What it is: Repurpose an existing device meant for the kitchen in a way not intended by its original designer.
Why I haven't done it: I've often thought about following through on some manner of kitchen modification in order to do something food-related either cheaper, faster, or better (or, hopefully, all three). But, like a lot of things on the list, this is one of those projects that involves time, planning, money, space, and a number of other things that have been in short supply recently. I came close with the peg board on which I keep most of my pots and pans--though since Julia Child did it first, I'm not sure how much it really goes against the intended design of the original device.
What I hope to accomplish: At the bare minimum, being able to have another project that I complete start to finish. Depending on what I actually get done, we might even be able to get into some new realms of cooking that I haven't had much chance to get into yet.
What my plan is: Narrowing it down to a few options. I'd really like to be able to complete this on schedule, but of course I don't want to just throw a tiny something together just to say that I did it. A few ideas I've considered:
- Re-calibrate an induction cooktop - induction cooktops create magnetic fields of energy over a heat-resistant plastic top, which quickly and efficiently heats up any ferrous (read: iron-based) metals placed within the field. What it means is that it's an electric cooktop (of which I have a plug-in model) which is incredibly energy efficient, and doesn't get hot on it's own--it just makes the pan or pot on top of it hot. You can also set it to exact temperatures that you want, and it'll never exceed the set temperature. Except that, on models like mine, there are ten pre-set temperatures which can't be adjusted. Unless I was to follow guides online and do a little soldering to install my own temperature controller, which would let me use the cooktop for things like sous vide or tempering chocolate at incredibly accurate rates but very low prices. The only trouble with this is that I'd be putting my existing cooktop at risk (not the most expensive model out there, but certainly not free to replace) and I'd be a little nervous about rewiring something like that.
- Build a ceramic barbecue smoker - this is actually inspired by the very first instance I saw Good Eats, with AB showing how to throw together a ceramic smoker for under $50 from parts you'd get at Home Depot and the Dollar Store. A comparison ceramic smoker on Amazon? Starting at $350. Of course, this one will still run me around $50, and I'm a little concerned about having to run an extension cord from inside the house (as well as what I'm going to do with the thing when it's not running--possibly keep it in the shed). Still, it's not a lot of money to shell out for a whole new cooking method that would let me set out a few racks of ribs or a pork shoulder outside and cook with minimal monitoring from me all day.
- Make ice cream in a stand mixer - this is about the easiest thing I can think of to do and still feel like I really accomplished something. I have an ice cream maker attachment for my stand mixer, though I can't currently locate the plastic pieces for it. Regardless, Heston Blumenthal (and others) have mentioned a better method for making higher-quality ice cream at home in less time: prepare your custard and get it moving with the standard metal paddle in the stand mixer, then add in some smashed-up dry ice right into the bowl. The ultra-cold particles will bring down the temperature as fast as a commercial-grade ice cream maker, but at a fraction of the cost. Doesn't actually involve permanently modifying an existing device, but the science fair aspect of it would make it pretty satisfying, nonetheless.
So yeah, I need to decide in the next day or so and then go about getting what's needed. Still shopping now to figure out exactly what the bill for the smoker would be--otherwise, it's off to Safeway for a block of dry ice.