Thursday, August 26, 2010 

Kenmore Live | Induction Ranges vs. Gas

I was catching up with my old pal Chef Joel Nickson of Wishbone Restaurants yesterday (left); he mentioned he did something at Kenmore's (Sears) new-ish culinary center in downtown Chicago recently. From what I can tell via their online presence, they spent a buttload of $ on it; they're all about bulking up their Facebook account with friends (; they like entertainment-based events; and they feature both cooking & live music (gee - I wish I'D thought of that!).

Joel says they use induction units for their island counter. Having done cooking demos with early rollouts of induction burners at various trade shows, I would have strongly recommended against them using induction vs. gas; But then again, having a large corporation actually pay attention to anything I said would be on roughly the same frequency of a total solar eclipse. It's been awhile, but I do remember trying to get recipe approval from Kraft Foods for a trade show demo I was doing - they acted like I just bitch-slapped a blue-eyed baby when I tried to get approval for a Velveeta party dip blended with chipotle peppers. FYI, I would bet good money they'll be coming out with exactly that on shelves before long; and whaddya know! Here's their recipe for that:

Beyond all that (pardon my corporate rant), my main issue with induction ranges: If you're doing a cooking demo, there's no way to ignite alcohol without an outside flame for that "fiery finish" that most audiences get a kick out of. Neither can you use certain non-magnetic materials, especially copper - THE best kind of pan to cook with, bar none.

Here's some info on induction ranges from the fantastic Cook's Illustrated online.

Published January 1, 2010. From Cook's Illustrated.
We wondered: Is a burner that promises to be faster, safer, and more precise too good to be true?
First there were induction ranges. Now there are portable versions, which come in handy when you need an extra burner in the kitchen (or a compact cooker in a dorm). Unlike traditional gas or electric burners, induction burners don’t get hot. Instead, they use a high-frequency electromagnet to create a magnetic field between the cooktop and the pan. The magnetic field penetrates the metal of the pan and sets up a circulating electric current, which generates heat.

The benefits? Induction burners are meant to be faster and safer than typical electric or gas burners and make it easier to precisely control your cooking temperature. On the downside, you can only use pans that contain iron, such as cast iron and stainless steel. Don’t even think about aluminum, copper, or Pyrex—and you can only use nonstick pans that contain iron material. (To find out if a pan functions on induction, try attaching a magnet.)

We selected six brands, priced from $124 to $499. After timing how long it took to boil 2 quarts of water in a 3-quart saucepan on a gas range (6 minutes, 30 seconds), we did the same on each induction burner. Despite claims that they operate “twice as fast” as a gas range, all of the portable burners were actually slower: The slowest took a whopping 12 minutes, while the fastest took a minute longer than the gas range. As it turns out, the power of these single burners can’t compare to a full-size induction range—the burners we tested had between 1300 to 1800 watts apiece, while a comparable induction range burner would be 3200 watts. Their power has to be limited because you plug them into an ordinary wall outlet, while a full induction range requires a special circuit.

Did they offer any advantage at all? Yes. With induction, it’s very easy to get precise control of cooking temperature, since the burner itself does not become hot—as a result, there’s little to no “carry-over” heat. We prepared heat-sensitive béchamel sauce and it was exceptionally easy to maintain the temperature just as we wanted. We also made macaroni and cheese on each unit, with good results. An induction burner is also much safer than conventional burners, because there’s no flammable surface. You can even touch it, because the surface never gets very hot, though it can become warm from the heated pan. We put a dollar bill between the pan and the burner; the dollar didn’t burn even with the power on and the pan’s contents boiling.

The top performers distinguished themselves from the losers with speed in the boiling tests and practical design. All of these burners had a “futuristic” look, but in lower-ranked burners, this worked to their detriment. Burners with overly slick surfaces didn’t offer traction, which meant pans of hot food slipped whenever we stirred them. And sleek touch-sensor controls made temperature adjustment a challenge. We much preferred user-friendly push buttons and dial controls.

In the end, we preferred our winner for its well-designed controls, efficient heating (just one minute longer than the gas stove), and reasonable cost. Should you buy it? It isn’t faster than a gas range and it’s pricier than your average hot plate or single-burner gas stove. But if you want a safe, relatively efficient portable burner, it does the job.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 

John Lilly at Duke's (Chicago) August 21st 2010

My old pal John Lilly will be playing at a small yet mighty spot called Duke's in Rogers Park (Chicago) Saturday, August 21 (2010). I'm pretty sure there's no cover (?), but the room seats MAYBE 30 folks, so be sure & get there early if you'd like to sit. 
Looks like I'll be shooting some HD video of the show that night, so if you can't make it... you can probably check it out at some point on his site. 
John is a terrific songwriter who won our "Ghost Writers In The Sky" Song Contest a few years back ( with his Hank Williams-esque "Blue Highway."
Turns out John is also college buds with the owner of Duke's (Neil); Duke's really seems to favor honky tonk bands & music, which is good by me. 

Friday, August 13, 2010 

Will It Blend?

Here's a pretty fun website, very creative marketing concept created (most likely) by a tabletop blender company. Some lab-geek looking guy puts various things (such as an iPhone) into the blender, and shows the results. Yes.
My idea: Recreate an event where a guitar amp of mine fell off our van at 75 MPH, and see if the various musical stuff still works (my amp actually did). 

Thursday, August 12, 2010 

CCR - The Original Jam Band?

Lord knows I've played my share of the Creedence Clearwater Revival catalogue; with the exception of how of some of the tunes have nearly identical tempos, keys and overall feel ("which one is this one?" you sometimes ask yourself, trying to match the correct guitar riff with the corrent tune)... those tunes rarely get old to me- which is the sign of truly great music in my book. 

Beyond that, there's something else notable about the CCR catalogue: They have a BUNCH of tunes with only ONE CHORD. Long tunes, too. Which means (although I have no use for these "jam bands" that go on forever, which bore the hell out of me) it could be argued that Creedence was one of the original jam bands.

Speaking as a guitarist, I might even serve up this thought: If you're good enough to keep a 9 minute song interesting & moving along regardless of extended guitar solos... you may be a much better musician than you or anyone else gives you credit. KEEP ON CHOOGLIN, BABY!

Saturday, August 07, 2010 

Canaries In The Coalmine

Being in two entertainment categories as I am (food & music), it occurs to me that these two vocations are a dead-on barometer of the current economy. 

The music category is more obvious: When talent buyers, agents, non-profit theaters and festivals from around the country all start telling the same story about sponsor funding drying up, attendee numbers being down, etc., you start to get a clear, independent assessment of what's happening all around the country - and it ain't pretty.

Less obvious, but equally revealing, is the catering/special event category. In a robust economy, there are lots of corporate gigs, holiday parties, contract feeding, etc; you know things are bad when catering companies strip things down to skeleton crews, and some of these owners are back to delivering & working the parties themselves.

And so... if any government analysts or media pundits care to get a street-level look at the U.S. economy... I'd start by speaking with those folks involved with special events, professional musicians and caterers.