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Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward

Chef-Induced Oscillation

When I was learning to be a glider pilot, one of the things I learned about was Pilot-Induced Oscillations (PIOs), which are formally defined as "sustained or uncontrollable oscillations resulting from efforts of the pilot to control the aircraft."  Basically, the pilot tries to correct a situation, over-reacts, tries to correct for the over-reaction, and so on, making the matter worse with each attempt.  For an example of PIOs, check out this NASA footage.

There is a parallel in the kitchen that I think of as Chef-Induced Oscillation.  An example might be making French Onion Soup and finding it is too sweet so you add some acid.  Add too much, it becomes sour.  Correct with sugar and you bounce back and forth, chasing the desired flavor.

Worst case in an aircraft is loss of equipment or life.  Fortunately, most of the time in cooking the worst case is loss of food and time, and maybe some embarrassment.

So, how to avoid CIOs?  The same way pilots avoid PIOs.

  1. Study and Practice - Find out what techniques might be used to correct errors such as too sweet, too sour, too salty, too bland.  Try them.  Some are just old wives tales like using a potato to remove saltiness (pp. 58-62) .  Others may work for one dish but not be the right flavor profile for another.  Understand that sometimes the recipe may dictate one solution over another.

    Try making various dishes and leaving out an ingredient or two to see what they contribute to the overall quality of a dish. Add them back in a bit at a time to learn how the flavor changes with additions of various ingredients.
  2. Stay Calm - much easier to do in a kitchen than a cockpit.  When you taste something is not right, stop right there.  Decide what is wrong and think about your options to correct it.  There may be several options so think about what you are trying to achieve in the final dish and how each option supports or detracts from that vision.

  3. Make Small Changes - in PIOs, the pilot's mistake is overshooting the desired result and then having to correct back.  Make small changes.  Add a little salt or acid or whatever at a time. It is easier to add more of an ingredient than it is to take some out.

  4. Allow Some Time - Whenever you add an ingredient to a dish, it is likely to take a little time for flavors to merge and settle down.  Don't rush to correct and correct again, but rather wait a few minutes between corrections.

    The other facet of 'Allow Some Time' is to plan ahead.  Prepare anything that can be made ahead of time enough before to allow some time for fine tuning rather than being rushed as guests start arriving.

  5. Taste and Correct as Needed - After allowing the flavors to merge and settle down, taste again. Go back to Step 2 and assess and adjust again as needed.  Keep repeating steps 2 though 5 until you have the taste you want.

New pilots are more likely to cause Pilot-Induced Oscillations.  Similarly, new chefs are likely to have Chef-Induced Oscillations.  With knowledge and experience, they are easily avoided.

Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward

Flat Top Burger Buns

It all started with a plan to have Sloppy Joes for supper. 

For those not familiar, a Sloppy Joe is a mixture of ground beef in a tomato based sauce served in a hamburger bun.  You can serve it sandwich style, which can be very messy, with the filling oozing out over everything, or as an open-face sandwich eaten with knife and fork.  I prefer the open-face option, but that brings another problem.  Since hamburger buns have a rounded top, the part served on the top half of the bun tends to topple and dump the filling.  The solution, obviously, is a burger bun which is flat on both top and bottom.  Hence, the Flat Top Burger Bun:

Burger Buns

Flat Top Burger Buns - Makes 8 - 3 oz buns or 12 - 2oz buns

7 fl. oz Warm Water 207 ml
tsp Salt 6 g
3 tbsp Granulated Sugar 35 g
1 tbsp Powdered Skim Milk 8 g
2-4  tbsp Melted Butter (divided) 56 g
1 lg Egg
3 cups All Purpose Flour 358 g
tsp Instant Yeast 5 g
2 tsp Olive Oil 10 ml
    Sesame Seeds (optional)    

