Monday, November 22, 2010
Sometime back, I became aware of Sous Vide cooking via the book 'Cooking for Geeks'. Given my BBQ background and slow smoking BBQ, I grasped this was the approach I first came across via Harold McGee's book 'On Food and Cooking'. This was too big to pass up now that I was retired!
So I gave it a try. Rather then buying any of the expensive commercial Sous Vide equipment, or even any of the other DIY less-expensive approaches, I adapted my thermocouple controller, which had built to control my BGE, to control a hotplate where I placed a large iron Dutch Oven (Lodge) and filled 3/4 with water. My first attempt was cooking 2.5# of Brisket. It worked out great! But the Dutch Oven was a little small for the larger Briskets, so another approach was needed, and it was sort of kludgey using my controller in the kitchen.
When my wife wasn't looking, I grabbed her electric 'Roaster Oven', a 20 quart beast that operates on 110 AC household electricity. My wife had lost confidence in this roaster when her Turkey came out way-under-cooked one Thanksgiving, but I hadn't been ready to throw the roaster out yet. Fortunately we had tested the temperature of the turkey with an internal probe and found it very low, so we moved the turkey to our main oven to finish.
For the Roaster Test, I filled the roaster 3/4 full with water, then inserted a remote sensing temperature probe (Taylor's Gourmet Stainless Steel Thermometer with Probe from Target) into the water. Setting the temperature to 150 dF as indicated on the dial of the Roaster, I waited patiently for the temperature to come up to 150 dF. It never did. I checked the temperature with the Taylor probe, and it was low, really low, around 100 or so instead of 150. That pretty much explained the turkey fiasco of a previous year! The printed temperatures on the roaster were way, way off! Using the Taylor, I spent the next day finding the proper dial position to obtain 100, 150, 200, 250, 300, 350 and 400 degree placements and marked those with a Sharpie perm pen.
I tested the markings for 2 days - they held consistent, so while the markings were way off, the Roaster's thermostat was capable of holding a temperature +/- 1 dF, which for me was more then adequate for doing slow cooking of Brisket.
So using my new markings along with the Taylor to monitor, I set a temperature of 142 dF for a new trial run of Brisket Sous Vide. I refilled the Roaster 3/4 full of water (about 4 gallons), and brought it up to temperature over a couple of hours to ensure it stayed there.
Meanwhile, I browned both sides of a 5# Brisket in an large iron skillet. It was too big to place into a single 1 Gallon Ziplock storage bag, so I sliced it into 2 equal portions, cutting with the grain, and inserted each half into a seperate Ziplock, then carefully submerged while leaving a vent for air to escape. This is important, as you don't want any air pockets to separate the Brisket from the surrounding water bath, as then it won't cook evenly. When the water level came up to the Ziplock opening, I sealed off the Ziplock, and let it sink to the bottom of the Roaster.
On one Bricket, I placed a whole bottle of A-1 brand meat marinade; on the other Brisket, I left it unchanged. Both were then closed off and placed into the water bath.
BTW - the Ziplock company has stated (per Cooking for Geeks) that their bags are good up to 170 dF, although they don't recommend using them.
That was yesterday evening. I've checked every couple of hours or so, and the temperature is holding constant between 141 and 143 dF.
Tomorrow night will be the test! That will be 48 hours at ~142 dF Brisket!
When first researching how to make BBQ (pre Internet days), information was hard to come by (hard to believe now, right!). However, persistence paid off when I came across Harold McGee's book 'On Food and Cooking'. This book, which is still quoted today and more-than worth the buy, gave detailed information about how collagen (the tough proteins that makes cheap cuts of meat tough)breaks down with heat. He went on to describe cooking meat at a low temperature, and all the benefits realized from this approach. Since meat can never exceed the temperature of the cooking environment, providing a cooking environment that does not exceed 145 deg F will, given enough time, provide meat at 145 deg F.
This is the basis of Sous Vide cooking! Brought to you by Harold McGee's book in 1984! I note that the French chef was credited with this approach in the 1970's, but McGee's book was my personal beginning on slow cooking.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Computers were hard to come by in the 70's. The first computer I ever saw in person was at the New York World's Fair (I think it was 1967). I was chosen, as a boy of 14 or so, to play against the computer in tic-tac-toe at the IBM pavilion. I battled it to a draw.
I read a book in 5th grade about a boy that was very smart, and he had access to his Uncle's work computer. He was able to program it to do his math homework. I thought that would be really cool.
A small town would not have any computers. Typically, only the larger cities had computers, and they were generally used by banks. I never got to see one of those.
In college, for my electronics project, I decided to build a restaurant table locator at a steak-house chain of restaurants where you went through a line and placed your steak order and picked up everything else, including a number they would assign to you - they would bring the steak to your table. It was a stupid system - they called out your number over a loud speaker.
