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Food and Drink

Kitchen forensics 101

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After the fun of reexamining your basic Canadian fridge last week, compliments of Jean-Louis Brussac of Coquitlam who likes to analyze just about everything he sees, I was curious to peek behind - or inside - other common kitchen appliances and the like to see what might pop up.

If you've ever picked up the book, The Way Toys Work , I bet, like me, you couldn't put it down. Ed Sobey, who founded the National Toy Hall of Fame in the U.S. wrote it with his son, Woody, after "reverse engineering" toys to spill their guts, so to speak. The book dissects everything from the magical Etch-A-Sketch, one of my all-time favourites, to the boomerang, and throws in some history, to boot.

Now Mr. Sobey Sr. has turned his incisive mind to the kitchen with his new book, The Way Kitchens Work . Released by Chicago Review Press, The Way Kitchens Work will totally change the way you see your kitchen and all your best kitchen helpers.

Here's a quick take on three of my favourites, thanks to Ed and his Aunt Jean, who inspired him with her cooking, and to whom the book is dedicated.

The magical microwave

Whenever I use a microwave oven, I try to picture someone transported from the 15th century - or heck, just about any time before the 1970s when microwaves became popular - watching in disbelief as something cold goes inside and quickly comes out hot, with no tangible sign of heat.

Microwaves (for the sake of simplicity I'll drop the "oven", which none of us Canucks ever use, anyway) are such an integral part of today's kitchen it's hard to picture life without them, even for people who don't live on take-out.

We have the American engineer, Percy Spencer, to thank for inventing the microwave after a chocolate bar accidentally melted in his pocket when he stood in front of an operating magnetron.

Spencer patented it in 1950, after Raytheon Company came out with the first one in 1947. It weighed a ton, well, really, about 750 pounds, cost way too much and used about three times as much electrical power as those today.

Essentially, microwaves heat and cook your food using electromagnetic radiation. Only certain molecules in the food react, namely water, fat and sugar, vibrating due to the bombardment and subsequently generating heat.

The radiation has a wavelength of about 12 cm (5 inches) and can pass through glass and transparent plastic, much like visible light can. Since the radiation could potentially pass through that little viewing window in the door, manufactures sandwich a metal screen with very fine openings onto the glass window. The screen blocks the radiation, since the openings are too small to let it through.

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