Sunday, 14 April 2013

Some Useful Things

Little things can sometimes make a big difference. Here are a few things that I've found useful.

Food: Kuhn Rikon Epicurean Garlic Press

If you are going to use a garlic press, then this is the one to pick. It's heavy duty, made from stainless steel. It's probably the best garlic press in the world. To see a demo, have a look at America's Test Kitchen Equipment Review: Garlic Press where they come to the same conclusion and show off this little device. (Kuhn Rikon have another garlic press called the Easy Squeeze, which is a lot cheaper. It has a slightly different action and plastic handles. It's not nearly as good.)

Of course, if you are being macho you can just crush garlic with a kitchen knife. For example see this YouTube video. (Though the cook in this video makes a bit of a performance of removing the skin. The trick is to just trim off the ends of the garlic first with a knife, like you would while topping-and-tailing mange-tout peas. Then use the flat of your knife and gently lean your whole weight on the garlic until it just goes "click!". You can then just peel off the whole of the skin in one go rather than tediously picking pieces of skin out of the mashed up garlic.)

Coding: redemo.py

This little Python GUI program is endlessly useful when you find yourself tweaking a regular expression to make it parse your data correctly. In fact I would nowadays usually start by copying some of my example data into redemo.py's input box and then start writing my regular expression directly into its regexp box. That way I can check as I go along that the regexp is doing what I want, and when I make a mistake I'll get immediate feedback. (Redemo.py highlights the data that currently matches, reacting character-by-character as you change the data or the regexp.) When you get your regexp to work, you can just copy it straight into the program that's going to use it. And you're finished.

(On Windows, you can find redemo.py in the standard Python distribution, under Tools/scripts or Tools/demo depending on the version you are using. However, on Ubuntu Linux you have to sudo apt-get install python-examples or python3-examples, then find the mysterious place where it's been hidden, using say find /usr -type f -name redemo.py. Worth the effort though.)

Food: Star Anise

This is a useful ingredient that you might not think of adding to meat dishes. (I use it in my chilli recipe.) Obviously star anise plays a big part in Chinese cooking — it's one of the five spices — but it's less common in Western cooking. But as Harold McGee says in McGee on Food and Cooking, when you cook star anise with onions "the result is the production of sulfur-phenolic aromatics that intensify the meatiness of the dish." (p430)

Coding: Inconsolata font

Earlier this year I switched to Inconsolata for all my program editing, command shells and so on. It's not a huge change, but I think it's just a bit nicer than the alternatives. For example you get a zero with a slash though it, easily distinguishable from an uppercase letter "O", and you can quite easily tell the difference between numeral one, lowercase "L" and uppercase "I".

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