The Watson Dinner Party

About two months ago, I was given access to IBM Chef Watson.  You may remember Watson as the computer which beat all the Jeopardy contestants in 2011.

How Watson works is you enter an ingredient, then Watson suggests other ingredients which might go well with it.  When I played with it, I was getting kind of crazy recipes.

Watson suggested as my first recipe:

The directions were:

  • Broil grapes coated with honey and shallots
  • Add rice vinegar
  • Add chives afterwards.

And for the first try, it tasted pretty good.  It was kind of different, but not too crazy.  For the second recipe:

The directions basically said to:

  • Stir fry diced chicken thighs with:
    • Avocado
    • Mushrooms
    • Diced turnips
    • Sugar snap peas
    • Strawberries
    • Mint

Now this recipe tasted really weird.  Like it wasn’t bad, nor good.  It kind of got me wondering how Watson pairs their ingredients.  From browsing their Watson Facebook page, one of the IBM Engineers stated:

In fact, we rely on the “flavor pairing hypothesis” mentioned in this paper, but aim for synergies rather than contrasts, which this paper refers to as the ‘western’ preference. It would be interesting to see if we could have a knob or slider that lets you decide what your preference is…. I’ll put that on a future back burner…

For me personally, I had two major problems with Watson.

  1. As the engineer stated, the flavor pairings were kind of odd to me.  I personally prefer more of an Asian pairing which has more contrasts.  For example, Vietnamese food is a balance of sweet, salty, and umami.
  2. The Watson website ingredient combinations were way too crazy.  I really needed to pair down the additions.

However, I was still adamant in throwing a dinner party around Watson, and I really wanted to incorporate local and in season farmer’s markets fruits and vegetables.  I then played around a lot with tangelos and saw


Capture4This was really intriguing because in salsas, you usually add some acid like lime or lemon juice.  But adding a tangelo (which is a combination of a tangerine and grapefruit), added a really interesting mellow orange flavor to the salsa.

After playing around and experimenting for about a month, this is what I decided on the final Watson dinner party menu.

 

My friend, the pressure cooker

About a year ago, my Mom mentioned she got a pressure cooker.  And after seeing her use it for a little bit, I decided to jump in and get one.

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Back then, pressure cookers were kind of scary and they didn’t have nice release knobs and indicators.  And you might have heard of some tales of even exploding ones.

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Example of a scary old pressure cooker your grandma might have had.

There are quite a few videos, on Youtube on how to use a pressure cooker, and for more detail feel free to visit Modernist Cuisine on an explanation.  But here is the general gist.

  • When you boil water, the maximum temperature it can reach is 212 degrees (boiling point)
  • When you use a pressure cooker, the temperature can reach up to 250 degrees.  This means things cook faster
  • Since the lid is sealed, you use less gas/electricity

Basically using a pressure cooker will save you tons of time.  Here is an example of some things you can cooker in a pressure cooker.

Regular Cooking:

  • Beef chuck (beef stew) – 3 hours
  • Chicken thighs – 40 minutes
  • Stock from chicken bones – 1-2 hours
  • Dried beans – 6-8 hours

Pressure Cooker

  • Beef chuck (beef stew) – 15-30 minutes
  • Chicken thighs – 10 minutes
  • Stock from chicken bones – 30 mins
  • Dried beans – 40 mins

So for the most part you can get a meal on the table in about 15-40 minutes.  This is a crazy savings in time.

However, the trade off is when you use a pressure cooker, you no longer have context on how the food is cooking.  We usually use our eyes, our hands, or even a thermometer to gauge when something is done.  But we lose that ability.  The best website that tells you how long to cook something hands down is FastCooking.ca

In summary:

  • Pressure cookers can shave hours off your cooking.  Saving time is a good thing!
  • Look up the cooking times from fastcooking.ca to see how long to cook any protein or vegetable.
  • Be sure to buy a newer pressure cooker.  These have better release valves and indicators.
  • It is easiest to cook things which can handle lots of heat.  For example, chicken thighs, tough cuts of beef, root vegetables, and beans are good candidates.  For things that need gentle cooking like fish, chicken breast, etc you have to be very careful of how long you cook things.
  • If you have any questions on how to use one, feel free to drop a question on our facebook page.