Robot Has No Heart

Xavier Shay blogs here

A robot that does not have a heart

Pain free cows are not awesome

Check it out, science reckons it can make a cow that doesn’t feel physical pain. Celebrate progress! We can all eat meat guilt free now, right?

These are not the cows you eat

Not quite.

How do you think scientists develop a pain-free cow?

“When the team injected a noxious, painful chemical into their paws, the mice licked them only briefly. In contrast, normal mice continued to do so for hours afterwards”

By inflicting pain. After mice, you work your way up the animal heirachy (each animal is different, you know) until eventually you arrive at livestock. There is a high moral cost, but also a high economic and opportunity cost – these scientists are smart guys, imagine what they could come up with if they weren’t busy torturing? We’re not even close to getting this working on larger mammals – behaviour in mice is not a good indicator for behaviour in more developed animals, not to mention all the regulatory barriers to actually marketing such an animal. At this point an actual robot cow is still a long way off.

Assuming we do eventually develop the perfect pain-free cow though, it really doesn’t solve the core problems. No matter what your views on animal rights, industrial farms cannot continue to exist. They cause tremendous amounts of pollution, both on a global the-seas-are-rising scale, and on a local my-whole-city-has-lung-problems scale. Current rates of meat consumption place an enormous burden on the health system – we produce far more meat than a healthy societly can consume. Pain-free research is a blatant misuse of resources.

Even if we allow that battery farms should continue to operate, a pain-free cow still isn’t necessarily a worthwhile goal. As evidenced by the neurotic behaviours developed by all battery farmed animals kept in confined spaces, the mental suffering of these animals is at least, if not greater, equal to the physical suffering endured. Confinement drives people crazy, it’s drives animals crazy too. A pain-free cow will still suffer. Strictly less than a normal cow perhaps, but the magnitude of this reduction would likely be less than many commentators are assuming.

We also encounter a problem of moral cushioning. As abolitionists are all too familiar with, in many cases the proliferation of “free range”, “organic” and other pretty labels are simply providing a convenient excuse for people to ignore (or even feel good about!) the consequences of their food choices. Is eating pain-free beef morally acceptable? Of course not. You are still eating an animal that suffered, you are still killing the earth. We need to be wary of providing excuses that will further delay any real moral progress.

We ought to reduce suffering, but as with any potential improvement the costs need to be weighed against the benefits. Pain-free free beef does not pass the grade.

Photo is Two Cows by kwerfeldein

Gnocchi with pumpkin


  • Potatoes
  • Flour (works with gluten free)
  • Pumpkin
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Spinach
  • Pine nuts
  • Non-dairy milk (soy, rice, whatever)


Roast pumpkin, onion and garlic. Meanwhile, peel and chop the potatoes (one per person), boil, then mash. Add flour while kneading until not sticky (i.e. dough). When roast is just about done, heat some oil in a pan and add a heaped tablespoon of flour. Stir constantly, gradually adding milk, to make a sauce that isn’t lumpy. Add spinach, pinenuts, and the roasted produce. Roll out the dough into long worms, then chop into small pieces. This is the gnocchi! Bring a pot of water to the boil and throw in the gnocchi. When it floats to the top, fish it out with a slotted spoon and throw in the sauce.


Gnocchi with pumpkin

For a delicious alternative, use broccoli and mushrooms in the white sauce.

New Blender

I bought myself a shiny new blender on the weekend. Yay, hardware. It was a toss up between the sunbeam and a model (brand forgotten) with a round vessel. This model had less wattage. Neither my brother nor I have any idea what makes a good blender. They both had 6 blades. Juice bars use square vessels. And they blend a lot of stuff. So I went with the square one. It makes good smoothies. And desserts. Here it is pictured in preparation to make a green smoothie – a vegan classic.


  • 2 bananas
  • 1 handful of spinach
  • 1 cup of water (enough to thin it out a bit – might need more)

Blend! So yeah it’s green. Deal with it. Tastes like banana. Mmmm, delicious.

UPDATE: Add a tablespoon of peanut butter, makes it a bit creamier. Yes, I know this sounds weird, but you’re already drinking something green so get over it already.

UPDATE 2 (7 Nov 09): Here is a short video of me making a variant. Recently (being summer) I have taken to putting ice in as well to cool it down. Refreshing!

