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How 9 Cuts of Meat Got Their Names

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Ever find yourself standing in front of a butcher's counter and wonder where in the world certain cuts and preparations of meat got their names? Here are the stories behind a few popular meals.

1. Boston butt

Don't be too grossed out when you hear this name; it doesn't mean "butt" as in "rear end." Instead, the cut comes from the front shoulder of the pig. So why "butt"? During colonial days New England butchers tended to take less prized cuts of pork like these and pack them into barrels for storage and transport. The barrels the pork went into were called butts. This particular shoulder cut became known around the country as a New England specialty, and hence it became the "Boston butt."

2. Porterhouse steak

The origin of the term "porterhouse" is surprisingly contentious, as several cities and establishments claim to have coined it. The name might have originated on Manhattan's Pearl Street around 1814, when porter house proprietor Martin Morrison started serving particularly large T-bones. The Oxford English Dictionary lists this etymology as the likely origin of the steak's name while noting that there's no contemporary evidence to support or contradict the tale.

This origin story gained traction in the late 19th century, but other carnivores contend a Cambridge, Mass. hotel and restaurant proprietor named Zachariah B. Porter lent his name to the cut. Still others claim that the steak takes its name from the Porter House, a popular 19th-century hotel in Flowery Branch, Ga.

3. Filet mignon

The term filet mignon is French for "dainty fillet." Somehow this makes eating one seem a bit less manly, although no less delicious.

4. Canadian bacon

When you chomp into a slice of pizza with Canadian bacon on it, are you sending a little bit of culinary support to our neighbors to the north? Not quite. Canadian bacon is simply a leaner, brined type of bacon that comes from a loin cut further back on the pig. Americans started calling this type of pork "Canadian bacon" because we were under the impression that Canadians particularly loved their back bacon.

5. Swiss steak

At least Canadian bacon has some theoretical tie back to the Great White North. Swiss steak, the bane of school cafeterias everywhere, has nothing to do with Switzerland. Instead, the term "Swiss steak" refers to the meat having gone through a process called "swissing" before being cooked. Swissing, which is also used in textile production, refers to a process of hammering, pounding, or rolling a material to soften it up. In the cast of Swiss steak, butchers take tough cuts of beef and pound them or roll them to make them tender.

6. Hanger steak

The bistro favorite is so named because it "hangs" from the diaphragm between the rib and the loin of the steer from which it is cut.

7. Chateaubriand steak

This preparation for a thick cut from the tenderloin allegedly takes its name from the first diner to enjoy it, Vicomte Francois-Rene de Chateubriand (1768-1848). Chateaubriand was a foodie, but he got quite a bit done away from the dinner table, too. He served as France's ambassador to Prussia, and his writing earned him praises as the father of French Romanticism.

Chateubriand enjoyed a good steak, too. At some point during his life, the writer's personal chef whipped up a dish of a very large peppered beef tenderloin topped with a buttery wine-and-shallot sauce, and a new meat sensation was born.

8. 7-Bone roast

Don't let the name fool you; this isn't a particularly bony piece of beef. The 7-Bone roast actually comes from a cross cut of a cow's shoulder blade, which leaves a large bone shaped like the number seven in the meat. Although it's not as bony as you'd think, it's not a particularly easy cut to cook. It's generally so tough that it's best for braising.

9. Flat iron steak

This trendy, tasty cut is a fairly recent development. In the early 21st century meat science professors at the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida searched cattle with a fine-toothed comb in the hopes of finding an exquisite new cut they could bring to market. After much research, they found an underappreciated muscle in the shoulder that would provide a delicious, well-marbled piece of beef if cut correctly. The new cut was dubbed the "flat iron steak," supposedly because it is shaped somewhat like an old-fashioned flat iron.

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated. 

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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