My project lead me into digital electronics, which was new at the time. This was pre-chips, so we're talking asynchmultivibrators and shift registers here! But this lead me into independent study on boolean logic, etc. I continued this independent study after I graduated from college. Soon I had all the knowledge for the basis of a CPU. Soon I knew I understood the bigger picture of computers, and that I wanted to work with computers. But this first entry into computers was at the hardware level...it would be a while before I got into the software.
In 1977, while working as a consultant, I was given a chance to work on a computer - at least we all thought it was the computer (remember, none of us had even seen one in person at that point). It turned out to be just the keyboard, which was in a little room at Abbott Labs in Rocky Mount NC....the actual computer turned out to be in Chicago - I was connected via a 120 baud modem, and the keyboard was a 30 keys/sec Dec Writer.
The data analysis I was doing was tiresome on calculators, and I mentioned we needed a computer. This is how I got access to the Dec Writer above. They had the keyboard, but no one at the plant knew anything about computers, so they told me to have a go at trying to use it.
In the little room was a garbage can, in which there was a real old Fortran program. Also, there was something like a 100 page User's Manual on DEC PDP 11-45, which was the computer in Chicago. This book told me how to log in, and I was able to use the information provided by people in Chicago to log into my account.
I manually typed in the little short programs in the DEC User's Guide. It was a tedious, slow way to learn how to program - no one to ask any questions of, and no understanding of anything about software. I drove 2 hours to buy a used Fortran book at UNC. And that was the start of my software career!
I later built a microcomputer, which is what PCs were called back in the day. It was a kit from HeathKit, and included a motherboard from DEC for the PDP-1103. The kit was a collection of springs (for the keys on the keyboard), solenoids (for the paper tape punch), yokes (for the monitor), transistors, chips, wires, etc.....all of which had to be hand soldered into the boards to build the computer. I think I forgot to mention I only had a warranty of 90 days to get everything together, and I was working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day at Three Mile Island at the time, where we were getting ready to go critical.
This kit cost as much as a new car at the time - $3600 in 1978 dollars!
But this gave me my start in computer hardware and software. And by buying the DEC PDP-1103, which was used in the nuclear industry, I was able to jump into a fresh technology field that offered big incomes and big demand.
A few years back I started getting into Investor's Business Daily (IBD), then later into options. I really liked the approach provided in IBD, and have found it to be profitable.
However, times have changed, and the approach in IBD requires an uptrending market....not something we have going on at the moment (Aug 31 2010).
Being newly retired with access to funds, I took the plunge into DayTrading.
There have been some setbacks, as you can imagine, but nothing serious. All learning carries a price, and this does too.
Several times now I've begun to feel that I'm starting to get the hang of things, and they did work out. But some of those approaches were too much like work - too intense, so I've abandoned them, even though they were profitable.
I'm now concentrating on less intense forms of daytrading. I'm not a pro at it yet, and suspect it will take several years to really become proficient, but I'm feeling good about how things are progressing.
I've been reading a book on reading charts bar by bar (not the exact title) by Al Brooks. It's dense reading (zzzzzzz), but there is some real meat there. I suspect I will have to read it 5 times before I begin to grasp all, or a lot of what he is saying.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Children came out the door as if ejected by the house; tilted forward, legs and feet churning, trying to catch up to the rest of the child.
Cicadas and crickets come out at this time too, playing their songs of summer, along with lightening bugs to intermittently light the way. I have some crickets singing and lightening bugs blinking in my yard as I write this from my back porch.
I used to chase after lightening bugs, placing them when caught, into a mason jar with holes punch in the lid with a fork, in order to have 'air to breath'. Also some carefully placed grass and a small stick to climb - lightening bugs like to climb, you know. I'm not sure what the purpose of the grass was, but it seemed like a good thing to add to make them feel more at home.
Sometimes little fingers would catch an unfortunate lightening bug in the grips of the lid, and separate the bug's tail from his main body, resulting in a continuous emission of light from the tail. I would watch as the glow, which seemed to pulse slightly, gradually faded away. I didn't like it when this would happen, as even young children understood they had killed the lightening bug. But I was on a mission, and lightening bugs had to be caught, so I would endeavor to be more careful next time.
I have read, but can't ascertain the truthfulness, that only the males light up in an attempt to 'call' a female in to mate. I also read a wonderful story (I think it was in 'Guide Post') that there was a valley in North Carolina, where all of the lightening bugs in the entire field, hundreds, if not thousands of them, would 'strobe' on and off at exactly same time.
I hope this made the females feel they were important and desired!
After pondering about it, I don't believe sticking a light bulb in my rear will result in any females coming my way.....
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
If eight or ten people place their hands on your head and push you down, your knees will buckle no matter how strong you are. The crowd may be stupid, but they are stronger than you. Crowds have the power to create trends. Never buck a trend. If a trend is up, you should only buy or stand aside. Never sell short because “prices are too high” — never argue with the crowd.You do not have to run with the crowd — but you should never run against it.