Mary Iron Chef - Chocolate Jaffa Boxes

Mary at Kenneth Falls
The picturesque Otways served an inspiring back drop to the inaugural Mary Iron Chef Challenge. Tension was high – I had teamed up with the renowned dessert specialist Amelia Ie, pitted against the young superstar couple Yujin and Katie (photo). Chairman Tim flamboyantly revealed the challenge ingredient – Chocolate! – and with a bang of the saucepan lid gong started the 90 minute Timer Of Impending Dessert.

Amelia and I made 3 dishes for this challenge. Our crowning achievement were the Chocolate Jaffa Boxes. As a judge gushed – ‘the rich velvet couverture of the enclosure frolics playfully with the airy mousse, while the mango reminds me of the playful delights of summer’. Accept that translation at your own risk.

Chocolate Jaffa Boxes

Makes 8


  • 500g dark chocolate, melted
  • 250g milk chocolate, melted
  • 1 packed orange jelly crystals
  • Generous splash of brandy
  • 500ml thickened cream
  • 1 Mango


  1. Spread dark chocolate thinly over 2 trays covered in foil, saving a small amount for later. Refrigerate until solid – this will become the boxes.
  2. Whisk cream until fluffy (use electric beaters)
  3. Mix together brandy and jelly crystals, then dissolve crystals in microwave (takes about a minute). Inhale fumes deeply.
  4. Add jelly mix to milk chocolate, then fold in half of the cream. You fold rather than stir because it helps keep the mixture aerated.
  5. This bit takes some geometric nouse – take the solid dark chocolate out of the fridge and with a sharp knife divide each tray into 40 portions – groups of 5 will be used to make each box. A diagram here would be nice but I don’t have the tools. The base portion can be bigger than the other 4, as long as they all come from the same strip so that they have the same edge length. Take your time with this step because you don’t want to shatter any of the pieces.
  6. Assemble each group of 5 portions into a box, using the left over melted chocolate to stick them together. Lookout, here comes some math: 40 × 2 / 5 = 8 boxes.
  7. Spoon chocolate mix in to each box, then add a dollop of cream to each
  8. Slice up the mango and arrange it NICELY on the top of each box
  9. Refrigerate until the chocolate mix sets (we didn’t do this because we only had 90 minutes, but the ones we left overnight were much tastier)

This challenge was a lot of fun. We got to wear funny hats. Special thanks to Amelia, without whose kitchen mastery I would have probably just served chocolate pieces in a bowl.

Iron Chef - Chocolate Jaffa Box

Apologies for the absence of tech posts lately, that’s just how life is at the moment. Hopefully have something geekier to write about soon.

Coconut Oats

A more appropriate name may be “Ghetto Dessert #1”. Once again, I neglected the supermarket and tried cooking with whatever was in the cupboards.

Coconut Oats

Serves 1-2


  • 1 bowl of oats
  • 1/2 can coconut milk
  • Caster sugar + maple Syrup OR brown sugar + cocoa


  1. Soak oats in coconut milk until it is absorbed (longer is better, I left mine for about 90 minutes)
  2. Mix in your choice of condiments

I experimented with a few different sweeteners – the four listed above individually and also honey. Honey didn’t work so well, but the 2 combinations above I think were winners. Adding fruit to the maple syrup variant would be particularly tasty, but we’re never home enough to have fruit on hand. I’m going to try turning the chocolate one into porridge by warming it in a saucepan. I have another bowl sitting in the fridge that I’m going to leave overnight a la bircher muesli to see just how much the oats can absorb.

And for bonus points it’s vegan – a rare property of my desserts.

UPDATE: Leaving overnight is highly recommended. A tasty non-vegan option is mixing in nutella.

UPDATE 2: Mix in castor sugar, dried apricot and cranberries, then serve with shredded coconut and flaked almonds. This is the best one.

Youth receives cookbook for Christmas, makes dessert

Recipe book

A coffee liqueur gateau, to be precise. A 3 star recipe (the highest!), I set aside the afternoon for preparation. It required 3 kinds of nut – hazel, brazil, and almond – all of which were readily available at the local nut shack. The idea was to roast for a while then ‘rub vigourously’ in a tea towel to remove the skins from the hazelnuts. Alas, with all the vigour I could muster I could only remove about half of them, so I surreptisiously threw them in the food processor beside the others and destroyed the evidence.