  1. Set aside the sesame seeds, if using, for later.  If sesame seeds are not being used, melt the larger amount of butter and set aside half (see step 8)
  2. Place all of the remaining ingredients, except the olive oil, in order into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, sprinkling the yeast over the flour.  Mix on low speed until all of the flour is blended in, about 1 minute, then increase speed to medium and mix 4 to 5 minutes more until a smooth dough is formed.  You may need to add a little more water or flour to get the desired consistency.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and shape into a ball.  Drizzle the olive oil into the mixer bowl and put the dough back in.  Turn the dough over and around by hand until coated with oil.
  4. Cover and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in volume.
  5. Prepare a baking sheet either by lightly oiling or covering with parchment paper.
  6. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, gently deflate and divide into 8 - 3 ounce pieces or 12 - 2 ounce pieces.  Shape each piece into a ball and place on the baking sheet.  When all of the pieces are done, go back and gently press them into disks, about ¾" (2 cm) thick.  Cover and let rise about 1 - 1½ hour, or until puffy.
  7. While the buns are rising, preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
  8. When the dough is done rising, either spritz with water and sprinkle generously with sesame seeds, or brush the tops with reserved butter.
  9. Cover with a second piece of parchment and place a baking sheet on top, or lightly oil the bottom of a second baking sheet and place on top.  Weight the second baking sheet with about 1 to 2 pounds (½ to 1 kg, see note).
  10. Bake for 15 minutes, and then remove the top baking sheet and the second piece of parchment, if used, then bake about 7 - 10 minutes more until nicely browned on top.
  11. Lightly brush with butter and cool on a wire rack at least 20 minutes.

Note - to weight the top baking sheet use something that can safely go in a hot oven, such as a small cast-iron frying pan, or a cake pan partially filled with water.  Do not use canned goods as they may explode.

When done, the 3 ounce buns should measure about 4½" (11 cm) across, while the 2 ounces one will be about 3¾" (9 cm).

As well as being good for Sloppy Joes, because of their shape these buns are good for panini, packed lunches, or Eggs Benedict.  A 1½ ounce version could even be used for sliders.


Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward

Dicey Instructions

I keep seeing cooking references saying that you need to dice your vegetables to a uniform size in order for them too cook evenly.  Is that true?

In a word, no.  There may be an argument made for an even dice for aesthetic reasons -- a lovely rice pilaf with nice uniform cubes of veggies shows attention to detail and is a thing of art -- but from a strictly scientific point of view, when it comes to the usual carrots, onions, potatoes, etc, this is another cooking myth that needs to be put to rest.

If you have been cooking for a while, you have likely already seen the any number of pictures of a steak, fresh off the heat cut across the middle.  Stay with me for a moment.  We will get back to vegetables soon. Grilled Sirloin TimmedThe steak picture usually shows something approximately rectangular in shape with a smaller rectangle with rounded corners of less cooked meat in the center, something like the image to the above.  Notice that the thickness of the cooked area on all four sides is close to the same.  Why?  Because heat travels through a uniform solid at a constant, linear rate regardless of how thick the solid is.  It would be the same for a strip steak, a thick, juicy tenderloin or a 20 pound roast.  Assuming they all start at the same temperature and at a uniform temperature throughout, with the same heat applied to the outside surface, after the same amount of time, all would have the same temperature gradient over the same distance from the outside edge until each is cooked through.

Then what is going on at the corners?  Why is the inside shape rounded instead of square?  The reason is that the heat at the corners is penetrating from two directions so it cooks faster than the middle.  Wait long enough and the inside shape will become more oval, and then disappear entirely as the two closest faces meet.  The determining factor for when they meet is the thickness of the cut.  That's why when you see instructions for cooking a steak, it tells you how long to cook for a recommended thickness, not for the total weight of the steak.

OK, back to vegetables.  The same thing applies here.  If you cut a carrot into ½ slices or ½ cubes, they will cook to the same degree of doneness in the same length of time, assuming the heat is the same and that it is applied uniformly to the surfaces, since it is only the narrowest dimension really counts.  You can go ahead and chop and dice them however you want.  Put fluted edges on, make fancy turned vegetables, whatever strikes your fancy.  As long as the shortest dimension is the same for all of them, they will all cook at the same time. 

How about when you are using several different vegetables, say carrot, celery and onion, the classic mirepoix?  What counts is how fast heat is conducted through the material.  In general foods of the same density (weight/volume) and moisture content will cook at close to the same rate.  Carrots are a little more dense than onion and celery, but likely not enough to make a large difference.  Throw in turnips, potatoes and most other vegetables.  Still the same deal.  As long as the thinnest dimension is the same, they will cook in the close to same amount of time.

Then why be so fussy?  Because cooking is both art and science, and because we eat with our eyes first.  Appearance counts as much as technique.  So even if science says you don't have to make perfect diced vegetables all of the time, sometimes you might really want to.

Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward