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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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November 26, 2008

How Slow is Research Today? Here's a Recipe!

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Posted by Derek

The pace of research has noticeably slowed today here in the US. Most industrial labs will be empty tomorrow, Friday, and through the weekend, and even the academic labs will have fewer grad students and post-docs hanging out in them. I'll be cleaning up some previously run reactions, setting up anything that can comfortably go for a few days, and otherwise getting ready for Monday myself. This is not a day to try any tricky chemistry.

I also have a manuscript that I'm working on, and it would be a good use of my time to try to finish up its experimental section. The paper will likely be of interest to the readership here, so I'll be sure to note when it makes it into print. It'll be good to hit the scientific literature again; everything that's gone onto my list for the last year or two has been residual stuff from the Wonder Drug Factory, and there's not much of that left, naturally.

And I'll be observing a blog holiday until Monday as well, unless of course, something big happens. (I rather doubt that anything will, and considering what "something big" usually means, I rather hope nothing does). I'd like to wish all the US readers a happy Thanksgiving, and if anyone in the rest of the readership wants to try cooking a turkey, well, it's not as hard as it's cracked up to be. If you soak it in some salt water beforehand, it's quite tasty (my wife and I usually buy a kosher turkey, since they've already been salted). Allow me to finish up by furnishing the details of last night's synthetic work, at home in the kitchen with my two children:

Melt 3 tablespoons (43 grams) of butter and two squares of unsweetened baking chocolate (I used a coffee cup set in a pan of boiling water). Beat 3 eggs in a good-sized bowl. Then, in a small saucepan, combine 1 cup (240 mL) of corn syrup and 1/2 cup table sugar (100 g), and bring the mixture to a boil for about two minutes. (It doesn't look at first as if the sugar will go into solution, but it will - you naturally don't want this to cool down, though, once it has). Add the butter/chocolate mixture to the sugar syrup (they're not all that miscible, but do what you can), and add this gemisch slowly to the beaten eggs, stirring vigorously. (As I explained to my kids, if you were to dump these together with no stirring, you'd end up with chocolate-covered scrambled eggs; I try to teach them some technique along the way). Stir in a teaspoon (5 mL) of vanilla extract, 1 1/4 cups of pecan pieces (about 130 grams, I think), and pour the resulting slurry into a pie crust, your own or the store's. Bake about 45 minutes at 375F (190C, gas mark 5 for you subjects of the Queen). Yield: one chocolate pecan pie.

Comments (11) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping


1. Anonymous on November 26, 2008 9:31 AM writes...

Best book on chemistry and cooking I have seen (if you like to merge your worlds).

The Science of Cooking by Peter Barham

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2. Anonymous on November 26, 2008 9:34 AM writes...

Best way to salt a turkey

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons dried rubbed sage
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
3 small bay leaves, coarsely torn
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel in small bowl to crush herbs finely.

Rinse turkey inside and out (do not pat dry). Pull any fat pads from main cavity and neck cavity of turkey; wrap, chill, and reserve fat for roasting (or, if you are like me, buy some chicken livers and cook the chicken livers in the turkey fat and snack while you cook.) Place turkey in roasting bag; sprinkle inside and out with herbed salt. Close bag. Place on baking sheet; refrigerate 18 to 24 hours.Then cook like you normally would.

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3. anon on November 26, 2008 10:13 AM writes...

#1 (and those who like some science in their cooking)

I like the cooks illustrated Best recipe series- they vary 1 ingredient at a time in each recipe and basically write up a experimental/conclusions section to explain how they came to the version you have in the book.

As a reference Harold McGees On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen. He covers composition of milk to the Maillard Reaction- that responsible for the browning of meats; no recipes here, just theory. Ex: Did you know green potatoes are a cause of excess alkaloids hanging around? As one who enjoys a logical explanation for my cooking I love having it around.

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4. Derek Lowe on November 26, 2008 10:22 AM writes...

I can second that recommendation for the Cook's Illustrated books. They're very good at showing what factors are important in a recipe, and I've had a very high success rate with what they've published.

I can also recommend Rose Levy Berenbaum for her approach to baking (breads, cakes, and so on). There are a lot of variables there, and she tries to track all of them down.

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5. Celbio on November 26, 2008 10:47 AM writes...

I also love the Science Of Cooking. Also check out the web site Cooking for Engineers. The organization of the recipes and methods will appeal to any scientist. Their chocolate cake recipe is the best.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and thanks Derek for you blog, I quite enjoy!

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6. TNC on November 26, 2008 10:54 AM writes...

Happy Thanksgiving to Derek and all.

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7. biologist on November 26, 2008 11:13 AM writes...

Her's another everyday chemistry question (apologies for it not being a very pleasant one): Guess we all have left a half-caraffe of coffee in the coffeemaker (left at "on") and after a couple of hours found an awfully smelling dark solution - what's going on chemically in the coffee pot? Anything toxic developing or does it just smell bad?

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8. Anonymous on November 26, 2008 2:09 PM writes...

"continuing chemistry in coffee"

I've never analyzed the content of "burnt" coffee, but it's probably a continuation of the same processes that occur during the roasting of green coffee beans to the familiar brown. Essentially two things are happening: carmelization of the sugar (giving it the brown color) and transformation of the oils, primarily diterpenes (as I recall). Heat sugar past caramel and you get the same black carbonaceous material you get at the bottom of the coffee pot. Continue oxidizing terpenes and you get foul smelling oxidized crap

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9. anon on November 26, 2008 2:33 PM writes...

Happy thanksgiving.

Derek's chocolate pecan pie is highly recommended. (I was a former colleague at the Wonder Drug Factory.)

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10. bigdogC on November 27, 2008 5:48 PM writes...

hey guys first time commenter here, long time reader. chemistry of cooking sounds like a great read, thanks for the info and happy thanksgiving to all!

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11. Jonadab the Unsightly One on December 1, 2008 6:16 AM writes...

Burnt coffee, as near as I can tell, emits a combination of two nasty smells. One is fairly normal burning stuff, the same smell you get if you spill some food on the burner (of an electric range). The other, much fouler stench is merely the aroma of hot coffee which, incidentally, is a smell you can never quite wash out of any ceramic mug, steel cup, or glass or aluminum pot that's ever had hot coffee in it. When you put these two smells together, the resulting synergy creates a fairly unpleasant olfactory sensation. Add sulfur and buttermilk and you can drive people out of the room.

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