The cake required 7 egg whites, tips of which extracting include doing eggs one by one into a cup so if you screw one up all is not lost, and pouring the yoke between the two shell halves after cracking, allowing the white to flow out.

After cooking the cake needed to be cut into 3 layers. I probably didn’t allow it to cool enough before doing so, and using a serrated knife as the recipe suggested I struggled somewhat, ending up with two layers, one with a small hole in it. In the future, I will use dental floss for a finer cut.

Contrary to the suggested chocolate button covering (it looks a bit naff, don’t you think?), I used shaved chocolate for topping. You can use a grater and a peeler to get different textures, and it looks really nice. Added two fanned strawberries and a couple of blueberries for extra credit. Much more of a modern vogue feel, much trendier. Also, I did not serve on floral plates.

The result was a cake I would pay money for. Light, nutty, moist, very tasty served with cream. It was quite a lot of effort though, and requiring of implements only available at my parents’ house, so I won’t be making this too often. I did take a photo but it got deleted in a cruel act of fate. Here’s the example picture from the cookbook. Mine looked much more awesome.

Top kudos to Mum and my sister. I will never be able to cook half as well as them. Every suggestion in this post came from them.

Conference Cuisine

Don’t ever let it be said we were left hungry at RailsConf Berlin.

With an attendance nearing 1000, sating the herd could not have been a trivial feat. The staff at the Maritim stepped up to the challenge, and were clearly in their element serving such a large audience. An all-you-can-eat buffet each day for lunch maintained the air of a multi course delicacy. The salads and desserts in particular were exquisitely presented, with small serving platters (shot glasses, for example) placed alongside the main serving giving the impression that the dining party could be counted on one hand, rather than the illegal quantities that would in fact be required.

And the variety! Servings of lentil, tomato, potato, cous cous, capsicum and cucumber salads, cheeses, chillies, olives, seeds, beetroot, broccoli, breads, fried potato, rices, eggs, pestos, coleslaws, mushrooms, lasagne, curry – all a feast for the eyes as well as the tongue. Desserts included divine fruit combinations – fig and casois cream, banana and cherry tart, cream and mango ring cake, berry jam – and a chocolate mousse as light as the clouds, lightly encased in a delicate chocolate sponge. Individual truffles littered among the main platters made for a decadent final cadence.

My only criticism, reluctantly, is the hot food really suffered from the excess of scale. Presentation was clearly below that of the cold dishes, and “hot” is probably too generous an adjective. The taste of the lasagne and the broccoli was bland in comparison to exciting array of salads, but it did provide a nice anchor to the dish. I can’t comment on the uninteresting choices (meat), so maybe these redeemed the mains.

A more general note to close: If anyone ever tells you it is difficult to be a vegetarian in Berlin they are lying, and you should probably consider all of their opinions suspect.

EDIT: Day 3 was shit – cardboard potato, bland carrots and something so forgettable I’ve done just that.

Dulce de leche

In Guys and Dolls when Sky takes Sarah to Cuba, he orders a “Dulce de leche”. I got pretty excited when I saw this in my recipe book.

Dulce de leche

Makes 4-6


  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 1 cinammon stick


  1. Throw everything into a saucepan, bring to the boil then cook over a medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring constantly
  2. Remove cinammon stick, then serve warm

This is supposed to thicken up and go more like caramel, but mine patently didn’t. The reference picture had an almond sitting on top of it – my almond sunk :( I’ll have to check out other recipes to find out why this is so.

It was still very tasty. It wasn’t quite what Sky would have liked, containing no “preservative” (rum), but it seemed to go down well with the company I had around. I put some icecream with mine right near the end, an addition I can highly recommend. You can apparently also drink this cold – I suspect that would work better if it was a bit thicker.

Eggplant Stacks

I attended a murder mystery party last weekend, tasked with supplying an entree. Wanting to impress, I tried to work some eggplant magic.

