_(engineer)
JD Frazer (User Friendly) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J.D._Frazer
Guido van Rossum - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guido_van_Rossum
Robert Morris - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_H._Morris_(cryptographer)

Anyone else want to submit some names?