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Reptile heating pads can be surprisingly useful as cooking tools

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

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.

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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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

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.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.