Baked Eggplant with Goat’s Cheese and Cream

There were going to be logistical headaches, since I was going to have to make most of it in Geelong a day before, take it on the train, and then finish preparation on location. At home, I sliced the eggplant and fried it (took 4 lots through the pan), then stored layered on paper towel in a large tupperware container, which went into the fridge overnight.

Once I got to the party the next day, I got the oven warming up while I prepared the cheese and tomato sauces. I used Persian fetta instead of goat’s cheese and neglected to add any Thyme. I felt these were acceptable compromises. I probably should have made these sauces the day before also and brought them up on ice, since you want to spend as little time as possible preparing when there is a murder afoot.

It would also be prudent to cut more slices than you strictly need – I had catered for 8 and 10 showed up, so many of our stacks were only two high.

Perhaps because the eggplant hadn’t come straight out of the frying pan, I needed to leave it in the oven for an extra 5-10 minutes, and even then there were small portions that were not quite cooked. It could have used longer, but having not made the dish (or indeed, anything similar) before I was afraid of burning it.

I was impressed with the outcome, but only half the plates were returned completely empty, so it may not be as tasty as I think. I’ll be trying it again though that’s for sure.


Team effort with my Dad for Sunday night dinner.


Makes 2 large pizzas


  • 2 cup water
  • 3+ cup plain flour (wholemeal if you’re a hippy and don’t have to appease your family)
  • 14g (2 sachet) yeast
  • 2 Capsicum (1 red, 1 green)
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 3-4 Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Baby spinach and/or rocket
  • Mozarella cheese
  • Tomato paste
  • Basil


  1. Combine all dough ingredients in a large bowl and mix together. Add flour until dough is a … doughy consistency. Cover and leave to rise for a few hours
  2. Dust tabletop liberally with flour and knead/roll out two thin pizza bases (they will rise when cooked)
  3. Combine tomato paste and basil, then spread over the pizza bases right to the edges
  4. Chop up all choppable toppings and throw evenly over the pizza. Also put the spinach and cheese on.
  5. Put in a preheated oven (~180C) for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is well browned.

Of course, as with any pizza there are many options here. This gives quite a doughy base – which I like – so to make a thinner, crustier base put the base by itself into the oven for a minute or so until it starts to rise. We did this for the second pizza and my folks preferred it. Nothing on this pizza really needs cooking, so I normally eat it a little bit undercooked – each to his own, I say.

I actually thought the dough recipe was 1:1 flour:water, but that just gave me a soup, so I just kept adding flour. Probably ended up with about 4 cups total.

I normally put olives on my pizza, but we forgot to buy any. Ricotta cheese also works well. My sister had a cheese pizza, which I thought rather boring but still tasty.

And I finally remembered to take a picture!


Peanut Butter Solutions

I normally have peanut butter on bread (sometimes cooked!) before bed. But last night I had no bread. Dilemma!

Peanut Butter on Marie Biscuit

Serves 1/4


  • Peanut Butter, preferably crunchy
  • Marie Biscuit


  1. Spread as much peanut butter as possible on to biscuit

Simple! I would not normally have said anything for such a trivial item, but this is so damn tasty I could not help myself.

Pantry Raiders #1

I am finally back in the family home for an evening, and the family decides to holiday up to Melbourne, leaving me here on my ownsome. Not keen to shop, I venture forth into the larder…

Fake Maharagwe

Serves 2 hungry people


  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Parsley
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • Tumeric, Chilli, whatever other curry spices you have in your rack


  1. Chop onion and garlic, fry in pan with oil and seasonings
  2. Add chickpeas, fry for a short time only
  3. Add milk, tomatoes, parsley
  4. Serve over rice

This dish looks exactly like Maharagwe. Almost tastes like it, but my substitutes really are poor. Coriander over parsley and coconut milk instead make for a much tastier and lighter meal (although I also got stuck with abborio rice, which is too gluggy). Also makes it vegan, which is a plus. I’m unsure of the red onion – Mum is sold on them and won’t use brown onions for anything – but it just feels wrong frying onions of the wrong color. They’re only adding bulk not taste to this recipe, so I guess it doesn’t matter. Tomatoes are the most important ingredient, as without them it is a little bland.

I actually did remember that I needed to take a photo of this one, but I couldn’t find a camera anywhere. The family must have taken it to Melbourne with them. Next meal gets pictures, honest.