- Trades I do in the morning don't do well. I do better after 2 PM. This may be because of several influences: - volatility is falling off after the morning's open. - less newsworthy events later in the day. - easier to find today's support and resistance.
- I tend to get in too late on a trend, then wait too long to get out of a bad trade. This may be because: - I don't use any signals, but I'm researching some. - I don't have a clear exit point, and the support or resistance is too far from the entry point.
- I was more careful about where the support and resistance was before I opened a trade.
- I waited until after 2 pm to trade.
- Turn the hotplate on.
- Place the lid on top of the can
- If the temperature stabilizes below your desired temperature (more on this later), then take the lid off and adjust the temperature control knob for higher heat, close the lid and wait. This could take 20 minutes.
- If the temperature rises above your desired temperature, then take the lid off and adjust the temperature control knob for lower heat, close the lid and wait. This could take 20 minutes
- Continue with steps 3 and 4 until the temperature matches your desired value.
- Larger cans require bigger hot plates and more energy to heat to your desired temperature. The highest temperature possible in a large can will be lower then the highest temperature possible in a small can.
- Smaller cans will come to desired temperature quicker.
- Smaller cans will mean flare-ups can become self inducing and cause the temperature to greatly increase, while larger cans will be less affected by this.
- The amount of wood chips will determine the amount of smoke flavor. This is more important at the start then later on. The pan containing the wood chips should be directly on the hotplate. Smaller, thinner wood chips will work better then big chunks, but big chunks will last longer, so you might want to try some of both and experiment. If you have trouble getting the chips to smoke, try a smaller and/or thinner pan. If that still fails, you may need a hotter (more watts) hotplate.
- BBQ is generally cooked at or below 250 degrees. The lower the temperature, the longer it will take to cook the meat, but the meat will contain more moisture. Some smoke their BBQ for 20 - 24 hours at 180 degrees. If you are inexperienced, then a good target to start with is 225.
- You will not be able to sear the sides of the meat in this smoker, so if you desire this, you will have to do it inside on your stove in a pan.
- I don't generally test for how done it is, because I feel that, if I can pull it apart without resistance, then it cooked for long enough and reached a high enough temperature for me. I would recommend the use of a meat thermometer, and obtain proper pork temperatures from the pork association web site. Older cookbooks will contain temperatures that are too high and will result in dried out meat, so you should get the latest from the pork association.
- Generally, this should be considered indirect heat, unless you have the grill surface very close to the hotplate and wood chips, and it is prone to self-sustaining flareups.
- On the show, they show the lid opened slightly on one side to let the smoke out. This also lets heat out and fresh air in, which will drop the temperature, which will cause the hotplate to come on, heating the wood chips more, and new fresh smoke. Keeping the can lid on will mean the temperature stays more uniform, the hotplate won't cycle so much, and once the oxygen is used up by the wood chips, the wood chips won't smoke anymore, since they need oxygen to smoke. However, since the smoke is trapped in the can when the lid is on tight, I don't know that this matters. So experiment!
- Per The Other White Meat site (below), a note on temperature (Note: this information may no longer be current so check directly with their site for the latest temperature recommendations): Pork today is very lean and shouldn’t be overcooked. The best test of doneness is to use an instant-read meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of your pork. We recommend cooking pork chops, roasts and tenderloins to 160 degrees F., which leaves the center pink and juicy.* Less tender cuts, like pork shoulder (butt) and ribs can be cooked long and slow, to render them tender. * For larger cuts of pork, such as roasts, cook to 150° F; remove from the oven or grill and allow to set for 10 minutes before slicing. The temperature of the roast will continue to rise to 160° and the pork juices will redistribute throughout the roast before slicing. If marked above by **, the cut should be cooked until tender.
- http://www.theotherwhitemeat.com/Resources/Images/2924.pdf Gives some temperatures to cook at, time to cook estimates and meat temperature. Other useful information at this site as well.
- http://www.altonbrown.com Alton Brown's site.
- A link I found where a trash can smoker was built: http://www.cruftbox.com/cruft/docs/elecsmoker.html
Monday, June 7, 2010
- How much convenience are you wanting to buy?
- Is price a consideration?
- Are you frequently trying to cook traditional pork BBQ, which comes from a tough cut of meat (pork shoulder)? Same for beef brisket.
- Are you going to competition grade pork shoulder BBQ, which means flavor, tender and moist.
- Competition grade BBQ
- Ability to accurately control low-temperature smoking, even on gusty days.
- Convenience for cooking for 24 hours without having to adjust the air-damper controls and replenish charcoal.
- It will allow you to cook any piece of meat you want to cook, at any temperature you want to cook it at (chicken, brisket, steak).
Sunday, June 6, 2010
- BBQ (cooking it, restaurants, and other things related (e.g, smoker designs)
- Bluegrass Music (I'm learning the banjo)
- Scotch Whisky, Cigars, Wine
- Stocks - Investing and trading
- Beach stuff