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Reptile heating pads can be surprisingly useful as cooking tools


Back in 2006, there was an internet rumor NPR felt compelled to investigate - could we really use our cell phones to cook an egg? We called Paul Adams, then a freelance food writer. Liane Hansen, then host of WEEKEND EDITION Sunday, asked him to try it out.


PAUL ADAMS: You call one phone with the other. Place them so their antennas are pointing at each other. Place a raw egg in between. So I left it for an hour and a half. Somehow the radiation is supposed to cook the egg.

LIANE HANSEN: Did it work?

ADAMS: It did not work.

HANSEN: It did not work.

SIMON: Did you really think it would? But Paul shared a more successful cooking idea.


ADAMS: The dishwasher - it's great for poaching fish, poach an egg. Just wrap it so it doesn't taste soapy. Dishwasher gets up to about 160 degrees.

SIMON: I tried that once, years ago. It was warm - not soapy, also not really good. Paul Adams is now a senior research editor at Cook's Illustrated and still on the crazy cooking tips beat. His latest one enlists a reptile heating pad, those gadgets that go under the terrarium to keep cold-blooded snakes and lizards cozy and happy.

ADAMS: You can also use them to keep bacteria happy when you're fermenting in your kitchen.

SIMON: Fermentation - the key to proofing bread or making kimchi, among many other things. Paul Adams says the average kitchen isn't really designed for great feats of fermentation. It's generally too cold - 70 degrees on the average. The bacteria that turns milk to yogurt likes tropical comfort.

ADAMS: So setting up a little fermentation cabinet with a reptile heating pad - you set the temperature to your 104 degrees and put in your jar of milk and couple of tablespoons of yogurt. Leave it overnight, and you've got a full jar of yogurt.

SIMON: Paul says you can make your own fermentation chamber - just need a basic container.

ADAMS: A big Rubbermaid container works really well for this, especially if you put bubble wrap insulation around it. You can do it in a slow cooker. You can do it in a refrigerator that you aren't using for refrigeration. You can do it in your oven.

SIMON: Then you need a reptile heating pad - without the reptile in residence, of course. And finally...

ADAMS: You need a heat controller, which has a temperature sensor so it knows what temperature the inside of the container is at.

SIMON: The reptile heating pad plugs into the heat controller, then goes into the container, then the lid goes on and voila, as an aghast French chef might say - your own temperature-controlled fermentation chamber without breaking the bank.

ADAMS: You can buy a $200 proofing box to put your dough in that maintains a set temperature. Or you can do it with a reptile heating pad and a box of your choice for $40. And it proofs perfectly every time.

SIMON: Paul Adams says if your adventure in fermentation does not become a long term pursuit, the reptile heating pad does have other potential.

ADAMS: You can just put it out, and your cat will sleep on it.

SIMON: And if you need your cat to get off the reptile heating pad, just poach a fish in the dishwasher. Meow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.