Summertime Tagliarini

My folks recently had a garage sale, which saw Mum trying to offload her vast collection of food magazines. The ones she is always telling me to buy and that I never do. My thriftiness paid off – parental love compelled her to waive the $2 asking price for the 5th birthday collector’s edition of “Delicious” magazine. There is a lot of good stuff in here – a whole section on cooking with chocolate practically guarantees that – so expect to see a few more recipes from within show up here.

Featured is an extract from one of Jamie Oliver’s new books, containing a recipe for what he calls “Summertime Tagliarini”. As Kathryn observes , it’s pretty much just pasta with pesto and pinenuts. I’ve been eating this all week, a result of buying the ingredients as listed to serve 4. The plan was to make 2 serves, but the first one turned out slightly too big, so I split the last batch into two and just added a bit more pasta. Which means I used the same quantity of pasta and halved the sauce, which was ill advised because it turned out a little bland, but I’m a hungry man who needs his pasta. Next time I’ll do 3 serves – but with a recipe that calls for 2 lemons there may be some non-trivial math involved.

My palette isn’t quite refined enough to identify the qualities the small amount of pecorino cheese brings to this dish – I plan to try it without to find out. Got parmesan from the deli rather than the pre-packaged shaved stuff I normally buy – once again not sure how to describe the difference. I guess this is the first time I’ve cooked with cheese since I came off being vegan, so that has probably got something to do with it.

Stupid Noob Tip: Don’t squeeze the lemons directly into your mix, since you’ll then have to get all the pips out, which takes way too long because they are particularly slippery and hard to distinguish from the pinenuts. And you’ll know if you miss one when you are eating it. Rather, squeeze them into a glass then pour through a fork to catch the pips. Or you know, use a proper juicer.

I could not find tagliarini at the supermarket (but have since located it! Next time…), so I just used normal spaghetti, which worked fine. I served in our One Good Bowl. Unfortunately we don’t have any Good plates as I ended up with a large quantity of dressing falling at the bottom after I had eaten all the pasta. I am moving home soon, which means I get to use all her good stuff (which incidentally includes a camera so I can take photos).

I really like the way Jamie writes his recipes. Almost conversational, with a focus on tasting throughout and how to adjust. This is particularly handy since I don’t really know how to relate individual ingredients with the end product.

Serve with a nice white – I picked up a 2006 Jacob’s Creek Riesling for $8 which was surprisingly good. This dish is very tasty. I consider this the current crown of my pasta dishes (which total 3 – the other 2 are homebrew concoctions), and it’s also the only non-tomato based one. I will probably make it the next time someone is over for dinner.

Peanut Butter Balls

These things rock. I make them for all party occasions. This year batches were given as Christmas gifts. Everybody else loves them also. Full credit for this recipe goes to a lovely woman named Alex, a friend’s mum who always caters awesome parties. First, the original recipe, my notes after.

Alex’s Peanut Butter Balls

Makes 100


  • 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 50g butter, softened
  • 1 cup icing-sugar
  • 2 cups Coco Pops
  • 375g Milk Choc Melts, melted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil


  1. Beat peanut butter, butter and icing sugar in a small bowl with an electric mixer until combined. Stir in Coco Pops and mix well
  2. Roll teaspoons of mixture into balls and place on baking paper-lined trays. Refrigerate until firm.
  3. Combine Choc Melts and oil in a medium bowl. Using two forks, dip one ball at a time into chocolate mixture until coated; drain away excess chocolate. Return balls to trays; Refrigerate until set.

First of all, I just can’t get 100 out of this recipe. Record is 56. I think my teaspoon is too big. I don’t have an electric mixer, so I put the whole lot into a large bowl and just give it a good old fashioned mix. I have broken a wooden spoon doing this, so soften the butter a little more than normal to assist. In making the last batch I accidentally melted the butter, which made mixing really easy, but a little more difficult to spoon balls.

Do Choc Melts stay melted if you take them off heat? I have no idea – I melted them by putting them in a metal bowl on top of a saucepan of simmering water, and then dipped the balls straight into that.

For bonus Christmas Cheer, I tried painting mini bits of holly on each with cake decoration material. I think it’s cool, but I don’t think anyone else will recognize them for what they are.

A pretty flower Another pretty flower