Sunday, 16 January 2011

Weights and Measures 2

Teaspoons and Tablespoons

As can be seen from the comments on my last two blog posts, tablespoon volume measurements are used for various things. I had never thought of using a tablespoon measurement for something hard, as I wouldn't be able to pour the substance reliably.

I have small spoons for stirring coffee (and eating ice cream).
I have spoons for taking medicine.
I have spoons for eating soup.
I have spoons for eating desserts.
I have spoons for serving vegetables.
I have wooden spoons for stirring things in pots.
I have no idea whether any of these conform to "teaspoon" or "tablespoon" measurements, but I guess that none of them do.

Some recipes require tea- or table-spoons of a substance, some require heaped tea- or table-spoons. If a recipe calls for a liquid in spoon measurements, I guess that some specific volume of spoon needs to be filled to surface-tension point, but alternatively it could be asking to be filled to a point level with the rim.  The difference in volume won't be much, but if we are dealing with one teaspoon of something, the volume difference might be significant.

However, what about heaped measurements? If a recipe calls for a heaped spoonful, what angle of heap is required? Should the substance be gently domed over the spoon, at some pre-determined angle, or should the spoon be rammed into the substance as far as it will go and the amount of substance that can be crammed onto the spoon is the correct amount?

If we cake hot chocolate as an example ... the angle of friction is very high, With care, I can easily get inches of chocolate onto a small spoon. However, if we take granulated sugar, I can hardly get more height on top of the spoon than the spoon's depth. Which of these is heaped, or are they both heaped?

Ridiculous Recipe?

I got linked to this recipe yesterday.

The comments on the recipe, here, seem to be unanimously dismissive, with people trying to be funny.

I have other problems with the recipe:

1. the amount of butter. Butter in the recipe seems to be measured in cups and sticks. I have no idea how to cram butter into a cup, and can only assume that a stick would be used to extract the butter from the cup after it has been squashed in.

2. I have never heard of peas in a can. I use frozen peas, so don't even know if there's a standard can size for peas.

3. the recipe doesn't say how warm the peas should be. Surely you would need to heat the peas to a level where bacteria & viruses are destroyed. I don't see how "warm" would do that.

4. the recipe doesn't say whether there wants to be an even coating of butter over the peas. I would presume that tossing, mixing or stirring would be necessary, but I don't know which would be the most successful method of buttering the peas.

Looking at the comments, I see a couple of them berating the author for writing a recipe elsewhere that instructs the cook to buy products from a store and pretend that they are home-cooked. I think that this is a great idea ... if something is difficult to cook, I would love to be directed to buy it instead. Far fewer disasters, that way!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Weights and Measures

This isn't a usual "I did something wrong and we had a disaster" post, because I haven't had many disasters recently, and the ones I *have* had (I cooked last night ... I ate two lumps of omelette) are for known reasons (I neglected to re-oil the non-stick frying pan after cooking one omelette successfully).  Instead, this is the first of a possibly recurring series, pondering about weights and measures.

I will make presumptions here when I don't understand something.  I think this will be the best way to identify my lack of understanding.  I will only then research the subjects that I find problems with, to prove (test) my assumptions.

The Fluid Ounce
An ounce ... but fluid?  As opposed to a solid ounce?  I note that it's not "liquid ounce", so I suggest that "fluid" might refer to granules or powder, as much as a solution or emulsion.  The markings for fluid ounces are on our measuring jug, between the ml and the pint markers.  This suggests that it's a volume measurement rather than a weight measurement, but I have no idea why a modification (in this case "fluid") of a weight measurement converts to a volume measurement.  I don't think we get a "fluid gram", so I presume it's not a standardised thing to do.

I just showed this screen to my partner, and she immediately said "the fluid gram is the millilitre."
Me: "What about the cubic centimetre?"
Her: "The cubic centimetre and millilitre are the same measurement for water, but not necessarily for other liquids".

Our conversation continues into fluids, and she said that she measures powers in weights rather than in volumes (I might be correct in my fluid-dynamics assumption ... I'll need to research it).

This brings me on to my next problem, of measuring in weights rather than in volumes:

The Cup
I have lots of cups, of different sizes.  If I want to make sure I have a consistent amount of "stuff" in a recipe, I could see myself copying the builders' concrete formula.  That is: one spade of cement, two spades of sand, three spades of aggregate, will give you a consistent mortar, regardless of the size of the spade or the expertise of the builder.  Moving this to cooking, I can see that one cup of flour, one cup of sugar, one cup of cocoa, will always give you a consistent mixture if you use the same cup (although I don't know what you could make from those items in a mix).

However, can different substances not be tamped to different degrees?  I can see that sugar would be impossible to squash, but that cocoa would be easy; so I would be able to alter the ratio of items in the mixture if I was using volumes.

Therefore, as my partner just said, we use weight as a measure of the amounts of dry items ... although Americans use the Cup.  Bugger, I don't suppose that a Cup is actually a weight measurement rather than a volume measurement, is it?

I've just been served dinner (steamed haddock, chips & asparagus), so I'll need to add a post about tea- and table-spoons later.