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9 Kitchen Techniques Passionate Chefs Should Master

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Want to kick your kitchen game up a notch? Learn these nine techniques and watch as your food gets even more delicious.

1. Searing

Searing can add a tasty caramelized crust to your favorite dish. Start with a hot, hot pan. Add a thin coat of oil—enough to make the pan gleam—and add what you’d like to cook. Let it hiss and watch the crust form, then flip.

2. Dicing An Onion

Halve the onion from top to bottom and place the flat sides down on the board. Peel off the skin, face the root end away from you, and make vertical cuts. When you’re done, make horizontal cuts. Don’t cut all the way through the root.

3. Make Pan Sauce

After searing, put those extra brown morsels on the bottom of your pan to use. Add wine, stock, or vinegar to your hot pan. Scrape up those leftover bits on the pan let the sauce simmer for a few minutes. Remove it from the pan and stir in some cold butter cubes. Season.

4. Make Roux

Roux will amp up your gravy dishes. Melt some butter in a saucepan until it foams, and then add an equal amount of flour. Whisk until the concoction is smooth and cook for three minutes. Cook longer for a darker, nuttier roux.

5. Tempering

Every cook should now how to blend ingredients that are different temperatures—especially if they work with eggs or chocolate. When chocolate isn’t tempered, unsightly white blotches of cocoa mighty appear. So heat your chocolate, and let it cool by stirring in a solid chunk. When the chocolate is about 88 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the remaining chunks and dip away!

6. Make Vinaigrette

Here’s the secret: One part vinegar, three parts oil. Add a pinch of salt to the vinegar and a little Dijon mustard. Now use both hands—one to pour the oil and one to whisk the mixture. Keep going until it’s all blended.

7. Blanch Vegetables

To soften the taste of your veggies, blanch them! Boil a pot of very salty water and dump the vegetables into it. Once they’re cooked plunge them into ice water. This will stop the cooking process and make your veggies cool and crisp.

8. Make Your Own Stock

Throw some chicken in a pot of water with onion, carrots, and celery. Bring it to a boil, reduce the temperature, and let it simmer for a few hours. Skim off the fat, strain it through a sieve, and put it in the fridge. Your soups and sauces will never be the same.

9. Make whipped cream

Become a master of desserts with this skill! Put your metal mixing bowl and whisk or beaters in the freezer. When they’re cold, pour a pint of heavy cream and whisk aggressively until the mixture becomes cloudy. As it thickens, add some powdered sugar and vanilla for extra flavor.

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Want to see your passions and connections to your friends? Check out Nissan's Passion Genome to create your interactive Passion Portrait and share the passions that make you, you.

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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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